Preparing a Path for God
By: The John Ankerberg Show
November 30, 2014
Message, Robby Gallaty, Senior Pastor
The title of the message today, as we continue on in our Bearing Fruit Series, is “Preparing a Path for God.” Preparing a Path for God.
Dr. Billy Graham is an example of what a godly father, husband and preacher should be like. Over his tenure as pastor-preacher, as an evangelist, he has avoided the scandals that have plagued so many televangelists through the years. And as you can imagine, God has enlarged his territory on a massive level.
It was reported in Time Magazine a couple of years ago that Billy Graham had the privilege of speaking in person to 200 million people. Wrap your mind around that. And through the internet, radio and television, he has spoken to approximately 2 billion people.
When I went to seminary, I studied his preacher extensively. Having a preaching degree and studying sermons, I decided to write my dissertation in my PhD on a critical examination of the use of the public invitation. And so I looked at Billy Graham’s sermons a lot.
So I was overjoyed, as you can imagine, when I got a call from Dr. Don Wilton about traveling to the ranch in North Carolina to visit Billy Graham at his house. And so, as you can see from this picture, what an amazing time we got to have with him. We read scripture to him. We talked about evangelism. He heard my testimony and he responded and at the end of it, he said, “Praise God.” At the end of our time, Dr. Wilton looked at Rob and myself and he said, “Would you boys pray for Dr. Graham?” Talk about intimidating. How do you prayer for Billy Graham? It humbled us as we got an opportunity to pray for this man.
You and I would agree that the most respected, if not the most, one of the most respected offices in all the world is the President of the United States of America. And you would realize what a great compliment that was when in 2002 at one of the last of Billy Graham’s great evangelistic crusades, George W. Bush himself was asked to introduce him to this conference, to this crusade. It was a great privilege because it was a picture of how Billy Graham, for many years faithfully served the office of the President.
The question I want us to ask today is, if Jesus Christ were speaking in Dallas, Texas at that crusade, who would God choose to introduce Him? Would it be a President? Would it be a politician? Would it be a Rabbi? Would it be a Queen or a King? Would it be one of the High Priests of Israel? Who would God choose to introduce His Son, Jesus Christ?
Well, we don’t have to look far because in Matthew Chapter 3, we see who God chose. Of all the people, God chooses the most unlikely man to speak about the coming of His Son, Jesus Christ. It is John the Baptist. John the Baptist, as we will see, is a very unusual individual.
Now I want to share with you what my goal is today in our time together. My prayer for you as we study the scriptures today is that you would recognize in your own life true repentance. And if you don’t see true repentance in your own life, I would motivate you enough to avoid the consequences of not repenting. So it is a two-fold message. One, I want you to see the fruit of repentance in your life and if it is not there, I want to motivate you enough so that you would avoid the consequences for not repenting.
If you have your Bibles, turn with me to Matthew Chapter 3. And when you are at Verse 1, say “Word.” Say it like you mean it. Just lets me know if you guys are awake against the wall back there. That is a joke. But anyway.
Lets go. The Word of the Lord.
“In those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the Wilderness of Judea and saying, ‘Repent, because the kingdom of heaven has come near!’ For he is the one spoken of through the prophet Isaiah who said: A voice of one crying out in the wilderness: Prepare the way for the Lord; make His paths straight!’ John himself had a camel-hair garment with a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey. Then people from Jerusalem, all Judea, and all the vicinity of the Jordan were flocking to him, and they were baptized by him in the Jordan River as they confessed their sins.”
Father, we pray that You would bless the preaching and the teaching of Your Word, that it would bring glory and honor to Your Son and it would conform us to His image. Give us listening ears today as we pull a seat up to Your table. You be the teacher, we are the students. We ask it in Jesus’ name. And everyone said, Amen.
Right out the gate, Matthew wants us to see something interesting here and he is showing us the entrance into a relationship with God. He is describing this in the life of John the Baptist. But John is kind of paving the way as the forerunner to Jesus Christ as to how we have entrance into a relationship with God.
Now what is interesting about John the Baptist is, in every one of the four gospels, he is referred to as the forerunner of Christ. He is the one preparing the way of the Lord. Now how do I know that? Because there is a direct reference to Isaiah 40 Verse 3 with these words, “A voice of one crying in the wilderness.” He is an Elisha like figure.
Now there are three interesting things I want you to note about John. The first thing is, John the Baptist had an unusual appearance. The fashion police would have arrested him a long time ago because I don’t know if you know this, but camels hair and leather belts did not go together. John the Baptist would have probably never worn a suit and tie to preach in. He would have probably never received an invitation from a First Baptist Church to stand behind the Sacred Desk. We would just chalk that up as that was John. He had an unusual appearance.
