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Repent, Return & Refresh


"Now in the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was tetrarch of Galilee, and his brother Philip was tetrarch of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias was tetrarch of Abilene, during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John, the son of Zechariah, in the wilderness. And he came into all the district 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, The voice of one crying in the wilderness, ‘Make ready the way of the Lord, Make His paths straight. Every ravine will be filled, And every mountain and hill will be brought low; The crooked will be straight, And the rough roads smooth. And all flesh will see the salvation of God.’"
Good Morning my beloved,

We welcome you to worship in the name of God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. I am delighted to have all of you here with us today.  
The Word of God in under attack and Scripture is clear, as pastors we have responsibility to not only proclaim the Truth accurately but a biblical mandate to defend it against those who attempt to maliciously malign the Truth. However, it must be understood that cannot be accomplished without resistance, because we have an entire generation of people, including those coming up in the ministry, who have been affected by all the insanity that’s going on around them in the most distressing way. I would suggest to you that we have lowered the biblical standard for ministry and I believe that it’s high time to raise that standard once again. (Titus 1:7-9)  The Gospel is written clear enough that even unbelievers know exactly what they’re rejecting, but the natural man isn't capable of understanding the deep, spiritual truths, that can only come by the power of the Holy Spirit.
In case you haven’t figured it out, ministry is hard work if you take it seriously, you must be ready and willing to denounce sin at any price with burning conviction, regardless of who it is and be cautious not to profess something you don’t live, because nothing proves that someone is a hypocrite more. So many pastors today have endeavored to partner with the world in its effort to fix things on a social or political level, as if it's now become the interest of the church. It’s mind-boggling that someone who says, "I've been called by God to preach," and they'll stand in the pulpit and talk about everything but the Word, oh they'll open up the Bible and read a verse, then they'll talk about this that and the other thing. I've heard stories about everything from family vacations and hot dogs to book reviews. There's one guy who loved to talk about himself and how many years he's been preaching, it made me want to ask him, "I don't know what you think you've been called to do and by whom, but that's not preaching!" The shocking thing is people would gather around him after he finished with whatever it was he said, "Wonderful sermon pastor!" I mean it’s very nice, but I'm thinking to myself, did I miss something? You shouldn't have that in the church.
On the other hand, I've heard some guys preach their heart out and people won't listen, I've found that to be true especially if you just preach the Bible. I've been called me "narrow-minded, obsessed and one dimensional" because I'm always preaching the Gospel, one woman even said to me, "You can take any conversation and turn it into a message about God. It's annoying!" I was so struck by her statement, all I could say to her was "God always make a way. It’s foolishness to think that anything is as valuable today as God's Word, what anyone does with that is up to the individual, but if they reject God's Word, they're going to Hell." To which she smirked and walked away, saying. "I don't believe that anyone is going to Hell." When you start to preach, people back off real fast. Sadly, her statement reflects the rising sentiment of universalism in most mainstream denominations, I mean here is an unregenerate pagan woman who basically believes the same thing as half of the Christians out there, "God is too loving, too kind and too gracious to send anyone to Hell." God is love, mercy, and grace, but Scripture makes no effort to censor God’s other attributes of justice, wrath and judgment. People today don't want to hear the Word of God, they want to someone to give them self-love psychology to make them feel good, "You are enough. You're amazing just the way you are." 
As you may have notice, that’s not my style. I believe that if a man has been called by God to preach, that's what he must do, preach, because the eternal destiny of souls are bound up in the preaching the Gospel. It’s not always popular to preach with authority, to be confrontive, to be commanding, but I do not believe the pulpit is a place for winning popularity contests, its a place to proclaim God's Word authoritatively for the forgiveness of sin. If you want to be entertained, may I suggest you go see a matinee, I wasn't called by God to be an entertainer. The contrast between what is written in Scripture and the messages that come from the pulpits today is staggering! Where did we ever come up with this timid style of preaching that's become popular today? God doesn't suggest men repent, He commands it, with love and gentleness, but with authority. (c.f. Matthew 7:29) Wouldn't it be great if pastors could just get over themselves and the need to have their ego's stroked and just preach the Gospel in the truest sense the way its intended to be preached. Nothing in Scripture is ambiguous, the problem is the lack of tools of interpretation. The Holy Spirit brings illumination, Satan brings blindness. When you don't believe that all of the Bible is true, there's going to be a disconnect and your interpretation will feel like it is the only reality, which you’re viewing through your situation. In other words, your interpretation will reflect what you perceive to be true, rather than what is true. I hasten to add there's a horrible danger in misinterpreting God's Word by your sin. It's far better to allow God's Word to confront your sin, no matter how uncomfortable that may be. Because sound preaching has fallen on hard times in our society, we have lost the biblical perspective of what God calls sin, Who Jesus Christ is, and what He went through to redeem us. How many of us consider how sin not only effects our lives but the lives of those around us? Our shallow views about the seriousness of our sin is a warning indicator we're walking on the wrong path. Soon, we begin to find loopholes as a means to justify our thoughts and actions, comparing our sinful behaviors to others rather than what God's Word says about our sin. It's important to understand why you are reading the Bible, do you want to strengthen your faith and grow spiritually or do you simply want to gain more knowledge, to wrangle about words? Not that there's anything wrong with increasing your knowledge but God’s Words are intended to do something, if what you learn isn't applied its worthless. (c.f. Hebrews 4:12)
Let's pray
Heavenly Father,
Father, thank You for Your precious Word, thank You for this incredible responsibility to boldly proclaim it in the days ahead, trusting You to allow it to do what it is intended to do. Lord, we count it a privilege to suffer whatever is necessary to prove the genuineness of our faith to the watching world, that You might receive the glory. Father, raise up faithful men who are committed to proclaiming Your Word with authority as it is written, even in the face of adversity and persecution, that many lost souls might be won. Help those of us who preach and teach to pay attention to live godly lives, that we might be an example to others, we need Your help because we are so weak, prone to fail if left on our own. Help us to examine ourselves, to consider the sin that remains in us, so that we might become more like our Lord and Savior, it is to that end we ask and pray in His precious name.

