A Call to Repentance (Part Two)

Hosea 6:1-6

What am I going to do with you, Ephraim? What am I going to do with you, Judah? Your love is like the morning mist and like the early dew that vanishes. This is why I have used the prophets to cut them down; I have killed them with the words from my mouth. My judgment strikes like lightning. For I desire faithful love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings (6:4-6 CSB).

The Lord warned Israel about her failure to repent (6:4-5). God is not pleased with half-efforts. He always wants our whole heart. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might (Deuteronomy 6:5 ESV).

The Lord wanted a proper relationship with the whole nation. The clergy-laity distinction still persists in very many evangelical minds, (except when the churchgoer is in a dispute with their pastor). “You’re supposed to do that because you’re a pastor or missionary,” or “I don’t have to do that because I’m not in full-time Christian service.” Wrong! God wants you to share your life with him.

So the Lord sought a whole-hearted, lasting response. The Lord wants us after the troubles have disappeared, when our lives are bright and happy. Israel had tried to satisfy God with a little affection when they were in need.

God reminds them of his displeasure. Spiritual judgments would fall on them. The messages of the earlier prophets, like Elijah and Elisha, had fallen on deaf hears. The people were hardened, not helped. There is a serious danger of having your heart hardened while you listen to God’s word. Lord, give us hearts of flesh; soft, responsive hearts always. Physical judgments would also fall on them. Their crumbling nation was sufficient proof of this. Let us listen to Christ’s words to the church in Laodicea (Revelation 3:14-19).

The Lord taught Israel about true repentance (6:6). God permitted no substitutes. From the time of Cain, people have been trying to buy God’s pleasure with something less than what he wants (Genesis 4:3-7). Even performance of God-appointed ritual is insufficient, if we lack a heart for God and an urge to please him. Attendance at a church preaching the gospel of God’s grace will do you no good, unless you love the God of grace.

The living God pointed out the way of true worship to them as Jesus did to the woman at the well. But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth (John 4:23-24 ESV). The Lord wants mercy or steadfast love, which as Jesus emphasized, means love for people as well as love for God (Matthew 9:13; 12:7; cf. 1 John 3-4.) The Lord wants us to know him. To know God is to recognize and appreciate his involvement in my life as holy, sovereign and loving Father.

Do you know the Lord in this way, with a love that reaches out to all people, including people that know the Lord and yet with whom you disagree?

Grace and peace, David

A Call to Repentance (Part One)

Hosea 6:1-6

Come, let us return to the Lord. For he has torn us, and he will heal us; he has wounded us, and he will bind up our wounds. He will revive us after two days, and on the third day he will raise us up so we can live in his presence. Let us strive to know the Lord. His appearance is as sure as the dawn. He will come to us like the rain, like the spring showers that water the land (6:1-3 CSB).

Religious people in our time have lost their hold on the reality of God, the living God, the God who is there. During the last few years in Christian writings, it has become necessary to revisit the basic teachings about God. For example, in some circles there is growing confusion about the Trinity, and in others there is a denial of God’s knowledge and sovereignty in what is called “Open Theism”. Since the tragic events of 9/11, some have become practical dualists in their theology, wrongly assuming that all good events come from God and all bad events from the devil. As we will see, such ideas shipwreck on the solid rock of this text.

We need the teaching of this text for another reason. This passage is like a ray of sunshine and hope before the storm breaks. Sometimes in the trials of life we lose sight of the mercy and love of God. Hopefully, we still confess the mercy and love of God, but the fog of life obscures the sight and pleasure of God’s wonderful grace to broken people. We become legalistic, wrongly assuming that God only likes people that resemble Mary Poppins— “practically perfect in every way!” The Bible knows of no perfect person but the Lord Jesus, and instead asserts the holiness of Christ and our total need of him. So this passage offers hope to people, regardless of their imperfection. Let us listen to God’s encouraging words.

The Lord Israel urged to repent (6:1-3). Hosea taught the people how to turn back to the Lord in these verses. God was behind this training; he wanted repentance. Hosea willingly joined with the people, both as an example, and a leader, and as one who recognized his own sinfulness, for no one is perfect.

Repentance described. A description is different from a definition. Repentance is defined as a “change of mind or heart.” Genuine repentance produces certain actions that describe how it looks. Two of these are the descriptions we read here.

It is described as the need to return to the Lord (6:1). Israel had abandoned the living God for dead idols. She needed to go back to the true and Living One (Jeremiah 2:13). The deepest truths are often the simplest! Where is the Lord in your life? What practical evidences are there of your interaction with him?

