Second Reformed Church

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

"Stones. Roots. Fruit." Sermon: Luke 3:7-18



“Stones.  Roots.  Fruit.”
[Luke 3:7-18]
December 13, 2015 Second Reformed Church
            Have you ever heard an ad like this:  “Lose twenty-five to forty pounds in thirty days with no change to your diet, no exercise, and no expensive pills”?  Unless you are going under the knife, this is fraud – because if nothing changes – nothing is going to change.
            A fraud is something or someone that claims to be something it is not.
            As Luke gives us an overview of John the Baptist’s ministry, we see John confronted the frauds who came to him to be baptized – and we see that people who are truly repentant and believe in the Savior must change.  “Repent” means to turn away and do something different – and if you are not doing anything different, it is proof that you are not repentant.
            Paul put it this way:  “What shall we say then?  Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound?  By no means!  How can we who died to sin still live in it?  Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?  We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life” (Romans 6:1-4, ESV).
            We saw last week that John’s call as a prophet was to make the way straight – to remove any obstacles that would keep anyone from understanding that Jesus is God the Savior.  We said that we are called to do the same thing – proclaim the Gospel and remove any obstacles that we can to anyone’s hearing and receiving the Gospel.
            And all who hear the Gospel preached are called to remove the obstacles that they have and that they have put up in their lives to keep them from receiving the Gospel preached to them.
            And then, all we who have come by the straight way, the flat way, the smooth way, and received the Gospel, we are to continue to live as people who remove obstacles so others and hear and receive the Gospel.  By that, we mean that we as Christians are to be changed people – people who live differently from the way we lived – people who are noticeably different.
            The Pharisees and Sadducees who went to see John the Baptist were not different – they were not repentant – they were frauds.
“He said therefore to the crowds that came out to be baptized by him, ‘You brood of vipers!  Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?  Bear fruits in keeping with repentance.  And do not begin to say to yourselves, “We have Abraham as our father.”  For I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham.  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.’
John the Baptist was baptizing people for the repentance of sins – all people – including Jews – were being called by John the Baptist to repent of their sin – to stop sinning and not follow after sin again, but to live in ways that are pleasing to God.  And Matthew tells us that they were some of the Pharisees and Sadducees that came to John – acting like they wanted to be baptized – because they wanted to know where he got the authority – who gave him the right – to baptize and call people – including Jews – to repentance.
And God the Holy Spirit gave him the knowledge that they were frauds – and so he accused them – calling them vipers – serpents.  We remember that Satan came to Eve and tempted her while in the form of a serpent, and in the book of Revelation, we read of his fall:  “And the great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world – he was thrown down to earth, and his angels were thrown down with him” (Revelation 12:7-9, ESV).
Like their god, these Pharisees and Sadducees were deceivers.  They misled the people and they misled themselves, and they were trying to deceive John the Baptist – asking him that he should baptize them.
When John asked them who warned them to flee from the wrath to come, he is being sarcastic – because they did not believe in the wrath to come – they believed that they were right with God and did not need to repent and believe.  So, John was asking them – effectively, “Who deceived you into thinking you could deceive God?”
There are ministers today who preach from their pulpits week after week, but don’t believe that the Bible is the inerrant and infallible Word of God.  There are Sunday school teachers who don’t believe a word of the material they teach.  There are members of the church who don’t believe in Jesus and His Salvation, but they think since they go to church and go through the motions that it is enough.  They are deceived!  We may be deceived!  But God is not deceived!
John told them to bear fruit in keeping with repentance.  A believer – a Christian – will turn away from sin and strive not to sin again – a believer will do good works – a Christian will seek to obey God – in response – in thanks – for the salvation that he or she has received.
And John was ready for their objection:  “But we are the children of Abraham.  We are the chosen people of Israel.  We are right with God because we are part of the line and the lineage of Abraham.”
And John tells them to forget it – just as God made Adam from the dirt, God could raise up sons and daughters of Abraham from the rocks on the ground.  No one is saved by their blood or their heritage – salvation is by faith alone in Jesus alone.
As far as being saved – as far as becoming a Christian is concerned – it doesn’t matter if you have given up all your “bad” habits, it doesn’t matter if you love you spouse and family, it doesn’t matter if you are in worship every time the doors are open, as well as volunteering during the week, it doesn’t matter if you give half your money to the church, it doesn’t matter if you have memorized the whole Bible – none of that makes anyone right with God.  Those are all good things for Christians to do – but none of those things makes a person a Christian.
