Thursday, January 3, 2008

Matthew 3:1-12 --- Change Your Life!

This week, I will do something I have never done before. (If you are from our church, and you're going to be here on Sunday, please keep the secret.) I am actually going to be John the Baptist. I will either dress in Biblical style clothes, complete with a leather belt and a staff, or I will do a modern version, with blue jeans, t-shirt, cowboy boots, and a ball cap. Then, instead of preaching the sermon, it will be more of a drama, with me trying to act as much like John the Baptist as possible. I intend to shout until I'm hoarse, climb up on chairs, and generally act a little crazy.
If you're reading this before Sunday, please pray for me (and for our church)! Honestly, this is all a little scary. I'm sure that this will be uncomfortable for lots of people, especially new people. Pray that God will use this unusual method to make his word come to life in our hearts and to move us to obey his word more faithfully in our lives! Please pray that God will really help this message to get into my heart and mind. With something as dramatic as this, it will obviously be best if I can do this with as few notes as possible.
John the Baptist was trying to get people ready for the Messiah. I'm trying to get our people ready for our study of Matthew in which we relearn who the Messiah was and is.

The structure of the "Word" segment of the service will also be different. Our Scripture reader will read aloud from the book of Malachi, the last of Israel's prophets for 400 years. Then, we will have 400 seconds of silence (or near silence), in commemoration of those 400 years. During this time, a PowerPoint slide show review some of the prophetic texts to which the people turned for solace during the 400 years of silence. As the 400 seconds draws to a close, the slide show will introduce John the Baptist as a new prophet who is the "Elijah" who was predicted in Malachi.
The first words the people hear spoken after 400 seconds (almost 7 minutes) of silence will be me shouting from the back of the room in the voice of John the Baptist: "Change your life! God's Kingdom is here." Hopefully, that will help the people experience the sense of shock that Israel must have felt as they listened to John after 400 years of prophetic silence.

Here's the way it will all break down in more detail.

[To be read by today’s Scripture reader.]

For hundreds of years, the prophets spoke of the Messiah. For hundreds of years, the prophets encouraged God’s people with words of the Messiah.

The last prophet was Malachi. He was the last of the Old Testament prophets. He was the last prophet in Israel for almost 400 years. His last words of prophecy were:

1 ”Look! I am sending my messenger, and he will prepare the way before me. Then the Lord you are seeking will suddenly come to his Temple. The messenger of the covenant, whom you look for so eagerly, is surely coming,” says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies.

2 But who will be able to endure it when he comes? Who will be able to stand and face him when he appears? For he will be like a blazing fire that refines metal, or like a strong soap that bleaches clothes. 3 He will sit like a refiner of silver, burning away the dross. He will purify the Levites, refining them like gold and silver, so that they may once again offer acceptable sacrifices to the Lord. 4 Then once more the Lord will accept the offerings brought to him by the people of Judah and Jerusalem, as he did in the past. (Malachi 3:1-4)

1 The Lord of Heaven’s Armies says, “The day of judgment is coming, burning like a furnace. On that day the arrogant and the wicked will be burned up like straw. They will be consumed—roots, branches, and all.

2 “But for you who fear my name, the Sun of Righteousness will rise with healing in his wings. And you will go free, leaping with joy like calves let out to pasture.

5 “Look, I am sending you the prophet Elijah before the great and dreadful day of the Lord arrives. 6 His preaching will turn the hearts of fathers to their children, and the hearts of children to their fathers… (Malachi 4:1-6)

[To be displayed silently on the PowerPoint.]

Then there was silence.

There were no new words from God.

There were no prophets in the land.

Heaven was closed.

For 400 years.

Today, we will remember the 400 years of prophetic silence for Israel by taking 400 seconds of silence here.

400 seconds may feel like a long time.

Imagine how long 400 years must have felt!

For 400 years, the people of Israel had no new prophets.

So they read the words of the old prophets … again … and again … and again.

Joel 2

28 “Then, after doing all those things,
I will pour out my Spirit upon all people.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy.
Your old men will dream dreams,
and your young men will see visions.
29 In those days I will pour out my Spirit
even on servants—men and women alike.

Zephaniah 2

1 Gather together—yes, gather together,
you shameless nation.
2 Gather before judgment begins,
before your time to repent is blown away like chaff.
Act now, before the fierce fury of the Lord falls
and the terrible day of the Lord’s anger begins.
3 Seek the Lord, all who are humble,
and follow his commands.
Seek to do what is right
and to live humbly.
Perhaps even yet the Lord will protect you—
protect you from his anger on that day of destruction.