He also had an unusual appetite. Look at his choice foods that he chose to eat in the wilderness. It says he ate locusts and wild honey. If John were here today, he would probably like sushi, wouldn’t you agree? He liked exotic foods. Now some commentator said that he took the locust and he covered it with honey in order to mask that crispy outer coating of the insect as it crunched in his mouth. You can imagine if John the Baptist was from south Louisiana like me, he would have taken you on an expedition and you would have eaten for morning breakfast, lunch and dinner BBQ locusts marinated in wild honey. I can see some of you salivating already, right? John had an interesting appetite. He had an interesting appearance.
And finally, John spoke, and here is the key, with an unusual authority. John has no formal education. John has never gone to any of the religious schools. He is not part of the religious elite. He is not one of the upper echelon of society. He is a wild man and he is living in the wilderness. And who has given him the right to speak to the religious top-tier shelf individuals about how to change their lives. It would be the equivalent of a homeless man going up to Billy Graham and questioning his ministry or calling out his ministry.
But one of the cool things about John, as we will see, John was a man filled with the Spirit of God. He had the power and presence of God in his life and so he spoke with an unusual authority.
What is he speaking about? John says…look at the text…repent because the kingdom of heaven is near. Now “the kingdom of heaven” is another word for the kingdom of God. They are synonymous with one another. They are interchangeable, if you will. It is interesting because the kingdom of God or the kingdom of heaven in your life means that God is ruling and reigning over your life. What that means for you is He is calling the shots, He is directing your path. You are not.
Now there are two interesting words I want to make you aware of. The first word is the word “repent” in Verse 2. And the second word is the word “confessed” in Verse 6. So you can circle those. And I want to spent a little time explaining to you what these words mean because John’s message is not wordy. John’s message is brief. His message is not soothing, it is soul-searching. His message is not calming, it is confrontational. John is not out to win friends and flatter people here. John is out to frighten foes and influence people, though. Because what he sees is, in the distance there is this looming judgment that is approaching. He is trying to warn you of the wrath to come. So he is saying, you need to change your life.
I thought about titling this message, Return or Burn. Thought that would be a little controversial. But you get the idea because repentance is return to God. So return to burn. My staff overrode me this week, which they normally don’t, but I let them do it anyway. But anyway, it is a path for God.
So how do we return to God? Two words. Repentance and confession. Let me take them individually. Repentance, for the Old Testament Hebrew ear, they would have understood that as grief (watch this) or sorrow associated with a change of direction for one’s life.
And so, in the Old Testament you see the Prophets continuously preaching for the people to repent and they have sorrow and they are weeping and they are acknowledging their sin. It is this idea of changing your direction. So you are heading in one direction and you make an about-face and you go the other direction. Don’t ever tell someone to make a 360 as I have heard people wrongly do, because a 360 just turns you right back around to where you are still heading. You don’t want to do a 360, you want to do a 180, alright. Just pray to God to give you a 360 in your life…you don’t want that. So a 180 is the idea you are going one way. You turn around the other way.
But the Greek term in this text is a little different because the Greek term is not just a change of direction, it involves a change of the mind. It involves the change of the opinions, a change of the attitudes. And for the Greeks, they believed if you change the way you see things inwardly, it would change the way you act outwardly. So you see the connection there.
So we believe at Brainerd, right belief, because it is biblical, drives right behavior. Not vice versa. And I think if a lot of pastors could get this, we would see a lot of change in our people. Lets stop telling people all these to-do lists and to-don’t lists and lets start teaching people how to believe biblically. And when you have a biblical world view, guess what will happen? It will begin to change your life, which is one of the reasons I preached through that message True North. The True North Series, is one of the most controversial message series we have preached at Brainerd, or I have preached at Brainerd. I felt like it was helpful in a sense that I wanted to show you what the Bible said about the Word of God. And when you start thinking right and believing right, your actions will change accordingly, right?
Let me give you two scriptures that show us beautifully this idea of heading one way and then turning another way. Turn with me to Acts Chapter 11 Verse 21. Acts 11:21 and when you get there, say “Word.” We are introduced to the church at Antioch, which is a sending church. They were raising people up, discipling them and sending them out. And we see, Verse 21, “The Lord’s hand was with them, and a large number who believed turned to the Lord.”
