Anticipation, Part 2: Confess & Repent (Matthew 3:1-12)

It’s often been said that to succeed in this world, we need to have the heart of a child and the skin of a rhinoceros. In other words, we need to be tough and tender at the same time—tough enough on the outside to take the hits of this life when they come, and tender enough on the inside to be kind and compassionate toward other people who are likewise taking hits. 

Unfortunately, in this broken world of ours, we sometimes get these two things backwards. We wind up developing the skin of a child and the heart of a rhinoceros. That is, we get touchy and sensitive on the outside, and we get jaded and cynical on the inside. But when our hearts grow cold, we block the work that God wants to do in our lives.

Jesus spoke on more than one occasion of a condition he called sclero cardia—“hardness of the heart”—a condition for which spiritual surgery is required. This passage is about that surgery. John the Baptist prepares the way for Messiah by getting people’s hearts ready to welcome and receive Jesus. His call is for believers to open their hearts, humble their hearts, and surrender their hearts to God. These heart movements involve the spiritual practices of confession and repentance, along with the humility that comes with public baptism.

While these disciplines can be challenging at times, they ultimately lead to liberation. Before we sin, Satan lies to us, trying to convince us that there will be no consequences if we give into the temptation. After we sin, Satan lies to us again, trying us to convince us that our sin is unforgiveable. The practice of confession and repentance enables us to neutralize his lies, for “if we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).

In the end, God wants your heart to be like a hay-filled manger—soft and ready for Jesus. Otherwise, you will miss all that God wants to do in your life.

Sermon Resources:

Contact This New Life directly for the sermon audio file.

Why Shouldn’t I Be Baptized? The Holy Spirit’s Role in Conversion (Acts 8:26-39)

The account of Philip and the Ethiopian is one of the great conversion stories in the book of Acts. Luke, volume 2 records how Christianity took hold in the 1st century world—a culture that was as resistant to the gospel as ours is today. In chapter 8, we have the case of an African being converted to Christ. In chapter 9, we have the case of a Jew being converted to Christ. In chapter 10, we have the case of a European being converted to Christ. And that’s just the tip of the ethnic iceberg. These conversions show us that Christianity is transcultural. That is, the gospel is for everyone, regardless of nation, race, people, or tongue. The gospel is for everyone because everyone needs the gospel.

Philip shares this gospel, and the Ethiopian official accepts it, but neither of these figures is the hero of the story. Philip is an obedient servant, to be sure, and thank God for it. But he and the other deacons in Jerusalem aren’t sitting around figuring out where the gospel should go next. They’re not developing strategies based on logic and demographic studies. They’re not having an evangelistic thrust because of some great burden for the lost. Something else gets them moving in a missional direction. Neither is the Ethiopian official the hero of the story. He’s an interesting and sympathetic figure—a foreigner to Israel, a wealthy and educated man, a high court official back home, and a person truly hungry for God—a man who has traveled nearly 2,000 miles to the temple in Jerusalem to worship the God of the Hebrews! But he’s not the hero of the story, either.

The story doesn’t begin with Philip or the Ethiopian. This story, like every story of salvation, begins with God. Verse 26, 29, and 39 all indicate that the Lord is the causal agent of everything good that happens in this encounter. Specifically, it’s the Holy Spirit—the third Person of the divine Trinity—who’s the hero of this story. Indeed, the Holy Spirit is the hero of every conversion story. The Holy Spirit is the life of God on planet earth, accomplishing the divine will. God the Father is in heaven, seated on his throne, ruling the universe. God the Son is at his right hand, serving as High Priest and Advocate for his people. God the Holy Spirit is on earth—executing the plan and purpose of heaven. 

God certainly uses his people to share the gospel with others, but it’s the Holy Spirit who’s prepared them to share it. And it’s the Holy Spirit who’s prepared people’s hearts to receive it. From beginning to end, then, it’s the Holy Spirit who orchestrates everything in a person’s conversion to Christ. That’s why churches must renew their dependence on the Holy Spirit for all that they do in seeking to fulfill the mission that God has given them. Including baptisms.

Sermon Resources:

Contact This New Life directly for the sermon audio file.