I was in Wal-Mart a few months ago with a mission. It was the end of the summer season, so I went to the lawn and garden section to check out the sales on all the stuff you use to keep your yard and property looking nice. I went there with the intention of buying a weed eater if the price was right, and I wanted to see what else I could find a bargain on. As I entered into the lawn and garden section of the store, I noticed that they had already started putting out the Halloween decorations. It was nearing the end of September, so this was to be expected; however, I was soon to discover that Halloween was not the only holiday they were ready for. After two aisles of vampires, jack-o-lanterns, and ghosts, I ran smack dab into Frosty, Rudolph, Santa, and the rest of the Christmas gang. I looked at my wife and asked, “Do they really have Christmas stuff out already?” hoping that she would pinch me and I would wake up from a nightmare. Sure enough, Wal-Mart was ready for Christmas in September. It won’t be long until you walk in there to buy sparklers for the Fourth of July and you will have to walk past the giant inflatable snow globe to get them.
The rule of thumb in my household is that we don’t start getting ready for Christmas until after Thanksgiving. I like to take my holidays one at a time. I am not holding anything against those who have been ready for months, but you may have a problem. You may be addicted to Christmas which can result in Christmasitis. Well, if you are in doubt about this, I have come up with a test which can help you determine if you have contracted this disease. Give yourself a point for every question you answer yes to.
1. Do you have more than five giant inflatable lawn decorations?
2. Did you buy any of this year’s Christmas presents at the after Christmas sales last year?
3. Do you leave your Christmas lights up all year and try to pass them off as lights to celebrate other holidays?
4. Have you ever bought an artificial tree because real ones don’t last for three months?
5. Do you rent or own a shed or storage unit because you have more decorations than your house can hold?
On a more serious note, I want to ask you this question: Are you ready for Christmas? Normally when this question is asked we can point to a number of things to gauge our readiness. Do we have our tree out and decorated? Are all the decorations and lights hung? Is our shopping completed? Did we send out our Christmas cards? Do we have everything wrapped? As we go through the season, we can check off everything that gets done. However, this is not what I am referring to when I ask the question, “Are you ready for Christmas?” I am referring to the spiritual aspects of the season.
In all the gospels, we are given a picture of John the Baptist who comes before Jesus Christ and gives the people a message to get ready for the coming Messiah. Let’s take a look at this message in Matthew 3:1-10.
In those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the desert of Judea, and saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.” This is he who was spoken of through the prophet Isaiah: “A voice of one calling in the desert, ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, and make straight paths for him.’” John’s clothes were made of camel’s hair, and he had a leather belt around his waist. His food was locusts and wild honey. People went out to him from Jerusalem and all Judea and the whole region of the Jordan. Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River. But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to where he was baptizing, he said to them: “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not think you can say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.”
This morning, I want to take a look at what this man of God told the people of Israel to do to get ready for the coming of the Lord. There are four key words that are spoken in this passage. We must heed these words if we wish to fully prepare for Him at Christmastime. Before we go any further, let’s ask the Lord to bless our time.
Word #1: Prepare
We have talked about some of the things that we think about when it comes to getting ready for Christmas. We immediately think about putting up the tree, hanging the lights, shopping and such, but there is one thing that must be done before anything else. You have to prepare your house to receive these things. Chances are, the places in your house where you place your snowman knick knacks, your snow globes, and your Christmas tree are occupied by other decorations during the rest of the year. So, in order to have space to put your Christmas stuff out, you have to get the other stuff out of the way.
In our Scripture for this morning, we are told that John the Baptist is the one whom Isaiah spoke about when he told there would be a voice calling in the desert. Let’s take a quick look back to Isaiah to see what was said about John in chapter 40 starting in verse 3.
A voice of one calling: “In the desert prepare the way for the Lord; make straight in the wilderness a highway for our God. Every valley shall be raised up, every mountain and hill made low; the rough ground shall become level, the rugged places a plain. And the glory of the Lord will be revealed, and all mankind together will see it. For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”
When we look at the word prepare closely in the Hebrew, we find that it refers to a clearing out. We are to clear out a way for the Lord in the wilderness and make smooth in the desert a highway for our God. This refers to the ancient Near Eastern custom of sending representatives ahead to prepare the way for the visit of a monarch. Sometimes, they would even do work on the road to make it as professional as possible. They wanted to make a road that was worthy of their King, and sometimes, that involved removing fallen trees or filling in holes to make the path as good as possible. But, what does Isaiah referring to by telling us to make our paths straight? We get that answer a few chapters earlier.