Now this is interesting because in this text, we see these two words of turning and believing interconnected. All through the Scriptures there is a connection intertwined together with belief and repentance. They are always together. Because what happens is, you can’t put your belief in something unless you turn from something. And you can’t turn from something unless you turn to something. And so, belief and faith are two sides to the same coin. So you are turning from this way and you are turning to something, namely Christ.
I Thessalonians has a beautiful picture of this. Go to I Thessalonians Chapter 1 Verse 9. When you are there, say “Word.” This is the best example…one of the clearest pictures of repentance. You can write it in your margin, repentance. “for they themselves report what kind of reception we had from you: how you turned to God from (what?) from idols to serve the living and true God.” And so it is an about-face. They were heading one way and now they turned away.
Now, I was raised in a Roman Catholic family where we were encouraged not to repent but to do penance. Many of you maybe have been there before. And what that came about from was a misunderstanding and a mistranslation of the Greek word “repentance” as they translated it from repentance to do penance, which is an act, right? So what I would do as a child on Saturdays, we would stand in line, this long line at the back of the church and we would approach this confessional booth that the Priest sat in and then behind a screen, we would confess our sins to him and then he would give us a list of Hail Mary’s and Our Fathers to recite on our knees in the church for an extended period of time based on the severity of one’s sins or the honesty of the confessor and always, the second trumped the first. Because I don’t know about you, I didn’t want to be there all day, so there was no way I was about to tell him everything I did in my life. He probably wouldn’t either.
But what I realized was, as I studied the New Testament, that works based righteousness is an alien concept to the New Testament. You see, repentance is not a work. However, once you repent, there will be good works to follow as we will see in a few moments.
So, Robby, what causes repentance in my life? What causes repentance in your life? Watch this. You have to change your mind about what you think about sin. You see, true repentance stems from confession and confession is a change of mind. You have to start seeing sin the way God sees sin. You have to start seeing transgression the way God sees it. You have to start seeing immorality the way God sees it. And what happens is, you, in essence agree with God. And when you agree with God, it will lead you to repentance and it will lead you to a change of direction.
Now we all know, there is no stopping in the Christian life. In fact, the Christian life is categorized all through the Old and New Testament as a walk. Come, follow Me. Moses, go on a long walk. Abraham, go on a long walk. So there is no stopping for us. We are walking.
The question we have to ask is, what direction are we heading? How people remember the movie “Speed” a couple of years ago. I say a couple of years ago. I said I wouldn’t say a couple of years ago because I decided to find out when the movie was made. Now I am dating myself here. Do you remember this movie? Anybody? 1994, okay. I was a senior in high school. 1994, right? Keanu Reeves, Sandra Bullock. They are stuck on this bus that has, or the people are stuck on this bus that is filled with explosives and if the bus stops, what happens? Do you remember? It blows up, right? So they have to keep the bus moving and they just continually change the direction of the bus. And over time, they put another bus there and they unload the people. I was thinking about that and I thought, that is how the Christian life is because there is no stopping in the Christian life, right? You just change direction.
And so, if that is the case, follow me, every person in here is either heading in one of two ways because you can’t have it both. You are either heading towards Jesus or you are heading away from Jesus. You can’t have it both ways. You can’t say, I have one foot in the church and one foot in the world. You can’t do that. You can’t cut yourself in half. You are either heading toward God or away from God. You are either seeking purity and holiness or you are seeking worldliness and immorality. You can’t have it both ways.
And so what John is saying is this, as repentance works in our life, as we repent, it will work in our life to cause us to follow God, to walk toward God.
Now, Robby, that sounds like works to me. That sounds like it is a work of man, like I am repenting and doing something. It is not. In fact, as you study the Bible carefully, you realize that works don’t lead up to repentance, works will follow repentance and repentance…come in real close…is a reaction to the work of God.
You see, the only reason we are able to repent in the first place is because God grants us repentance, amen? II Timothy 2:25 is the proof text. Where does repentance come from? It comes from God. III Timothy 2:25. Paul tells Timothy, “God may perhaps grant you or grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth.” The key word there is “grant.” In the language of the New Testament, you can circle that word in your Bible. It is the word for grace.
God may perhaps give them something they don’t deserve in order to lead them to repentance. You can’t put biblical faith in Christ without turning from sin and to God. And the only way we can turn to God is if God works in our life and we respond to that grace.
Second word I want to share with you. Confession. Look at Verse 6 of Matthew 3> “and they were baptized by him in the Jordan River as they confessed their sins.” I alluded to it earlier, but confession is more than…now follow this because these are important terms…confession is more than just reciting something, like a confession of faith. That is something we recite and believe in. It is more than that. Biblical confession is agreeing with God about something. It is acknowledging and then agreeing with God about something. In this case, it is acknowledging and agreeing with God about sinfulness in our own lives. So confession would lead us in this walk of repentance, if you will. Confession in our life acknowledges the need for sanctifying grace from God.