Psalm 85

8 I listen carefully to what God the Lord is saying,
for he speaks peace to his faithful people.
But let them not return to their foolish ways.
9 Surely his salvation is near to those who fear him,
so our land will be filled with his glory.

10 Unfailing love and truth have met together.
Righteousness and peace have kissed!
11 Truth springs up from the earth,
and righteousness smiles down from heaven.
12 Yes, the Lord pours down his blessings.
Our land will yield its bountiful harvest.
13 Righteousness goes as a herald before him,
preparing the way for his steps.

Ezekiel 36

25 “Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean. Your filth will be washed away, and you will no longer worship idols. 26 And I will give you a new heart, and I will put a new spirit in you. I will take out your stony, stubborn heart and give you a tender, responsive heart. 27 And I will put my Spirit in you so that you will follow my decrees and be careful to obey my regulations.

Isaiah 40

3 Listen! It’s the voice of someone shouting,
“Clear the way through the wilderness
for the Lord!
Make a straight highway through the wasteland
for our God!
4 Fill in the valleys,
and level the mountains and hills.
Straighten the curves,
and smooth out the rough places.
5 Then the glory of the Lord will be revealed,
and all people will see it together.
The Lord has spoken!” …

9 O Zion, messenger of good news,
shout from the mountaintops!
Shout it louder, O Jerusalem.
Shout, and do not be afraid.
Tell the towns of Judah,
“Your God is coming!”

The people of Israel longed for a new prophet.

They prayed for a new prophet.

They cried for a new prophet.

He is a voice shouting in the wilderness” (Isaiah 40:3).

They were looking for prophet from the wilderness.

Look! I am sending my messenger, and he will prepare the way before me. … Look, I am sending you the prophet Elijah… (Malachi 3:1, 5:5)

Elijah wore “clothes that were made out of hair. He had a leather belt around his waist." (2 Kings 1:8)

They were looking for a prophet like Elijah.

400 years of silence ...

and then …


------- quiet music starts here ------

Matthew 3

1 In those days John the Baptist came to the Judean wilderness and began preaching. …

3 The prophet Isaiah was speaking about John when he said,

“He is a voice shouting in the wilderness,
‘Prepare the way for the Lord’s coming!
Clear the road for him!’”

4 John’s clothes were woven from coarse camel hair, and he wore a leather belt around his waist. For food he ate locusts and wild honey. 5 People from Jerusalem and from all of Judea and all over the Jordan Valley went out to see and hear John. 6 And when they confessed their sins, he baptized them in the Jordan River.

This was his message:

-------- music stops ----------

----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- [At this point, Josh will enter and speak John’s message.] ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

2 "Change your life. God's kingdom is here."

7-10 Bunch of snakes! What do you think you're doing slithering down here to the river? Do you think a little water on your snakeskins is going to make any difference? It's your life that must change, not your skin! And don't think you can pull rank by claiming Abraham as father. Being a descendant of Abraham is neither here nor there. Descendants of Abraham are a dime a dozen. What counts is your life. Is it green and blossoming? Because if it's deadwood, it goes on the fire.

11-12 I'm baptizing you here in the river, turning your old life in for a kingdom life. The real action comes next: The main character in this drama—compared to him I'm a mere stagehand—will ignite the kingdom life within you, a fire within you, the Holy Spirit within you, changing you from the inside out. He's going to clean house—make a clean sweep of your lives. He'll place everything true in its proper place before God; everything false he'll put out with the trash to be burned.

(Matthew 3:2, 7-12, The Message)


Change your life! Think Again! Start over!

The Kingdom of God is at hand!

You’re not as right as you think you are! You’re not as good as you think you are! You’ve got to change the way you think. You’ve got to change the way you feel. You’ve got to change the way you act. You’ve got to change your whole life.

The Kingdom of God is knocking on your door. The Kingdom of God – what we’ve all been waiting for - is here waiting for us. Repent, and open the door.

The Kingdom of God is arriving at your station. Stop blocking the path. Get your sins out of God’s way. Get your selfish living off the road of God’s Kingdom. Do you want God’s peace? Do you want God’s love to overflow in your life? Do you want that deep joy that can only come from God? Then get your selfish butt out of God’s way!

