Proof of Life
There are 3 steps to repentance. Are you working all 3?
David Sorn. Lead pastor here at Renovation Church.
There was an article in the New York Times recently that stated that the number of patients getting therapy is down considerably over the past 11 years.
Most state that the reasons are, of course, complex, but many psychologists feel that the main reason is that people simply don’t want to face their own issues anymore.
They’d rather just blame others for their problems.
It’s kind of an interesting study.
Is that really who’ve we’ve become?
And when we’re challenged to deal with our own issues… how do we even deal with that anymore in our culture?
Do we deal with it?
I want to cover that (and more) as we dive back into the book of Matthew this morning.
We are starting the second week of a large series called “The Kingdom,” which is on the book of Matthew.
One of the 4 books about the life of Jesus in the Bible.
Matthew was actually a tax collector, who was so compelled by Jesus, that he left his work and followed him.
Becoming not only a believer, but also one of the 12 disciples, and eventually one of the writers of the Bible.
We’re gonna skip over the end of Matthew chapter 1 AND chapter 2 today because we’ve covered both of them (multiple times actually) at Christmastime in the past…as they are stories about the birth of Jesus.
So, we’re going to jump into chapter 3 today.
And you’re going to get an interesting look at the Bible today.
See, God is both fire and rain. Truth and grace.
He is so serious about sin…because it is completely contrary to his nature. He hates it.
He doesn’t’ like to see his children suffer in it, and He’s not afraid to say it.
Sometimes with some fire ‘n brimstone.
But He also rains down grace like you couldn’t even imagine.
God’s really like the perfect parent.
When you’re walking towards the fire…or the hot stove…he’ll say, “No!! Don’t do that! It’ll hurt!”
He doesn’t say, “Nah…no big deal…I don’t care…nothing will happen”
Like so many want God to be like. “He doesn’t care…He just loves you…”
He’s the real deal.
And even when you do touch the stove anyway, and you come back to him, he’s so ready to forgive.
More than any other human ever would.
And you’re going to see a lot of both fire and rain…truth and grace in Matthew.
So don’t let that surprise you. It’s all in the amazing, glorious package of who this powerful God is.
WHO IS J THE B
Let’s take a look at the first half of our passage for today.
This takes place RIGHT before Jesus is about to begin his 3 years of public ministry at the age of 30
If you want to follow along, you certainly can
(Matthew 3:1-6) – NIV
In those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the wilderness of Judea2 and saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” 3 This is he who was spoken of through the prophet Isaiah: “A voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.’” John’s clothes were made of camel’s hair, and he had a leather belt around his waist. His food was locusts and wild honey. 5 People went out to him from Jerusalem and all Judea and the whole region of the Jordan. 6 Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River.
Let’s pause there for a little while….
So who is this JOHN THE BAPTIST that’s out baptizing people in the Jordan River and eating locusts and honey?!?
Well, for one, interestingly enough the Bible tells us that he’s actually Jesus’ cousin!
And the Old Testament prophesies about him a number of times.
Including Isaiah, like the passage says.
But check this out.
Go back just a few pages, to the very last page of the OT (as Matthew’s the 1st book in the NT)
It’s PAGE 780
This is how the Old Testament ends:
(Malachi 4:5-6) – NIV
5 “See, I will send the prophet Elijah to you before that great and dreadful day of the Lord comes. 6 He will turn the hearts of the parents to their children, and the hearts of the children to their parents; or else I will come and strike the land with total destruction.”
The Bible says that the prophet Elijah (one of old prophets) is going to come back…and start turning hearts around.
That’s how the OT ends…and then…NOTHING. Just nothing for 400 years.
And then Jesus is quietly born…and this man called John the Baptist starts preparing the way.
But look what Jesus says about John:
(Matthew 11:13-14) – NIV
For all the Prophets and the Law prophesied until John. 14 And if you are willing to accept it, he is the Elijah who was to come.
