Ready or Not
Hide and seek is a great game. I don't know how many times I played it as a boy, but I remember very well the feeling of not being ready when the seeker shouted, 'Ready or not, here I come!'. This was the cue that if you didn't yet have a great hiding place, it was time to find one.
In Luke 3:1-20, John the Baptist preached a message of getting ready. Here are three points of preparation for God's visitation.
1. Judgment is coming
In Luke 3:7-9, John challenges the audience with extreme truth, calling them 'brood of vipers' and warning that judgment is on the way. Look at what he says:
Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.
The judgment is for fruitlessness. It is the for those who claim they have repented, but they bear no fruit. The people ask what they should do (Luke 3:10), and John tells the people to take care of this with need and to take advantage of the weak (Luke 3:11-14).
We prepare for judgment by repenting.
The heartbeat of John's message was to repent, to turn from living in and for sin, for ourselves and prioritising anything other than God. To repent means to turn, to do a 180 degree turn, to be sorry that we have offended a holy God rather than because we're sorry we got caught.
But repenting isn't simply turning from, it's turning to - turning to God, turning to the salvation offered in Christ, turning to faith in him, turning to live a life pleasing to him.
2. Jesus is coming
John's primary purpose was to get things ready for Jesus, and he did that by calling the nation to repent. His preaching functioned like a big bulldozer plowing through Israel, challenging people to turn to God. But he also, explicitly and personally pointed to Jesus. John was the rockstar preacher of his day, and he could have been tempted to build a permanent following. But rather, he denied being the messiah and pointed to Jesus (Luke 3:16):
I baptize you with water, but he who is mightier than I is coming, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.
John says that when Jesus comes, he will baptise with the Holy Spirit and fire. To make this simple to understand, think about it like this: everybody gets a baptism from Jesus - it's either a baptism of life, in the Spirit, or a baptism of judgment, in fire. We think of Jesus as the warm and cudly one who teaches about love and says not to judge. But when Jesus comes, it's a choice of Spirit or fire.
John underlines this by describing Jesus as a farmer, winnowing threshing his wheat with a winnowing fork. The chaff is burned, the good wheat kernel remains. John is inviting people to 'become wheat' through repenting. That is, we get ready for Jesus by turning to him with all of our hearts.
3. God is coming.
Luke reminds us that John the Baptist is the fulfilment of the prophecy in Isaiah 40 (Luke 3:4-6). This text points to a geographic rearrangement where mountains are knocked down valleys are raised up. That is, the proud and arrogant who live as if they don't know God get knocked down. The humble who acknowledge their need for God get raised up.
The coming of the Lord is envisaged in the prophet's cry: Prepare the way of the Lord. Now, it's easy for us to write this off as what the people of Israel needed to do - they needed to get ready for Jesus. But God is not bound to only breaking in to first century Israel. What about today?
When we look around at the world, we when see the pain and distortion caused by sin, we live at a time that needs the intervention of God. The Lord invites us to prepare for his coming now. Don't believe that the status quo will dominate day in and day out. Rather, extend faith and reach out in hope that God's goodness will break into our lives, our families, our church, and our community today.
We don't know when the Lord might show up in a powerful way. So it's better to get ready.
The Lord is coming - let's get ready.