God has already told you what he wants: Do what is right. Develop a passion for showing mercy to others. Walk humbly with your God (Micah 6:8). Do that, and God’s Kingdom will take shape in your life. Do that, and you’ll have a clear path for the Messiah to show up in your life. Do that, and you’ll see God like you’ve never seen him before.

Change your life! God’s Kingdom is here! God’s Kingdom is here. Open the door by changing your life.

It’s not enough to be religious. It’s not enough to be in the religious system. That very system might be flawed. It’s not enough be born into the family of God’s people. God can make rocks into people in his family. It’s not enough just to do what your preachers and teachers tell you. Maybe they’ve got it all wrong. Maybe they are just working within the same old flawed system that was handed down to them.

It’s not enough just to go on living in the same old systems, the same old economic systems, the same old religious systems, the same old social systems. Go to work. Care for your family. Think about God sometimes. Try to be a nice person. Go to the worship service. Do you think it matters where you your butt one day a week? That’s just your butt, not your heart! That system is broken!

We have to think about everything again. We have to go back to the basics. Love God. Love people. What does that mean? Love mercy. Do justice. Walk humbly. What does that mean? Answer these questions. Really answer them. Don’t just give the same old tired answers that you learned in your Bible studies. What does it really mean to obey God now, today, here in this place? Answer that question. THEN DO IT!

You people say you want God to come. You say you want God to show up among us. You say you want the Messiah to be real here. But do you obey what God has already told you? Give me a break!

We have to be fruit-full. We are God’s garden. We are God’s orchard. We are his plants, his trees. God has business to do, work to accomplish. He is in the business of producing fruit. He wants to bless the world. He wants to spread his love, mercy, justice, and peace. God won’t allow parasite plants. Produce God’s fruit, or get out.

It’s check up time. God is walking through the garden now, and he’s got his ax in hand. Every branch that doesn’t produce good fruit is as good as dead. It’s a selfish branch – all intake, no output. It lives off God’s soil, God’s rain, God’s air, but it doesn’t give anything back. It doesn’t add anything to God’s mission. That won’t do – no parasites in God’s garden. Off they go! Down comes the ax! Dead branches into the fire! Make room for more of the branches that are actually doing some good in the world.

Don’t be a dead branch! You’ve got to live out what God teaches you. You’ve got to give out what God gives you. Produce fruit, or get the ax!

Listen people, I can baptize you with water as a sign that you are starting all over, turning in your old life for a new life. I can help you with that.

But what you really need is the Messiah. He’s so big - and I’m so little - that I’m not good enough to even clean his shoes.

I baptize you water, but the Messiah will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. He will clean you up from the inside out. He will put breath in your lungs and fire in your heart! He will give you the power to obey God like you’ve never obeyed him before. The Kingdom of God is at hand, and the Messiah will make it start within your own heart and life.

But first you have to REPENT! Change your life! Change your way of thinking and doing!

You have to consider the possibility that everything you’ve ever known about following God has been wrong – or at least partly wrong, misshapen, warped, disordered. You have to consider the possibility that following the Messiah might mean something completely different from what you think it means right now. You have to consider the possibility that the system your preachers have been preaching is wrong or flawed. You have to consider that God might want something very different from his people. God might want something different from you, something deeper.

The Messiah is about to break out among us. The Kingdom of God is here among us, knocking at our door. The Messiah we’ve been waiting for is waiting for us.

But before we open the lid on this can of worms, before we try to learn to follow the Messiah, we all need to repent. We need to break down. We need to come at this like little children, with everything to learn.

Most of all, we need to decide right now that we are going to obey. Whatever it is that we discover about what it means for us to follow the Messiah, we’re going to obey.

We need to start obeying today. We can’t wait until vacation or until we get that new job or until we are less busy. That time may never come. The time is now.

REPENT! Change your life! Change now! We don’t know where this change is going to lead us. We don’t know where the Messiah is going to lead us. We don’t know what the Messiah is going to ask of us. We don’t know what the Messiah is going to teach us. We don’t know how we might have misunderstood what the Messiah wants for us, for God’s people, for our world. There is so much that we don’t know. We have to accept that unknown and start changing anyway. We’ve got to start changing now and be open to changing more and more.

REPENT! The Kingdom of God is at our door, ready to break out among us. Let’s open the doors by changing our lives together.

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