In Isaiah 26:7, we are told, “The way of the righteous is smooth: O Upright One, make the path of the righteous level.” So, in order to prepare a smooth path for the Lord, we must be righteous. This means that we must clear out the sin and the stumbling blocks in our lives that make it impossible for God to come. By telling us to prepare, John the Baptist is saying that the King is coming, so we must make sure we are ready to receive Him. How do we do this? It starts by heeding word #2 – We must confess.
Word #2: Confess
Confession can sometimes seem like such a little thing to us. After all God is all-knowing, and He knows everything we do, so why is there any need to confess? So often when we go to God in prayer, we either skip confession completely or we give some generic statement such as, “Lord, forgive me if there is any sin in my life. That is not really a confession.
To confess means to acknowledge or admit that you have done something wrong. If you say the prayer I mentioned above, you are not admitting or acknowledging any sin. To acknowledge or admit something, you have to be specific. Let’s say you commit a crime and go down to the police station to turn yourself in. If the cop comes to talk to you and all you say is, “I confess, I did it”, you are going to be met with another question right away. They are going to ask you, “Ok, what did you do?” It’s not just good enough to be general in our confession. Confession, by its very definition requires us to be direct and specific.
So, why do we need to be specific in our confession and confess at all if God already knows everything? Well, first of all, it is Biblical. God designed this from the very beginning as found in 1 John 1:9. It says, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” God’s way of forgiveness hinges on the condition of whether we will truly confess of all our wrongs. It goes back to even farther than 1 John though. Think back to the tabernacle back in Moses’ time. Before you could enter in the holy part of the temple, you had a duty to do in the outer courts. You had to be washed and cleansed at the laver before you could enter into the holy place. But, before that could happen, you had to offer a sin offering at the altar. This was an admission before God that there was sin in your life. And, your offering differed according to the sin that was committed. So, the Israelites got specific about their sins and confessed them before the Lord by this public act in order to be cleansed so they could enter into the holy place of the temple.
What fascinates me most in all of this is the public confession that occurred. If I said to you this morning, “If you sinned this week, please raise your hand,” how many of you would do it? Let’s try it. If you sinned this week raise your hand. Now, I see most of the hands in the air, but how many of you are willing to tell me what sin you committed? That’s just getting downright personal, and most of us would be uncomfortable doing that. After all, that is between you and God. But, is it really? There is a Scripture in James that tells us otherwise. James 5:16 tells us, “Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed.” That tells me that confession is to be more public than we make it out to be. I am not saying that we broadcast all over the church what our every shortcoming and fault is, but we need to find other brothers and sisters in Christ that we can confide in and confess and pray with them about our trouble spots. It is only then that true healing can come. Why else do you think that people go on television on shows like Jerry Springer and Maury Povich and air their dirty laundry and secrets for the world to hear? It is because confession is very freeing and brings healing to the soul. It seems like those outside the church get this more than we do as church goers do. But, we need to take a page out of the book of the Israelites. As they stood in line to offer their sacrifice, they could get a good idea of what the people around them had done just by looking at their sacrifice. It was a confession to God that they had committed a certain sin, but it also acted as a confession to those around them. And, to a certain extent, I think it was very encouraging to the other Israelites. They could see that others struggled with the same things they did, and they could find comfort in the fact that they were not alone in their sins.
I know this is not an easy teaching. It is hard to get specific in our confession, and it is even harder to confess to each other. But, it is incredibly freeing when it happens, and the devil will do all that he can to keep you locked up in the prison of unconfessed sin. He knows the power of confession, and it is time we understand its importance. After all, every great revival starts with prayer, and the very next step is always public confession of sin. Revival will not come without confession – that’s how important this is.
Word #3: Repent
Now, I know what many of you are thinking. “He just got done telling us to confess and now he is telling us to repent. Isn’t that the same thing?” My answer is, “No.” Repentance is the taking confession to the next level, and it is the next logical step to prepare yourself for the coming of the King.
How many of you have kids that always obey what you say? Ok, then I think this is a story you can relate to. Let’s say you have a son who always hits his younger brother. You have told him numerous times that it is wrong and that he needs to stop it, but it still is a problem from time to time. One time, you catch him in the act, and you say, “How many times have I told you not to hit your brother?” Then, the child comes to you with a tear in their eye and says, “I’m sorry I hit my brother, mommy.” You immediately forgive them, but then, before you know it, the boy goes over and smacks his brother again. How does that make you feel? Is the child going to be in trouble again? You bet he is.