So how often should we confess our sins? That is the million dollar question. How often should you confess your sins? As soon as you sin, right? Immediately. There is no need to wait. As soon as you sin, you confess that sin to the Lord.
Now Dietrich Bonheoffer, the German theologian, believed that confession was discipleship. He believed in his book, “Life Together”, he writes about it that in discipleship, you have this environment of accountability and confession of sin. This idea of living life with one another. Outside of those discipling relationships, where do you have that? Think about it. You can’t get that here. We would love for you to come here, but this isn’t the last stop on the train, you know that. You really can’t get that in Life Group because who is going to raise their hand in a Life Group and say, Hey, pray for me, Mike, guys, I am struggling with pornography. Nobody is going to do that. Hey, pray for me, ladies, I have a gossiping tongue. Just pray for me. My husband is here, too. Is anybody going to do that? Nobody is going to do that.
But you get in a small group of three to five men and women and guess what? People start to be open and honest, start confessing sin to one another and start growing together. Dietrich Bonheoffer said in his book, “Life Together,” “He who is alone with sin is utterly alone. But it is the grace of the gospel which is so hard for the pious to understand, that confronts us with the truth and says, you are a sinner, a great desperate sinner. Now come, sinner, as you are to the One who loves you the most.”
So confession begins with acknowledgment of sin. The more you minimize sin, the more you are going to disclose it and the more you are going to conceal it.
John 1:9 is a great text for us, for those who confess sin. I love this text. “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us and purify us from all unrighteousness.”
Now when I first came to the Lord, I thought I had the list, and you have probably been there, too. Every sin that I committed in the past, to get it right. I didn’t want to miss any because I did a lot of them, so I didn’t want to miss any. And I used to sit home and think, wow, did I get that one. Yeah, I got that one. Well, I missed that one. And then I would have this laundry list of sins and I didn’t want to miss any because I thought if I didn’t name it, God wouldn’t forgive me of it. It is good to list sins, but friends, your salvation, your intimacy with Christ is not based on your remembering all your past sins as much as it is based on you understanding the finished work of Jesus Christ on the cross for you. That is what your salvation is based on. Jesus was the One who paid it all, right? And He paid for all your past sins, He paid for all your present sins, He paid for all your future sins, amen. He paid for all your big sins, He paid for all your small sins and He paid for all sins in between. And I don’t know about you, but I am grateful for that.
Now the reason we confess and repent is because we want to restore our intimacy with Christ. Kandi and I, in two weeks, will be married ten years. She stuck with me ten years and I am grateful for that. But it has been just an amazing marriage to Kandi. And I remember our wedding day. We were just thinking about our wedding day. I was more nervous on my wedding day than any time in my life. And I don’t know why. It was just probably an overwhelming feeling. I knew how amazing this moment was of two becoming one flesh. And I was so nervous that David Platt who was standing in my wedding, looked at me and he said, “Robby, whatever you do, don’t lock your knees” because if you look your knees you will pass out.
So we didn’t have any dancing at the wedding but I was strutting on stage, just trying not to fall. I didn’t want to fall over, and so I was just kind of knocking the knees and I was moving my knees because I didn’t want to get nervous. But I remember the Pastor who was leading us in these vows and it is similar to the vows you said probably when you got married. I looked in my wife’s eyes to be, and I said these words, “I, Robby, take you, Kandi, to be my wife, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better or worse, for richer or poorer, for sickness and in health, to love and to cherish from this day forward until death do us part.” And I have thought about our marriage for the last ten years. What makes our marriage so gratifying and satisfying is the fact that we trust one another. Friends, if you lose trust, you pretty much lose marriage. You have got to have trust with one another. You have to be able to trust the person you love and are married to.
Now, does that mean I am perfect? Absolutely not. I know you never mess up at home, but I mess up at home at times. And I am thankful for a wife who is long-suffering. Amen? Now there are times when I tell Kandi, I am going to do this. I am going to change the lights. I am going to pick up the trash. I am going to do this. And I forget to do it and she gets pretty upset with me and thankfully, she doesn’t kick me out of the house, okay. There are times when I speak to Kandi, not often, but there are times that I speak to her in a condescending manner. I will say things with a tone that is not pleasing to the Lord, and thankfully, she doesn’t want to get rid of me, amen?
