Intro: It’s funny how just one simple word can change things.
There’s a story about a young man who was a new student on a college campus. He was tall, good-looking, and had a really pleasant demeanor about him. As he went to his first class that fall, his professor noticed that he had a new student in the department. The professor also noticed that he wasn’t the only one who noticed that there was “a new student”. So, the professor decided to start the class off by having everyone stand up and introduce themselves and tell the class a bit about themselves. When it came time for the young man to stand up, the professor noticed that a couple of the young ladies were getting out something to write with. The young man stood up, said his name, and proceeded to tell the class that he was from a large family. He was one of 16 kids! He loved being in a large family and sincerely hoped that, once he was established, he would get married and have a large family of his own. The professor noticed the pens and pencils go back down. He saw the paper getting crumpled up in a couple of hands.
ONE SIMPLE WORD CAN REALLY CHANGE THINGS
I. In both the OT and the NT readings today, God has sent a messenger with just such a word
In both cases, God is wanting to change things. In Malachi, God tells the people, “Return to me”, because the people have grown openly indifferent to the Lord. For example, the book of Malachi begins with the Lord saying, “I have loved you” but the people say, “How have you loved us”? God wants to change things.
In Luke, the people are coming out in crowds. As Matthew tells us, “the whole region was going out to John the Baptist”. On the surface, they “looked interested” but under the surface, what they were doing was tainted with hypocrisy. They weren’t there rejoicing in the grace they’d received as God’s people. They weren’t there because they realized how wonderfully they’d been loved. They weren’t there that, as the fruitful vine that God planted, they might become that special planting by which the whole world might be blessed with the love, the restoration and the renewal with which they themselves had been loved. What they were really interested in was being with the crowd. What they were really interested in was being seen – participating in the latest “the big thing”. In other words, what they were really interested in was not the salvation of the world, but rather what they each, individually, might “get”...even if all that was, was their neighbor’s admiration or approval. While as a people, they were like trees planted by springs of water, they were trees that had ceased being fruitful. That’s why, through John, God tells the people to “repent”. God wants to change things.
II. What God wants, is for His people to be prepared for His coming.
A. That’s what God wants.
Whether He’s talking about the 10 virgins and the arrival of the groom; whether He’s talking about the harvest and “bringing in the sheaves”; God wants His people to be prepared for when He comes.
And the way to be prepared for the coming lordship of the Messiah, is to live under His lordship now, even while He’s away. It’s to be like that tree that is planted next to what Christ calls, “that fountain and source of life”. It’s to be like that man that does not live by bread alone, but by every Word that flows from the mouth of God. It’s to look to the Lord in all things and to live by faith.
A life lived by faith in God (rather than by the temporal things from below) is what, in a spiritual sense, “straightens out the crooked”. You become “crooked” in the core of your soul when you try to live under the lordship of “multiple gods”. These different “gods”, or “idols” get you running in all sorts of contrary and conflicting directions. As a result, your whole life...your soul...becomes “crooked”. What you need is “one Lord” in your life. You need Him who alone can make the “crooked” straight.
In the same way, a heart that turns from the things of this world to the things of God becomes “smoothed out” in all its rough places. It becomes like a piece of that tree that is made into something useful...like a board that has been “finely planed”...fit, for the finest of works. Through faith, a person is “filled up” where mere “bread” or the things from below left them constantly “running on is empty”. Through faith, God brings “low” and under His lordship, the one who previously exalted himself. In faith, people acknowledge the Lord as the One that, in all He says and does, is righteous. As Romans says, “Let God be true though every man a liar”. In faith, people are prepared for His coming.
B. It’s important to note that it was not “crowds of unbelievers” that were coming out to John.
These were crowds of God’s people. They’d been circumcised. Just like today, God’s people are baptized. In the same way that Colossians tells us that baptism is your spiritual circumcision, making you God’s people...these people were “Israel”.
And these weren’t pagans that God was speaking to through Malachi either. These “adulterers” and “sorcerers and those who swear falsely, who oppress the hired worker with his wages, the widows and the fatherless...”. These were not the Edomites or Canaanites or the Jebusites. These were Israelites. The people that didn’t “fear the Lord” (as He says); the people that had become crooked and rough – just like their pagan neighbors...these were God’s people. They’d become a people unprepared for His coming. God wanted to change things.
III. That’s why God sends His people messengers with these words: “Return” and “Repent”.
And in the course of speaking these words of law, He also gives us a word of promise. He says, “For I the Lord do not change, therefore you are not consumed”. “I have loved you”, says the Lord. If I changed towards you like you so often change towards me, I might not love you. I might say (like you’ve said to the spouse of your youth): “I don’t think I love you anymore”. I might superficially assess our relationship (like you do with me) and I might say, “What am I really getting out of this anyway?”. In which case, I might decide to withhold my bounty and my blessings – you know, like you do with me. In which case, I might come in from my wanderings one last time, “storming mad” at what you said (like you do with me). Of course, in that case, youwould be consumed. In that case, like a fertile tree suddenly re-planted in the desert, youwould wither and die. But, “I haveloved you”, says the Lord. “And I do notchange. Therefore, you are not consumed”.
Instead, I come to you like a refiner’s fire. I sit, and I watch like a man that purifies silver. I keep an eye on you as all the impurities are smelt away. Does it burn? Yes. But like a refiner of silver, I’m not satisfied until I can see my face in it. That’s also why I speak to you a word like the Word I gave to my servant John. When you’re acting like a “son of the devil”, I call you a “son of the devil”. I tell you that you are being an offspring of that serpent, the Devil. When, despite my decree that “man shall not live by bread alone but by every word that flows from the mouth of God”, you live like the only way to live is by bread alone...I tell you, “Behold, the axe is laid to the root of the tree”. You will not live by bread alone – not for long. As I told you in Psalm 90: “A man’s years are seventy, or by reason of strength, eighty. Then we are cut off and fly away”. I even try to slap some sense into you saying, “Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?”. Think about it: such warnings don’t come from the Devil! Who sends you a messenger saying, “I have loved you, therefore you are not consumed”?
Conclusion: So, return to me and I’ll return to you. In fact, you’ll see that it is not I who ever left! Instead, I’ve sent you one messenger after another. Instead, I’ve continued to speak my Word. Instead, I’ve planted a tender shoot that you might eat and drink of His good fruit and live. I sent My Word...in the flesh...to change things. I’ve done this that youmight be prepared. I’ve done this that you might look to me as your source of water; That you might find in me your source of bread; That in looking to me, you who were once crooked might be made straight; That you who were rough might be made smooth and plain. I’ve done this that at last, all things might be made new and that at last, once again, I might see my reflection in you. Behold I have sent my messenger before me that you might be prepared for My Messenger of the new Covenant...the One in whom you delight...that in Him, you might see the salvation of your God. Behold, what change one Word can bring! Behold, I am coming again.
In Jesus’ Name +