Today's Message: Repent, Return & Refresh
Open you Bibles with me, if you would and turn them to Luke chapter 3. This is a monumental point in the Gospel of Luke, approximately eighteen years have passed since Mary and Joseph found Jesus in the temple, without giving us any details, and Luke begins chapter 3 with seven names, the first five are Gentiles and the last two are the corrupt the high priests. Luke wants us to recognize the need for repentance and forgiveness in Israel was great, because it was so deep in wickedness, corruption and hypocrisy, from the political leaders to the richly adorned, self-righteous religious leaders, who were leading people to straight to Hell. Everything about John the Baptist, was intended to be a rebuke to God’s chosen nation. Though John's story is told in the Gospels, he was the last of the Old Testament prophets, the first prophet to speak since Malachi, four hundred and twenty-five years earlier. I trust that you will follow along with me read the text to you, to set this fascinating story in our minds, as we open our hearts and listen for the voice of our Lord. Luke 3:1-6.
"Now in the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was tetrarch of Galilee, and his brother Philip was tetrarch of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias was tetrarch of Abilene, during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John, the son of Zechariah, in the wilderness. And he came into all the district 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, The voice of one crying in the wilderness, ‘Make ready the way of the Lord, Make His paths straight. Every ravine will be filled, And every mountain and hill will be brought low; The crooked will be straight, And the rough roads smooth. And all flesh will see the salvation of God.’"

