This coming Sunday we’ll be unpacking the familiar Biblical account in Matthew 3:1-12 of John the Baptist preparing the way for the coming Messiah. John the Baptist is the original man’s man, a half-crazed wilderness dude, living off the land, consumed with passion for the love and the terrible justice of the living God.
But John was also so not about himself. Instead of creating his own 501(c)(3) non- profit stamped with his name, John heads into the wilds of the Jordan River valley, where people streamed to hear his message, recognize their sin, and surrender their hearts to God. He also pointed people not to himself, but to the Messiah, the Savior, saying he would come to “baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.”
Reflecting on this text during one of our recent Wednesday evening Advent Studies, we talked about what it means to get ready for God’s coming judgment—knowing that amidst all the trappings of Christmas, the only thing that will count in the end is the condition of our heart—and we sensed God changing our own hearts, which is an exciting thing! We read what John preached, that when Christ comes to judge, those who are bearing “good fruit” will survive, while the rest will be “chopped down and thrown into the fire” (see Matthew 3:10).
But the message of Advent—and of Christmas—is that this mysterious baptism of the Holy Spirit and fire through Christ gives us the power and the ability to bear this good fruit. We read elsewhere in the Bible what “good fruit” might mean, but here John the Baptist is saying “good fruit” is a heart of repentance.
Repentance is a daily thing, being constantly aware that we have little to offer God in ourselves, and acknowledging moment by moment that we desperately need God and are in constant need of his forgiveness and grace. And as we begin to look to God and walk his direction, we have this confident trust that he will give us tender hearts, and love, and power to experience God doing amazing things in and through us.
John Wenrich, current president of The Evangelical Covenant Church, the family of churches we belong to, has said that the key to vitality in any church is our ability to listen to and see the Holy Spirit at work, and to respond in action as we join what the Spirit is already doing. “Churches that discern the movement of the Spirit and respond accordingly,” Wenrich notes, “are the churches that thrive.”
Last month, many of you turned out for our “Veritas” workshop, where we worked to tell the truth about ourselves, our congregation, and our need for the Lord. We did good work, and it’s helping us know our real need for Christ and our need for the truth, love and power his Spirit brings.
Wenrich warns that many churches and Christians want the fruit without working on the root. So we begin with the sometimes-harsh truth the Spirit brings. But then we invite the Spirit of the Living God to tear down our pride, fear and shame, and we welcome him into every relationship, every gathering, and every action we take. And God’s Spirit does come in an intoxicating way (see Ephesians 5:18) as he leads us into unpredictable and exciting ventures we could never do on our own.
This Advent and Christmas, I encourage you to look for the Spirit’s presence and the power in the Bible passages we’ll be examining together, and in our interactions with one another this season.
Dallas Willard often said the importance of the work of the Holy Spirit cannot be overemphasized. Yet the action of the Spirit must be accompanied by our response—which no one can carry out but ourselves.
How will you use the weeks leading up to Christmas to respond to the Spirit in whatever new ways he leads?