In our family we can point to specific events when we were together and can describe the fellowship that occurred during those times. You can do the same in your family. The same thing happens in the family of God, when people are in a vital relationship with the living God.

Have you wandered away from the Lord? What has come between God and you? Forsake it and return to him! You won’t return to the Lord as long as you hang onto what is keeping you away from him. A desire for “other things” can choke the Lord’s message to you (Matthew 13:22).

It is described as the need to know the Lord (6:3). Observe once again the importance of knowing God! See Jeremiah 9:23-24; John 17:3. God wants a diligent desire. He wanted them to pursue this knowledge. In other words, the Lord wants fellowship or communication.

Repentance encouraged

God encouraged it by a presentation of God’s grace. The Lord uses his kindness to lead people to repentance (Rm 2:4). He wins us by his love. The Almighty revealed himself in three ways.

  • God as Healer. The Lord is able to mend what he has torn.
  • God as Lifegiver. Notice the “third day” mentioned. This might be an allusion to Christ’s resurrection on the third day.
  • God as Renewer. Rain is essential for a proper harvest. In the same way, the life-giving grace of God is able to make them flourish spiritually.

Observe the idea of overflowing grace (Romans 5:20-21). His grace is greater than our sins. When you take care of young children, you find out that they can be messy, especially when they eat! Loving adults reach out to messy children and tenderly clean them. The living God is willing “to get his hands messy” to clean us up and to share life with us. He knows that to some extent, we will always have “messy faces and hands” in this life, but he still loves us!

God encouraged it by a presentation of their need: “that we may live….” Since God has endowed people with life and the ability to make rational judgments, he appeals to us in this way. Will you be able to live before God forever? If not, how will you be able to endure his wrath forever?

Grace and peace, David

Purity (Part Two)

Hosea 4:10-19

Occasionally, people become interested in the environment, usually when there is some “health scare” or someone suggests putting a landfill for toxic waster in their immediate area or they watch a video about environmental disasters. Suddenly everyone becomes an environmentalist… for two weeks or a little more! “We must keep our land or air or water pure!” But our subject of purity is hardly one that will excite much interest in our time.

Previously, we considered the Biblical concept of covenantal purity, as seen from God’s design in creation and God’s law (his word).  As God made man and woman to commit to a covenantal relationship with each other and to remain faithful to each one in the marriage relationship, so God has called his people into a covenant relationship with him, and we are to be faithful to the Lord. In both cases we need a high “marriage esteem”.

Hosea wrote about Israel’s violation of covenant purity. He set forth Israel’s transgressions.

  • Israel was unfaithful to the Lord (4:10-13). Israel was married to the Lord in the old covenant, but they were turning away to false gods. To grasp the foolishness of their action, read Isaiah 44:9-20, where idolatry is graphically exposed. They had a spirit, a heart desire for prostitution. This was deep within them, influencing their inner person. Their core was in terrible shape.
  • Israel was deeply involved in sexual immorality. The pagan religions of their day practiced sexual immorality as part of their worship. They believed it was a way to seek favor from their gods (4:13-14). Note the equal treatment of men and women before God’s law. Males throughout history have tried to hide their sexual sins by setting up a low standard for males and another, purer standard for females. The living God has no part in such foolishness and hypocrisy.

Israel’s judgment: God abandoned his people to her sins.

First, Israel’s place of worship, Bethel (“house of God”), was renamed Beth Aven (“house of wickedness”, 4:15). God rejected any pretense that they worshipped him. People in our time need to realize that much of what they call the worship of God is really empty worship, because worship that is not in conformity with the Scriptures is empty worship (Matthew 15:7-9). To worship in conformity with human traditions is empty worship. To worship while condoning sexual immorality is empty worship (Ephesians 5:3-7).

Second, God rejected Israel (also called Ephraim, after the prominent northern tribe) by abandoning her to the idols she had chosen to love. Let them deliver her from the coming whirlwind of judgment (4:17-19)!

  • The word in verse 17 is chilling! How hopeless is someone’s situation when God abandons that person to his or her sins!
  • Notice carefully that physical troubles failed to move people to repentance. The drinks might be gone, but the spirit of prostitution in the heart is deeply seated. After the Black Death of 1347-1350, also called the Great Mortality, people did not live in a godly and holy manner. They might have become religious, but their lifestyle was wicked. Do not expect judgment to reform the western world. Our only hope is a new great awakening.
  • The only expectation for unrepentant people is judgment. A whirlwind would sweep the northern kingdom of Israel away.