Jesus is saying that John IS Elijah. Or, in the spirit of Elijah anyway.
So MULTIPLE old testament prophets predicted that this figure would come before Jesus and start turning hearts back to God…that he would PREPARE the way…make straight the paths”
Think of it this way: Do you remember the movie Aladdin?
Do you remember when he comes down the streets of Agrabah disguised as Prince Ali?
But there’s this huge parade clearing and the paving the way for him first? And they’re all singing, “PRINCE ALI…FABULOUS HE…ALI ABABWA..”
It’s like that.
It’s like a herald that would come in advance of a king and say, “HEY! The King is coming! The king is coming!”
And he’d make preparations…make sure the road is smooth…that the town was really prepared to meet the King.
That’s WHO John the Baptist is.
He’s readying the people for the King and his Kingdom.
He’s spiritually preparing people to meet God…so that they’ll actually recognize the Savior when He comes.
And then He’ll hand them off.
That’s why he says this in John
(John 3:30) – NIV
He must become greater; I must become less.”
John is just a herald. Jesus is the King.
And Matthew is serious about the King.
He talks about the Kingdom FIFTY times in his book!
WHAT WAS JOHN’S BAPTISM
And one of the main ways that John the Baptist prepared people for Jesus’ coming was through having them repent (to ask for forgiveness, and turn around and change)…that’s what repent means
AND be baptized.
But why baptism? What was that all about? Why are they getting baptized if Jesus hasn’t even died to wash away their sins yet?
What did it even mean?
Let’s read the rest of the passage here…and then I’ll comment some more on it.
Here comes some of that fire and brimstone of the prophet John!
(Matthew 3:7-12) – NIV
7 But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to where he was baptizing, he said to them: “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath?8 Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. 9 And do not think you can say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham.10 The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire. 11 “I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me comes one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 12 His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor, gathering his wheat into the barn and burning up the chaff with unquenchable fire.”
The next few verses cover the baptism of Jesus, which we’ll cover in house groups this week.
So, let’s start breaking this down.
I think one of the main questions has to be: What was John baptizing for?
Didn’t baptisms start after Jesus?
Well, it says that John’s baptism was a baptism of repentance.
Which means, to turn around, to change your life.
To make your life about God.
See, it’s really interesting, but the Jews (which is who John the Baptist, Jesus, and all the people coming are) didn’t do baptisms.
In fact, it was so rare, that’s how John can even have a nickname like John the Baptist…cuz he was really the only one out baptizing folks.
The only people who got baptized were Gentiles (non-Jews) who converted to Judaism.
They would get baptized as a symbol of leaving behind their old life and making a new life following the true God.
But the Jews never would have dreamed of getting baptized because they thought of themselves as BORN into being one of God’s true children.
They were a Jew! God’s chosen people!
But what John is saying to them is, “HEY! You need to repent of your sin. And get right with God individually! Each of you! There’s no such thing a being born into being saved”
Jesus will later say, “you’ve got to be born AGAIN to be saved’
But John says, “You can’t just say, Abraham is my father” (which the Jews said they could trace their family tree back to Abraham, so they were good to go)…
John says, what? He says, “God can raise up children from these stones”
It doesn’t work like that.
The ax is already at the root of that tree
You can’t be forgiven/saved/might right with God just by being born into it!
Each person is accountable to God individually.
And thus, by offering them baptism, he’s offering them the same choice that the Gentiles were making to follow this true God BEFORE Jesus came along.
Do YOU want to make this choice to leave your old self behind and follow God? Or not?
Not, “Hey I’m born into this thing. No biggie.”
No, it’s “Do YOU want to follow Him?”
Then repent…and get baptized.
And it’s actually really fascinating because John was saying that baptism (and it would be used the same way in the Christian tradition)…that baptism is a symbol of personal, individual repentance.
And the very last thing that baptism is a sign of is being born into a covenant family…being born into the faith…being saved by birth.
