This sermon examines three things we need to rethink if we want to live deeper into the Kingdom Life. These things are taken from Luke 3:1-22, the story of John the Baptist.
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Last month I took a two-week vacation and didn’t go anywhere. It was one of the best vacations ever. I did something that I’ve wanted to do for a long time, but just never got around to doing it.
I joined the gym.
I’ve learned something. It takes a lot of work to work out. You have to exert energy, and your body hurts, and it costs money.
My membership came with a free consultation with a personal trainer. He sat down with me and asked, “So, what are your goals?”
“I want to be healthy,” I said. “I also want to get stronger. I’d like to lose the belly fat. You know, be a little less like an H and a little more like a V.”
“Well,” he says, “You will need to do strength training.”
- That sounds good.
“You’ll need to do some cardio.”
Yep. Got it.
“And, You’ll need to eat more protein and less carbs. Basically, you need to change the way you think about food. It isn’t a recreation, it is nutrition.”
OK, now you just want to fight.
Change the way I think about food. Did you know that there is a biblical word for that?
The word that we translate repent is the Greek word metanoia. It means to change the way you think about something, or how you perceive reality.
So, if I really want to reduce my body fat percentage, then I need to repent.
What about you? It is the New Year. It is that time when we try to think about a fresh start. We want to leave 2016 behind us and make 2017 a better year.
We all have very particular things that we want to accomplish this year. But, as Christians, we all have one thing in common. We are called to follow Jesus in the Kingdom of God.
So, our big question for today is, “How can we walk deeper in the Kingdom Life with God?”
Our text today gives us three things that we need to RETHINK if we want to live more deeply into the Kingdom Life.
Rethink God’s Power vv. 1-6
The first thing we need to rethink is God’s Power.
Look how Luke begins this section. He maps out the power structure of the region.
First there is the Roman Emperor, Tiberius.
Then, Pontius Pilate is the Roman Governor of Judea. That’s the region in which we find the city of Jerusalem. The city was so politically volatile that the Roman Empire didn’t even allow a king in the city. It was directly governed by Rome.
Then, there are the sons of King Herod. Remember him from the Christmas story. He was the one who killed all the babies in Bethlehem, trying to kill the baby Jesus. Jesus is all grown up now, and two of Herod’s sons—Herod and Philip—are rulers in the northern parts, where Jesus is from.
Then, Luke names the religious leaders, the high priests: Annas and Caiaphas.
Notice what he says next. The Word of God came to John out in the wilderness.
This is our first clue to Luke’s message. Don’t expect to find God’s power among the movers and shakers in the world. God shows up out in the wild, on the edges of society.
The message is one of a baptism that is the symbol of repentance and forgiveness of sins. Israel needs to rethink what God’s Kingdom is all about.
Then, look what God’s power does. Luke quotes the prophet Isaiah to describe the ministry of John and the coming of the Messiah.
In Isaiah 40, it says that there are mountains, and valleys, and crooked paths, and rough patches that make it difficult for God’s Kingdom to come.
But, when the Messiah comes, he will bring down the mountains, fill in the valleys, straighten the crooked paths, and smooth out the rough patches.
Then Luke adds Isaiah 50, where ALL FLESH shall see the salvation of God.
God’s power, God’s salvation, God’s promise is not only for the elite or the elect. It is for ALL FLESH. God’s power levels the playing field and allows everyone to come.
The people were ready for John’s message, so they go out into the wilderness to repent and be baptized.
As we look at his sermon, we see
Rethink Our Power vv. 7-17
The second thing we need to rethink is our own power.
Listen to the message that John preaches. He says, “bear the fruits worthy of repentance.” Don’t just talk about it. DO IT!
Be the kind of people that God has always called you to be.
Because, the ax is already at the root of the tree. Here he is reminding them of what happened to Israel back in the day when the Assyrian Empire and the Babylonian Empire destroyed them.
Now, the tension between Israel and the Roman Empire is so intense that it is only a matter of time before the ax of the Romans falls and cuts down Israel.
Then the people ask the most important question.
HOW? What should we do?
John speaks to three groups of people. Here is where we can listen closely.
First, he says to everyone. Look, if you have stuff, SHARE IT. God didn’t give you stuff to hoard it. Help out your brothers and sisters who don’t have what they need.
Then, the tax collectors pipe in. What about us? The tax collectors were agents of the Empire. They were not very popular with the people. John tells them, “Be honest. Don’t collect more than you should.”
Finally, the soldiers asked, “What should we do?” The soldiers were not just warriors, they were the police force. They walked the streets every day and kept the peace. John tells them, “Don’t extort the people. Be satisfied with your wage.”
Notice what John did NOT say.
He did not say to stop being tax collectors. Society needs tax collectors.
He didn’t say stop being a soldier or a police officer. Society needs soldiers and police officers to keep us safe.
In all three of these groups he is speaking to power. When you have the advantage over someone else, you have power. Don’t use that power to serve yourself, but use it to serve all people.
That’s the Kingdom Life. It’s that simple.
The people were so impressed with John that they thought he was the Messiah.
He assures them that one is coming who he is not worthy to serve. When the Messiah comes, he will baptize with the Holy Spirit and with fire. He will clean house and call people to live this kind of Kingdom Life.
That person is Jesus.
Rethink Our Personal Freedom vv. 18-20
There is one last thing that I see in this story that we need to rethink if we want to live the Kingdom Life.
We need to rethink our personal freedom.
Notice what happens in verses 18-20. John spoke truth to power, and he suffered for it. Herod, the ruler of Galilee did not like John calling him out for his infidelity and his abuse of power. So, he had John arrested. We find out later in the story that John was beheaded.
Here’s a harsh truth for us as followers of Jesus.
The Kingdom of God is quite often counter-cultural. It often asks us to swim against the stream and speak truth to places of abuse and oppression.
The easy thing for us to do is to just keep our faith to ourself, and just be glad that we have the freedom to believe whatever we want to believe. Yet, when we see people being hurt or treated unjustly, do we really have the freedom to do nothing?
Our text ends with the story of Jesus getting baptized. This moment begins his public ministry. The voice of God says, “You are my son, the Beloved, with you I am well pleased.”
The life of Jesus is the life that pleases God. It is the life of the Kingdom. It is the way of life to which we are called as we follow Jesus.
John the Baptist calls us to repent. We are called to rethink God’s Power, that God shows up in the wilderness and among the fringes. To rethink our own power and remember that we are called to live for the sake of the world, not just ourself. To rethink our freedom, and remember that, sometimes, we must sacrifice in order to live into God’s Kingdom.
The question for us today is this: “What do we need to RETHINK, so that we can bear the fruits worthy of repentence and ignite the Kingdom Life?”
We are about to enter into a ceremony of baptism renewal. The one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit and with fire has come. Jesus ignites a deeper walk in the Kingdom Life.