Summary: Encountering God is a life changing experience. We are never the same.
Luke 3:7-18 “We Change”
While walking through life, one of the interesting things to do is to observe fads. I’m not sure how they begin or end. All I know is that after the fad is over people always ask themselves, “Why did I do it?” and “What did I see in it?” Remember polyester leisure suits? How about platform shoes? There were pet rocks, eight track tapes, and lava lamps.
I’m not sure what all of the fads are today. I think that guys will look at pictures of themselves in ten or twenty years and scratch their head and ask why they ever wore pants where the waistband was several inches below their waste. I think that tattoos, multiple body piercings, and three day beards will be viewed as fads in a few years, too.
I mention fads because, in one sense, John the Baptist was a fad. He was a flash in the pan whose ministry lasted about six months. John was a star—very similar to the star status of Bruce Springstein, Michael Jackson, Tiger Woods, and now Sarah Palin. People flocked to him. They had to see him and be seen with him. As we see the crowds rush to be baptized by him, we learn a little more about what it means to be prepared for the coming of Jesus.
No one knows how many people were baptized by John, but they probably numbered in the thousands. Though John clearly proclaimed that his baptism was a symbol of repentance, many people came to be baptized for the wrong reason.
Some people came to be baptized because everyone was being baptized by John and they wanted to follow the crowd. Religious rituals are meant to be taken seriously and lifted from the common and superficial. Actions like John’s baptism have a personal power and meaning. One is not baptized because everyone else is being baptized.
Nor is baptism to be robbed of its life changing power because people are simply going through the motions. Rituals can slip from the sacred to the mundane. We rattle off the Lord’s Prayer and forget that we have even spoken the words. We celebrate communion in a distracted manner and can’t even remember tasting the bread or drinking the wine. And we won’t even talk about sermons!
Participating in empty rituals is not living in a prepared manner. To be prepared means to allow word, sacrament, fellowship, study and service to have their life changing effects in our lives.
CHANGED FROM THE INSIDE OUT
Paul lists a few changes that he expected the people who were baptized to make. They were to share their possessions, not cheat others, and not harm others in any manner. I’m sure that many people departed from John resolving in their hearts that they would try hard to accomplish what he told them to do. Their resolve was misplaced.
Our lives are changed, but they are changed from the inside out and not by good intentions. We are changed as we encounter the God’s steadfast love and overwhelming grace. Change happens by itself when it is inspired by love.
• Loving a special person brings about change. We begin to think of others besides ourselves. Our worlds are changed and we experience a newness of life.
• Parenting changes people. Suddenly we must nurture and care for a child. We find ourselves as providers, role models, coaches, nurses and unconditional lovers.
• Allowing God’s love to be expressed through our words and deeds changes us, also. Creating meals in a bag at “Feed My Starving Children,” working at a food bank, cooking pancakes for the homeless, or supporting mothers and their children at “The Bridge,” changes us.
Living prepared means to be overwhelmed by love and its life altering force.
THE SPIRIT’S POWER
The crowds thought that John might be the Messiah, but he quickly squelches those thoughts. He tells the crowds that there is someone coming after him who is great than he is. John baptizes with water, but Jesus baptizes with the Holy Spirit and fire.
The Holy Spirit:
• Is God’s presence in our lives
• Guides and directs us
• Changes us into God’s image, and
• Empowers us for service
Jesus also baptizes us with fire—trials, struggles, and challenges. These facts of life change us and prepare us, also.
• Fire purifies—destroying the dross. Difficult times often take away the superficial from our lives.
• Fire also tempers. Trials and struggles strengthen us and enable us to develop character.
Being prepared means to be filled with the Holy Spirit—empowered and equipped.
Living prepared for Jesus’ return is not a fad. Our brothers and sisters in Christ have sought to live this way for countless generations. We join them when we live lives that are open to the transforming power of the Holy Spirit, and anticipate and welcome the growth and change that the Spirit will cause in our lives.