“Repenting Like We Mean it” Luke 3:7-18

December 14, 2014

Luke 3:7-18

“Repenting Like We Mean it”



Intro:  The Advent theme this week is REPENTANCE.  Not quite traditional.  But when Colleen and I sat down to plot out the themes of Advent, this collection of Expectation, Preparation, Repentance and Rejoice were right there along Love, Peace, Joy and Hope. It was perhaps “repentance” that most grabbed my attention.  In this holiday season it rather sticks out like a sore thumb.  Who wants to think about repentance during a season such as this!  But there is no theme that better reminds us of the preparation that was made for the coming of Christ by John the Baptist.


What John was doing through his preaching was fulfilling the prophetic words of Isaiah.  He was living out the purpose for which he was born.  We encounter him in the midst of carrying out his mission:  preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.  And people came to hear him and they responded!  His preaching was fiery and he didn’t hold back.  He did not worry about being politically correct or being labeled as intolerant.  He called people what they were, sinners and he did not apologize.  And apparently the people recognized the sin in their lives because they responded.  This is where we pick up the story.


7-9  We have in the first three vss a sample of his no-holds barred preaching.  Who is his audience?  “The crowds”.  There were all sorts of folks listening to him.  Chances are they weren’t all Jewish, as the guards who are mentioned are quite likely Roman!  But they were all hungry for the words this man had to say. 


He begins by calling them names:  “Brood of vipers”.  Now it’s been awhile since I was in a seminary preaching class, but I’m pretty sure that this sort of greeting is frowned upon by most professors of preaching.  But you see, John was not trying to be politically correct, he was striving to be obedient to God.  He didn’t play polite games, he confronted people with the truth of who they were.  Just a thought here, but how would our society be different today if along the way we, as Christ’s followers, had been more concerned about truth than allowing ourselves to be silenced by a society that doesn’t seek to honor God.  Church, we are in a real battle here.  We have consistently allowed ourselves to be silenced and have been made more and more irrelevant.  Do you think Christ is less relevant today than he was when he first came?  I don’t think so.  So perhaps we should begin to live as if Jesus had everything to do with how we live our lives today.


Back to John.  He tells them that it doesn’t matter what sort of things they have done or what their family tree is like.  What God sees and responds to, is what we have done for him and for his glory.  It is tempting to think that we can earn our way into the kingdom of God.  Subconsciously we work at being “good enough” to please God and earn our spot in the kingdom.  And we, like the Jews claiming Abraham as their father, say “But look at all the good things I’ve done!  I’ve given to Hands Across Northeast, I’ve volunteered with Hezekiah’s Hands, I got up to come to church today!  Surely I have earned my spot in the kingdom!  Say that to John the Baptist and you’ll hear back, “You brood of vipers!”  Our ONLY hope of being made right with God is accepting his Son, Jesus Christ as Lord of our lives and Savior of the world.  Not just acknowledging those things intellectually but living them out as the truth that governs all that we think, all that we do, and all that we say.


“You brood of vipers!”  John called it what it was.  He knew that if he spoke the hard truth it would hit home and either people would accept their identity and go from there or they would deny it.  And a wonderful thing happens.  We have recorded in vss 10-14 the responses of a variety of different people.



John has told them what they need to do: “Produce fruit in keeping with repentance”.  The people have heard this and are responding to it, their question is:  “How do I do that?  What does it look like?  Give me a specific example for my life.”  When was the last time you stopped to take stock of your own life to see if you are “producing fruit in keeping with repentance”?  Welcome to Advent!  Here’s your opportunity!


In vss 10-14, we have three different scenarios in which the question is asked:  1)  the crowd, 2) the tax collector, 3) the soldier.  “The crowd asked, “What shall we do then?”  And what they were really asking was “What does it mean to repent like we mean it?  What does it mean for me in my particular situation to live a different kind of life?” Do you see how amazing this is??  They were very aware that they had things that they needed to change and they were willing to do it.  They wanted to repent. They wanted to stop living like snakes and live like the forgiven people John was telling them they could be. 


Stop right there and ponder your own life.  Are you ready to ask the same question?  “What would it mean to live a life that has repented from sin and is seeking Christ in all things?”  A note about the audience here:  in this crowd are some very devout, religious, believing people.  They have been awaiting the Messiah.  They are already doing there best to live a life of someone who honors God.  I love that in each scenario John’s response is totally appropriate and allows us to understand that when it comes to personally getting right with God, one size does not fit all and the acts of repentance that God calls me to will not be the same that God calls you to.  The hook Satan has in me looks a little different than the hook he has in you.  Let’s look at these three examples.


The Crowd – The question is “What should we do then?” John’s response, “If you have enough to give away, give it!” Share your stuff!  When we give gifts for Grace Connection or Operation Christmas Child this is what we’re doing.  But is there more we could do?  Seriously, if we took stock of our possessions, in our homes and in our bank accounts and even the time in our calendars, would we discover that we have more that we could give away? How many duplicates do we have in our homes when all we need is one.


