Please read Luke 3 v 1-20 and then pray; “Almighty God, as we hear and receive your word, help us by your Spirit to prepare for Christ’s coming in glory, and guide us as we prepare once more to celebrate his first advent and humble birth in Bethlehem. Amen.”

 This year’s advent gospel readings have taken us into the gospel of Luke and we have been particularly encouraged to focus on the ministry of John the Baptist. Luke takes a careful look at the miraculous births of both John and Jesus in his opening two chapters and reveals how these amazing events and dual births were guided and enabled by the special providence and power of God. There is even the wonderful story of Mary visiting Elizabeth who was six months pregnant with John, and as soon as the two women meet, baby John leaps in his mother’s womb as he senses the presence of tiny baby Jesus in Mary’s womb. It is a most delightful story of revelation and joy. (Luke 1: 39-45)

However, by the time we come to chapter 3 of Luke, events have moved on thirty years. John has begun his ministry centred in and around the Judean wilderness and the crowds are flocking to him. Luke is careful and keen to put this in its actual historical context. (Luke 3: 1-3) Part way through the chapter, the focus shifts dramatically from John to Jesus as Jesus comes forward to be baptised by John in the river Jordon, and as he prepares to set out and begin his Spirit-filled ministry.

In verse 21 we read:

When all the people were being baptised, Jesus was baptised too.

And in verse 23 we read:

Now Jesus himself was about thirty years old when he began his ministry.

Now, there were two distinct features to the ministry of John that were relevant to the advent or the arrival of Jesus the Christ. Firstly, John was God’s chosen and anointed proclaimer of good news. The first key aspect of his ministry was proclamation. John was God’s chosen herald. He was God’s prophet proclaiming God’s word at this critical time. He was “the voice” in the wilderness.

A voice of one calling in the desert….. (v 4a)

There is no doubt that John was a mighty, powerful and auspicious proclaimer of the word of the Lord.

But secondly, connected to this ministry of proclaiming, John’s was also a ministry of preparation. (1:17, 1:76) God had called John to prepare the way for the arrival of his Son – Jesus Christ. He prepared the way for Jesus by proclaiming the word – and the word was a radical call to repentance.

Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. (v8)

As well as preaching a clear and uncompromising message of repentance, John offered a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And it was this message and this baptism that so many of the people came forward to receive.

Preparation is a very important, perhaps the most important advent call and challenge. Traditionally during the season of Advent that call is given with two advents or two arrivals in mind;

  • The arrival of the Son of God – and his humble birth in Bethlehem.
  • The arrival of the Son of God – his second advent at the climax of history and the final coming of his Kingdom in glory and power.

These are the two advents that are normally associated with the season of advent at the beginning of the Christian calendar year.

There is however, I think we can see, a third advent – and that is one that is presented in Luke chapter 3. This is the advent or the arrival of Jesus’ earthly ministry at which point he was about 30 years old. John’s ministry is preparing people for this advent – the advent of Christ and his Kingdom; hence his most regular proclamation;

Repent for the Kingdom of God is at hand. This in turn became Jesus’ message to the crowds. (Mark 1; 14-15)

So, in actual fact the we have a 3-fold call and summons to prepare:

  • Prepare for the birth (the incarnation) of the Son of God.
  • Prepare for the dawning of Jesus’s ministry and the coming Kingdom.
  • Prepare for Christ’s second advent and the full and final coming of his Kingdom.

Prepare! Prepare! Prepare!

The message is this: This life is a time for preparation. Certainly, the season of Advent and the season of Lent must be times of preparation – but the whole of life must be a season of preparation – a time when/where we prepare to meet God. Every bible passage that speaks about the second coming of Christ points us toward repentance and growing in personal purity as vital preparation for all that is to come. (2 Peter 3:14-15, 1 John 3: 2b-3)

How do we prepare to meet God in a stable in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger? How do we prepare to meet Jesus as he begins his ministry and heads to toward a cross? How do we prepare to meet the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, the Judge of the entire world when He comes again with great power and glory? How do you and I prepare?

We are forced to come back to that word that was upon John and Jesus’ lips so often – repentance!

The way to prepare is to repent – to change direction – to change the way we live – to change the way we relate to God – to change to way we think, behave and journey through life. This involves considerable moral reformation as we move toward standing or kneeling or falling prostrate before an all-together magnificently holy, righteous and just God who is opposed to all sin.

When the crowds came to John – with desperation they asked him how they could prepare properly, how they could be right before God whose Messiah was coming soon. And the vital thing we must notice about John’s answer to their question, “What should we do?”, is that John gives specific answers and not just a general one.

It is a mistake to see the gospel as a “general call” to repentance. People need to understand clearly what that call to repentance means to them specifically. What specific changes are needed in their lives and for their lifestyles? John is specific with his answers! The gospel is specific with its guidance on what individuals must do and must not do. The Holy Spirit speaks to people specifically in their hearts, but the Spirit does that through using the clear and penetrating word of God.

