Inspiration – Preparing for the coming King

Terry Goerz,
Lutheran Church.

Preparing the way for Christ was the ministry given to John the Baptist. John’s prophetic message was that the Lord was coming in grace and judgment, so it was time for the people of Judea and Galilee to prepare.
Due to the sinful rebellion and idolatry of God’s people, it was almost as if God’s path to return to His people had become a dangerous wilderness of rough terrain! It was John’s purpose to get the people ready for that coming so Christ would not find a people who were unreceptive, but rather a people waiting in eager expectation for His arrival to deliver them from sin.
If John the Baptist thought the spiritual condition of first-century Israel was challenging, imagine what he would think if he were preaching in the spiritual wilderness of 21st-century Canada. We have a huge segment of the population that practices no religion, and a significant portion of Christian churches deny central tenets of the faith such as justification by faith alone and the resurrection of the body.
It is specifically because of these challenges that this account of John the Baptist continues to contain an important message for the church today. It is vital that we today, the church, continue John the Baptist’s important work to prepare the way for Christ today and for when He returns again at the end
of the age.
There are numerous ways for us to participate in this work. But an important one is found in John’s words to his audience. “Produce fruit in keeping with repentance!” (Matthew 3:8)
This command can be rather challenging. John even goes on with a strong word of judgment: “The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.” (Matthew 3:10)
If we are sinners, and we all are, then how can poor trees like us produce good fruit? Fruit in keeping with repentance?
The Holy Spirit works repentance, and faith in Jesus Christ, so it is not us who will produce good fruit, but the Holy Spirit whom we have received abundantly in baptism when we were united with Christ. The fruit we cannot produce by nature—such as love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control—the Holy Spirit can and will produce in and through us as we participate in our sanctification by making use of the tools given to us, that is God’s Word and the sacrament of holy communion.
We prepare Christ’s path by bearing the fruit of the Spirit for the world to see, fruit miraculously produced not by us, but by the Holy Spirit who is within us as our nature is transformed through sanctification. Sanctification means to make holy. While we participate with God as a junior partner in being made holy, it is Christ’s death that makes it possible.
“And so Jesus also suffered outside the city gate to make the people holy through his own blood.” (Hebrews 13:12)
For Christians everything goes back to the cross, including our sanctification. As our lives are transformed in a lifelong process by God as we participate with Him by reading and studying our Bible and participating in communion, we can exhibit our transformed lives to those around us. We do that when we forgive others, when we are kind to those who may not be kind themselves, when we help out a stranger in trouble on the highway, bring a gift to the food bank, are joyful even when circumstances may not make that seem the appropriate response, when we are patient when circumstances are frustrating, and in very many other ways.
And we are not motivated to do these things because that is what Christians are expected or commanded to do, but rather because they become our new nature. We do them naturally as our lives are transformed through sanctification and we display less and less of the works of the flesh and more and more of the fruit of the Spirit in our lives.
We may feel overwhelmed with our mission. But it all starts within each of us by repenting and bearing the fruit of repentance worked by the Holy Spirit as we set the course of our life on being more and more Christ-like through sanctification.
The path to our hearts is then wide open. We, in turn, want others to experience this grace, which is the undeserved love of God in Christ that we already have by being Christians.
As they see the fruit of the Spirit exhibited in our lives it becomes easy to call them to repent and confess their sins, to be baptized and receive the Holy Spirit, and then in turn to bear the fruit of repentance the Holy Spirit produces.
The task of John the Baptist was to prepare the way for Christ. That is also our task today, to prepare the way for Christ—in our hearts and to the hearts of others.

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