Preaching In the Wilderness (Matthew 3:1-12)

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THE FACES of the three men were solemn as the mayor informed them of the catastrophe. “The rains have washed away the bridge. During the night many cars drove over the edge and into the river.” “What can we do?” asked one.

“You must stand on the side of the road and warn the drivers not to make the left turn. Tell them to take the one-lane road that follows the side of the river.” “But they drive so fast! How can we warn them?” “By wearing these sandwich signs,” the mayor explained, producing three wooden double-signs, hinged together to hang from one’s shoulders. “Stand at the crossroads so drivers can see these signs until I can get someone out there to fix the bridge.”

And so the men hurried out to the dangerous curve and put the signs over their shoulders. “The drivers should see me first,” spoke one. The others agreed. His sign warned, “Bridge Out!” He walked several hundred yards before the turn and took his post. “Perhaps I should be second, so the drivers will slow down,” spoke the one whose sign declared, “Reduce Speed.”

“Good idea,” agreed the third. “I’ll stand here at the curve so people will get off the wide road and onto the narrow.” His sign read simply “Take Right Road” and had a finger pointing toward the safe route. And so the three men stood with their three signs ready to warn the travelers of the washed-out bridge.

As the cars approached, the first man would stand up straight so the drivers could read, “Bridge Out.” Then the next would gesture to his sign, telling the cars to “Reduce Speed.” And as the motorists complied, they would then see the third sign, “Right Road Only.” And though the road was narrow, the cars complied and were safe. Hundreds of lives were saved by the three sign holders. Because they did their job, many people were kept from peril.

But after a few hours they grew lax in their task. The first man got sleepy. “I’ll sit where people can read my sign as I sleep,” he decided. So he took his sign off his shoulders and propped it up against a boulder. He leaned against it and fell asleep. As he slept his arm slid over the sign, blocking one of the two words. So rather than read “Bridge Out,” his sign simply stated “Bridge.”

The second didn’t grow tired, but he did grow conceited. The longer he stood warning the people the more important he felt. A few even pulled off to the side of the road to thank him for the job well done. “We might have died had you not told us to slow down,” they applauded. “You’re so right,” he thought to himself. “How many people would be lost were it not for me?”

Presently he came to think that he was just as important as his sign. So he took it off, set it up on the ground, and stood beside it. As he did, he was unaware that he, too, was blocking one word of his warning. He was standing in front of the word “Speed.” All the drivers could read was the word “Reduce.” Most thought he was advertising a diet plan.

The third man was not tired like the first, nor self-consumed like the second. But he was concerned about the message of his sign. “Right Road Only,” it read. It troubled him that his message was so narrow, so dogmatic. “People should be given a choice in the matter. Who am I to tell them which is the right road and which is the wrong road?”

So he decided to alter the wording of the sign. He marked out the word “Only” and changed it to “Preferred.” “Hmm,” he thought, “that’s still too strident. One is best not to moralize. So he marked our the word “Preferred” and wrote “Suggested.” That still didn’t seem right, “Might offend people if they think I’m suggesting I know something they don’t.”

So he thought and thought and finally marked through the word “Suggested” and replaced it with a more neutral phrase. “Ahh, just right,” he said to himself as he backed off and read the words: “Right Road—One of Two Equally Valid Alternatives.” And so as the first man slept and the second stood and the third altered the message, one car after another plunged into the river. “

The Parable of the Sandwich Sign” from A Gentle Thunder ©1995 by Max Lucado.

 

Dear friends, there is a catastrophe coming. One that makes Sept.11th look insignificant and feeble by comparison. It is a catastrophe millennia in the making. But a disaster that will come to its terrible completion in a single day. You see, the flood of human sin has washed out the bridge between heaven and earth. All those trapped on the wrong side when the storm is over will die. If people are to have a chance, if they are to be spared they must know the danger that lies upon their path ahead.

Two thousand years ago, God sent just such a messenger with just such a warning. A messenger long awaited. We read in Malachi 4:5-6 “Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and terrible day of the LORD comes. And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the land with a curse.”

But why such a strange messenger with such a harsh message? Acts 17:30-31 “The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all men everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed, and of this he has given assurance to all men by raising him from the dead.”