Let's look at verses 1-2, "Now in the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was tetrarch of Galilee, and his brother Philip was tetrarch of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias was tetrarch of Abilene, during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John, the son of Zechariah, in the wilderness." Luke is very careful to begin by painting a picture, giving us all the background we need to set the stage for divinely appointed messenger's arrival onto the scene, to prepare the people for the Messiah, who like His forerunner John, has been silent, living in obscurity for thirty years. Now, the time has come for God to break His silence, through John, the promised forerunner, announcing the arrival of the Messiah, who has spent his life in the wilderness, until "the word of God came to John."
Notice, Luke didn't give a chronological time frame, because that isn't the issue, he's more concerned about a period of time, that we understand the condition of Israel, historically, politically and religiously. The Jewish people were under the political oppression of the idolatrous Roman Empire, meaning there was no true king in Israel, they did not enjoy their promised freedom in the land given to them.
The nation was under the religious leadership of corrupt, hypocritical apostate 

Before Caesar Augustus died, in the year A.D. 14, according to Roman records it was August 19th, in order to prevent his family from losing power when he died, he appointed a co-Caesar. Unfortunately for him, those he had groomed for the throne died before he did, in mysterious circumstances I might add. So, he appointed his step-son Tiberius, whom he hated, but was the only choice left, as co-heir to the throne in 11 A.D. Oddly enough, he adopted Tiberius as his own son, not because he liked him but because he wanted to pass the emperor's position on to his grandsons, otherwise the families reign would have ended upon his death, giving the senate the right to choose the next Caesar. Within a month after Caesar Augustus' death, the Senate ratified Tiberius’ position as Roman emperor granting him absolute power over the Roman Empire, where he served from A.D. 14 until 37. So, if you add 15 years to that it would mean John's ministry took place around 26 A.D. to 29 A.D., I tend to lean more towards 26 A.D., which I'll explain in a moment. By the way, the debauched stories about Tiberius Caesars' sexually perverted private life are just as disturbing today as they must have to his contemporaries. We won't go into all the details about Pontius Pilate, Herod Antipas and his brother Philip since we've already done that in previous messages. If you remember, Herod the Great wanted to destroy all the male babies under two years shortly before his death, which was April 4th of the year 4 B.C., so that means Jesus could have been born in 4 B.C, and if you add thirty years to that, you're right back at 26 A.D. again, which is consistent
Now, although Caiaphas was the official high priest at the time, Annas, his father in-law, was the real power calling all the shots behind the scenes. The point Luke is making, is these were very dark times in the nation Israel, politically and religiously, and they had been that way for a long time. And, we all know the expression; "desperate times call for desperate measures," right? It was against this backdrop of political and religious darkness that John the Baptist entered the scene.

Verse 3, "And he came into all the district around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins." The wilderness from which John preached was symbolic of the spiritual desolation and barrenness that the nation of Israel was experiencing under the high priesthood Annas and Caiaphas who were put in their position by Rome as some kind of political favor. This is not according to God's established Levitical priesthood design. John was preaching a message baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, which by the way, baptism cannot bring forgiveness of sins, only God can do that, but it's an outward declaration of the inward intention to repent of their sins. Notice he's doing it from the same place he had been for thirty years, the desolate regions around the Jordan. We have no idea what he did there, just that he was wandering around the desert. Personally, I believe that he was communing with God, preparing for the day he would begin his public ministry. God's message is all about being separated from the corrupt religious system by whom John is not the least bit influenced. In fact, John's ministry was a stark contrast in every respect, as if God is saying if you want to see My salvation, stay away  from the hypocritical religious establishment! Notice that he didn't announce the coming of the Messiah to the high priests in the temple but to the crowds in the middle of nowhere. But, before John would introduce the Messiah to His people, he would confront the religious leaders with the harsh reality that they are not what they think they are, they’re no better than a Gentile, with just as much need for repentance.

