Summary: Prepare for Christ with the 3 R’s 1) Remorse 2) Rearranging 3) Rejoicing
If you want to be prepared for school and for life after school it’s important to build a solid foundation in the three R’s: reading, writing, and arithmetic. To help children learn the three R’s well learning centres, such as Oxford and Sylvan, have sprung up and flourished all over North America. While building a solid foundation in the three R’s can prepare you for school there is another set of R’s that prepares us for something much more important, namely Christ’s coming. This morning John the Baptist pushes us to prepare for Christ with these three R’s: remorse, rearranging, and rejoicing.
There is no better person to prepare us for Christ than John the Baptist, after all he had been sent for that very purpose. The first thing that John encourages us to do in preparing for Christ is to show remorse over our sin. Remorse, or sincere sadness was something lacking in many of the spiritual leaders of John’s day. Many of them came out to be baptized by John, but John said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath?” (Luke 3:7) John knew that the Pharisees and Sadducees weren’t coming to be baptized because they were sorry for their sins. He knew instead that they wanted to be baptized because that was the thing to do if you were a religious person, and keeping up such appearances was a full time job for these leaders.
No, these leaders didn’t seriously think that they needed baptism because after all they were Abraham’s children! Didn’t that mean they had a free ticket to heaven? Weren’t they God’s chosen people? We too could come to worship with that same attitude couldn’t we? We could come to church not because we want to hear God’s word, but out of some sense of obligation to family or to tradition. In the process we may even trick ourselves into believing that heaven is ours by virtue of our church attendance. If so, John has some strong words for us, “You brood of vipers!” (Lk 3:7) Deceitful, just like the serpent in the Garden of Eden, that is what we are if we outwardly live the life of a believer without believing.
But what does it exactly mean to show remorse over sin? It doesn’t mean to be sad that others are offended by our sins, or sad that we got caught. That’s regret, not remorse. To show remorse means to change our mind about sin. It means that we no longer view sin as something that is fun and exciting, or something which can’t be helped and isn’t that harmful any way. It means that we see sin for what it is – something that damages our relationship with God and with others. Sin is something that God hates so much that he once destroyed everyone in the world except for eight people with a flood. And sin will move God to destroy the world again – this time with fire. How then should we view our sin? With serious sadness. Therefore when we all join in confessing our sins at the beginning of the service we should not just parrot the words printed out for us in the hymnal or bulletin, but make that confession a sincere confession. As you confess your sins think of how you have brought grief to your heavenly father by your actions, words, and thoughts.
Showing remorse over sin however, is only the first step in preparing for Christ, the next step is rearranging. “Produce fruits!” That’s what John told those who were coming out to be baptized by him. Don’t just say you are sorry but show it in the way that you rearrange your life so that you don’t fall into that sin again.
How exactly should we rearrange our lives? That depends. When the tax collectors asked John that question he told them that they should no longer take more money than they had been appointed to take. When the soldiers wanted to know how to rearrange their lives John told them not to use their positions to terrorize people or to extort money from them. He encouraged them instead to be content with their pay.
What kind of advice would John give to you regarding the fruit of repentance? Well, if you are in sales he may tell you not to withhold the truth from your customers concerning a product they are planning on buying. If you get paid by the hour John would have encouraged you not to punch and then sit around and talk for 20 or 30 minutes before working. If you are a student he would have told you not to cheat, but to respect your teachers and classmates. John would have told a couple living together outside of marriage not just to acknowledge that such a life is sinful but to stop living in that sin by moving apart, and not arguing that it’s impractical to do so, or that it’s OK to live together as long as you are planning on getting married.