Now what happens is this, when her and I are not in perfect communion and harmony with one another, it is up to me, if I have done something wrong, get this, to swallow my pride, to go across the house and ask for her to forgive me of my shortcomings. And only until then, when I ask her to forgive me, are we back in perfect intimacy with one another again. The longer I wait…and you guys know this, ladies know this…the more we are disunited. That is exactly what happens in your relationship with God.
It baffles me how many people will remain in consistent, persistent sin, knowing that they are alienated and isolated from God.
Have you ever thought that maybe the reason you are not experiencing the power and the presence of God in your life is because you have sin in your life that is unconfessed. You know, I know in a group this size, there are some of you that could look at me right now and say, Pastor Robby, I miss the presence of God. There was a time in my life when I experienced His presence. There was an intimacy I can’t even describe in words, but I miss that now.
Friends, until you start calling sin sin, for what it is, you are never going to experience the power and presence of God in your life. So many people in this Christian life try to think, and this is a heresy that has plagued the church, they think that you can add Jesus to your life without subtracting sin. You can’t do that. Friends, in the Christian life, subtraction always precedes addition. You have to turn from something in order to turn to something, namely Jesus Christ. So maybe the reason you aren’t seeing God work in your life is not because….maybe it is because you have been concealing sin and not confessing sin. You have been concealing it. You have been minimizing it, that is not really bad. Hey, everybody does that. Really?
You know, when I start to think highly of myself, do you know who I start comparing myself to? Jesus. That is humbling. Hey, I am doing pretty good, Kandi. Well, not so hot compared to Jesus. Jesus is the standard, right? And so maybe you are not seeing Jesus magnified and manifested in your life is because you have been concealing sin. Listen to me. Until you realize that internet pornography is wrong, you will continually suffer from the debilitating effects of it, period. Until you realize that lying, big lies, little lies, will cripple your Christian life, you will be plagued with the effects of it. Until you realize that drunkenness is wrong and it will ruin your family, ruin your life and those around you, you will never experience sobriety from it. You have to call it for what it is. You have to acknowledge it. And you repent of it. And then you can expect to see the power and presence of God in your life.
Robby, is there are way we can determine if we have repented of our sin? Absolutely. John says there are certain factors, there are certain elements that should be present in a person’s life when they have truly repented. And so, first of all in the text, we see the…as we go back…look at the text, we see the entrance into the relationship with God.
But secondly, we see the evidence of a changed life for God. We see this evidence of our relationship with God. Look at Verse 7. “When John saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to the place of his baptism, he said to them, ‘You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath?’” John, tell us what you really think, right? “’Therefore produce fruit consistent with repentance. And don’t presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you that God is able to raise up children for Abraham from these stones!’”
Do you know what he is saying there? God doesn’t need you. God doesn’t need me. He can raise up stones. It is kind of a play on words, raise up stones. Jesus was the cornerstone…play on words, but anyway. “Even now the ax is ready to strike the root of the trees! Therefore, every tree that doesn’t produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.”
What John shows us here is that repentance is affirmed by our works. It is affirmed by our works. It is not obtained through our works. Notice what I didn’t say. Which you have to understand is, who are the two classes of people that are coming to John. On one hand, we have the genuine sinners who are acknowledging their sin and seeking forgiveness. On the other hand, we have self-righteous leaders of the church who are displaying hypocrisy. He has the two top-tier shelf individuals here. The classes of people. Two of the three. He has the Pharisees and he has the Sadducees coming out to him.
Now it doesn’t say they are coming out to question him in order to understand what he is preaching. They are coming out to question his message and his methods. They are not coming for baptism, the text says, they are coming to the place of baptism. That is a big difference.
You see, everybody else is getting baptized but not these guys. We just want, no, we are not here for that, we just want to see what is going on. It shows us that their hypocrisy is proven by their works. What John says is, there is fruit of repentance that will be produced in works. You will see it. It should be evident in a person’s life.
Now, Verse 8, at first glance, may seem like John is calling fruit that is produced from works but that is not what he is saying here. In fact, what he is showing us is that fruit which God actually produces will result in good works. True repentance produces good works. It is the result of a changed life. So what he is saying is this: repent and produce good works as God works in you to work through you to prove that you repented in the first place.
So here is the question. What is the fruit of repentance? How can I know if I have truly repented? All through the Bible we see this. You will have the fruit of the Spirit. As a Christian today, you should see more fruit of the Spirit than you did last week or last year. Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, self-control. You shouldn’t be going the other way, let me just say that. You shouldn’t be angry. You shouldn’t be getting meaner. You shouldn’t be losing your patience more. It should actually by in the reverse. You should be more generous in your giving.