God warned Judah to stay clear of Israel’s guilt (4:15). Building your house near a toxic waste site is a poor idea, regardless of how cheap the land is. People have been making human life cheap by pursuing cheap religion and cheap sex. Why not invest in something really worth having, instead of what makes you cheap and useless and empty?

Consider our current crisis. We must understand how deep our problems actually are.

Spiritually, since the 1960s, there has been a growing fascination with eastern religions among Americans. The greedy and the pleasure-seeking and those longing for physical wholeness have heard them promise peace and prosperity without consideration. However, a careful look at the poverty and degradation of the east would have disclosed the emptiness of their promises. Now what should we say about the American evangelical? If the Lord has designed us for a covenant relationship with him, our covenant Lord, do people sense this? Do we know what this means?

For example, a married woman is concerned about how she can please her husband (1 Corinthians 7:34). Since the church is married to Christ, we should be showing such love to him. Are we? Or has the church become a woman separated from her professed husband, more concerned about her career than her husband? Think on Colossians 2:19.

Sexually, our people accept and approve of sexual immorality that opposes God’s design and God’s laws. Such immorality is not an alternative lifestyle but rebellion against God. We must know what is contrary to God’s purposes and reject it. God’s purpose is our holiness. When I go to Citizen’s Bank Park in Philadelphia, I want to watch a major league baseball game. I do not want to watch people acting silly who are dressed in clown suits, who hit a volleyball with a broomstick and run the bases backwards. Neither does God want to watch us make a mockery of his worship and human life.

What is the way out? First, there must be repentance, a change of mind. We must understand that what we believe about God determines our moral character. God cannot be treated with contempt. He does punish people by letting people experience the depths of their rebellion against God (Romans 1:24-27).

Second, true repentance produces reformation. We must practice pure devotion to the Lord. This includes recognition of his ruling providence, instead of luck or astrology. It also means the pursuit of sexual purity (1 Corinthians 6:13b-20).

The only way to purity is through Jesus Christ and his shed blood. Today is the day to have Christ purify your heart and life.

Grace and peace, David

The Danger of Forsaking God (Part One)

Hosea 2:2-13

Rebuke your mother; rebuke her. For she is not my wife and I am not her husband. Let her remove the promiscuous look from her face and her adultery from between her breasts. Otherwise, I will strip her naked and expose her as she was on the day of her birth. I will make her like a desert and like a parched land, and I will let her die of thirst (2:2-3 CSB).

We must always keep in mind God’s revelation of himself. Almighty, holy, sovereign and self-sufficient, God still wants to share his love and glory with people. Amazingly, God reaches out to people who have not wanted God in their lives. He does this in order to draw them into a deep relationship of love, which God sets forth in terms of marriage and family.

Sadly and tragically, people wander away from the living God, who overflows with love. In this passage, God reveals one way he responds to such conduct. This response to rejected love should not surprise us. God is surely right in bringing justice on those who despise his overflowing love. Again, the language in this section is blunt, racy, and shocking. God intends it to be. He wants us to wake up and realize that offended love responds powerfully!

How did Israel forsake the Lord? Israel abandoned the Lord by refusing to acknowledge God as the source of the blessings she enjoyed (2:5). In contrast, the godly person sees God as the supplier of what we need to sustain and enjoy life. As Paul told a group of non-Christians, who had a wrong view of God, Friends, why are you doing this? We too are only human, like you. We are bringing you good news, telling you to turn from these worthless things to the living God, who made the heavens and the earth and the sea and everything in them. In the past, he let all nations go their own way. Yet he has not left himself without testimony: He has shown kindness by giving you rain from heaven and crops in their seasons; he provides you with plenty of food and fills your hearts with joy (Acts 14:15-17 NIV; cf. Matthew 6:25-34; James 1:15-17). God provides us with what is necessary to sustain life and to have joy in our lives.

Israel’s troubles began when she forgot the Lord, though she had been warned against so doing. And I will punish her for the feast days of the Baals when she burned offerings to them and adorned herself with her ring and jewelry, and went after her lovers and forgot me, declares the Lord (Hosea 2:13 ESV; cf. Deuteronomy 8:6-14). In our culture, where both marriage partners often work outside the home, it is easy to miss the point of the wife depending on her husband for support. How could Israel forget the husband who provided her with all she needed to live? She had forgotten the lesson of the manna.

