PULPIT TODAY SERMONS
Robert D. Pace
Prepare the Way
John the Baptist was no psychologist but he understood human nature. Being a prophet, he didn’t prescribe psychotherapy or clinical psychology, he prescribed his remedy through a “Thus says the Lord” approach. And his methodology was effective! That’s because John understood the destructive nature of sin:
He knew the burden it laid on man’s heart.
He knew how it plagued the conscience.
He knew those that lived a double-life were conflicted and as restless as the tossing sea.
And he understood the emptiness people felt when they excluded God from their lives.
Human nature doesn’t change. This is what people struggle with today. For the soul to be free people must overcome their struggle against sin. When sin dominates there is no relief for the heart, no peace for the mind, and no comfort for the soul.
For years, modernism and pop-psychology have scoffed at the “Theology of Sin.” They contended it didn’t exist or if it did exist it was merely a nuisance rather than a deadly enemy. And yet, the psychiatrists have counseled and medicated a steady stream of people trying to deal with guilt and shame. Even though man denies sin, the burden of his heart betrays him. In fact, sin has driven many people to suicide. And contrary to the secularists (who delight in deleting God from the equation), it is human instinct for man to appeal for a heavenly savior to deliver him from the pain of sin.
John the Baptist understood this. He associated the burden of the human heart with moral culpability and guilt. He wouldn’t excuse men from their sins and become the victim. And nobody escaped John’s message. He conveyed it to the rich and poor, kings and peasants, and soldiers and tax collectors. “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” But John was also quick to offer his hearers a remedy for their sin. He assured them that the answer was in repenting and turning to Christ.
(Transition) I want to look at John’s message for a moment because when you investigate it, it’s quiet remarkable.
John’s Message: Repent!
John was handpicked by the Lord to announce the dawning of the Kingdom of God and its Messiah. The sick would be healed, blind eyes would open, the dead would rise, and good would triumph over evil. John announced the coming of One greater than all the kings, prophets, and sages that had ever lived. This Messiah, whose shoes John wasn’t worthy to untie, was coming with transformational power.
But first, there was a prerequisite: Men had to prepared their heart so they could receive this King. And I want you to notice what John did not suggest would “prepare the way” for the Messiah.
John didn’t suggest civil disobedience.
He didn’t order a coup to depose Caesar from Rome or Herod from the Holy Land.
He didn’t try to form a separate State that would isolate itself from Roman authority.
John’s message to “prepare the way of the Lord” disregarded political insurgence, although he used a figurative axe as a weapon to illustrate His message. The Bible says John “laid the axe at the root of the tree.” The axe was aimed at severing the root of wickedness. And John said “axing” out hardness of heart, wrongful behavior, and prideful living would open path for the Messiah’s entry.
The message of John promised: “Every valley shall be raised up, every mountain and hill made low; the rough ground shall become level, [and] the rugged places a plain.” But what does all this imagery mean to “raise the valleys, level the mountains, and smooth the rugged places”? How do we translate that into everyday living?
John calls us to rise from the valleys of bitterness and treat people with respect.
He calls us to flatten the mountains of personal pride and self-centeredness.
He calls us to straighten the crooked places where we have hurt or belittled others or even dealt deceitfully.
He tells us to smooth the offensive edges of our character and allow the fruit of the Spirit to govern our behavior.
This is how we “prepare the way” for Christ to impact our life, and it’s called “Repentance!” It’s changing our mind, our thoughts, our direction, and our actions that are contrary to God’s ways. Repentance is the starting point for claiming a new beginning and a spiritual transformation. And this is true for Christians as well as sinners. God calls everyone to deal with matters that are offensive and contrary to His ways.
How do you think people felt when John the Baptist arrived with his message of repentance? I think they were nervous, uncomfortable, and terribly convicted. But being nervous, uncomfortable, and convicted isn’t necessarily bad. In fact, it’s what leads people to healing and wholeness.
(Transition) Many Christians want God to move in demonstrable ways in their lives. They want God to answer their prayers and even work supernaturally. But they won’t deal with the part of their untamed character they think is necessary to survive the rat race.
Christians Must “Thrive” not Merely Exist
(Illustration) Years ago a Christian that lived in a large metropolitan city said to me: ‘The only way you can survive this maddening traffic is to use an obscene gesture to other drivers.’ Really!
You and I as Christians must decide something. Do we want to “survive” or “thrive”? We can hold onto our unbridled nature and probably survive in the world. But if you want to thrive with God and enjoy His presence and peace and joy then you’ll have to “prepare the way” and release the carnal nature. It’s the only way the King, with all of His glory, will come in. Unfortunately, many churches and Christians have learned how to merely exist but not how to thrive with God! I want you to examine yourself right now and ask yourself: “Am I existing or am I thriving with Christ”?