That’s the exact literal thing John was screaming against.
He was saying, “No, YOU need to make this decision…You can’t be born into as a child of Abraham….now, get baptized to show this is your decision!”
And what’s ironic about this is that so many Christian traditions, have now turned baptism into the exact thing John and the Christians designed it to be against”
Think about this: Now, many traditions baptize infants (I grew up in a tradition like that myself…but it’s nowhere in the Bible)
But they baptize infants as an expression of grafting them into the family of God by their birth
Which is the very concept John was using baptism to fight against.
It’s why we’ve got to study the Bible.
John is trying to grab a hold of the hearts of the people.
TO remind them that it’s never been about rituals.
God says he desires mercy…not sacrifice.
It’s never been about WHO you can trace your lineage back to.
The children of Abraham are those who believe in faith (like Abraham did), not those who are literal descendants.
That’s why God can raise up children from stones.
And he does, in a sense, as most of the children of Abraham (because it’s about faith) are actually now Gentiles
And this all still holds true for us today.
Whether you grew up in a Christian home is irrelevant to whether or not you’re saved. Or right w/ God. Forgiven.
Whether you went to church as a kid is irrelevant.
Whether you go to church now is irrelevant.
I’m not saying, it’s not good.
I’m just saying it doesn’t determine if you’re right w/ God.
You could have been coming to Renovation Church every week for 4 years now and be on the path to hell.
I don’t know that.
It’s about whether you have a relationship with Jesus.
Have you believed that he died for you and given your life to Him?
THE WINNOWING FORK
And John speaks the same fire and brimstone to the religious people that showed up by the Jordan River
The Pharisees and Sadducees showed up by the river to hear John because that’s what “everybody was doing”
And these are the religious hypocrites.
They know all the rules.
They condemn everyone who’s not perfect.
They lift their noses in the air at anyone below them because they’re not as spiritual as them.
They demand people follow the strictest moral law, and yet in their blinded pride, they cheat, steal, and abuse all around them
Classic religious hypocrites.
And it’s to them…John starts dropping the fire.
He says, you brood of snakes. You, offspring…children of vipers!
This is important by the way: You’ve got to know this.
John is yelling at religious people. Not the prostitutes, alcoholics, and divorcees.
Not the people who are checking God out…thinking of following Him.
IF that’s you…you’re thinking of following God…you haven’t been around this church thing much…He’s not talking to you.
He’s talking to the fakers.
A lot of the church folks
We’ve got to be clear on that before we move on..
John wants them to know that they’re crazy if they think they’re saved just because they were born into it and “do good things”
That’s not how we get saved.
That’s not how we get right w/ God.
That’s not a real relationship.
c’mon, that’s about us! Not about God!
And John speaks the hard truth to them. To let them know that you may think you’re fine, but that’s not the true reality of your future destination.
Look at verse 12 again.
(Matthew 3:12) – NIV
12 His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor, gathering his wheat into the barn and burning up the chaff with unquenchable fire.”
And John uses a key illustration from their Agrarian society.
See, at the harvest, farmers would take all of their grain and bring it the barn.
But they’d have to separate their wheat (which they want), from the worthless chaff.
So, they’d use a big winnowing fork to throw the grain into the air, and it would separate.
The wheat would fall to the ground (cuz it’s heavier), and the chaff (which is light), would blow away to the side of the barn.
Where they would later, bundle it up, and throw it in the fire.
And John is saying, Some people are wheat. Some are chaff.
Some people will come to Jesus and trust in Him and give their lives to Him.
While others will be right there (THIS IS KEY!) They’ll be mixed in right with the crowd.
You’ll see ‘em at church, doing churchy stuff, using Christanese words (like “fellowship” and saying the word “just” 15 times a prayer)…
But at the end of the day…they’re just chaff.
They never really repented of their sins, they never really trusted in Christ as their savior.
And thus, at the judgment, rather than standing firm in Christ, John says that they’ll blow away into the fires of hell.
