1. A Dutch theologian, Johannes Halkendijk, tells this story that took place World War
2. During the Nazi occupation of Holland, the Nazis planned to deport Jewish children to concentration camps. A Dutch resistant group had been formed and one arm of this resistance decided to do what they could to save these children. A group of 300 people, children and resistance leaders, were gathered together and were hiding. What they did not know was that someone in their own group had betrayed them to the Nazis. They were found and taken to a detention centre. There they heard that they would be taken, not to a concentration camp, but to a crematorium where they would be killed. When the day to be taken away came, both Christian resistance leaders and Jewish children boarded the same cattle cars together, to share the same fate. The trip lasted a few days. One morning, just after sunrise, the train stopped and word was given that they were to get out of the train. They got out, expecting to find themselves surrounded by guards. Instead, they were standing in the middle of a pasture. They were not in Germany but in Switzerland. The train, while it was taking them to their death, had been taken over and liberated during the night. As a result, these 300 people, were not recipients of the death they expected, but of a new life.
"Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand". This is the message that John the Baptist proclaimed by the Jordan some 2,000 years ago. It is a message that we still see on signs today. For me, the message has a connotation of death. "You better change, or else." I feel the same when I see signs which say "The wages of sin are death". Nothing is wrong with these words, they are God’s word and are true. But by themselves, without a word of explanation, they may offer as little hope as the train ride did for the resistance leaders and children back on that train. At least that is how many people feel about the message of repentance.
3. And yet as verses 18 tells us, John exhorted the people and preached good news to them. For the message of repentance, when understood properly is a not a ride to a death camp but a ride to a pasture of new life.
4. This morning we await the birth of Jesus Christ and all that He brings. Jesus came to bring us a message of hope.
5. But as we read today we must be prepared for the message that He brings.
6. And as we consider John’s words, we consider how we are to be prepared and how we are called to prepare others for the coming of Christ.
1. In Luke 1, we read that an angel of the Lord appeared to Zechariah and told him that he would have a son. His name would be John.
a. The angel said (Luke 1:16-17) "Many of the people of Israel will he bring back to the Lord their God. And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous--to make ready a people prepared for the Lord."
b. As Elijah did, John would urge the people to back to the Lord.
2. After this announcement, the focus turns to Jesus and His birth.
3. In the meantime, however, John is born and God is quietly preparing him for his ministry.
4. In the 15th year of the reign of Tiberius Ceasar, about 29AD, when John was 30 years old, the word of God came to him and he was compelled, he had no choice, he had to proclaim that word.
5. Luke tells us that Isaiah had prophesied about John.
a. That his was the voice of one calling in the desert or wilderness. When Isaiah had said these words, he was speaking to a nation that was in exile in Babylon. He spoke of a highway which would provide a way back to their homeland, Israel. They would be rescued by their God who would ensure that they would come back home again.
b. But Luke sees a deeper meaning to these words. Every valley would be filled and every mountain levelled. This would have been done for a visiting king. They improved the roads, filled in the ditches and smoothed the hills the king would have a more comfortable, easy trip.
c. I remember a few years ago how a parking lot into Toronto was turned into a beautiful garden for an economic summit. After the summit it was again made into a parking lot.