And we have some of the specifics before us today in this chapter as John challenges;

  • The general public
  • The tax collectors
  • The soldiers
  • Herod the tetrarch

Just before we consider the specific challenges John makes and the gospel makes, let’s just draw this message back to “the now” and our preparation for Christmas. The biblical answer to preparing for Christmas is primarily about how should we be making real changes to our lives and lifestyles. It is not about how I prepare for a whole host of festivities and parties. Yes – Christmas is to be celebrated, and to be celebrated with great joy, the great joy of the angels and the shepherds, and we can do that through enjoying special meals, drinks, presents and happy times with family and friends. Joy must fill our Christmas – for Christ, the Son of God has been born today in David’s town. But the main way to prepare for this coming is to be ready with room in our hearts for his reign, and with lives truthfully responding to the demands of his good news and his way of holiness. (Luke 1:74-75)

Now let us consider the specifics of repentance and preparedness.

The man with two tunics should share with him who has none, and the one who has food should do the same.

The call to repentance involves a call to sacrificial generosity and sensitivity to the many people around us with much greater needs than ourselves. For the Christian, the whole of life and not just the Christmas period should be a season of goodwill. Repentance involves living the whole of life with the ongoing readiness and willingness to feed the hungry and clothe the poor. The Christian does not just get charitable at Christmas or when Pugsy bear makes an appearance. The repentant soul lives life in such a way that they are regularly giving support to the hungry, the homeless, the naked. Please remember, repentance is a way of life – for the whole of life. Sharing with the needy never stops as long as we have things to share. As an example, we need to be giving to the food banks, the homeless charities, and third world charities every month – as much as we can – focusing on where the real needs actually are in our local community and in the wider world.

James (the brother of Jesus) in his letter is specific – as the gospel is. He writes:

What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such a faith save him? Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, “Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed, but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if is not accompanied by action, is dead. (James 2: 14-17, 1 John 3:17-18)

Note also, that when Jesus speaks about being prepared for his return as Judge of the world at the end of this age, he teaches of the need to visit the sick, to feed the hungry, to clothe the naked and to visit the prisoner. When he comes – we better be ready. We better be prepared, for it will be obvious who are sheep and who are goats. (Matthew 25: 31-46)

To enquiring tax collectors, John responded in this way. “Don’t collect any more than you are required to.”

Repentance – preparing for Christ’s arrival means producing the fruit of strict honesty and truthfulness and justice in all our dealings with other people. Christians can under no circumstances be cheaters and fraudsters. There must be no stealing or dishonesty in any of our inter-actions with others or with the Government – local or national. There must be no “fiddling the tax man”, no receiving of benefits we are not meant to receive, no avoidance of paying taxes, or exploitation of others for monetary gain. If you want to prepare for the coming of Christ – you must seek to be scrupulously honest at all times from the moment you receive Christ into your heart to the moment you die and face him on his judgment throne.

The Scriptures are literally littered with teaching about honesty and being just in all your conduct:

He who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with his own hands, that he may have something to share with those in need. (Ephesians 4:28)

Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also because of conscience. This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, who give their full time to governing. Give everyone what you owe him. If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honour, then honour.” (Romans 13: 5-7)

When Zacchaeus, the notorious fraudulent tax collector decided he needed to change because of his personal encounter with Christ – his repentance was radical, not partial. It was literally “pay back” time for him. (Luke 19 v 8-9) To his credit – he repented, and did so with joy!

His sins were taken away and his conscience was cleansed through repentance – active moral change!

To the enquiring soldiers, John the Baptist makes this response; “Don’t extort money and don’t accuse people falsely – be content with your pay.”

Once again you see the need to be honest and truthful as a soldier or as any servant of the Government. How can one extort money from another and expect to be ready for God’s Kingdom of righteousness and justice? How can anyone expect to lie about others, to slander others, to misrepresent others, and still be ready to come face to face with Christ? There could be “rich pickings” for soldiers at times; they could bribe people; they could manipulate the weak and innocent. All that has to stop if you are to repent with integrity and be ready for the arrival of the Messiah.

You must also learn to embrace “contentment”. Be content with your pay. Don’t seek to add to it dishonestly. Be content. In other words, don’t fall into the trap of loving money and being greedy. Learn to live with contentment and thanksgiving. This has to be the pathway for the Christian;

Paul reminds Timothy of the following – and we need to heed these words;

But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is the root of all evil.  (1 Timothy 6:6-10)

Friends, what does Christmas look like for a Christian or a Christian family who have learned under God to live a life of quiet contentment? Does it involve over-stocking with food? Does it involve lots and lots of alcohol and presents? Does it involve spending money we don’t have? Surely not. Surely it involves contentedly enjoying what God has provided and being willing to share that with others who have less than ourselves. Be content with your pay – and what your pay can supply. Don’t be greedy for more or envious of others. This is the simple lifestyle Christ bids us to embrace. The fruit of repentance is contentment, generosity, kindness and goodness.