As Israel forgot the Lord, it is not surprising that she did not acknowledge God as the source of her blessings (2:8). The average person in western society thinks that their skill and hard work or clever use of government entitlements are the source of blessings. But who gives you your abilities? Who has provided wealth to our nation? All comes from God.

Israel abandoned the Lord by taking idols as her lovers. She wrongly believed that her false gods provided her with the blessings of life. She worshipped idols like Baal as the ones who controlled nature (2:5). An error in the content of faith or doctrine leads to errors in our worldview, which leads to absurd, disgusting and immoral practices. An example of this is the different ways that people look to harmonize their environment, in order to be successful or have a sense of well-being or for other reasons.

Israel wildly pursued her false gods in her adulteries (2:7, 13). Notice the lack of purity (2:2) that led to a spiritually immoral lifestyle. When God exposes our attitudes and actions by the word, it is not the time to mutter a mere “I’m sorry,” but to have a deep change of mind. “Lord, give me the mind of Christ—an inner person of the heart that is zealous for you.”

Grace and peace, David

Fire from Heaven (Part Two)

2 Kings 1:1-18

So King Ahaziah sent a captain with his fifty men to Elijah. When the captain went up to him, he was sitting on top of the hill. He announced, “Man of God, the king declares, ‘Come down!’” Elijah responded to the captain, “If I am a man of God, may fire come down from heaven and consume you and your fifty men.” Then fire came down from heaven and consumed him and his fifty men. So the king sent another captain with his fifty men to Elijah. He took in the situation and announced, “Man of God, this is what the king says: ‘Come down immediately!’” Elijah responded, “If I am a man of God, may fire come down from heaven and consume you and your fifty men.” So a divine fire came down from heaven and consumed him and his fifty men (2 Kings 1:9-12 CSB)

Ahaziah, king of the northern kingdom of Israel, had been severely injured by a fall in his house. We usually assume that our homes are places of safety, but how many have been critically injured there by falling! Ahaziah’s injuries were severe enough to make him wonder if he would survive. While naturally concerned (who wouldn’t be?), he walked further away from the Lord. How much better, to think and act like the psalmist. It was good for me to be afflicted so that I might learn your decrees (Psalm 119:71 NIV).

So then, let’s focus on the attitude of the transgressor. It was utter rebellion (1:9,11). Ahaziah should have cried out to the Lord for forgiveness and mercy. While the sinner lives, there is still opportunity for repentance. God delights in mercy, and when he sends a message of judgment, he is giving those who hear an occasion to turn from their evil ways. But the threat of death did not soften Ahaziah’s heart.

Instead, he became more obstinate and struck out against God’s message in the only way he could: by attacking the messenger. “When a true servant of God is sent and delivers a searching word, people seek to evade it by occupying themselves with his personality, his style of delivery, his denominational affiliation—anything secondary as long as it serves to crowd out that which is of supreme moment. Yet when the postman hands them an important business letter they are not concerned about his appearance” (Pink).

The great idols of America are money, greed, and pleasure. The burning question is “Am I having a good time right now?” People expect the same lust for pleasure to be satisfied in church on their terms. Church after church have abandoned the Lord Christ and his gospel and have prostituted themselves to attract the pleasure seeking masses (cf. Jeremiah 2:20-25). Elijah was not concerned about Ahaziah’s approval of the message or whether Ahaziah would want to join his church. Elijah was faithful to God’s word, and we must be faithful today!

How do you react when confronted by the word of God? Too many professing Christians have reacted violently in an emotional sense: “He’s preaching against me!” or “I don’t like what he said; I’m not coming back!”

The result was judgment. As we read in Isaiah 45:9, Woe to him who quarrels with his Maker, to him who is but a potsherd among the potsherds on the ground. Does the clay say to the potter, “What are you making?” Does your work say, “He has no hands”? (NIV) The basis of the judgment was written in the Torah (cf. Deuteronomy 6:13-15; 8:19-20; 13:6-11). Who were the recipients of God’s judgment? The first two groups of Ahaziah’s officers and their men (1:10,12) that were rather daring and arrogant when they approached Elijah. The third group demonstrates that death did not have to take them. Elijah’s credentials as God’s prophet had been proved many times. Ahaziah himself was judged by God, though not by fire from heaven (1:16-17). The Lord does not always act the same way, as we have observed many times. Ahaziah’s soldiers met a violent, supernatural end, while God lets the king die of natural causes. Strangely, the wicked king is not summarily executed like his soldiers, but the judge of all the earth does what is right (Genesis 18:25). Many times the underlings of wicked people die more terribly and tragically than their cruel leaders! Let us not assume that we can escape by “passing the buck” to our superiors, because “we acted on their orders”. Everyone is responsible for their own sin. There are many lessons to learn from this incident. We plan to look at them in our next post in this series.