This world, your friends and neighbours, need messengers who will take their calling seriously and warn them before it is too late. Everyone needs to get reacquainted with the word Repentance. In our sin the human race has grown lazy, and conceited. We have made a hobby of obscuring the truth or making truth fit our own ideas and goals! Even we Christians can find ourselves on the wrong side of the washed out bridge from time to time. ESPECIALLY when it comes to speaking the urgent truth to the world around us. Sometimes, we simply let it be, there’s lots of time for that sort of thing later. Sometimes we become conceited in what little we have done, and get so busy patting ourselves on the back that we end up giving the wrong message to those who need to see clearly. Sometimes, we simply back-peddle from the Truth, afraid of its repercussions in our lives. “I could never say that! What would that do to my credibility at work. It’d get me beat up at school. I’d be a laughing stock of my friends and neighbours!”

Yes, the call to repentance is not an easy one to make. But the urgency of it is unquestionable. It was the only message of John’s ministry. It was also at the heart of all of Jesus’ preaching and the disciples after him. Matthew 4:17 “From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.'” Mark 6:12 “So [the disciples] went out and preached that men should repent.” If anything the call to Repent is MORE urgent now than ever before. That final day of judgement is coming closer every day!

But that’s also the great news in all of this! The day of the Lord may be coming swiftly, but the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand. In other words, GOD IS RIGHT HERE … RIGHT NOW! While we wait for that final day of sorting and the judgement to come, God is at work in His Church, through His Son and the Holy Spirit. He is at work changing people’s lives and hearts. For rightly speaking, REPENTANCE is a gift of God. Repentance is not a thing of the Law, but of the Gospel. It is not a burden but a joy! Acts 3:19 “Repent therefore, and turn again, that your sins may be blotted out, that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord,”

It is only by the Grace of God that a person may come to see who they truly are, and to what end they are headed. It is only through the working of the Holy Spirit that you or I can turn from our path of sin and destruction, ask for God’s mercy; and find it already there in Jesus Christ.

For in Jesus Christ the Kingdom of Heaven did indeed come near. In Jesus, the very heart of God almighty dwelt in our midst, ate our food, lived in our homes, and took our place. He died on the cross, jumped into the raging river of death, only to come out alive on the other side. And because He braved that catastrophe for us, He has now become a way around it. Through the gifts of His church, Holy Baptism, The Holy Scriptures, and The Holy Table, Jesus is the narrow road along side the raging river. The road that leads to everlasting life. But it is a road that can only be traveled in faith and conviction, in repentance and trust.

From the Augsburg Confession we read: “Properly speaking, true repentance is nothing else than to have contrition and sorrow, or terror, on account of sin, and yet at the same time to believe the Gospel and absolution (namely, that sin has been forgiven and grace has been obtained through Christ), and this faith will comfort the heart and again set it at rest.”

“We say that contrition is the genuine terror of a conscience that feels God’s wrath against sin and is sorry that it has sinned. This contrition takes place when the Word of God denounces sin. For the sum of the proclamation of the Gospel is to denounce sin, to offer the forgiveness of sins and righteousness for Christ’s sake, to grant the Holy Spirit and eternal life, and to lead us as regenerated men to do good. Christ gives this summary of the Gospel in the last chapter of Luke (24:47), “That repentance and forgiveness of sins should be preached in my name to all nations.”

Dr. John Brokhoff, for years a professor of Homiletics at Chandler School of Theology in Atlanta Georgia, tells of how a man responded to one of his sermons on sin and repentance. The further into the sermon he got and the harder he pressed upon the hearers the realities of sin and its consequences; the whiter the man’s face became. Sweat began to bead upon his forehead and suddenly, right there in the service this man stood up and confessed to those around him: “I’ve been a sinner, a contemptible sinner. And I’ve been one for years but never knew it before tonight.” The awful truth had sunk in to the depths of his being and this was his desperate cry for help. A deacon who was sitting in the pew next to him calmly leaned over and whispered to him, “Sit down brother, the rest of us have known it the whole time!”

What good does it do our neighbour if we sit back quietly and watch them waste away their life in sin. Forget the usual Christmas card, or tin of cookies. What better gift can you give them than the gift of a second chance? If we know, if we see, let us speak. Both in love, and with resounding firmness. “Repent!” Turn away from your destructive pursuits. Give up that which is killing you (however pleasant it may seem to be at the time). Turn to God and find forgiveness, and comfort. Turn to Christ and find life, and hope. He is here right now. His kingdom is at hand to lead you to see you through the storms of life to the blessed safety beyond.

AMEN.

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About kenmaher

When I'm not working I enjoy Astronomy, Camping, Comic Books, Epic Fantasy Novels, Games (both playing and designing), Hiking, Juggling, Sci-fi, and building strange things out of pvc pipe. I also enjoy being an honorary pre-schooler with my four great children ... much to their mother's dismay.
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