Verse 4, "As it is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet, "The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Make ready the way of the Lord, Make His paths straight." In Isaiah 40:3, Isaiah said "A voice is calling, "Prepare the way for Yahweh in the wilderness; Make smooth in the desert a highway for our God." By the way, all four Gospel writers use "As it is written," to point to John the Baptist being the precise fulfillment of these prophesies. John is the voice crying in the wilderness, saying "Make ready the way of the Lord, He's right behind me!" There is both a national and an individual element to that. Anybody that knew anything about the Old Testament, would have been familiar with the prophet Isaiah. If you go to the book of Isaiah, you'll find sixty-six chapters in all, and the first thirty-nine of them are an indictment of severe judgment. We won't go into all of it, but you remember the kingdom was divided, the northern kingdom, which had already fallen into judgment for their bold and brazen idolatry. Through the great prophet Isaiah, God has been sending messages of severe judgment which was fulfilled in the Babylonian captivity at 586 B.C.and is still being fulfilled even today. Then, in chapters 40-66 there is a shocking change; it looks to the future blessing of God’s people, to the suffering of the Messiah and His subsequent return to reign in His millennial kingdom. 
God is both a Righteous Judge and Great Comforter, right? God's ultimate purpose for Israel is not annihilation, but redemption for the fulfillment of His covenant, even though there are some who claim that God is finished with a sinning Israel, and there's nothing left for them but horrible judgment. The only way people could think that there's no future for Israel, is they haven't bothered to read the end of the story, I digress. So, John's message is one of Good News, "Behold, you've been under the judgment of God for so long, but the Lord is coming behind me. He's nearly here, so get ready!" Like Isaiah, he's calling them to repentance. Sadly, many rejected John's message, just like they rejected God's prophets before him, and they rejected Jesus after him. Israel, like all sinners, are still alienated from God because of their unbelief today, until they come to terms with their own sinfulness. It's so crucial for the Jews to understand, the only way Israel will ever received their promised comfort of salvation, is if their sins are forgiven by the Lord Himself. God has not cast Israel off forever, only until they recognize their Messiah! (c.f. Zechariah 12:9-11) There isn't any man who can bring forgiveness of sin, including the pope. This is the heresy of the Roman Catholic Church. The Lord Jesus Christ did not shed His own blood to redeem His Church so that the pope could steal the glory. By the way, we're moving closer and closer toward the day when the Lord Jesus Christ, the Messiah, the promised King, the Son of God, is going to return to establish His glorious kingdom. While the invitation is inclusive, it's going to be an exclusive kingdom. There won't be discussions about who is and who isn't allowed in, that conversation has already happened.

I was reading an article this morning about the heightened threat of a nuclear war occurring in the near future, human history is not going to end in a holocaust generated by man, that concept completely divorced from reality. The same God Who created the world in going to uncreate it and He's going to replace it with a new heaven and a new earth which will last forever. (c.f. Revelation 21) Scripture is  unmistakably clear, human history ends with the epic final judgment that will devastate the world as we now know it. President Joe Biden and the G7 countries can make all the pleas to "save the planet" by going green they want, I assure you, they will not alter God's plans to destroy the planet one bit. It's shocking to me, how many Christians have become skeptics of what the Bible teaches, falling victim to the heresy of false teachers. I expect unbelievers to be ignorant of what the Bible teaches about sin, but it's utterly ridiculous for anyone who has direct access to God's Word to reject what God says. False teachers know the power of sexual temptation and sin. That's why they offer sensuality to lure people into their false doctrine.

