In 1789 George Washington was elected as the first President of the United States — and the country went wild with celebration. Washington, who was reluctant to take the office, left his home at Mount Vernon to make his way to New York City, where the temporary capital was. Back in those days, it took him seven days to travel from Virginia to New York. But he didn’t go alone. Word of his impending arrival had gotten out, and Washington’s route became a “triumphal procession,” as crowds and local officials from every town came out to meet him. When he came to Philadelphia, he found that they had built arches over the bridge in his honor, and had decorated the bridge with evergreens. As he approached the city, they brought him a white horse to ride into town on. Arriving at the Hudson River, at New York City, he found they had prepared for him a 47-foot ceremonial barge just to ferry him across, powered by 13 rowers, one for each state. He was greeted by a 13-canon salute, and the Governor and other officials met him, and escorted him to the President’s Mansion they had prepared for him there at Franklin House. George Washington was “head and shoulders” above every other, THE single most respected man in the country. So they prepared the way before him as he came to the inauguration.
Now I love George Washington. But we need to remember as we come to worship, every Sunday, there is Someone greater One than George Washington here. And we need to make preparation for Him, and what He wants to do in our lives, in His church, and in our world. Last week we talked about the importance of “preparation for worship;” how we shouldn’t just “show up” to worship, but we need to come prepared: being rested, and having walked with God in our own worship time, so that we are “full of the Spirit” when we come. We saw that confession of sin is another element in being prepared and “full of the Spirit” for worship. God says in Isaiah, “I cannot endure iniquity, and the solemn assembly.” Our sins pollute our worship, and God won’t accept that. If we really want to be prepared to worship God, we need to take our sins seriously.
This is what the ministry of John the Baptist was all about. Luke tells us that God sent him before Jesus began His ministry, to prepare the way before Him. We need to learn from John’s message and ministry, because God wants to do similar things in our lives today:
I. Making Preparation.
When the Bible introduces John the Baptist here in Luke 3, it quotes the Book of Isaiah to give us God’s context on who he was, and what he was doing. It says in :4-6, “As it is written in the Book of Isaiah the prophet, ‘The voice of one crying in the wilderness, make ready the way of the Lord, make His paths straight. Every ravine will be filled, and every mountain and hill will be brought low, the crooked will become straight, and the rough roads smooth, and all flesh will see the salvation of God.”
The Bible tells us that John didn’t just “show up;” his ministry had been predicted in Isaiah 40, and by Malachi, hundreds of years beforehand. And what God had sent him to do was to “make ready the way of the Lord.” And it talks about how the valleys will be filled in, and the mountains brought low, etc. What it is talking about there is how in ancient days, when an Eastern king would travel through the wilderness, they would “smooth out” the road ahead of him: they’d fill in the gullies, and rake down the high places, and make the road suitable for the approach of the king — similar to what the newly formed United States did when George Washington was on his way to the inauguration in New York City. He didn’t just “come;” they PREPARED the way for him. That is the picture here in Luke 3 and Isaiah 40. It is a picture of preparing the road for the King to come and visit.
In context, John was preparing Jerusalem, Judea, and the surrounding area for Jesus when He would arrive. Jesus had, of course, already been born, and was about to start His ministry. But just as Isaiah and Malachi predicted, John came before Him to “prepare the way.” He called people to repentance, to get their lives right, to prepare their hearts for what Jesus would say and do when He came. It is significant that God didn’t “just send” Jesus; He made PREPARATION for Him before He came.
In the same way, we need to prepare the way of the Lord today. Jesus has already come, but we want Him to “come” in another sense: we want Him to work in our lives, in our families, in our church, and in our country. If we really want that, then we need to realize that He is probably not just going to “show up” out of the blue and do something special among us; He moves when there has been PREPARATION made for Him. Just like we were talking about last week, that we need to be “prepared” when we come to worship; so we need to be prepared for the Lord to work in our lives, our families, our church, and in our nation.
II. What the Preparation Means:
So what form does this “preparation” for the Lord take?
— When they were preparing the way for an Eastern potentate, they would smooth out the rough road in the desert before him.
— When George Washington came to New York they had dignitaries and canon and a special barge, and provided a white horse for him.
— What kind of preparation do we make for the LORD to come, and work in our lives?
We see here in Luke 3 that the preparation God wants us to make for Him takes the form of cleansing our lives from SIN. If you look at it, John the Baptist’s ministry of preparation was all about getting people to turn from sin:
— :3 tells us that John’s message was “preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins”
— :8 gives us a sample of his preaching and it says that he told them: “bear fruits in keeping with repentance”
John was saying, to make preparation for the Lord, you have to repent of sin. THAT is the “preparation” God wants from us: He doesn’t want us to smooth out a road or provide Him a white horse; He wants us to make spiritual preparation by repenting of sin in our heart.