Grace and peace, David

Where Sin Increased (Part One)

1 Kings 18:1-15

There are times when the followers of Christ can feel as though there is little hope for the cause of God and truth in their land. They want to cry out, as David did, Help, Lord, for the godly are no more; the faithful have vanished from among men (Psalm 12:1 NIV). Indeed, it seems like the godly will be wiped from the face of the earth. Who would have thought that Luther could survive when both the Holy Roman Empire and the Roman Church were seeking his death? What hope was there for evangelicalism in England when Mary I (“Bloody Mary”) was putting to death its leaders?

The Bible instructs us to trust in the sovereign God, for nothing can hinder the LORD from saving, whether by many or by few (1 Samuel 14:6). Where sin is on the rise and the triumph of evil seems certain, even there the Lord God is able to carry out his purposes. Our text is another example of God’s all-ability.

Sin was hard at work in the Northern Kingdom of Israel at that time. There was no public place where people could gather to worship the living God. From the time of Jeroboam I, the officially sanctioned religion was an idolatrous substitute for God and the covenant he had made with Israel (cf. 1 Kings 12:26-33). As we have observed, Ahab and Jezebel had forced Israel into deeper idolatry (cf. 1 Kings 1629-34). Without public worship and teaching, it became very difficult to maintain faithfulness to the God of Israel. It was a horrible time. Let’s think about this more.

There was no apparent concern for the glory of God or the good of men in Israel at that time. King Ahab was chiefly concerned about his property—that none of his animals would have to be killed because of the famine. 18:2b, 5. Now, there is nothing at all wrong with caring for animals. Proverbs 12:10 tells us A righteous man cares for the needs of his animal… (NIV). The problem was Ahab’s lack of a deeper concern—the glory of God and the good of his subjects. Contrast wicked Ahab with godly David (cf. 2 Samuel 24:17). Scripture teaches this principle: When you reject God, you eventually lose concern for the worth of people. Study, for example, Romans 1:18-19, 28-31.

There was no national repentance in Israel for their sins. National repentance was essential for the old covenant nation. Today in the new covenant, the church is God’s people, and not any of the nations of the world. What does the church need to repent of today? For some ideas, read Revelation 2-3. The physical suffering during the famine, a covenant curse (Leviticus 26:18-20), had not induced them to repent. Ahab was intent on ridding the earth of Elijah, not on confessing and forsaking his own sins (18:9-10). Unless the Lord gives heart changing grace along with the trial, people will not have a change of mind. At first, they might consider the trouble as a freak of nature. But later, if they think of God at all, they probably will grow bitter against him (cf. Revelation 16:9). However, people are sure to perish, unless they repent. No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish as well (Luke 13:3 CSB).

There was a policy of persecution against God’s prophets. This is seen in Ahab’s fanatical desire to find Elijah (18:10), and in Jezebel’s murder of the Lord’s prophets (18:4, 13). How could the godly survive an onslaught driven by fanatical hatred?

God has not placed believers in “heaven on earth”. No, we live in a world filled with rejection of God, refusal to love God, and rebellion against God and his ways. We must rid our minds of the deceptive notion that life here will be easy and that we will lack spiritual opposition. Oh, I know that Christians will agree with this in theory, but there is far too much hand-wringing and moaning in churches today. The Lord never told us that it would be easy. In fact, listen to what the apostles Paul and Barnabas told the churches they had started. “It is necessary to go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22 CSB).

Grace and peace, David

The Baptism of Jesus

Luke 3:21-22

Have you skipped stones on a lake or pond? Many people have. It is a fun pastime with friends, or on a date on a sunny afternoon, a playful challenge between male and female to see who can have the most skips or skip a stone the farthest.  Please don’t do it if someone is fishing nearby!

Over many years of teaching the Bible, I have found that many people like to play another kind of skipping. When they ought to be focused on the passage of Holy Scripture before them, they like to play, “Let’s skip this passage and talk about these other verses or ideas or something else.” I’m not sure what their problem is. Perhaps they have difficulty concentrating, or their minds were on something else in the first place, or they’re uncomfortable with what the passage is teaching, and they want to run away, Jonah style.