WHOA! Timeout for a second. That’s tough stuff. Really hard stuff. Crazy stuff!!
But it’s true.
We can not make it to heaven on our own…by being good enough…or religious enough…or church’d enough.
The only way is by believing that Jesus died for us. That HE paid our way.
And then, trusting our lives to Him.
This amazing savior.
REPENTANCE IS AN ACTION
And if this is all true….
If heaven and hell are real…
If Jesus did really come to earth and die for you to save your life from the hell which we really deserve.
If Jesus is really crazy in love with you no matter what, and wants to spend eternity with you in heaven…in paradise…
Then I ask you, “What does it really mean to repent?”
Because that’s they key part of this text.
THAT’s what John keeps talking about.
Well, repentance is what we do when we first put our faith in Him.
We say, “Jesus I confess my sins to you. I’ve sinned against you. But I give my old life up to you. I will follow you now.”
That’s repentance. To confess and turn.
But are we doing that??!?
And how would we know?
Well, there’s a way we can tell.
We can tell if we are alive in Jesus or dead in our sins.
We can get “Proof of Life”
Are you familiar with that term?
Proof of Life is what kidnappers often given to those from whom they are demanding a ransom.
It’s also the name of an average (at best) Russel Crowe movie J
But to give “proof of life,” the kidnappers will take a photo of the person they kidnapped with today’s paper or something like that.
To proof that he’s still alive.
Well, how can we proof that we’re alive in Jesus?
Because the Pharisees looked like they had proof…they did all of these religious things (went to the temple, fasted, knew the Scriptures, and on and on), and yet John said they were headed for the fire.
So what’s the “proof of life” as a Christian?
It’s repentance. But more than that. It’s the fruit of repentance.
Look at verse 8 again:
(Matthew 3:8) - NIV
8 Produce fruit in keeping with repentance.
Or, in the New Living Translation, which is a little bit more paraphrased, but it says it well (and gets the right idea)
(Matthew 3:8) – NEW LIVING TRANSLATION!
Prove by the way you live that you have repented of your sins and turned to God.
See, true repentance always come with an action…w/ fruit.
That’s why it’s an action word: to TURN AROUND.
There’s really 3 steps to repentance.
You feel like you need to change.
Notice that the people coming to God were literally confessing their sins.
Some of you have been in the church for a while, and you’re just completely stagnant in your Christian walk.
It’s just dead right now. Lifeless.
I can’t 100% guarantee this is it, but there’s a pretty good chance that you need to repent of some sin.
Repentance is not a 1 time deal.
That’s why John says, “produce fruit in KEEPING with repentance!”
And look at those people…they confessed their sins. To one another.
We as Christians sometimes talk around the outside borders of our sins:
“I’m struggling with “stuff,”
“I’ve got some ‘issues’ going on with family members”
“I’m having some “difficulties” at home”
But if you want to stop…you want to change…then full on repent.
Talk to your small group, your close Christians friends, or whomever and say,
“Hey, I’m yelling at my husband all the time, and I just gotta straight up confess it”
“I can’t stop looking at porn, and I needed to tell someone”
That’s how you begin to get better, that’s how you begin to find LIFE again.
That’s how you take a dead spiritual life and a dead body and let God breathe life again!
You start by repenting!
You feel the conviction, but you don’t stop at step 1.
You move to step two. You confess!
You get honest w/ people.
You’re never gonna get anywhere lying to yourself and others.
But I said there were 3 steps, not 2.
So, in repentance, we feel convicted, we confess to others, and then we ACT.
Conviction, Confession, Action
You’ve got to, by the grace of God, ACT.
The Bible’s full of people (like Pharaoh) who admit their sins, but then don’t do anything about it.
And churches are chalk full of those people too.
Remember, repentance means to turn around, not just confess.
Literally turn. You have to DO something.
“The evidence of real inner spiritual life is always the fruit of an externally changed life.”
