Thursday, January 28, 2010

Having Jesus In Your Heart 5

The next in a series of articles based on the Gospel of Matthew intended to equip us better to be followers of Jesus Christ.

“In those days John the Baptist came to the Judean wilderness and began preaching. His message was, ‘Repent of your sins and turn to God, for the Kingdom of Heaven is near.’ 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!”’

“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. People from Jerusalem and from all of Judea and all over the Jordan Valley went out to see and hear John. And when they confessed their sins, he baptized them in the Jordan River….

“‘I baptize with water those who repent of their sins and turn to God. But someone is coming soon who is greater than I am—so much greater that I'm not worthy even to be his slave and carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. He is ready to separate the chaff from the wheat with his winnowing fork. Then he will clean up the threshing area, gathering the wheat into his barn but burning the chaff with never-ending fire.’ Matthew 3:1-12 (NLT)

Picture it: a wild man comes to the major river crossing out of the desert and begins loudly preaching hell fire. He is filled with energy, is relentless, and really well spoken. He does a great job of pointing out how bad things are: corruption, immorality, general meanness; officials are stealing from people, the police are beating people up, and how most people are just negative, worried, and don't help each other.

And many people respond! They even begin to come out from Jerusalem – a day’s walk away – just to check him out! Many come forward, publicly admit they had done wrong and are now sorry. So John takes them into the river and symbolically washes them. The person has a spiritual experience that certainly will impact their living for some time. The religious leaders come out to challenge John, as he is doing a ritual washing that is only supposed to be done by them in the Temple.

Of course, these days we cringe and are suspect of such rebellion, drama and enthusiasm. We favor consensus, rational discourse and calm deliberation. We judge that someone today acting like John is using coercion. Many think that loud advocates are trying to impose their morality on others. It is interesting that people these days do yell imprecations at each other on the radio, television and on Internet chat rooms and videos about law and politics. And a lot of political talk is personal attack. There are so many who enjoy this show of bluster that normal discourse is being impacted. It seems to me that we have perverted the kind of speech that John exemplifies.

But when it comes to religion, we just want to be left alone. We know from the Word that one person cannot tell whether another needs to repent, and it is wrong spiritually as well as bad manners to accuse someone that they do! So there is much confusion in our culture about “imposing morality.” Surely we can all agree that certain behaviors are destructive. The problem is that there are many behaviors that some think are evil and others who don’t. So the whole idea of standing up and trying to convince passersby that they are evil and need to repent is generally rejected. And that has diminished the impact of the teachings of Jesus Christ in many people’s minds.

I thank the Lord that we are now able to discover in the internal sense of the Word a powerful, relevant and current message from the Lord through John the Baptist. And so here it is: It is time to get your heart ready for the presence of Jesus Christ. This is not complicated by personal issues, like shame, wounds, or heredity. The invitation to prepare does not produce defensiveness, for it is not accusative. It is an invitation to consider all the circumstances and influences in your life, and look at them in the context of a relationship of the love for and belief in our Lord Jesus Christ.

On the one hand, John reminds people that their God promised a wonderful life in a beautiful land. And on the other he points out how evil leaders are working against the God’s plan. But he also points out that every individual is responsible for his or her own relationship to God.

So, today, you have before you in the Lord’s Word, a description of a life of satisfaction and joy. You have at hand a manual for coping with sadness, guilt, worry, and whatever negative thought or feeling is ruining your happiness. And when the Word is in your heart, you will be shown clearly and simply what Jesus Christ promises will bring those blessings to you.

What John tells people to do introduces us to the first, easiest step in doing what Jesus Christ tells us to do. When he gets a lot of people's attention by his wonderful speeches, he tells them simply: be honest, fair, and nice to each other! Easily said! And revolutionary! That would, indeed solve everything today. If people in power didn't use their power to abuse people; if we all did what we said and only said what we intended to do; if we all admitted our mistakes; if we didn’t start fights to get our way; and just simply were nice to each other, the world would be a great place to live!

As a thought exercise, I suggest you spend some time designing the perfect earthly society. What will its rules be and how will they be enforced? What will be encouraged, what would be merely tolerated, and what would be banned? What will punishments be? Can you describe the overall feeling in a few sentences?

And then get to the real work: read a bit of one of the Gospels, and then keep thinking and making a list until you come up with one action you will take today to live up to what Jesus Christ has lovingly told you will make your life happy and fulfilled. As you experience blessing, your love for and trust in the Lord Jesus Christ will prepare you for having Him in your heart.