The problem with this, besides endless spiritual distraction, is that such skippers miss what the Holy Spirit has caused to be written for their benefit in the passage they’re supposed to be reading. This is one reason (there are others!) that cross references and study notes in a Bible might be hindrances rather than helps for some people.

So then, let’s focus on Luke’s account of the baptism of Jesus and listen to what he wrote, instead of thinking about Matthew, Mark, and John, which are excellent presentations. What does Dr. Luke tell us about the great event?

Jesus joined with the crowds in baptism. When all the people were being baptized… (3:21 NIV). At this point, we must remember the context. Their baptism was a sign of their repentance or change of mind. They said by this act that they needed to have a world and life view that was ready for the Lord to appear among them. They confessed they needed the forgiveness of sins (3:3). They became learned who were to produce fruit in keeping with repentance (3:8). But Jesus needed neither repentance or forgiveness. Then why was he baptized. He, the Lord, had arrived and he joined with the people to proclaim that his world and life view was centered on God and that he would live accordingly.

Jesus prayed at his baptism. And as he was praying… (3:21 NIV). Jesus didn’t merely participate in a ritual; he worshiped; he prayed to his Father in heaven. He demonstrated that our life in God’s presence is to be characterized by prayer. The prayer life of Jesus is a theme in the Gospel of Luke (5:16; 6:12; 9:18, 28-29; 11:1; 22:32, 41; 23:35, 46). John had taught his disciples to pray (11:1), and so Jesus acted as a follower at his baptism. We all should pray as we participate in worship at our local gatherings of believers. It is what genuine disciples do.

Jesus received honor at his baptism (3:22). At this time, he was anointed by the Spirit for his ministry. Notice how God pointed out that this was a significant event.

Heaven was opened. Luke did not write all the details that we would like to know, but in some way the Father let Jesus have a vision of the glories of heaven after about thirty years in human form. This would provide encouragement and certainty to the man, Christ Jesus.

The Holy Spirit descended on him like a dove in bodily form. I think this is the only time in the Bible that the Spirit came on someone in bodily form. The point of this in Luke’s Gospel will be discussed in 4:14, 18. Here is the event; the interpretation of the event comes later.

A voice from heaven identified him as God’s Son. We should hear “echoes” from two important texts from the Old Testament Scriptures. The first is Psalm 2:7, where the Messiah is identified as God’s Son. The second is Isaiah 42:1, where the Messiah is identified as God’s Servant, in whom the Lord delights. We should hear the Father in heaven talking of the Son as a covenant for the people and a light for the nations (Isaiah 42:6). All three Persons of the Trinity join to mark the dawn of the new covenant era, the age of freedom and light!

We all personally ought to invest time in thinking through the implications of Psalm 2 and Isaiah 42:1-9 and their connection with Jesus, his baptism, and his ministry. God is pleased in his Son. Is he our delight?

Grace and peace, David

John and His Message (Part Three)

Luke 3:10-14

“What should we do then?” the crowd asked (3:10 NIV).

John preached God’s message of grace. The Lord Jesus was on his way to save his people from their sins (cf. Luke 3:6; Matthew 1:21). Salvation was the joyful news! However, the people needed to prepare to meet the Lord. For this reason, John preached a baptism of repentance—a change of heart that would produce a godly change in a person’s way of life. This is the correct context in which to read verses ten through fourteen. “What should we do then?” They needed direction.

Please understand very clearly that seeking guidance from the Holy Scriptures concerning how to please the Lord and to walk worthy of our calling is not legalism! Believers, because we have changed our hearts, turned, and trusted the Lord, live according to grace. We rejoice in the hope of the glory of God and desire his glory. We want to know and to live a way of life that is consistent with glory. The grace of the coming salvation in the Lord Messiah teaches the hearts of those who listen to deny ungodliness and worldly passions and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age (Titus 2:12 NIV). John was a prophet who declared the word of God. The repentant people sought knowledge about the kind of changes the good fruit of would produce in them. This is the “doing” they spoke of, a doing not to earn grace but to respond joyfully to grace.

John gave practical examples of the changes that true repentance in the heart produces. Notice that the examples are consistent with a person’s calling in life. The idea is that we should think through changes in how we do our work, and our family and community life. Since I have been a pastor and teacher for many years, my repentance, for example, should bear the good fruit of ministering to people in a kind, loving, parental way (cf. 1 Thessalonians 2:1-12). Let’s listen to John’s examples, and then think through the changes that should be seen in our lives and work.