Verse 5, "Every ravine will be filled, And every mountain and hill will be brought low; The crooked will be straight, And the rough roads smooth." This an analogy of repentance, the wilderness is really the heart, the sinful mind, that's where the depths of wickedness starts, all the hidden filth in your sinful life and mine, that's the low places. You've got to fill in the low places to bring them up, understanding that means deep, honest repentance reflective of a change of heart in order to prepare the way for Jesus to come into your heart. This isn't just saying the words, it means you have to deal seriously with the sin in your lives. People are really good at hiding the filth, the disgusting garbage deep down inside, they cover it up with their self-righteous acts, superficial religiosity. If your insides are rotten, it doesn't matter what you clean up on the outside, if your heart hasn't been cleansed through genuine repentance, you don't know Jesus Christ; you're living a lie. John's message applied pressure to people, convicting them to take an honest look at themselves and deal with the sin in their lives, resulting in repentance and turning away from their sin. God is far more concerned about sin than the modern church would people to believe, God has not changed His mind about sin. The true Gospel is a hard message, that prepares the heart for repentance and the faith that leads to salvation. It's not enough to hear God is love in order to experience some euphoric feeling of acceptance, or emotional response to the Gospel with tears of joy, that gives many people the illusion there's been a genuine conversion, that's merely superficial. Quite frankly, the church today is literally filled with disillusioned Christians, unredeemed, flaunting their sinful lives. God is love, but that does not minimize His other qualities; He is equally Holy, Righteous and relentlessly Just.
If you didn’t come to Christ completely broken-hearted about your sinful condition, overwhelmed by the consequences of your sin, crying out, begging for the mercy needed to escape judgment, willing to abandon your sin, your relationship with Christ is likely shallow and you’re not going to survive the separation of the wheat and tares. I believe it the responsibility of every pastor to proclaim the message of the Gospel to everyone, in Truth, to bear upon the heart of hearer to bring conviction, recognition of their true spiritual condition, leading to repentance, in hope they might believe savingly in Jesus Christ and receive the precious gift of salvation and eternal life.

Then he says, "And every mountain and hill will be brought low." We live in a narcissistic society where people are really good at elevating themselves, here he's talking about humility; knocking down those prideful, self-righteous attitudes, destroying the false sense of self-confidence. This is crucial, because some people come to Christ with no intention of changing, they half-heartedly go through the motions, deceiving themselves they're destined for heaven. That's the thing with repentance unless it's genuine, there will not be evidence of a changed life. If God's people are to be spiritually healthy, there has to be sound teaching. That's why I believe there are so many spiritually diseased people in the church, openly living detestable, perverted lives thinking everything is fine with God. 

The crooked will be straight, and the rough roads smooth. The word used for crooked is the word "skoliós," meaning morally twisted, from which we get the medical term scoliosis, a curvature of the spine. You've got to get rid of anything that is laying in the road of your repentance, it could be pornography, lying, cheating, stealing, sexual sin, the love of money; whatever it is, you have to get it out of your life. That's just another way of saying, if you want to be in the kingdom of Heaven, you must have your sins forgiven, by turning away from a lifestyle that is unacceptable to God and live a godly life.

That brings us to verse 6, "And all flesh will see the salvation of God.’" If you will do all these things, you will be saved. If you truly want salvation, then repent and turn away from your sin and embrace the Lord Jesus Christ. God is not impressed with empty religious professions that do not produce an attitude of repentance. If you 're going to claim to belong to the family of God, you better be prepared to back up your profession with your daily living. I believe it all comes down from the pulpit, you can't just stand up there and teach sound doctrine without enforcing the application of it, pastors need to step up to the plate and help the congregation apply God's Word to their lives, and to come alongside them encouraging them to obey. The Bible is not a book of suggestions, or meaningless platitudes, it's a book of straightforward commands. (c.f.Matthew 28:19-20) I can't emphasize this enough, when someone speaks God's Truth, they're speaking for God, if you disregard them, you are disregarding God, whether you agree with it or not does not concern the Lord. What does concern the Lord is the purity of His church. Listen, the world doesn't judge the validity of Scripture by our theology, they judge it by our behavior, whether or not it has really changed our lives. So let's encourage one another to focus on living a life befitting the Gospel.

If you want to see the salvation of God, then you have to prepare the way in the wilderness of your heart  through the repentance of sin, embrace Christ as Lord and Savior, and personally submit to the work of the Holy Spirit in you. That's the message of salvation that John offered, it's the same message I offer you today while there is still time.


May it be so..

And now may the Lord bless you and keep you;

the Lord make His face shine upon you,

And be gracious to you;

The Lord lift up His countenance upon you,

And give you peace.

Now and forever, in Jesus' name


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