The “proof of life” (the difference between the people getting in the river w/ John and the religious hypocrites)…the proof of life, of real repentance, is in the action.
And not just “spiritual motions” like the Pharisees either
It’s getting right with God again and doing his will.
Fascinatingly enough, The Gospel author Luke includes a little more of this conversation with John by the river.
It’s like he has one of Matthew’s deleted scenes that Matthew didn’t have time to include J
(Luke 3:9-14) – NIV
9 The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.” 10 “What should we do then?” the crowd asked. 11 John answered, “Anyone who has two shirts should share with the one who has none, and anyone who has food should do the same.” 12 Even tax collectors came to be baptized. “Teacher,” they asked, “what should we do?” 13 “Don’t collect any more than you are required to,” he told them. 14 Then some soldiers asked him, “And what should we do?” He replied, “Don’t extort money and don’t accuse people falsely—be content with your pay.”
See, they all did something. The soldiers stopped extorting. The tax collectors, stopped ripping people off.
In other words, if you’re going to follow Jesus, and He is in your heart, and you’ve said…”I’ve left this old life behind…”
Then leave it behind.
It means NOTHING if you just say it.
And some of you need to ask the tough question if you ever even given your life to Jesus in the first place. I mean that.
And others of you, it’s time to walk through the 3 steps of repentance: conviction, confession, action.
So if the Holy Spirit is convicting you to repent…all 3 parts of it…I ask you this morning…not just the person next to you…you…what are you going to do?
If you’re addicted to alcohol, drugs, porn, whatever…
Don’t just say…”I’m sorry God”
You’re going to just sit here plateaued in your spiritual life for the next month, year, decade. It’s not gonna change.
Tell someone. And then DO something.
Start a recovery program.
Go to Quest 180 (brochures in the hallway or google it)…get help.
If you’re marriage is falling apart…
Don’t just say, “Please make it better God”
Confess to your spouse that it’s at least 10% of your fault (that’s a start)…and go to counseling.
Maybe you’re in an affair right now.
Feeling bad won’t fix the problem.
Conviction, confession, action.
It’ll be the hardest thing you’ll ever do…but it’s only the possible path to life
Maybe it’s a relationship with one of your parents…your siblings…
What is God calling you to do?
And, if I can, allow me to make one more point about John the baptist’s words about repentance and fruit.
This isn’t just “Man, I feel bad, I should change because I’m doing the wrong thing”
No, here’s the reality: We do sin. A lot. And it’s not right…and it’s not honoring God…
But when we repent, we’re not just turning AWAY from something…we’re turning TO something.
You’re turning TO God.
You’re turning to life.
And listen, this is SO important, when you repent, you feel conviction, you do confession, you take action……it may feel like FIRE…but it’s the path to the healing rain.
Because when you do the hard steps, and you say, “Honey, our marriage is a mess. And I think it’s my fault. Let’s see somebody”
That’s like getting punched in the gut 10,000 times.
It’s like lighting yourself on fire just a little bit.
But as you make that turn…from the old ways…you’re not just turning FROM…you’re turning TO! You’re turning towards life!
You’re turning towards restoration.
You’re turning towards talking to each other again.
Towards smiling again.
Towards 50th wedding anniversaries and grandkids.
That’s what you’re turning towards!
But you only get to the healing rain…through the fire first!
IS it hard to walk through the 3 steps? Yes!
Is it painful. Yes!
But does it lead to life? Yes!
Listen, God has SO much in store for you. So many good things.
But it simply will not show up in your life through inaction.
Trust his process.
And give Him your life to find life.
God give us courage.
Courage to do the right thing.
Courage to trust your process.
Courage to have hard conversations and take hard steps.
May we trust your Word above all things.
Bring us life Lord.
We trust you.
Copyright: David Sorn
Renovation Church in Blaine, MN
You may use this material all you like! We only ask that you do not charge a fee and that you quote the source and not say it is your own.