Now we need to remember what it means to “repent.” “Repent” is one of those “old-fashioned” type of words that many of us either do not understand, or we read our own meaning into it. But to “repent” literally means to “change your mind;” it means to make a U-turn.
I once knew a guy who was exploring a small town, and he was driving down one of the main streets in the town, and all of the sudden, the road just stopped. And right at that place in the road there was a sign that read: “U-turn absolutely required.”
What we have to understand today is that if we want to prepare the way for the Lord in our lives, a “u-turn” is absolutely required:
— there are some things we are doing now that we cannot continue to do.
— there are some habits in our lives that are going to have to change.
— there are some attitudes we cannot continue to have
— there are some changes that have to be made.
We can’t just keep doing what we are doing right now, and think that God is just going to come and work in our lives, in our family, or in our church, in a special way. We’ve got to make preparation. There must be repentance. There are some “u-turns” in our lives that are “absolutely required.”
This is one of the things we need to be sure to get out of this unique time we are in right now. You hear people say things like, “Things are never going to be ‘normal’ again.” And many of us have said, “That is GOOD! We don’t want to be ‘normal’ again; we want to be different; we want to be BETTER than we were. We want God to do something in us, in our family, in our church, in our country through this COVID-19 crisis. And that is a good aspiration; that is a good hope and a good goal.
But we’ve got to understand that it will NOT just happen unless there is repentance in our lives.
— Jesus could not come and work in Israel until John had first prepared them through repentance.
— And in the same way, Jesus will not work in our country unless there is repentance in our nation for the sins that we have been immersed in as a culture.
— Jesus will not work in our church, until there is repentance from sins we have become comfortable with. We can sit here and pray “O God, revive Your church” all we want to; THERE WILL BE NO REVIVAL UNTIL THERE IS REPENTANCE OF SIN.
— And God will not work in YOUR life as an individual, unless there is repentance in your own life either. You cannot just keep doing what you’re doing right now, and expect for God to work, and things to change. You’ve got to make PREPARATION by repenting of sin.
III. Making the Preparation Specific
This may be the most important part of this message today, so stick with me here! We’ve got to make this preparation and repentance specific.
I grew up in a First Baptist Church, a whole lot like this one: the First Baptist Church of Harrah, Oklahoma. Back in those days, there was a term that we often used, and it is not used as much today, but back then there would often be people who would come down to the front of the church at the invitation time and they’d say that they were coming to “rededicate their life” to the Lord. We’d hear that all the time: “So-and-so has come today to rededicate their life to the Lord!” It was very common in those days. But what does that really MEAN? Usually it was taken to mean something like: “I’ve been doing some things I shouldn’t have, and now I need to change” and ask forgiveness and get back right with the Lord again. That’s good — as we’ve seen, we DO need to repent to prepare ourselves to be right with God. But the thing is, we need to make sure we are SPECIFIC about it.
I remember as a young pastor, being at a youth camp in Oklahoma and a young person came to me after the invitation at the service, and they told me they wanted to “rededicate their life.” I had never done this before, but I believe the Lord led me at that moment to ask them: “So, you say you want to ‘rededicate your life.’ WHAT SPECIFICALLY DOES THAT MEAN TO YOU? WHAT IS IT that you need to change, as you rededicate your life? I told them, you don’t have to tell ME all the details of it, but you need to know specifically what you have been doing wrong, that God is calling you to change. It’s no good just saying you want to “rededicate your life” unless you know there is something specific in your life that you are going to change. It does you no good spiritually to say you “rededicated your life” to the Lord — if you just go from here and live the same old life you were living before! If you are really repenting, you are going to make some SPECIFIC CHANGES.
This is what we see with John the Baptist and the people of Israel here in Luke 3. John preached a strong message from God, and the people were convicted of their sins, and they came to be baptized for repentance for their sins. And significantly, when they came to John in :10 they asked him, “Then what shall we do?” They were like, John, what SPECIFICALLY should we DO to repent as we prepare for the Lord?
This is an excellent question. This is EXACTLY what we should do whenever we hear God’s word. We always need to make a specific response to what we hear from God’s word by turning from specific sins in our lives. This is what the people in Luke 3 did:
— In :10 they asked John “What should we do?”, and in :11 he answered them with some specifics: “The man who has two tunics is to share with him who has none; and he who has food is to do likewise.”
— In :12-13 it says “Some tax collectors also came to be baptized, and they said to him, ‘Teacher what shall we do?’ And he said to them, ‘Collect no more than what you have been ordered to.’” (see it was very specific)
— Verse 14 says: “Some soldiers were questioning him, saying, ‘And what about us, what shall we do?’ And he said to them, ‘Do not take money from anyone by force, or accuse anyone falsely, and be content with your wages.’”