The Lord said: “The kingdom of heaven is at hand” and within that kingdom there is joy and peace and comfort and happiness. Do you merely exist or are you thriving with these blessings?
The Lord said that He came to “give us life and give it to us more abundantly.” Do you merely exist or are you thriving with this promise?
The Lord said that He would make our lives meaningful and use us to accomplish His purposes. Do you merely exist with your agenda, or are you thriving in the perfect will of God?
Repenting and changing your direction is the key to unlocking your life from merely existing to thriving with God. There’s a challenging passage of Scripture in Hosea 10 that discloses how God rains His spiritual refreshing on our lives. Hosea 10:11 says: “Judah must plow, and Jacob must break up the ground.” Doesn’t that sound encouraging? Let me explain:
If we want God to rain on our desert and pour His Spirit we have to thresh, plow, and break up the ground of our heart! What good would it do for God to rain His blessings upon a hard, stubborn heart? A hardened heart wouldn’t be able to soak in the blessings! Hosea 10:12 says: “Sow for yourselves righteousness, reap the fruit of unfailing love, and break up your unplowed ground; for it is time to seek the LORD, until he comes and showers righteousness on you.”
(Illustration) Awhile back I watched a 30 year-old man seek a closer walk with God. Kevin attended the men’s Wednesday Morning Prayer Meeting and it was evident that the plowing process had begun. At one of those prayer meetings the Lord impressed me to “pray for the Spirit’s gifts to be loosed in Kevin’s life.” In only a matter of moments Kevin was noticeably touched and praying in the Spirit. While I was grateful for what happened I didn’t understand how significant that moment was. When we finished praying Kevin said, “That’s the first time I’ve prayed in the Spirit since I was twelve years-old!”
God’s pattern for spiritual refreshment never changes. The Holy Spirit will transform our lives when we humble ourselves, ‘level the mountains, raise the valleys, and straighten the crooked places.’ God wants to approach us in power and glory, but to do that we have to prepare the way. And when that highway is prepared He will rush in!
(Illustration) (NASCAR races are stopped when the slightest obstacle or piece of debris falls on the track. God wants you to remove “the sin” that can “so easily” beset your life (Hebrews 12:2).
(Illustration) In the 1800’s America’s greatest revivalist was Charles G. Finney. He won thousands to the Lord and was known for carrying a tremendous presence of the Holy Spirit wherever he went. I’ve read where factories closed when he came to town and conducted evangelistic crusades. It’s recorded that even on the streets people would fall under the power when Finney stood by them. But he confessed that occasionally the power would slip away. Here’s what Finney said about it: “Sometimes I would find myself, in a great measure, empty of . . . power. I would go out and visit and find that I made no saving impression. I would exhort and pray with the same result. I would then set a day for private fasting and prayer, fearing this power had departed me. I would inquire anxiously after the reason of this apparent emptiness. After I humbled myself and cried out for help, the power would return upon me with all its freshness.”
When we lose God’s special touch upon our lives it’s time to repent and return to the basics!
It’s time to remove the practices that hinder spiritual effectiveness. And it doesn’t matter what those practices are; if they hinder your spiritual growth and power they should be removed!
It’s time to pray the 51st Psalm and ask God to disclose the secrets of your heart and see if there is any wicked way that needs to be renounced.
It’s time to reclaim a prayer life or your devotion to studying God’s Word.
We can’t assume we can bypass repentance and live the “abundant life.” Christ is standing at the edge of Heaven’s balcony ready to descend with His blessings, but He’s waiting for you to hand Him the hardened, entangled, rocky places of your life. We must “humble ourselves and pray and seek God’s face and turn from our wicked ways” if we want to hear from heaven!
The Condition of the Church
In the book of Revelation Jesus identified a problem with the church at Laeodicea. He noted that the people of that church couldn’t understand how wretched, miserable, deceived, and powerless they were. The church possessed material riches, but it was spiritually impoverished. It’s nearly impossible not to correlate Christ’s assessment of Laodicea with many churches of today!
Many congregations assume they are healthy if they have a preacher to make them feel good, musicians and singers to entertain them, and functional programs for all ages. But we deceive ourselves if we assume this strategy characterizes a church’s health. The fact is, local congregations need to take a penetrating look at what they have become, and allow Christ to transform them. Yes, this is a heavy order, but it prepares the way for revival and a spiritual transformation!
When you open the Gospel of Mark in chapter 1 you’ll notice the phrase, “the beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.” Mark then proceeds to unveil what the beginning of the Gospel is. And it is repentance. God wants us to know that the Good News begins with repentance. It prepares the way for Christ to come and bless His people. And this is why we must never ignore the issue of repentance.