  • Be a sharing neighbor (3:11). This is general instruction. The second greatest priority is, as Jesus quoted the Torah, Love your neighbor as yourself (Matthew 22:39). This requires us to share our resources to those in need. However, an essential perquisite is being aware and involved in the lives of our neighbors. How can I know that my neighbor needs a tunic, if I do not know my neighbors and their needs? We must forsake the hyper-individualism of our culture. God has designed us to be part of a community, even at the cost of making a community. By the way, this should be on our hearts when we start new churches or small groups or Bible studies. How can we make a new community out of a group of people? Sharing a tunic with someone means that you or I have one less tunic, right? What have you given to a neighbor that cost you more than a price of a week’s groceries? Do we know the happiness that Jesus points us to (Acts 20:35)? Sharing with others is a fruit of repentance.
  • Keep away from greed (3:12-13). We are taught to acquire more for ourselves. This is usually connected with the line “to enjoy your retirement”. I just searched the Bible for that phrase (these Bible apps are great time savers!), and guess what? God says nothing about providing for a pleasant enjoyable retirement. The tax collectors for the Romans could collect whatever they could coerce out of the taxpayers. Rome only cared that they brought in what was required. A tax collector could enrich himself off the sufferings of the people. John told them to only take what was a fair amount. What is the fair amount that the Lord has provided for us? Are we growing rich while others suffer?
  • Don’t abuse but learn contentment (3:14). Roman soldiers could easily misuse their power. The Jewish people were especially vulnerable. They were easy prey for those who wanted to enrich themselves. John told them to be content with their pay. We also are to learn contentment. Some subjects in school were harder to learn than others. Learning contentment is a tough one. Christ’s power is available to help us learn this subject (Philippians 4:12-13).

John’s practical instruction to his hearers still speaks to us. Meditate on his words to the crowds and consider how the Lord wants your repentance to bear fruit. The fruit will be seen in your treatment and relationship with other people.

Grace and peace, David

John and His Message (Part Two)

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Luke 3:7-9

He then said to the crowds who came out to be baptized by him, “Brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Therefore produce fruit consistent with repentance. And don’t start saying to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father,’ for I tell you that God is able to raise up children for Abraham from these stones. The ax is already at the root of the trees. Therefore, every tree that doesn’t produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire” (CSB).

John the Baptist did what the Lord called him to do. He went out in the desert and proclaimed a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins (Luke 3:3 CSB). It seemed like an unlikely and unpromising place to start a great work of God, such as the coming of the Messiah was promised to be (cf. Isaiah 35.) However, God’s ways are not our ways (cf. Isaiah 55:8). Who would go out into the desert to hear a preacher? The Lord did everything to make sure that John’s ministry would not rest in the power of man but the power of God. This is what most contemporary churches need to hear, because their “back door is as big as their front door.” Human schemes are no substitute for God’s word, prayer, and the power of the Holy Spirit. Some churches will do some sort of “40 Days of Prayer” program, be excited during it, and then… “We prayed for forty days, revival didn’t come, so let’s try something else.” That was not what John the Baptist did. He went out to the desert, preached the Lord’s message, and God sent the people. Crowds came to be baptized by him with a baptism of repentance. So then, what were John’s sermons like?

He did not try to please people (3:7). You do not please people by calling them a brood of vipers! Imagine entering any contemporary church and being a viper, which is clearly symbolic of being an evil person. The crowds in our time would not stay; they would walk out. Contemporary churches are ashamed of sin and afraid to call people sinners. They want everyone to feel comfortable. They want to be thought well of in their local community. They want everyone to like them. John the Baptist lacked such concerns. Please listen carefully. I am not talking about being rude and obnoxious. We ought to welcome people with joy. But that must never obscure the truth of the sinfulness of all people everywhere. We must tell people who they are in the presence of the holy God. That is what John was doing as he preached to his people. He was not afraid to challenge people “in his church” that they might actually be a brood of vipers! How would you react if your pastor dared to say something similar in your local church this Sunday?

He told people to change (3:8). Repentance is a change of mind, as we said in our previous post in this series. Repentant people think differently in their hearts about God, themselves, sin, Christ, and the way of salvation. This inward turn produces changes in people, both internally (ideas, attitudes, expectations, etc.) and externally in the behavior. The repentant person changes the way they walk and talk. By the way, many professing Christians need to stop using the substitute obscene and profane language they use to color their speech. So that no one misses the point, I mean all the substitute “F” words and “bathroom” words. Consider Ephesians 4:29; 5:4; Colossians 3:8. Crude speech is not the right means to lead others in godly ways. The fruit of repentance is godliness, the character that shows that a person is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator (Colossians 3:10 NIV). It is the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23) and “the new clothing” of the new person (Colossians 3:12-17). It is what we add to our faith (2 Peter 1:5-8 NIV).