Do you want to know the number one indicator of how we exercise our faith on a weekly basis is giving. Did you know that? That is the number one way that we express faith in God is to say, God, I am giving you a portion of the most important thing to me in the world, money, and I need you to take care of me this week. I am giving you this as an act of worship. You become more open in your worship. Remember before you came to Christ, you are stuffing. My Dad and I used to go to church and we never sang when we went to the Catholic Church. We used to laugh at each other. Everybody else was singing. I was too cool to sing, remember, I am just too cool. I don’t sing. But God gets hold of your heart, what happens? You don’t care who is watching. You lift a holy hand to God. Why? Because we are preparing for heaven. Friends, if you don’t want to sing here, you are going to have a hard time in heaven, I am just saying. I am just saying, amen? You are going to have a hard time in heaven because we are going to sing. So lets start practicing now, right? You will be consistent in your quiet time with God and your devotional time with God. You will have an intimate desire for holiness and purity.
The religious rulers refused to repent and John saw that in their works. Now here is a good saying that we say at Brainerd. The root of your heart is revealed or reveals the fruit is revealed in the fruit of your life. Okay? Let me say it this way. The fruit of your life reveals the root of your heart, okay? The fruit that you produce in your life reveals the root of your heart.
That word “fruit” is always used in the Bible, particularly the New Testament as manifested behavior. So when you see fruit, it is the behavior of someone’s life, the sum total of their life. In Matthew Chapter 7, go three verses to the right, Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount said these words about false teachers, Verse 15. “Beware of false prophets who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravaging wolves. You’ll recognize them by their fruit. Are grapes gathered from thorn bushes or figs from thistles? No. In the same way, every good tree produces good fruit, but a bad tree produces bad fruit. A good tree can’t produce bad fruit; neither can a bad tree produce good fruit. Every tree that doesn’t produce good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. So you’ll recognize them by their what? Their fruit.” And so that word “fruit” is singular.
So what he is saying is, these people were coming out and saying, we have allegiance to Abraham. You don’t understand. We don’t have to do anything. We are part of the chosen race here. And one commentator gave us a great insight here. He said, “John is not inviting these people to pile up good works. He is looking for a change and orientation of the whole life that will result in fruitful living. John is making with some vigor the point that being (and I love this) present at a fashionable religious center is not enough.”
So what he is saying is, the fact that you got dressed and put on dress clothes to come to church today is not enough. We have bought into this lie. Lives must be changed. In view of the certainty of the wrath to come, people must forsake evil ways and life rightly before God.
People were saying, we don’t have to do anything because we are part of the chosen race, we are part of Abraham lineage. And you know, people say that same thing today. They say, Pastor, I was raised in a Christian home. I have good parents. You don’t know who my parents are. My Dad was a deacon in the church. I went to a Christian church all my life. I went to a Christian college. I was married in a Christian chapel. You don’t understand, in this church, I walked an aisle when I was a child. I signed a card. I raised the hand. I was at that crusade before you even pastured here. I was baptized in that baptismal. And what we do is, we hold on to things in the past as spiritual identifying markers for the present. And I think we would be able to assess the present better if we stopped holding on to something that doesn’t exist in the past. Instead of saying, I did this in the past, we should be saying, what are you doing now in the present?
Listen, I don’t care what you did in the past. I don’t care what your son did in the past. I don’t care what your daughter did in the past. What are they doing now? And people are saying, well, I am nine years old. I made a decision to follow Jesus. Well, that is great. Tell me what kind of fruit you are bearing today.
You know, people ask me from time to time, is my son saved? How do I know my daughter is saved? Do you think they are saved? Do you know what I tell them? I don’t know. I don’t know if they are saved. But I do know this, if they are saved, they will finish to the end. They will finish to the end. We don’t work to be saved, but once we are saved, we will produce good works. So listen to me. If you are not producing good works in your life, I would examine the landscape of your life. And I would do like John would say, Repent! Today! Don’t wait! Don’t be out of fellowship with God! Restore that relationship with Jesus Christ through repentance!
You see, the fruit of one’s life or the lack thereof will determine the root of one’s heart. If there is no fruit, I would question the root.
And that is where John goes next. The repentance not only is affirmed by your work, repentance averts eternal judgment. It keeps us from this eternal judgment that is coming against a lost world. Verse 10. “Even now the ax is ready to strike the what? The root.” It is going to the root of the problem, right. No pun intended, of the trees. “Therefore, every tree that doesn’t produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.” Where is the ax at? It is at the root.
