December Reading from The Message
John the Baptist was a faithful servant of the Lord and actively lived out his faith even when he experienced persecution. Like John, you will be challenged in your faith, and how you respond is a true test of faith.
1-2 While Jesus was living in the Galilean hills, John, called “the Baptizer,” was preaching in the desert country of Judea. His message was simple and austere, like his desert surroundings: “Change your life. God’s kingdom is here.”
3 John and his message were authorized by Isaiah’s prophecy:
Thunder in the desert!
Prepare for God’s arrival!
Make the road smooth and straight!
4-6 John dressed in a camel-hair habit tied at the waist by a leather strap. He lived on a diet of locusts and wild field honey. People poured out of Jerusalem, Judea, and the Jordanian countryside to hear and see him in action. There at the Jordan River those who came to confess their sins were baptized into a changed life.
7-10 When John realized that a lot of Pharisees and Sadducees were showing up for a baptismal experience because it was becoming the popular thing to do, he exploded: “Brood 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 flourishing? 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.”
Words That Prepare Us for God
Three honest words characterize John’s preaching. They aren’t words that recommend us to God, but words that prepare us for God.
Change is the first word. Repentance—the type of change John has in mind here—isn’t doing anything; it’s quitting doing something. It means that we quit trying to save ourselves, quit trying to be our own God.
How many times have you tried to change your life—fed up with yourself, determined to live differently from now on—and six months later what were you doing? Back at the same old business, weren’t you? You can’t make yourself better. You can’t save your own life. But you can quit what you’re doing—stop in your tracks—and look at what God is doing.
Snakes is the second honest word John spoke. There were people in his congregation who had no intention of stopping their slithering ways, no intention of stopping their poisonous works. They couldn’t care less what God was doing or what he was saying. John spotted some of these people in his congregation, and he named them snakes.
Fire is the third honest word. Fire changes what it touches. Nothing can keep its identity in the fire. Fire doesn’t stay on the outside; it enters the inside. John’s word is fair warning: You can’t consider God from a distance; you can’t coolly survey him as an idea. He blazes up within you, burning with passion, warming you and illuminating you with the glow of salvation.
When you say you want God in your life, are you sure you know what you’re in for? You’re going to be changed, changed completely. He will enter your insides and work his blazing salvation through every part of you. It’s nothing to be frightened of, for it will be a wonderful change, but it won’t be under your control. This isn’t the Christ whose blaze is carefully contained in a fireplace and gives us warm and fuzzy feelings when we sit a safe distance away. This is Christ the consuming fire, who refines us ruthlessly and relentlessly.
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