Second Reformed Church

Wednesday, December 09, 2015

"Reconciled" Sermon: Luke 3:1-6

[Luke 3:1-6]
December 6, 2015 Second Reformed Church
            Have you every reconciled your checkbook?
            Have you every compared what you have written in your checkbook – the checks, and deposits, and withdrawals, and compared that with the statement the bank sent you and made sure that they were in agreement with each other – that they were right with each other?
            Have you every reconciled with another person?
            Have you ever been in a fight with someone – at odds with someone – a friend or a spouse – and at some point, you got right with each other – something happened to make you come back together and renew your friendship or relationship?
            These are both images of being reconciled.  Two people or things coming into agreement with one another – becoming right with one another.
            God tells us that we needed to be reconciled with Him –  that every human being is unreconciled with God until he or she receives Jesus as Savior.
            Paul puts it this way:  “For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life” (Romans 5:10, ESV).
            Paul tells us that we who believe in Jesus savingly have been reconciled to God by God – reconciled in life and in death by Jesus and what He has done in history.
            And it is important that we remember that as we look to this Gospel reading about the first coming of God in the flesh – in the person of Jesus.  The necessity of historical facts for us to be right with God makes Christianity different from every other religion in the world.  Every other religion in the world comes down to a person doing enough good works to earn whatever the religion promises – but there is no need for anything they say to be historically true.  But with Christianity – what is comes down to is that God came to earth in the person of Jesus at a real time in history, lived a real life in history among us, died, physically rose from the dead, and ascended back to the Father – on real historical dates in real historical places – and if those historical facts are not true, then Christianity is not true.  Christianity is not about a system of morals; it is about God coming in history in the person of Jesus to do something in history to reconcile us to God.
            Luke tells his readers at the beginning of his Gospel that he is writing in the Greek and Roman style of history – a linear recounting of history – this happened Monday, this happened Tuesday, etc.: 
            “Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things that have been accomplished among us, just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word have delivered them to us, it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught” (Luke 1:1-4, ESV).
            So, Luke states at the beginning of his Gospel that he is going to write in such a way as to reconcile all the facts.  He is going to name dates, and places, and events – in chronological order, so they can be checked and affirmed as correct and truthful facts, and his readers can be assured that what they have been taught about Jesus and His Gospel are true.
            That’s why, as Luke opens our text this morning, he “dates” the beginning of the ministry of John the Baptist, thusly:
“In the fifteen year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, Pontius Pilate being governor of Judea, and Herod being tetrarch of Galilee, and his brother Philip tetrarch of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene, during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John the son of Zechariah in the wilderness.”
They didn’t have our modern calendar, so Luke told his readers to find out when all of these politicians and religious leaders were in power and cross their reigns with the fifteenth years of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, and you will get the year that John the Baptist began his ministry.  And this is important – as we said – because Christianity is a historical religion – if we can’t show that these things happened historically – especially the life, death, and physical resurrection of Jesus – followed by His Ascension, then there is no reason to believe Christianity.
So, we have a real human being, John the Baptist, who began his ministry at a certain time in history – and this is what he did:
“And he went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.”
As we see, John had been in the wilderness – probably at the end of the Jordan River where it connects with the Dead Sea – so, in the Southern part of Israel, but he went all along the region around the Jordan River calling all people to be baptized – coming in repentance for their sins.
Baptism was not new in John’s day – baptism had been practiced as part of the ceremony to bring Gentiles – non-Jews – into the Jewish religion.  Someone who wanted to become a Jew would repentantly confess his sins, swear not to follow after them again, and seek to follow God in obedience – producing the fruit of good works – and he would be baptized with water as a ritual of purification.
What was new – and scandalous – is that John was also calling Jews to repentance for their sins.  The Jews had the Day of Yom Kippur and the whole sacrificial system – they did not think they had to repent in the way other people did.  They would have been offended at the idea that they were to be baptized.