Now, in the language of the New Testament Greek, it can either be at the bottom of or in front of the tree. And here is the question. Why in the world are you standing there with an ax at the front of a tree? The only reason you would do that is that you are preparing to chop the tree down. The last step before you raise the axe and come down and slice on the tree or strike the tree is, you put the ax next to the base of the root in order to adjust your handling on the handle. You want to get the right trajectory. So what he is saying here is, is another way for John to say in an English way or an Eastern way or a Western way is, judgment is coming. The ax is there and judgment is coming and God is about to strike down. The reason God is about to strike down, the reason God is taking these limbs and throwing them in the fire is because a fruitless tree (write it down) is a useless tree to God. Just like fruitless repentance is meaningless to God. It is just an exercise or it is a verbal exercise of wasting time. It means nothing to God. Repentance that doesn’t follow with action is meaningless.
Now John does offer some encouragement. Look at Verse 11. He doesn’t leave us hanging. He talks about our relationship with Jesus. He says, “I will baptize you with water for repentance, but the One who is coming after me is more powerful than I. I am not worthy to remove His sandals. But He Himself will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.” Our charismatic brother and sisters love this verse. “His winnowing shovel is in his hand, and He will clear His threshing flood and gather His wheat into the barn. But the chaff He will burn up with fire that never goes out.”
Now, I don’t have time to unpack this whole section because there is a lot here. But let me give you the big picture. John is saying, people came to me to be baptized outwardly as a sign of an inward change. So what they were saying is, I am coming to be baptized as a sign of my repentance and turning to God to prepare the way for this coming King. John says, My baptism doesn’t hold a candle to the One that He will baptize you with. There is One coming, Jesus, who will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.
Now some people try to reduce this word “fire” to the Acts Chapter 2 encounter where the Spirit of God fell upon the people as fire and they spoke with other tongues as fire boldly for the Lord. I think that could be partly what happens, but I think it is more than that. Because whenever you look at the New Testament, the word “fire” always is characterized as something of cleansing. It is a renewal, it is a revival that is happening and what a great picture of the preparation of Jesus’ coming. Preparing our way for a relationship with God.
But what I want to explain in our last moments together is this, because you see this all through the scripture. What in the world does the threshing flood and the winnowing shovel have to do with anything? We see this all the time. What is he talking about here with this threshing floor and this winnowing shovel?
Well, in order to understand that, we have to go back to First Century Israel. In the First Century, farmers would gather the wheat and they would gather the wheat encompassed with the chaff. And there was a particular technique for separating the wheat and the chaff. They would go up to a mountain or a hill where there was a light breeze that would blow. They would find a hole or an indention in the ground. They would dig it out and they would scope out an area where they would line it with rocks. They would outline this area with rocks.
John MacArthur in his commentary explains the process. He said, “At that point, the soil would be wetted down and packed together until it was very hard. Then around the perimeter of the floor, which was perhaps 30 to 40 feet in diameter, rocks would be stacked to keep the grain in place. After the stalks of grain were placed onto the floor, an ox or a team of oxen would drag heavy pieces of wood around the grain, separating the wheat kernels from the stalk or the chaff. Then the farmer would take a winnowing fork and he would throw a pile of grain into the air. The wind would then blow the chaff away while the kernels being heavier would fall back to the floor. Eventually nothing would be left but good and useful wheat.”
This is what he is saying. He is saying when the Messiah returns, He will separate the wheat from the chaff. He is going to separate the sheep from the goats. He is going to separate the saved from the unsaved; believers from unbelievers. And what he is talking about here is the separation process by which the unsaved will go to an eternal place of punishment, the saved will have eternal life with Christ.
A perfect picture of the threshing floor is seen in the Old Testament. I want to show it to you. Turn with me to II Samuel Chapter 24. II Samuel Chapter 24 is the story of the account of David displaying a lack of faith in God and trust in Him. What happens is this. David decides he is going to count the military. He wants a census. He wants to know how many mighty men he has to go into battle. And so against the wishes of God, against the desire of God, he counts the people. Joab confronts him. He says, hey, this is not a good idea, man. I just don’t think this is a good idea. But David does it anyway and then he is..then he suffers the consequences. Look at Verse 10. II Samuel 24 Verse 10. If you are there, say “word.”
“David’s conscience troubled him after he had taken a census of the troops. He said to the Lord, ‘I have sinned greatly in what I’ve done. Now, Lord, because I’ve been very foolish, please take away Your servant’s guilt.’”