He turned people from false hopes (3:8). As the last of the old covenant prophets and the forerunner of the new age, John warned the people not to trust in their ethnic heritage. Far too many rely on their descent for assurance that God accepts them. The people of God in the new covenant are only repentant believers in the Lord Jesus Christ. Your physical heritage counts for nothing in God’s sight (John 1:11-13; Romans 2:9; 3:23; 9:6-8; Colossians 3:11). What does count is the grace of God freely given through Jesus Christ. In him, you can be part of the people of God!

He warned them of the wrath to come (3:9). Yes, John did not make people feel comfortable. He wanted all outside of God’s grace to feel very uncomfortable! Again, the contemporary church doesn’t want to offend anyone. Political correctness rules the day, unless it is something distasteful to their own political agenda, but that is another subject. People do not want to hear of the fires of the wrath of God. They are like people whistling as they pass a cemetery, but in this case, it is not a cemetery but hell itself. The are like toddlers playing “peekaboo”, assuming that if they don’t hear about hell, it doesn’t exist. John told the crowds the truth. We do not help people by failing to tell them their very serious problem before the throne of God.

John the Baptist was faithful to his mission. May we be faithful to the mission the Lord Jesus has given us (Luke 24:45-47).

Grace and peace, David

John and His Message (Part One)

Luke 3:1-6

He went into all the vicinity of the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins (Luke 3:3 CSB).

Luke presented the true story of God’s glory in Jesus Christ as it occurred: in human history. He wanted Theophilus and every reader to know the certainty of the things you have been taught (Luke 1:4 NIV). The Lord wants us to have assurance and bold conviction about his person, word, and redemptive activity. Too often believers waver, faltering with   lack of confidence, which hinders our prayers, witness, and walk with the Lord. What did Luke do to bolster the conviction of the readers of the Gospel of Luke?

Luke informed his readers of the place in history of God’s story (3:1-2). Before the creation of modern calendars, people kept track of the years by the reigns of earthly rulers. This way of telling the years is not as exact and easy as calendar years, but it is accurate. While we are on the subject, we should not expect ancient writers to conform to our standards of precision. They thought and wrote according to the tools and methods they had available, and that is the only standard that we can hold them to. Some ‘biblical critics’ are anachronistic, which makes their complaints ridiculous. Beware of such stuff on television or other media. Luke started with the Roman emperor and added regional rulers to give us an accurate time setting for the ministries of John the Baptist and Jesus.

Luke told us about the origin and nature of John’s message (3:2-3). The message focused on the need for repentance. What is repentance? It is a change of mind about God, oneself, sin, Christ, and the way of salvation that produce a change in a person’s way of life. The change starts in the inner person of the heart, which works out through our words and actions. The internal change must be present first. John called people to repent and to make an outward testimony of their change of heart by being baptized, which is to be immersed in water. Jesus requires this testimony of his followers (Matthew 28:19). If you haven’t given this testimony yet, you ought to as soon as possible in your local church. Talk to your pastors and elders.

As is often pointed out, there is no precedent for this baptism in the Old Testament Scriptures. Why did John do this? He preached this, because the word of God came to John (3:2 NIV). At the dawn of the new covenant age, God had the forerunner of the Messiah proclaim a new identity marker for the people of God, who would come from all nations. No longer would God’s people be known by keeping the requirements of the law (the old covenant). Instead, they would be known as a people of repentance. They are a people that take God seriously, humble themselves before the Lord, seek to live in a way that honors God, focus on Christ their Lord, and depend upon Jesus for eternal life.

Luke linked John to a prophecy in the Isaiah in the Old Testament Scriptures (3:4-6). A new day arrives with John, but God had planned it from ancient days. As Isaiah announced God’s good news, he told of a man who would come before the Messiah to prepare the way for him. His ministry would occur in the desert places, rather than the cities. People would need to leave their comfortable homes to hear about the Coming One. They would also need to make radical changes, which is shown by the metaphors of the roads, mountains, and valleys. Again, John is the herald of the new age that the Messiah would bring. All mankind will see God’s salvation.

In our time, the good news is running all over the world as never before! People from all nations are being saved. To whom are you taking the good news?

Grace and peace, David