Summary: Let’s decorate our hearts and lives with real and true repentance this Advent season.
Matthew 3:1-12: The Most Important Decoration of them All.
This past week, it didn’t feel like December – the temperature almost reached 70 degrees on Wednesday! Quite a change from last year at this time! But if you have any doubt that it really is December, then go to the mall, and you’ll see all kinds of evidence – wreaths, trees, garland, lights, ornaments, fake snow – Christmas decorations everywhere. I’m sure many of you have taken some time to decorate your homes. Of all the decorations, which one is the most important decoration of them all? Most people would say the tree, right? For many, that’s the Christmas tree is the most important decoration of them all. Maybe for others, it’s something else.
There is another decoration I want to talk to you about. From God’s perspective, it is THE most important decoration of them all. Do you know what it is? I’ll give you some hints – first of all, it’s invisible. Second of all, it’s visible. And finally, it’s a decoration that God wants you to leave up all year round. What is it?
Imagine going to the mall, and standing in line so that your child can get his or her picture taken with Santa Claus. But when you get to the front of the line, you don’t see a big man with a red suit and a white beard. You see a scrawny man with a leathery face – a long, messy, Middle-Eastern beard. He’s wearing some type of brown animal skin – later you find out that it’s camel’s hair. He’s eating grasshoppers and honey. Meet John the Baptist, labeled by Jesus as the greatest of all the prophets. This morning, we’re going to look at his life, listen to his message, and learn about the most important decoration of them all that God wants each one of us to have.
Matthew chapter 3 tells us that John was living in the desert of Judea, out by the Jordan River. His message was very simple: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.” Jesus, the Messiah, was coming. The Savior of the nations would soon take away the sins of the world. Soon, he would send his apostles and disciples into the world to share the Gospel with others. And soon, he would come again on Judgement Day. All that and more is the kingdom of heaven, and it’s near, John says. It’s time to repent.
There’s an interesting illustration for repentance here. Matthew tells us that John the Baptist “was spoken of through the prophet Isaiah: ‘A voice of one calling in the desert, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.” Hundreds of years earlier, the prophet Isaiah said that John the Baptist was coming. Look at the illustration for repentance: “make straight paths for him.” Make straight paths in your heart, and in your life. Repentance is radical road construction which takes place inside of you. Our thoughts, our desires, our wants, our feelings – all these things tend to be crooked inside of us. Spiritual potholes everywhere in our soul! Our love for God - unpleasantly up and down. “Repent,” John tells us, “Make straight paths for him.” In Old Testament times, before a king would visit a town, radical road construction would take place. If the road had high spots, they would be chopped them down. If the road had low spots, they would be filled in. If the road was crooked, it would be straightened out. Once the road was smooth and straight, it was ready for the king. Do this inside of you, John tells the people. Your thoughts, your desires, your wants, your feelings, your love for God – straighten it out.
Of all the Christmas decorations, this one is the most important one of them all – an attitude of repentance. It’s invisible because it’s a change that takes place inside of you, a big change. That’s what John was illustrating with his lifestyle. He didn’t wear Tommy Hillfiger, he wore camel’s hair - the same clothes that the poor of the day would wear. His leather belt was considered as something cheap. His grasshopper and honey diet was the diet of the poor and underprivileged. He lived in the open desert, instead of in a nice condo. Do you see the point John was making with his life? “What I’m doing on the outside, I want you to do on the inside – get rid of your love for things, your materialism. Get rid of your pride. Be someone who is humble, someone who is focused on spiritual things, someone who is focused on worshiping God and serving others.”
John uses strong language in our text for today. The Pharisees and the Sadducees had arrived. They were very pious outwardly, but inwardly, they were proud and materialistic. John calls them a brood of vipers, and tells them to produce fruit in keeping with repentance. The Pharisees and Sadducees claimed to be humble and spiritual, but everything they said and did showed them to be proud and materialistic. John compares them to a fruit tree, and tells them that the “ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.” He condemns the Pharisees and Sadducees, because they would not change. They would not repent. They would say and do things to make themselves look pious and spiritual. But there was no real change in their hearts and lives. They were proud and materialistic and liked it that way..