Once a person is saved – once a person believes in Jesus and His salvation – then the changes in our life – the turning away from sin and the doing of good works – helps to show that we truly are believers.
So John warned them – and we are well warned, as well – we are all like trees – and those trees that do not bear good fruit – those of us who do not prove ourselves to be Christians through the way we live – those of us who are frauds and think we are getting away with saying we are Christians – those of us who think they can deceive their way into the Kingdom – God will cut those people down and throw them into the fire.  Just as a dead or unproductive fruit tree is chopped down and burned, so God will judge all those frauds with all those who never believed and throw them into the punishment of Hell.
This message was not strange to the people of Israel.  This is what the prophet Isaiah said about the coming Savior:
“The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor, he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, and to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn; to grant to those who mourn in Zion – to give them a beautiful headdress instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit; that they may be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that he may be glorified” (Isaiah 61:1-3, ESV).
The prophecy – that they knew – was that the Savior would come to bring deliverance, blessing, and the Wrath of God.
The people at the Jordan responded by asking John what they ought to do in response to their repentance and belief in God the Savior:
“And the crowds asked him, ‘What then shall we do?’  And he answered them, ‘Whoever has two tunics is to share with him who has none, and whoever has food is to do likewise.’  Tax collectors also came to be baptized and said to him, ‘Teacher, what shall we do?’  And he said to them, ‘Collect no more than you are authorized to do.’  Soldiers also asked him, ‘And we, what shall we do?’  And he said to them, ‘Do not extort money from anyone by threats or by false accusation, and be content with your wages.’
Three groups of people are highlighted by Luke:
First, there was the crowd in general who asked what they should do in the way of good works – in bearing fruit – in showing love to God and their neighbors.
John told them if they had two sets of clothes and someone else had none, to give them a set of clothes, and if they had more than enough food and some else had no food at all, to share their food with them.
This is simply the command to love our neighbors:  not only are we to do nothing to harm our neighbors, but we are to seek to build them up in every way – and especially in the knowledge and receipt of the Gospel.  If we are believers and we desire to assist our neighbors and we have more than we need of something, and we know someone who truly has a need that we can fill, then we ought – in thanksgiving and love – and voluntarily – give to those who lack.
The second group was the tax collectors, and John told them to collect only what they were authorized to collect.
We may have negative feelings about paying taxes – we may even think it robbery – but what John is highlighting here is extortion.
Remember that Israel was occupied by Rome at this time.  In order to pay for all that was occurring in the Roman Empire, taxes were assessed on all those peoples that Rome had conquered – and Rome often employed native people to collect the taxes to be sent to Rome.  However, it became a regular sin among tax-collectors to charge more than they were told to that they might line their pockets.  They would threaten the people if they didn’t pay extra, Rome might hear they were being a problem or family members could end up in jail.
It was a situation where tax-collectors were doubly hated:  they were traitors to their country – working for their oppressor – and they were forcing people to overpay – they were stealing from their own people.
So John tells them to stop stealing – stop threatening and extorting and abusing the people for their money – and instead – as believers – as Christians – only charge what Rome said they should charge.  Be honest in their financial dealings with the people.
Again, we are talking about love of neighbor – treating people fairly.  We are called to do whatever work God has given us – to do it well – and whatever we produce, we are to sell at a fair price.  We are not to gouge each other financially.  We are not to pad the books or trump up false charges for our services.
The third group was soldiers, and John told them to be content with what they were paid and not to extort money from people by threats and false accusations.
 The military was not paid well, so one of the ways they got extra money was by threatening people with harm if they did not pay for protection or by bringing them up on false charges if they did not pay them.
They abused their position and authority to get more for themselves.
And there is the warning for us:  do not abuse the power you have.  Every one of us has power and authority over someone or something, and there is a temptation to just push a little bit if it benefits us.  But that is not love of neighbor.  Part of loving our neighbor is protecting those we have authority over – being fair with them – doing what we can to make their lives better.
So, John told the people that a proper response to repenting and believing the Gospel is to stop sinning, to turn away from our sinful pursuits, and, instead, we are to love our neighbor by using the abundance that God has given us to provide for those in need – and each one of us has more than we need of something that we can share with someone who doesn’t have what we have in abundance, we are to love our neighbors by doing whatever work God has given to the very best of our ability and fairly and honestly, and we are not to abuse our authority, but love and protect those in need.