What is he doing here? He is confessing his sin. He is acknowledging his fault and he is asking for forgiveness.
Now the cool thing about this account is that we have the same account explained in a different way in I Chronicles. So turn with me to the right to I Chronicles Chapter 21 and I want to read to you what happens in that encounter with Gad. I Chronicles 21. You need to see this. Pretty amazing. When you are there, say “word.” “Then the Lord instructed Gad, David’s seer, (the guy who predicts the future, the guy who talks to him on behalf of God), ‘Go and say to David, ‘This is what the Lord says: I am offering you three choices.’” This is God talking. “Choose one of them for yourself, and I will do it to you.” So Gad went to David and said to him, ‘This is what the Lord says: ‘Take your choice: three years of famine or three months of devastation by your foes with the sword of your enemy overtaking you, or three days of the sword of the Lord — a plague on the land, the angel of the Lord bringing destruction to the whole territory of Israel.’ Now decide what answer I should take back to the One who sent me.”
You talk about make a deal. Lets make a deal the wrong way. There is no right answer. Every one of these is destruction for the sin of David, as the leader of Israel, he sinned and the people suffered. So “David answered Gad, ‘I am in anguish. Please, let me fall into the hands of the Lord because His mercies are very great, but don’t let me fall into human hands of men.’ So the Lord sent a plague on Israel, and 70,000 Israelite men died.”
It is a great paradox to the fact that he had just counted the men. How many mighty men do I have? Well, God said, you are 70,000 short now, just like that.
“Then God sent an angel to destroy Jerusalem, but when the angel was about to destroy the city, the Lord looked, relented concerning the destruction, and said to the angel who was destroying the people, ‘Enough, withdraw your hand now!’ The angel of the Lord was then standing at the threshing floor”. He is separating here. The picture of separation, “the floor of Ornan the Jebusite. When David looked up…don’t miss this…and saw the angel of the Lord standing between earth and heaven, with his drawn sword in his hand stretched out over Jerusalem, David and the elders, clothed in sackcloth, fell down with their faces to the ground.” Can you picture this? I can’t even put it into words. God decides to let David peer into the supernatural for just a moment and when David sees this high def picture of what is happening, he sees an angel standing over the whole city of Jerusalem with the sword, at the root, in the air about to slay everyone. Can you imagine this? Oh, my God. What is going on? Can you imagine this? And David does one thing. Look at what he does. He falls down. “God, wasn’t I the one who gave the order to count the people. I am the one who has sinned against you and acted very wickedly. But these sheep, what have they done? My Lord God, please let Your hand be against me and against my father’s family, but don’t let the plague be against Your people.”
What is he doing here? He recognizes his sin. He acknowledges that it is his fault. He takes full responsibility. He repents of his actions. He confess that to God and he says, God, punish me, no one else.
You know, as I thought about the life of David, I have realized that David is a lot like us. Aren’t you glad for David? David repeatedly messes up, repeatedly messes up. But the Bible says he is a man after God’s own heart. And I think the reason for that is, not only is David one who is not immune from sin, David is immediate in asking for forgiveness. It is not that he is not going to sin. We are all going to sin. But David is immediate in going to God and saying, God, I blew it. Forgive me. And I think, my friends, that is why David is a man after God’s own heart.
What about you? Are you desperate for an intimate relationship with God? The same desperation of David that you are seeking God, not going to let anything get in your way? You know, maybe the reason you haven’t seen the power and presence of God in your life recently is because you have been plagued with sin. God gives us a great command, a great encouraging word. Return to me…watch this…and I will return to you. Did you know that is a play on words? How can you return and someone else return? One returns. There is no double returning. One returns and the other receives. It is a play on words. Why? Because God never left. You see, if God seems distant in your life, it is because you left God, not because God left you.
And so when people counsel with me, they say, Pastor, what can I do to get back into a right relationship with God. What do I do? And it doesn’t matter if you are doing it for the first time in repentance and faith or you doing it for the hundredth time after messing up, it is always the same thing. You repent, confess your sin and put your faith in Christ. It is a simple formula. We always do the same thing. We repent and we put our faith in Christ.
And I want you to see that the goal and the prize is not what God can do for you, it is God. God is the prize. Jesus is the treasure. Jesus is the goal, right? It is not, God, I am trying to make a deal with you. Do these things and I will give my life to You. It is, we want You, God. That is all we want.
Someone said one time, if you seek God’s hands and not His face, the things He can do for you…watch this…you may get neither. But if you seek His face, who He is and not His hands, what He can do for you, you may just get both. God, we want You, today. You are our treasure. You are our joy.