Theophilus and his ancient Roman-y friends are sitting around reading the book of Luke together. They read about John the Baptist and how he was sent to “prepare the way for the Lord.” Already, just a few pages in to Luke’s account, they know to expect the unexpected from the story of Jesus.
These guys knew what it meant to prepare for an Emperor to come to your town. The roads had to be prepared for chariots, horses and hundreds of foot soldiers. The town better be ready to accommodate all of their needs for food, lodging, and whatever partying they decided to partake in.
And, Caesar didn’t just visit a town for leisurely vacations, there was always some important business: tributes, punishments, reminders of his power, ceremonies, celebrations, or conquests. Whatever his purpose, one thing every ancient citizen was aware of, if he was coming to your town, you had better be ready.
(Consider this scene from the story of Julius Caesar. Think of the power these ancient rulers had. Imagine the fear and work that accompanied a visit to your city. Julius Caesar entering Rome Gruesome ending.)
Into this same society, Jesus the Lord of all creation, was getting ready to visit the occupied Roman towns of Israel. John the Baptist was his messenger sent ahead of him “to prepare the way.” John had a message from God that would prepare people to receive the great ruler who was about to come visit them.
What was his message? How did it prepare people to receive Jesus when they encountered him?
As I was writing this, I became frustrated and discouraged. I took a break to look at Facebook and felt more overwhelmed and discouraged.
What am I doing here?
Jesus? Can you give me an answer? Tell me what to do?
I just wanted to throw my computer out the window and give up! I decided to push through and keep writing…
So, I came back to the computer, sat down to look at what I was writing…
Preparing the way for Jesus…hmmm starts with repentance…
That reminds me of all the verses in the Bible where hearing from God starts with humility…hmmm…how does this relate to people today?
I sat here pondering how this related to people today for a few minutes and then it hit me. I’m sitting here begging Jesus to show up, to speak to me, to give me purpose and direction… maybe to uhmmm “come visit…”
Maybe I should look at what John the B said a little closer!
So, I began to think about repentance. Not a fun thing to dwell on. I took a few hours to honestly ask and listen “is there any sin in my life that I need to get rid of?” “Where am I wrong? What do I need to change?”
Painful questions to ask God. I have been a Christian for a long time and I honestly feel like I’m a good moral person who is trying to follow God. I really don’t see any big glaring things that I need to change.
After contemplating this for the whole evening, I just gave up and decided to take a fresh start in the morning…
It’s a new day and I’m all coffee-d up and ready for an amazing revelation. I still can’t think of anything that I need to change. So, I go back to the scripture.
John is preaching to the crowds and he calls them a “brood of vipers”. Which was an incredibly bad insult. Ancient people believed that vipers ate their mothers and thus were the most insidiously evil creatures of them all. These Israelites are obviously religious people that took time out of their intense labor-filled days to come be baptized by him. They were religious people seeking to follow God and John called them the worst kind of evil self-seekers.
Why? How could they be? I mean maybe they weren’t perfect, but they were good moral people who were trying to follow God…
This is sounding uncomfortably familiar!
John’s message for this brood of vipers had 4 main points which I prayerfully applied to myself:
“Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?”
Well, I’m not one of those Christians that sits around worrying about when the rapture is going to be. But I do sometimes treat my relationship with Jesus as simply a way to avoid bad things. In other words, my morals have a lot of benefits in relationships, finances, and security. I do tend to drift towards my faith being about comfort. I want to be “in”. I didn’t run to God because I feared his judgment. However, I do embrace Christianity in order to flee discomfort.
This isn’t entirely bad, but I guess it is a self-serving approach to my faith.
But what should I do to guard against this?
“Produce fruit that is consistent with your repentance”
I need to repent of being self-serving and judgmental. What does selfless, gracious fruit look like?
As I ask the question, I can see the freedom that I’d have if I completely let go of my selfishness. But there’s a little voice inside me saying, “who will look out for all of the stuff I want if I let go?” And I know that Jesus is saying “I will give you what really matters.” I mostly believe him, but I still want a lot of stuff.
I’m sure that if I took my focus completely off of the stuff that I want, I’d also be freed from my judgmentalism. I’m sure that my judgments come from insecurity and petty jealousy.
“Don’t begin to say ‘our heritage assures our salvation’”
Well, I’m not Jewish so, I’m good on this one! Except, I do mix up my Baptist, middle-class, Southern culture with my religion. I learned a lot of great things from my heritage, but they are no substitute for a repentant, humble heart that is truly seeking to follow God.
I see this so clearly when I get the privilege of meeting with a person who is truly new to Christianity. Sometimes, they come to me because they want help to live like I do. However, when it comes to faith, I’m in awe of the person who grew up far from God with none of the morals that were the cultural norm of my world. Every good moral choice they make is from a pure love of God and wanting to honor him, while their mistakes are sometimes just like me, doing what they were taught and what feels comfortable.
What should I do?!
“The man who has two tunics is to share with him who has none; and he who has food is to do the same.”
Two tunics? That’s not a lot of tunics there, John. What if one gets a rip in it? Then I’d have no tunics.
Obviously, God is ok with his followers having stuff. But the rule is: whatever amount of stuff we have, we should find a way to be generous with it.
This is a battle for me because I honestly hate how much I love stuff. I avoid going to malls because “it turns on my want button”. I will feel completely content until I walk through a mall and I suddenly need new pillows, a glittery phone case, more make-up, a corner chair, and a complete wardrobe overhaul…! Then when I work through that, I feel proud of how content I am! I want to be generous with my stuff, I just also want a lot more of it!
Contentment is hard and extreme generosity is harder!
It’s scary crazy how this all connects. My struggle with contentment ties into my need for repentance. The bond can be broken by me learning to be more generous.
The more I work on this repentance issue, the fruit you will see in me will be more contentment which will be evident in more grace towards people who have things I want and more generosity to those in need.
And this all prepares my heart for knowing Jesus even more…
This is just a tiny glimpse into some of my “nicer” struggles. It’s safe to share that I struggle with being selfish and judgmental. But really, the deep-down issue is a heart that still needs to be changed.
Blessings my friends,
Thanks for reading and sharing!
I am a really strange mix of a hippie, Calypso, Southern Belle, Madea- wannabe, Christian with the attitude of a Rhode Islander! I’m fascinated with people’s stories, I love to laugh at life with people and I’m genuinely trying to follow Jesus’ teachings. Strangely, my search for truth often has me at odds with American Christians who believe themselves to be the guardians of this truth. I was kicked out of Sunday School as a child for asking too many questions. I learned to repress them but my questions never went away. Thankfully as an adult, I feel completely free to pursue answers. Turns out, God is pretty big and not nearly as upset with my questions as his followers tend to be!
Luke 4: Never Underestimate the Power of Stupid People in Large Groups! George Carlin…