This shows us the difference between confession and repentance. This child surely confessed his sin, but as I said, repentance is taking the next step. To repent literally means to turn back or to change. It means that you see that you are doing something wrong, but you actually do something to make a difference in your behavior. When we finally do get around to confessing our sins to the Lord, we so often times are guilty of not doing anything to change our behavior. We confess and go back to the way we have always done things and are surprised and disgusted when we fall back into the same sins. Why do you think so many prisoners end up back in prison only a few months after they are released? Many of them will tell you that they are sorry for what they have done, but when they get out, they go right back to their old circle of friends and old behaviors. Then, like clockwork, they end up back in jail, and they are usually caught for an offense very similar to the original. We must avoid that trap as Christians.
I wonder if God looks upon us the way we look at our kids who swear they are sorry and then go and do the same thing we just yelled at them for. We say, “I’m sorry I did that daddy,” and then we go out and do the same thing we just confessed. That must be frustrating to Him. That’s why I believe that heaven gets so excited over repentance. Do you remember the story in which the shepherd leaves the ninety-nine sheep to find the one that was lost? And, when he finds the one who is lost, he calls his friends together and celebrates. Then, Jesus tells his listeners this in Luke 15:7. “I tell you that in the same way, there is more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.” You see, confession is not enough. God and the angels truly get excited when repentance happens. Confession is the first step. Repentance shows that we truly mean we are sorry.
Word #4: Produce
Finally, John the Baptist had these words for those coming to be made ready for the coming of the Lord. He said this, “Produce fruit in keeping with repentance.” There is one more logical step to prepare for Christ. We must confess our sins. Then, we must repent and change our ways in order to keep from making the same mistakes. Then, he tells us that we must produce fruit. What fruit are we talking about? Well, John is referring to the fruit of the Spirit found in Galatians 5. True confession and repentance lead to love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control naturally flowing out of our lives.
How many of you have ever met a person who called themselves a Christian and yet was mean, bitter, unhappy, and generally unpleasant. Most of the time, this person is one who has gone to church all of their lives. Their parents went to church and their parents before them went as well. Instead of relying on confession, repentance, and producing fruit, these people are banking on church attendance to get them to be with the Lord. Well, these Pharisees were doing the same thing, and John saw right through them. They were Jews. That meant that they had Abraham as a descendant. Of course, God had made a covenant with Abraham and his descendants that He would be their God, so most of the Jews relied on this to save them. But John the Baptist explains that this pact was not necessarily with the physical descendants of Abraham. It is with everyone who acts and believes like Abraham did. Then, he goes on to say that the Lord is ready to cut down every tree that does not produce good fruit. To me, God is saying that church attendance and family history does not save you. You must produce.
Think about the real world. If you have a job and don’t do anything, you are going to be fired. If you play for a football team and don’t produce, you are not going to play. If you go out on a date and don’t do anything to try to earn respect or show love, you are not going to get a second date. Now, John is telling us that if we don’t produce fruit in our Christian lives, He is not going to have any part in our lives.
So again I ask you: “Are you ready for Christmas?” Are you ready to meet the Savior and Lord in an up-close and intimate way? You must start by preparing and clearing out all that is in the way. You do this by confessing your sins both to God and to your fellow man. Then, this confession must result in repentance in which we turn from our previous ways to keep from falling into the same traps. Finally, we produce fruit in keeping with our repentance. I don’t know where you are at this morning, but I do know that there are those here that need to seek the Lord at the altar this morning. Maybe you are not a Christian or do not know if you are saved. You need to come this morning to clean out the things in your life that are in the way from you meeting Jesus. Maybe you are a Christian and have unconfessed sin in your life. You need to come and confess before the Lord, and you may want to bring someone with you to pray with you. Maybe you are here and you are tired of the game in which you keep having to confess the same sin over and over again. You need to come to seek the Lord to repent. Or maybe you just need more help from the Holy Spirit to produce more good fruit. Whatever the case may be, let’s ask the Holy Spirit to come and speak to each one of us. The altars are open and the Lord is waiting to meet you there as we pray and sing. If God is calling you to come, don’t miss the best part of the service which is meeting God here. This is not a time of judgment but a time of getting closer to the Lord. Let’s pray.