These were all very SPECIFIC responses to sins in their lives that they had to repent of, to “prepare the way” for Jesus in their hearts.
(I think it is very notable, by the way, that EVERY SINGLE ONE OF THESE specific responses John mentioned to them had something to do with POSSESSIONS/MONEY! Did you notice that?
— He told them in :11 to share their clothes and food with others
— He told the tax collectors not to take more money than they were supposed to
— He told the soldiers not to take money, and to be content with their wages.
It was almost all about money. And I know that in our day too, many of the specific things God wants to deal with us about, are going to be about money — because money is such an important part of who we are and what we do. If your relationship with God is not changing the way you are using and spending your money and your resources, you are not responding to Him the way you should. Money and our material possessions are some real, down-to-earth, specific areas in which many of us need repentance and obedience, and they are the kinds of things that God will speak to us about too, just like He did to the people of Israel through John here.)
But the overall point is, that God wants us to change some very specific areas of our lives, in obedience with His word, so that we can be the kind of people that He will use. It is NOT ENOUGH just to “feel bad” about “not being the person I should have been,” and walk out of here and say we are “rededicating” ourselves to the Lord — and then do nothing specifically to change. John was very specific here on what they needed to do to repent. And if we are really hearing and responding to God’s word today, then we will make some very specific changes in our lives as a result of hearing His word.
The people of Israel responded to God’s message and said “Then what shall we do?” That is exactly the question each of us needs to ask God today. DON’T just come away saying, “I need to get right with God.” Ask God, “What shall I do?”, what specifically do I need I do to repent and get right with You, and prepare the way for what You want to do? GET SPECIFIC:
— what specifically have you been doing that is not right with God?
— what specifically do you need to change?
— and what specifically do you need to start doing differently when you leave this place?
“THEN WHAT SHALL I DO?” This is the question that every person who is serious about their walk with God should ask: “Then what shall I do?”
— we need to ask it NOW at this strategic time during this COVID-19 crisis;
— we need to ask it at the end of sermon and every Sunday School lesson we hear.
— we should ask it at the end of every daily Bible reading we do:
“Then what shall I DO?”
God does not give us His word for entertainment! He wants us to DO something SPECIFIC as a result of reading or hearing it. What does He want US to do?
Well we can start with the things that John mentions here:
— “Let him who has two tunics give to him who has none.” Some of us are stingy, we have more than enough, and we need to change, and stop hoarding for ourselves, and begin to learn to give.
— Others of us are like those tax collectors: we’re cheating people on the job to make more money, and God’s saying I want you to stop it. Make some changes in the way you do business. Become a person of integrity.
— Others of us are like those soldiers, we have a bad attitude about our job, or salary or employer or co-workers. And God is saying, repent of that attitude. “Be content.” Find your contentment in ME, not in money or other things.
There are SO many applications here: don’t make money more important than God, or people, or your own integrity. Don’t be selfish; change your attitude. The Lord may be speaking to you about some of these things.
Or He may be telling you to change some other things in your life. I have no doubt that God has spoken to some of us today, about something that I have not even mentioned, but something that you need to change has popped up in your heart and mind while I have been talking. If that has happened, this is God’s Holy Spirit speaking to you. What should you do? Just like Mary said in John 2, “Whatever He says to you, do it!” Whatever specific change He’s nudging you in your heart to make today, do it!
Every one of us listening today needs to ask God the question that the people asked John here: “Then what shall I do?” What specifically does God want YOU to repent of, and to change? We talked last week about the importance of taking notes when we read the Bible or hear messages. This right here is the most important note you can take: ask God “then what shall I do?” — write down what He shows you — and then ask Him for the power of His Holy Spirit to help you follow through, and DO IT.
— As we bow our heads, will you ask God the question: “Then what shall I do?” Let Him show you. You can’t make that change on your own, so ask HIM to help you do it, through the power of His Holy Spirit.
— And then KEEP watching for God to show you new things to repent of, every day as you read His word. Every day as you read, He will show you more things that you are to do in response to His word. Take notes as you read. And at the end of every reading, ask God this same question: “Then what shall I do?” And make it your prayer to ask Him to help you do it.
— Or maybe you’d say you don’t even have a relationship with God. You need to repent for the very first time, turn away from a life of doing whatever you want to do, to a life of following God and obeying Him instead.
— Admit to God that you have sinned. (confess some specific things)
— Ask Him to forgive you because of Jesus’ death on the cross.
— And Commit your life to HIM: to obey HIM and follow Him from this day forward.
If you’re doing that, you need to tell someone, and your next step is to be baptized …