Summary: What it is to Prepare for the Incarnation and return of Christ
Last week, we took a look at that which we are preparing for. I mentioned the obvious – that we look back as we prepare once again to celebrate the birth of the messiah, of Emmanuel, God with us – come to save us from our sin and death. We look all around and we see the world preparing to celebrate Christmas. The world may not even know what it’s getting ready to celebrate. Santa Claus and presents may be all they know about. But Christians know. We know this is about the miracle of God having come to us in the form of a helpless baby who would grow to be a man who died for you and me. This is about Jesus.
But the season of advent, as I spoke last week, is not just a season of preparing to look back. It is a season of looking forward and being prepared for the end – when Jesus comes again. Last week I spoke of what that end may be, different understandings of scripture, and of the importance of being ready for it, prepared for the return of Christ.
This week we look briefly at the other beginning question. If it is so important to be prepared, what exactly does that mean? And I do want to start asking this at the very beginning. I want to come back to a fuller answer after Christmas, but I want to begin this journey here, in this passage, because, just as this passage begins the gospels – the stories of Jesus – so also it begins our journey where it ought to begin.
It begins by identifying itself as the good news of Jesus Christ. That’s the title. The whole book, the whole story, and hopefully the whole story of our lives is about giving that title its meaning. Our lives are this story – the good news of Jesus Christ. The title just sums it all up.
And right away, we jump into an Old Testament quotation and John the Baptist. All of this is to give the message to get ready. Everything that has happened before is leading up to what is going to happen next. The climax of everything in the Old Testament is coming up. Get ready. Be prepared. It’s like the last few moments of anticipation of the child who is just about to open their big Christmas present. You sense they can hardly stand it. John the Baptist is such a wild figure out there in the wilderness with the crazy clothes and the insane diet. All of that would have made the people of his day wonder if he was actually Elijah come back to prepare God’s people for the Messiah’s coming. Nothing else matters to him but just how close the messiah is. Be ready. Be ready. Be ready.
And we just begin to get a hint in how – how it is we are to prepare ourselves for the one who is coming.
Some of that hint comes from who that person is that is coming. That is the center of it. And I’ll say more about that in a moment. But John has something first. John proclaimed the baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.
It is like us to want to know what to do. If we just know what we are to do, then we can handle almost anything. If you just give me the directions, I can follow them. If you just tell me what to think, then I can think it. If you just tell me what to believe, what opinion to have, what stance to take, then I can take it, hold it and believe it. We just want the program, the answer, the process.
John takes that human desire to know what to do and turns it on its head. He says with his words, in essence, it’s about your heart. Your heart needs changing. You are a sinner. You have to want your heart to change. That’s where everything starts. That’s the preparations – to want your heart changed. It is to acknowledge that you are a sinner, and you need a new heart. That’s the beginning.
This is not something you do. This is not something you can accomplish. As a matter of fact, it’s almost the opposite. It is coming to the place of saying, “I tried, but I just couldn’t do it. I just can’t do it. I need a new heart.” And it is a humbling place, because it is a place of helplessness and dependence, …dependence like a little child is dependent. We can’t do it, we need a new heart.
That’s as far as John the Baptist could take people. And that is where the preparations begin – the place of helplessness and the recognition of the need for a new heart. And that is where we are truly ready, truly prepared for the greatness of the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ. For the one who is coming doesn’t baptize us so that we know our need and want a new heart. He baptizes us with a new heart. He gives us a new heart. He baptizes us with the Holy Spirit!!