The Good News

This is the third Sunday of advent and traditionally this Sunday represents the joy of the coming of Christ. It is called “Gaudete Sunday” which means rejoice in Latin as we light the rose candle, we recite the” Song of Joy” and we rejoice and exult with all our heart that the Lord has taken away the judgement that was laid up against us. He will rejoice over us with gladness and He will renew His love of us. No longer will we fear disaster. Worry will have no power over our minds. He will change shame into praise and renown, among all the peoples of the earth as he restores the fortunes of His children that is Good News, but not the Good News. We celebrate Joy in today’s Psalm as we drink from the only water that will quench our thirst for it is the scripture and it is drawn from the wells of salvation for God is our salvation and we give thanks to the Lord as we call on His name and exalt it to the nations. It is joy that we proclaim this day. “Rejoice in the Lord always; again, I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. I remind you of the joy of this day because John starts off with a warning and when someone gives you a warning especially this one you have a tendency to forget the real meaning behind the word so don’t let John’s words temper the joy of this day rather give thought to them and ask yourself have I done all that I can as a servant of the Lord. Listen. John said to the crowds that came out to be baptized by him, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruits worthy of repentance. What we need here is some context. We must remember where John was preaching.

This is not like in the movie in the middle of nowhere with a crowd of people next door to a river and he’s dunking them in the water singing hallelujah brother. This was not some tent revival. John’s ministry was on the I-40 of his day and remember also that travel was normally dusty and dirty and Jewish law required ritual washing. So, there would have been Pharisee and Sadducee as well as everyday rich and poor traveling to Jerusalem and it would have seemed like a good idea to stop and get some “insurance” just to be safe. John’s telling them don’t just come over here and get your fire insurance that won’t work if you don’t truly repent God will know that you’re wasting his time so be careful be watchful of your motives. Do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our ancestor’; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.” it was a very common assumption during this time that because they were children of Abraham and God had made a covenant with them that they were favored so no matter what they did God loved them so much that God would forgive them and save them no matter how evil they acted. Sort of like the doctrine of once saved always saved that states that no matter what you do once you’ve been saved you can never lose your salvation. That just isn’t so. If at some point you’d like me to preach on the differences and similarities of Calvinism and Wesleyan theology and exactly what it is, we believe I’ll be happy to but not today. To get back to the context though the average person of faith did believe that it was not only acceptable it was perfectly logical. John wasn’t average and if you remember he was to be filled with the Holy Spirit and ‘Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord: And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse.’ even Jesus said that he was Elijah come again in the spirit. “Elias truly shall first come and restore all things. But I say unto you, that Elias is come already, and they knew him not, but have done unto him whatsoever they liked. Likewise, shall also the Son of man suffer of them.” John was telling them just because they were descended of Abraham and part of the covenant did not mean that they would not be judged individually on their own merit and not to rely on family ties. It’s not Grandpa Abraham that’s gonna judge you it’s God and he’s not gonna judge you on what your grandparents did He’s gonna judge you on your merits.

Now they’re worried, and the crowds asked him, “What then should we do?” In reply he said to them, “Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise.” John tells him don’t be selfish help one another, give to those less fortunate than you, help those that are in need. This is a common theme in the bible and Jesus preaches this is well. We are always told as Christians not only to turn the other cheek but to give selflessly of ourselves, to love our neighbors as ourselves. We wouldn’t permit ourselves to freeze to death or starve to death why do we let our fellow brothers and sisters suffer. Where is the Good News in that? All are welcome at the Lords table, Even tax collectors came to be baptized, and they asked him, “Teacher, what should we do?” He said to them, “Collect no more than the amount prescribed for you.” You see in those days they had what’s known as tax farmers and that is how the Roman Empire collected their taxes by bidding out the tax bill for a region to the highest bidder. Now this individual who won the bid agreed to pay the taxes for that region to the governor. It was a set amount and the way that they made their money was everything that they could collect over and above that amount was their profit and they had to pay for such things as transportation and wages for the tax collectors themselves you see the individuals who were rich enough to bid for these positions never went and actually collected the tax they left that up to what were called publicans (tax collectors). The apostle Matthew if you recall was a tax collector and as such he was one of those that his boss would tell him to go to the town of Bethany and collect 300 drachma and Matthew would go and like any good businessman he would size up the area, determine what each individual household and farm could afford to pay he would do a risk analysis and adjust the amounts owed accordingly and the way they got extra money was to increase the amount owed and the government didn’t care because they had already been paid. The more the publicans were hated the more that they would try to squeeze out of the locals. Where’s the Good News in that? And because they were hated so much, they were forced to hire soldiers to protect themselves from the crowds which increased taxes further. These soldiers were not Roman soldiers who would not have cared less about the tax collectors or John instead they were likely Jewish temple guards and just as devout as their master’s and so the soldiers also asked him, “And we, what should we do?” He said to them, “Do not extort money from anyone by threats or false accusation and be satisfied with your wages.” John tells them they have an honorable job they are paid good wages don’t be greedy be honest and do your job with integrity.

As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah, John answered all of them by saying, “I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. In those days only a slave, someone whom is not possible to degrade would remove your shoes and wash your feet not even a rabbis followers who are expected to perform all of the menial work that was too good for the master, even they would not perform this duty because they were too good for it. Johns telling us that the one who is to come is so far above us that we are not even worthy to be his slaves and even though Jesus came to serve not to be served still He is the Master and He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.” John is telling us the Lord is bringing fire with him he brought fire the first time the fire of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost and it is that fire that burns the chaff away from us, for a Christian the fire is good thing (not the Good News but a good thing none the less) because it burns away the chaff and the dross for a Christian the fire tempers the steel within us. We are changed forever just as a simple clay pot won’t hold water, in fact turns back into mud, but firing that same pot transforms it into a substance that is waterproof and impervious to time. For those who are not in Christ the fire is a terrifying prospect because those who are not in Christ are the chaff and the dross. They are cast aside and forever lost, burned to nothing. Where’s the Good News in that? So, with many other exhortations, he proclaimed the good news to the people. You know I don’t think John is gonna proclaim the good news. At least not the good news that Christ proclaimed because for John the good news is the coming of Christ. Just as it is for us. So, repent for the kingdom of God is near. Amen!

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