Interesting that the sign of repentance given to the crowd in general is to be generous in meeting the needs of others.  Not giving what you don’t have, but giving what it is in your ability to give.  How does that settle with you right now?


Tax collectors – These were Jewish agents working for the Roman government.  Not one liked or respected them.  Their responsibility was to collect money from the hard working people and give it to those who ruled over them.  There was a lot of temptation to abuse this position.  The question they asked as they repented and came to be baptized was, “Teacher, what should we do?”  John’s response, “Quit taking extra for yourself.  Take only what is required by the law.”


I wonder where I would end up if I pondered this for long.  On the surface this does not seem to be my issue.  Phew!  But if I took time to think about where I take extra . . . oh dear.  What about time?  Who do I cheat with time?  How do I hoard it so that I’m not able to give it where it is most needed?  What is it for you?


Soldiers -  These could have been Jewish soldiers working for Rome, or they may have been Roman which opens up the possibility of Gentiles coming to seek the Messiah.  Either way, the soldiers were tasked with unpleasant jobs. So they ask: “And what should we do in our situation?”  John’s response: “Be content with your pay and don’t create circumstances that will earn you more money!”  Could be they took the power and authority given them in their job to get a little extra on the side.  They could intimidate and threaten and abuse to get a little more, to make themselves look good, etc.  John tells them to stick to what is true and real and be content with the wages they already receive.  I suppose that any of us can abuse the power and authority we’ve been given in our homes, jobs, among our peers.  John tells the soldiers that to live a life of repentance means to let all of those temptations go and focus only on what is true.  Is that a message for you this morning? 


Concl:  At then end of this account we find that the people are very impressed with John and wonder if he himself is the Messiah they’ve been looking for.  They understand his words to be powerful and true.  Their hearts are being transformed by the things he is saying.  They are ready to follow him.  Oh, what a temptation for John!  The power that is at his own disposal at this point in time!  But he doesn’t take the bait.  In humility he tells them all: (Read 16-18)


Repent.  That is the simple message of John the Baptist for those who are seeking the Messiah.  That theme may not seem to fit with all the tinsel and bows and other Christmas hype.  It is an anti-commercialism sort of theme.  It is a message for our hearts – if they are open to receive it.  It is an invitation to be transformed and prepared for the coming of Christ.  How do you need to respond?


In the time of silence, listen for God to invite you to repent.  Listen to what He is inviting you to let go of so that you can receive the peace, love, joy and hope He is offering in it’s place.  Let us pray.








Third Sunday of Advent

From “Scolding the Snakes”

Scripture Reference: Luke 3:7-18



Preparation: If possible, bring a rubber snake or a picture of a snake to illustrate the sermon. 


Can you count the lighted candles on the Advent wreath? (That’s right: three. This is the third week of Advent.) You remember that we said Advent is a time of getting ready. Who remembers what we are getting ready for? (Let children answer.)


We want to be ready for Christmas, when Jesus was born, but we also need to be ready for when Jesus comes back.


Jesus was born long ago in Bethlehem, and when he was about thirty years old, Jesus was ready to begin telling people about God and about why he had come to live on Earth. But before Jesus began to teach and preach, God wanted to make sure the people were ready to listen. So God sent someone ahead of Jesus to get everyone ready. Do you know who that person was? (Someone may answer.)


A man named John the Baptist was sent to tell the people to get ready for Jesus. He was not a shy or quiet preacher. John the Baptist told people to get ready for Jesus by repenting. And he shouted it loud: “Repent!” To repent means to change your direction, to turn around. It means to stop doing the bad things that God doesn’t like, and to start doing the things that God really wants you to do. What if we had the bad habit of hitting people every time we got angry? If we repent, then what happens? (Let kids offer ideas.) We stop hitting, don’t we?

What if you told God that you were really sorry and promised to stop hitting other people, but in the back of your mind, you were thinking, “I’ll stop hitting everyone except my sister. She makes me so mad.” Does God know what you’re thinking? Is that really repenting?


After hearing John the Baptist, lots of people said they would repent and change. Most of the people really did repent. But some people only wanted to look like they were following God. In their hearts, they didn’t really want to change. John scolded those pretenders. Do you know what he called them? He called them poisonous snakes. (Hold up rubber snake.)

How do many people feel about snakes? (Let children answer. Even though most snakes are harmless—even beneficial—some are poisonous and should not be touched.) Snakes are quiet and kind of sneaky. And some snakes are filled with poison. John was angry with people who pretended to repent. They were like snakes: they were being sneaky with God; they were poisonous inside.

We all do things that are wrong sometimes, but once we know what needs to be changed, we must really want to change it. We don’t want to be sneaky and false like snakes.

Prayer: Forgive our sins, Lord Jesus, and change us to be more and more like you.