Turning Around

Text: Luke 3: 1-6

Ever watch the movie, Plains, Trains, and Automobiles? One of my favorite parts is when they are driving in that green rental station wagon in the middle of the night. John Candy falls asleep and crosses over the median. Crossing over the grassy woke him and Steve Martin up and they looked around and because it was so dark outside, everything looked like they were going the right way down the road. After a moment a car comes along side them, only the car is really on the other side of the grassy median. Steve looked at them and they were yelling something at him but he couldn’t make out what they were trying to say. After a few tries it dawned on Steve that they were on the highway alright, but they were on the wrong side heading the wrong way. By this time it’s too late and they ran into 2 semi-trucks and squeezed right between them.

Nobody likes to be told they are going the wrong way, especially when they don’t think they are heading the wrong way at all. It’s always such a shock when we do realize we’re actually going the wrong way. I think it’s the same in our spiritual lives. Could any of us be headed the wrong way spiritually and not know it?

In the 15th year of the reign of Tiberius Ceaser, the Lord sent John the Baptist to all the country around the Jordan in Israel to preach a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, and he did just that. John the Baptist told everyone they needed to repent, that is, turn around spiritually because they were headed the wrong way. I’m sure to many who heard John, it was a shock to think they needed to repent at all because they headed the wrong way.

People are no different today as many would also be shocked to discover, like those people way back then, that they were actually headed the wrong way, spiritually speaking, and needed to repent, change their mind, and turn around.

This was the message of John the Baptist, and along with the message to repent, he administered a baptism of repentance, that is, a washing of the body that represented the washing away of former sins and the commitment to walk in a new way, the right way of God.

John’s message still holds relevance and meaning for our lives today. His message is important enough that we need to hear it today, because to repent at all means that a person has to recognize that they are headed the wrong way, and can still turn around. But if we are to make sure our lives are headed the right way down the right path, we need to understand John’s message of repentance in two distinct ways:

  1. FOR THE NON-BELIEVER, REPENTANCE LEADS TO SALVATION
  • For the nonbeliever, to repent means to recognize they have been heading the wrong way and to turn away from a sinful lifestyle by turning to God.
  • I heard a story once that back in the 1950s, D James Kennedy was an Arthur Murray dance studio instructor. It’s hard to believe it now, but back then, Dr Kennedy was a drunk. He slept around and and he lived a very worldly life. One day he started dating a Christian girl, she asked him, “Where do you go to church?” And he said, “Nowhere. You don’t have to go to church to be a good person.” Then, with an air of arrogance, he said, “You can be a good Christian WITHOUT going to church!” The girl said, “No you can’t!”
    A week later, Kennedy was sleeping in bed in a drunken haze. When he woke up, he heard a preacher on the radio. He got up to turn it off, but before he got to the radio, he heard the preacher say this: “Suppose that you were to die today and stand before God. And he asked you, “What right do you have to enter my heaven?’ What would you say?”
    The question stopped Kennedy in his tracks. He sat back down on the bed and listened as Dr. Donald Barnhouse shared the gospel message that Jesus went to the cross to die for our sins, and in that death he ransomed us from the power of sin and eternal separation from God in death. But because Jesus was himself blameless in his life, God raised him from the dead so that those who turned from their sinful ways to God by confessing their sins and believing on the death and resurrection of Jesus, our sins would be forgiven. God takes our sins and put them on Jesus at the cross. Jesus paid the penalty for our sins and offers us new life in repentance.
    Right then and there Kennedy completely surrendered his life to Christ. The next day, as he was shaving, he kept looking at himself in the mirror and saying, “I’m forgiven! I’m completely forgiven! I have life everlasting with God!” He was so happy and so grateful, that he decided right then and there that he wanted what happened to him to happen to as many people as possible. He started going to church with his new Christian girlfriend. They dated for three more years and married. That’s how much the power of Jesus Christ changed him. He went on to become a pastor and to dedicate his life to God by living a life of loving service to Him.
  • It’s when we recognize we’re headed the wrong way and turn around – repent – that we see the salvation of God.

2. FOR THE BELIEVER ALREADY, REPENTANCE IS A FRUIT OF THE SPIRIT WE PRODUCE

  • Repentance is a fruit of the Holy Spirit we cultivate and grow in our lives as believers.
  • There should always be a struggle going on the inside of each and every believer as the Holy Spirit convicts us of sin. It’s a struggle against against the “Old Adam” as Martin Luther called him. And it’s a struggle to become more like Christ by taking his example and his teachings into our hearts each and every day.
  • In that struggle against sin in our lives, as the Holy Spirit convicts us through the Word of God, we recognize that sin, that is we confess it before God, and when we turn away from it, God forgives.
  • You see at its very core, at the very heart of the matter, the very essence of repentance, when we get right down to it, means that we turn from our likeness to Christ-likeness.
  • Everybody always talks about you being you, or, “You do you.” But if you doing you is so great, then why are there so many unhappy, unfulfilled, depressed, angry – I could go on and on – people in the world. If you doing you is so great, then why are so many people not happy?
  • What we all need to do is to turn around. It’s called the process of transformation, as the apostle Paul called it, that is, to become more like Christ. We do not need more of you doing you. What the world needs is more you doing Christ.
  • When we work on becoming more like Christ, we are less selfish and more giving, less angry and more forgiving, less hurtful and more helping. That is the way of Christ, and what we all need is more of that in the world, especially among those who call themselves Christian.
  • For many years I took my family camping. We had a pop-up camper and we very much enjoyed camping trips and vacations. One year we were camping at a KOA campsite with our humble pop-up camper when one of those huge, mammoth, 60 foot RV campers pulled in next to us. Watching it pull in was like watching a billboard sign moving in front of us. I was amazed at the sheer awesomeness of it. Well this camper stops and out pops an old guy who hurriedly hooked everything up and then went back into the camper. We never saw him again the rest of the weekend. Oh we saw the lights inside were on, but we never saw them until Monday morning. I was sitting in the lawn chair having coffee and this guy came out of his camper and began unhooking his lines. I said hello and we struck up a conversation. I asked why he bought the camper and he said that he and his wife wanted to get out and see the country after he retired so they bought the camper. I remarked that all the conveniences of this camper was kind of like never leaving home. He agreed with me and told me that it wasn’t much like leaving home at all. They did the same things they did at home, and that everywhere they went, they did the same things: Pull in, hook up, sit in the chair, watch TV, eat popcorn, and play cards. Nothing really changed. They went to new places but nothing else really changed.
  • I thought to myself that inside this nice and new camper nothing has changed. It’s all shiny and new but inside it’s still the same old habits?
  • I told him I thought that was a great lesson on the Christian life because I suppose people could be like that as well.

Friends let me ask you today. Since you became a Christian, has anything really changed in your life? Maybe you’ve been a Christian your entire life. As time goes by are you more like Christ or has nothing ever really changed you on the inside? I don’t know. Maybe you still hold that grudge. Maybe you still can’t forgive your brother, or your sister for what they did way back then. Maybe you still can’t get past hating your neighbor or you boss, or co-worker. I don’t know, only you do, but John’s call to repentance calls us to take a look at our lives, our habits, behaviors and attitudes because they may be leading us down the wrong way. If they are, it’s time to bring them to the Lord in prayer.

Jesus calls us to a different life that begins in repentance – repentance means change. It means forgiveness in a new life for new believers, and it means becoming more like Christ for us old believers. We should always be examining which side of the highway we’re running down. Today, you still have the opportunity to turn it around. God’s always waiting, even for you. There’s no time life the present. Amen.

Pastor Robbie Taylor

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