Advent: Preparing the Way (Luke 3:1-6)

Our Advent reading from Luke 3 introduces us to the three most important themes of the Bible.  They can be summed up in three questions.   The primary theme in the gospels concerns the identity of Jesus. “Who is Jesus?” The second theme has to do with the mission of Jesus. “Why did Jesus come?” The third theme has to do with the call of Jesus. “What does Jesus demand of us?”  When you read the gospels thoughtfully – you discover that every event, every story, every quote, every conversation is about one of these three themes.  It is asking or answering one of these three fundamental questions. About Jesus’ identity; his mission; and his call.  Who is Jesus? Why did Jesus come? And what does Jesus demand of me? Let us try and answer these three questions this morning. Then we can celebrate Advent and look forward to the return of Jesus.

Who is Jesus?

“In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar—when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, Herod tetrarch of Galilee, his brother Philip tetrarch of Iturea and Traconitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene— during the high-priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness. He went into all the country around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. As it is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet: “A voice of one calling in the wilderness,‘Prepare the way for the Lord, (Luke 3:1-4)

First, observe how Luke goes into great detail to give the historical context and geographical location of this momentous event. Luke lists the names of five important political leaders and two religious leaders ruling when John the Baptist introduces Jesus. This is the equivalent of the GPS in your car Sat Nav or on your mobile phone. You can be located based on the distances between you and 24 satellites rotating the earth twice a day at 12,500 miles above us.  Luke recognised that in relation to these other leaders, Jesus was no ordinary person. So important, his coming was predicted by the prophet Isaiah whom John the Baptist quotes. The focus of the prophecy is about the coming of someone called “The Lord”.  There had been 400 years of silence since God had last spoken through a prophet. The last prophet in the Hebrew Bible was Malachi. The last paragraph of his prophecy brings down the curtain on God’s revelation for 400 years. It reads:

“See, I will send the prophet Elijah to you before that great and dreadful day of the Lord comes. 
He will turn the hearts of the parents to their children, and the hearts of the children to their parents; or else I will come and strike the land with total destruction.” (Malachi 4:5-6)

Is it not significant that 400 years later John the Baptist is seen as Elijah, sent by God to warn and prepare people to meet His Son? The prophets predicted that God would enter the world in human form. And John the Baptist, like Jesus, conceived by a miracle, is the one chosen to announce the arrival of the Lord. John does so concisely and humbly, describing himself as, “A voice of one calling in the wilderness,‘Prepare the way for the Lord’” Who is Jesus? He is the Lord most High.

Why did Jesus come?

“A voice of one calling in the wilderness,
‘Prepare the way for the Lord,
make straight paths for him.
Every valley shall be filled in,
every mountain and hill made low.
The crooked roads shall become straight,
the rough ways smooth.
And all people will see God’s salvation.’” (Luke 3:4-6)

Why did Jesus come? Answer, to save. “And all people will see God’s salvation.’” (Luke 3:6). Now the one thing the Hebrew Prophets could not foresee, from their distant perspective, is that the Lord would come not once, but twice. This is why their language sometimes refers to his first coming as the suffering servant and sometimes to his second coming to reign as king.  Jesus came to accomplish our salvation. Jesus will one day return to bring our salvation. This is because salvation is three dimensional. There is a past, present and future dimension to the work of Christ. In his first coming Jesus freed us from the penalty of sin. At his return he will free us from the presence of sin. Between these two events he will free us from the power of sin as we depend on him. This is why the return of Jesus should be good news. In the Book of Revelation, we read what will happen when Christ returns.

“Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” (Revelation 21:1-4)

Think about that: No more war. No more death. No more crying. No more suffering. Plenty of reason to rejoice that Jesus is coming for us. Who is Jesus? He is the Lord, our Saviour. Why did Jesus come? To accomplish our salvation.

What does Jesus demand of us?

“He (John) went into all the country around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins… Produce fruit in keeping with repentance.” (Luke 3:3,8)

Christmas is three weeks away. You know it is coming. You may be dreading it or excited by it. Either way, I am sure you have been preparing. You may have a Christmas card list, a present list, a wish list, a guest list, certainly a shopping list. Some of you who are hyper-organised bought your Christmas cards last January in the sales. And those of us who are not, will probably be buying presents and food late on Christmas Eve. Either way virtually everyone will be preparing in some way for Christmas because we know it is coming.  And if we take the Bible seriously we know that Jesus is coming back. We just don’t know when. So, how do we prepare for an event in the future that we can’t put in the diary?

Most of us don’t know when we will die either. But it is 100% certain to happen. If we are wise, we will have made a will that expresses our love for our family and reflects our priorities for our assets after we die. The same principle applies to the return of Jesus. How do we prepare?  The simple answer is that we must be ready every day.  That is why John’s message was “repent”. Repentance simply means turning around. God wants us to turn away from sin that leads to death and judgement and turn back toward God and experience his forgiveness, his peace and his loving presence. This should be our daily priority, our experience. In the verses that follow John elaborates on what repentance will look like.

“Anyone who has two shirts should share with the one who has none, and anyone who has food should do the same… Don’t collect any more than you are required to… Don’t extort money and don’t accuse people falsely—be content with your pay.” (Luke 3:9-14)

Generosity, honesty, integrity. This is what repentance will look like.  We have considered three questions to help us prepare for the coming of the Lord Jesus. We have found the answers in our gospel reading today.

Who is Jesus? He is the Lord our Saviour. Why did Jesus come? To bring salvation.
What does Jesus demand of us? Repent, believe and share the good news in word and deed.

That is why we celebrate Advent. That is why at Advent  we celebrate the beginning of the new Church year. The last two verses in the Bible sum up the message of today. They contain the final promise of Jesus and how we should respond, today of all days.

“He who testifies to these things says, “Yes, I am coming soon.”Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.The grace of the Lord Jesus be with God’s people. Amen.” (Revelation 22:20-21)