I hope you noticed that John the Baptist did not say to either the tax collectors or the soldiers you have to resign from your jobs. John did not say – as a follower of the Messiah you cannot be a tax collector or a soldier. You can do these occupations – but you must do them with all honesty, integrity and truthfulness. In other words, to use the teaching of Christ himself, you must be salt and light in the tax office and in the army. You must be different – very different. You must stand out like lights in a dark world. You must be a righteous tax collector and a righteous soldier. This will prepare you for the coming King and His Kingdom of righteousness, joy and peace in the Holy Spirit.  (Romans 14: 17-18)

Then finally, we have the case of Herod the tetrarch. This was the cruel historical leader who used his power to get everything he wanted, everything “he” desired – including his own brother’s wife – thereby committing adultery to satisfy his own self-indulgent lust. John was not afraid to challenge and warn public figures like Herod – for they too needed to radically repent if they were to be prepared to meet God who judges everyone with equity, with righteousness and with truth according to his law. That is to say – according to God’s law – not mans!

So here the issue is sexual fidelity and purity, and Herod currently fell well short of what God demands. Anyone who naively believes that they can live a sexually immoral life and enter the Kingdom of God is living a life of utter self-deception. (1Corinthians 6: 9-11, Ephesians 5: 3-6) Adultery is a serious sin and must be repented of. All sexual licentiousness lies under the judgement of God. I hope this does not sound crass, but the best way some people can get ready for the arrival of Christ is to completely clean up their act in order to be in line with legitimate biblical sexual activity and marriage.

From the book of Hebrews, we meet this biblical challenge square on:

Marriage should be honoured by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the sexually immoral.  (Hebrews 13:4)

We must never approach the bible’s warnings about these things lightly or disbelievingly. What Paul writes to the Ephesian Church is echoed throughout the whole range of Scripture and is imbedded in teaching of Jesus himself. (Read Ephesians 5: 1-7, Mark 7: 20-23)

This is why there is this clear note of God’s judgement and God’s righteous wrath in the preaching of John the Baptist, and all the prophets, and in the teaching of Christ. John teaches that the Christ will “burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire”. (v 17) He reminded his many listeners and enquirers that “the axe is already at the root.” (v9) Don’t say, you were never warned. There is wrath to flee from!

The reason for this righteous and just wrath upon all evil – whether it is fraud, slander, stealing, extortion, neglect or abuse of the poor, lying, sexual immorality or whatever other rebellion against God’s holy laws – this evil has caused the world to be full of tragic, cruel and oppressive misery, pain, trauma, abuse, sadness, guilt, exploitation and crushing poverty. That’s why such behaviour is under the just judgement of a holy and good God. God must act to judge all that has brought pain and misery and darkness into this world. His goodness, love and righteousness demand it. Evil and sin – all expressions of it – must be justly punished. No one will be able to offer excuses or protest.

But there is the other side of the coin – one of great hope and restoration. For John, and for Jesus, and for the gospel there is a twin message. There is the clear message to repent, to change – and there is the clear message of total, full and free forgiveness. REPENTANCE and FORGIVENESS always go together in this gospel – always! The repentance though must be genuine and radical, for the forgiveness to be complete and unqualified. (Luke 1: 76-79, 24:47, Acts 2:28). Once repentance is embraced and the journey to change morally commences, forgiveness is poured out in abundance, hearts are renewed with hope and love, consciences are cleansed with thoroughness through Christ’s blood, and there is no condemnation for those who are now in Christ Jesus. People are made ready for Christ’s coming. People are made ready for the Kingdom. People are made ready for death and what lies beyond. People are made ready eternity.

Preparation though must begin now – right now, according to John and Jesus. No more delays. No more excuses. No more self-justification, and certainly no more self-righteousness. Preparation begins now in the lead up to Christmas and throughout this season of preparation – but never forget, repentance has to become a way of life for the rest of your life.

Repentance and preparing for the future coming of Christ is a daily activity, and requires daily dying to our own selfish desires, lusts, ambitions and pre-occupations, and daily embracing the call of Christ to follow him and pursue humility, meekness, peace, personal godliness and righteousness, generosity toward the poor, passion for justice and truth, contentment, truthfulness, honestly, love for neighbours, even enemies. This is a different Kingdom with different priorities to this world. This is the Kingdom of God. This is the Kingdom of Christ. This is the Kingdom of the babe in Bethlehem. This is the Kingdom of the one who will return again in glory to Judge the living and the dead.


Prepare for this Kingdom!
Live for this Kingdom!
Do it now!
For the Lord is near! (Philippians 4:5)



(Revd Peter J Clarkson 12.12.21)