In preaching in this way – in connecting the things of the Spirit with our everyday lives – the people wondered who John was.  They thought he must be a prophet – the way he dressed and talked – but these Pharisees and Sadducees who had been sent to find out about John wondered if he was something more – and if not – who gave him the right and the authority to preach and baptize.
“As the people were in expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Christ, John answered them all, saying, ‘I baptize you with water, but he who is mightier than I is coming, the strap of his sandals I am not worthy to untie.  He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.  His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.’
John, the apostle, explains in his Gospel, that the Pharisees and Sadducees who had been sent to investigate John asked him if he was the Christ – God the Savior – and John told them he was not.  They asked him if he was the prophet Elijah, raised from the dead – and John told them he was not.  And they asked him if he was one of the other prophets, raised from the dead – and John told them he was not.  So, they asked him where he got the authority and who gave him the right to baptized.
He responded with the prophecy of Isaiah that we looked at last week – John was the Voice, prophesied to come before the Christ – to call people to prepare the way.
John told them that he had been sent to baptize with water for the forgiveness of sins – but he was not the Christ.  We might picture John speaking with awe about the Christ as he told them that the Christ is so much greater than he, that it would be too great an honor for him to unlace His dirty, poop-covered sandals.
How much greater must the Christ be that it was far too great an honor to unlace the sandals that had walked through the dirty roads and stepped in animal poop?  I don’t think any of you would think it a great honor to remove my shoes after I had stepped in poop – that is how much more glorious, and mighty, and holy, and awesome Jesus is than John the Baptist and any one of us!
Jesus is our Friend, but we ought never to become as casual as to think He is of the same stature as us.  He is the Almighty God – the One and Only Holy, Holy, Holy.
And the Christ – Jesus – John told them – was coming to baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire.  The Christ was coming to illuminate and cleanse – like a fire –  and to send God the Holy Spirit to indwell all those who believe.
Christ did the work to cleanse us and illumine us through His life, death, and physical resurrection – He took on our sin and paid the debt for it – God’s Wrath upon Himself, and He live a righteous life and credited that to us, and forty days after His Ascension, He sent the Holy Spirit:
“When the day of Pentecost arrived they were all together in one place.  And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting.  And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them.  And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance” (Acts 2:1-4, ESV).
And on the day when the axe fells the trees that don’t bear good fruit – and they are thrown into the fire – the Christ will take His winnowing fork and thresh the wheat – putting the wheat in the barn and throwing the chaff into the unquenchable fire.
Before there were machine to get the kernels of wheat off of the stalks, farmers would cut the stakes down and bring them into the barn and beat them on the ground until the grain fell out.  Then they would take a large fork – like a pitchfork – and thrown the grain up in the air, and as they did so, the papery cover over the wheat – the chaff – would come loose and float away, and the grain would fall to the ground.  The farmers would take the grain to store, and the chaff – the useless, inedible coating – would be gathered up and burned.  Likewise, believers will be saved – and unbelievers – and frauds – will be thrown into the fire.  This is the judgment.
Our text ends with this comment:
“So with many other exhortations he preached the good news to the people.”
            And here we understand, without the bad news, the Good News doesn’t make sense. 
            The bad news is that we are all born at enmity with God – we all seek to follow after sin – we all go against God.  The result of never believing – whether outright not believing or being a fraud – the result is being thrown into the fire to suffer.
            The Good News is that – from before the beginning – God had a plan to save a people for Himself.  And God came to earth in the real human person of Jesus – that Baby Whose birth we celebrate at Christmas – He lived a perfect life, died, physical rose from the dead, and ascended back to His throne.  And all we who repent and believe in Him are made right with God through Him, and we will be with Him in His Kingdom forever and ever.
            And for now, we will live lives of turning away from sin and doing good works in thanks to God and in love for our neighbors – above all, telling everyone the Good News – that Jesus Christ was born on Christmas day.
            Let us pray:
            Almighty God, we thank You for sending Your Son to save us and all we who believe in Him and what He did on earth.  Help us always to be good witnesses to Him and His Gospel that others would see the good fruit we are bearing and truly desire to repent and believe in Christ, our God and Savior.  For it is in Jesus’ Name we pray, Amen.

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