Today’s Scripture, as I read the Bible, is one of a few of the most convicting, hard hitting places in the NT. Here, John the Baptist is calling the people who come out to be baptized, “Brood of Vipers” or “Generation of Vipers” and he asks them, “Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?” He says, don’t think just because you are of the lineage of Abraham that that will assure you of being spared. The ax is going to come down hard on those of you who are like trees not bearing good fruit. That’s some good hard preaching.
A couple of other places that come to mind: Jesus calls thee Pharisees “brood of vipers” a couple of different places in Matthew. In Acts, after receiving the Holy Spirit, Peter preaches and says to the crowds: You killed the Son of God.
When John the Baptist preaches his fire and brimstone sermon, the people have two choices. When people hear a convicting sermon, they always have two choices. The can receive it as truth or they can dispute it. When Jesus spoke hard truth to the Pharisees, they disputed it and sought to kill Him. When Peter preached a hard sermon to those who had taken part in one way or another in Jesus’ death, they received it and thousands were saved. When preachers today preach hard sermons about sin and hell, many of the lost (and even some who claim to be followers of Jesus) will dispute it and say things like, “that preacher is not loving”. That church is not loving.
NIBC – The greatest Biblical preaching cannot prevail unless the minds and hearts of people reach out with welcome toward the truth.
When John the Baptist preaches here in the wilderness, the people reply, “What shall we do?”
On Wednesday this week I began a blog that I did not have time to finish.
I was asked to put on meatballs Tuesday morning for a funeral dinner. I put the meatballs and marinara in a crock pot and turned it on. It was then that I remembered my blog post from Sunday, which I also mentioned in the sermon Sunday. I spoke of the ease of cleanup when a crock pot liner is used. Meatballs are one of the dishes that make for a difficult clean up. Here it was two days later, two days after I vowed a life change by using crock pot liners (OK, a little melodramatic) and what did I do? I put on meatballs without a liner. On the one hand, I was not surprised I did it once again. On the other hand I was disappointed with myself that I had done it yet again. After making that mistake, the question before me was, “What would I do now?”
That is how the blog went and that is about where I left off until I went back to the blog on Thursday. In my meditation on the Scripture, and in my sleeplessness on Wednesday overnight when I was reading the Scripture for today over and over, when I went back to the blog on Thursday, the question “What would I do now?” meant something entirely different than when I typed it on Wednesday morning.
Fresh on my mind was the question they asked John the Baptist upon his convicting preaching… “What then shall we do?”
That is the question that is the focus of the rest of today’s sermon in the context of this third Sunday of Advent, with one more Sunday before Christmas, “What then shall we do?”
That was the question Mary had to ponder when the angel came to her and said, “Rejoice Highly Favored One, the Lord is with you and blessed are you among women.” And she was troubled and the Angel said, Do not be afraid, you have found favor with God. Behold, you shall conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son and call His Name Jesus.”
What then shall I do? Mary had to have asked herself. Accept it or reject it. We know that she said, “Behold, I am the maidservant of the Lord. May it be according to your word.”
In every situation, we have the option of asking ourselves the question “What then shall I do?”In the case of the crock pot, one option was to get another crock pot ready with a liner, transfer the meatballs, and clean out the first one. The second option was to just forget it and deal with the difficulty later – at clean up time. I switched out the meatballs to a lined crock pot and the initial one cleaned up easy enough.
It is so disappointing when we keep doing the same wrong things over and over. Sometimes we do so on purpose and other times, as in the case of the liner, unintentionally. In this case, I was able to easily undo and able to correct my mistake. Usually in life it is much more difficult. And in dealing with God, undoing our own mistakes… our own sin… well, it is impossible. But God…
In his book The Knowledge of the Holy, AW Tozer refers to our sin as overwhelming us like the enormity of a mountain. Yet Tozer says that even a mountain has limits. It is a measurable height and weighs a certain weight. As big as a mountain is, it is not limitless. God’s grace, mercy and forgiveness IS limitless. Romans 5:20 says, “Where sin abounded, grace did much more.” Even if we see our sin as big as a mountain, we can take comfort in knowing that God can and will overcome our sin if we will turn to Him. He will forgive. Tozer concludes, with this: We who feel ourselves alienated from the fellowship of God can now raise our discouraged heads and look up… and be welcome. As we approach the Garden, our home before the fall, the flaming sword is withdrawn. The keepers of the tree of life stand aside when they see a child of grace approaching.
I do not know if you ever have something on your mind to the point that you are not paying attention to what you are doing. I am kidding. Of course you do. Those are the times you can leave the remote control in the refrigerator, although that is an exaggerated example. Or is it, LOL? I was having one of those moments the other morning when I was making coffee in the church kitchen. I got the coffee out, got the filter out, and then realized the basket that holds the filter for the commercial Bunn coffee maker was missing. I do not know if I did something with it or if someone else did. It was not in the trash (or the fridge). There was an event in the church the day before and someone could have done something with it. It also could have been me. I looked everywhere and could not find it. Fortunately, I remembered seeing a bunch of extras at the fire hall so I went to get one. That is the one we will use until ours turns up, if ours turns up.
When I experience those emotional absences, it is almost as if I am sleep walking. It is so strange when you regain your perspective after being physically present in a place, with your mind not really being there. That is how I see the difference in my life before and after I came to salvation through Jesus. Before I was sleep walking through life. I did not realize I was in need of salvation. I did not realize I was on a path of/to destruction. I did not realize I was lost. And then, surely at the movement of the Holy Spirit, I had a “basket from the Bunn is missing” moment. I knew I was in need of forgiveness. I was awakened to the fact that forgiveness was available to me thanks to what Jesus did on the cross. What then would I do about it? I knew I had to do something. I went to the altar in a little church and received forgiveness. I gave my life to Jesus and my life changed that day. My marriage changed that day. I’m not perfect, but any means. I still have my moments when I zone out. But God always helps me make it back – to snap out of it.
But even in the moments or moments that add up to seasons when I feel like I am sleep walking, I do not do so unaware. I know who God is. I know what He has done for me. I know His promises. And I hang in there.
It occurred to me that the hardest part of Mary’s, ”What then shall I do?” was not likely her initial answer – “Behold, I am the maidservant of the Lord. May it be according to your Word.”
It was every day afterward. It was telling Joseph. It was seeing her belly grow. It was when there was no room for them at the inn.
Initially, we have to ask ourselves, when faced with the truth of the Gospel, what we will do about it. But we also ask ourselves that question, knowingly or unknowingly, every day for the rest of our lives.
This is a good word for a broad audience. It would be a good word to be preached to thousands – some who would hear it who need to receive Jesus, some who would hear it who need to return to Him, and some who need the encouragement to answer the question by saying, “I choose to carry on – to keep going. But this sermon is not going to thousands – it going to a few. And you surely find yourself in one of these categories. And I leave you, and I take with me, the question, “What then will you do?”