But the Jews also needed to be baptized with a baptism of repentance for sin – we all do – because we are born inclined to sin and the sacrifices and the Day of Atonement could never be enough – even if someone died in the moment of receiving forgiveness, he or she would still be a sinner – an enemy with God – because the sacrifices could never free us from Original Sin – from the inclination to sin.
The repentance John was calling people to – that we are called to – is not just to be sorrowful for our sin, but also to break with our evil past – to stop giving in to temptation and committing those sins, and, instead, to follow after God in joyful obedience, having believed in the salvation – the reconciliation – that He has given us through Jesus in history, leading us in thanksgiving to do that which is good and pleasing in God’s sight – bearing fruit.
John, himself, was the fulfillment of prophecy:
“As it is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet, ’The voice of one crying in the wilderness:  Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.’ 
Isaiah had prophesied that the Savior would have a forerunner – someone who would call the people to repentance.  And so John is called “the voice” – and so we understand that reconciliation – becoming right with God – does not happened by our doing something, but by our hearing the historical Gospel and receiving it as true.  Faith is by hearing – if we hear and believeg savingly in Who Jesus is and what He has done, we shall be saved.
And John, in the wilderness by the Jordan, called the people to prepare the way of the Lord, to make the paths for the Lord straight.
What does that mean?
The wilderness is symbolic of sin and our sinful condition, so John was calling them to make a path for the Savior through their sinful heart – to cut back the thorns and the weeds that had grown up since the fall and to clear a straight path – to directly and immediately call on Jesus to reconcile them to God.
That is the call before every human throughout time and space – repent of your sin, make the way clear, receive Jesus and what He did in history so you will be reconciled to God – made right with God eternally – received into His Kingdom, forgiven, changed, recreated, saved.
And that is the call that each one of us to is to make to our friends and neighbors and family and co-workers and strangers:  if they don’t believe savingly in Jesus, they may be so lost in the wilderness that they don’t believe there is a way out – they may not believe that it is possible for the way to be cleared that they would receive the Savior.  Tell them the historical facts – call them to believe – tell them there is no other way – no other hope.
Until Jesus returns, you and I are to prepare the way and call people to receive Jesus and His salvation by presenting the historical facts.
The prophecy of Isaiah continues:
“’Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall become straight, and the rough places shall become level ways,’”
Are we to take this literally?
Will the valleys and mountains and rough places and crooked places be physically reconciled into a smooth planet when Jesus restores the Creation?
We don’t know.
What we can say is that there is symbolic significance in this prophecy.
As commentators explain it (Hendriksen, 203-4):
In the reception of the Savior and His salvation, the mountains and valleys of false humility, pride, and arrogance will be done away with.
In the reception of the Savior and His salvation the crooked roads of perverse and deceitful habits will be broken and stopped.
In the reception of the Savior and His salvation, the rough places of indifference and uncaring will become genuine interest and care.
All we who are reconciled to God through the historical work of the Savior will be changed – and as we are brought into His eternal Kingdom on earth, we will be perfected and made holy.  What we are now – all that has become right in our lives in turning from sin – is only the beginning of the full reconciliation that God is working in us.
Right now, we Christians are still hypocrites – we still rebelliously sin when we know better and we have the way made for us – by God – that we do not ever have to sin.  But the day is coming when the fullness of Jesus’ work will be completely applied to us and we will be forever changed and conformed to His Image.
“‘and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.’”
            In keeping with the scandal of John’s preaching, the prophecy says that “all flesh” – that is, every type of flesh – every type of person – Jew and Gentile – from every tribe and nation, will come to have true savingly faith in the Savior.
            Not every person – but every type of person – there is no type of person too sinful to be saved by God the Savior, so we are not to look down on people for the sins they have committed, but to call all people to repent and receive the Gospel.
            And as we see in this text, by God’s Grace, we are to remove every obstacle from the Lord entering our hearts and lives.
            We are to help others be freed from obstacles that they may receive Jesus and His Gospel and be reconciled with God.
            Will you tell others the history of God coming to earth in the person of Jesus?
            Let us pray:
            Almighty God, we thank You for sending John to prepare the way for the coming of Jesus.  We thank You for clearing the way that we would receive His Gospel.  Help us to pray for others and tell others the historical facts of Jesus, and may You be pleased to send the Holy Spirit to open hearts and convert those we proclaim Your Gospel to.  For it is in Jesus’ Name we pray, Amen.

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