Between 2007-2011, U.S. fire departments responded to an average of over 240 Christmas tree fires per year.
Here are a few tips that so this doesn't happen to your home: Water the tree. Turn off the lights when you aren't enjoying them. Avoid the threat altogether and buy an artificial tree.
Following these warnings will help prevent your Christmas from going up in smoke, but today we're going to hear another fire warning. Today, John the Baptists gives another type of fire warning. Only the type of fire he was concerned about wasn't electrical. It wasn't a forest fire. It wasn't even radioactive.
The fire he was warning of was much worse...
Who should heed John's warning?
John was a popular preacher. Crowds came to him. He was such a strange phenomena that, unlike most church who try and try again to get people to join them for a Christmas service, John simply stood in the desert and preached.
I suppose the attraction was like that of a sideshow. He had scraggly hair. He ate bugs. He wore scratchy animal skin for clothing. Compare that to the gelled hair, fashionably ripped jeans, and laser lights of today's mega churches.
The point is that there were lots of people coming to see John. He told them all to repent. However, there was one specific group of people that he spent extra time warning:
The Pharisees and Sadducees. Respected teachers of the Law.
Look at what John the Baptist called them: “You brood of vipers!" Poisonous snakes. It's not exactly a pet name. Try calling your spouse that the next time you're on a date. When you're sleeping on the couch, don't say I didn't warn you.
But John wasn't being mean. He was trying to save them. They were sinful. They needed a Savior. But they didn't believe it one bit! They looked around at the prostitutes, drunkards, and cheating tax collectors that were gathered around John and thought: “We're glad he's doing this for them! They need it. But not us. We're fine."
I talked to someone this past week who told me that John the Baptist went over the top sometimes.
Really? Can you really go over the top in warning people of the dangers of hell?
Now you might be listening to this and saying, “Good for John. I'm glad he called out those Pharisees and Saducees. They sound like a bunch of jerks. Like my boss. He's a jerk. An atheist. He could use a good old fashioned John the Baptist tongue lashing. He's not an every other week, church going Christian like me. He didn't even mark his religious affiliation on Facebook. I'll be sure to forward this week's sermon to him. He needs it more than me."
If that's your attitude with your boss or anyone, if you think the Message of John the Baptist doesn't apply to you, then aren't you doing the same thing the Pharisees did? Aren't you, in essence, a Pharisee?
Here's the truth: John's message was a warning to the Pharisees. And to you.
Why are we in Danger?
A simple reason. John told the Pharisees, “8 Produce fruit in keeping with repentance," because they weren't producing fruits of repentance.
God says the same thing about you. You need to produce fruits of repentance.
If you are thinking, “I know what bananas are. I know what apples are. I even know what starfruit is, but what in the world is a repentance fruit,” consider this:
Repentance means turning. A turning from sin to God. It's a 180.
Fruit of repentance refers to actions produced from repentance. Actions produced from turning to God.
Do you have fruits of repentance in your life? When you say, “I'm going to stop getting drunk.” Do you stop? Or do you find yourself grabbing a few too many beers at the football game right after church? And then, maybe, a shot because your team is getting too far behind?
Do you say, “I'm going to end the sinful sexual relationship.” (Homosexual or heterosexual) Then, church ends and you get nervous and you talk yourself back into staying in the sinful relationship.
Do you say, “I'm going to stop being so greedy.” Then, Monday comes and you spend an hour at work counting up how much money you might make with our Christmas bonus, all while grimacing at the email you just got about a potential Christmas gift you can contribute to.
Do you say, “I've got to top gossiping so much.” Then, hear a really juicy story that just needs to be reposting on Facebook?
Do you think: "I really need to get into God's Word more and fellowship with other Christians at church." Then, Sunday morning rolls around and you think, "I'll do that next week. This week, I'm too tired."
These are not fruits of repentance. These are rotten fruits of impenitence. If that's what you are producing, then you are in trouble.
Because God has a green thumb. He's read Better Homes and Gardens. He knows that if a tree isn't producing fruit, then it's no good. And if you aren't producing fruit, then the Divine gardener will no longer consider you worthy of taking up space in his patch of soil.
Listen to John again, “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.”
In other words, soon. Produce REAL fruit now!!! God already has his axe out. He's already marked a line right where He will cut. He's lined up his blade. He's taken a deep breath. All it will take is one mighty Divine blow and you will be cut down. Dragged away. Taken out back. And thrown into the fire. The eternal fire. Hell.
Just Like the fire alarm at a school, John's words are loud and jarring. Not to be mean, but to get these people's attention. To warn them of the fire that was approaching.
And just like the fire alarm at school, people are tempted to plug their ears and ignore it. “It's just a drill. There's no real danger. I'm fine.”
Brothers and sister, listen to these Words of the Advent Fire Drill! This is not a drill. Repent! Turn from sin to God. Because God knows how to stop the fire.
1. Use Water
Think about what John was doing. He says it himself. 11 “I baptize you with water for repentance.”
Luke writes more about this practice of baptism. “John preached a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” 1 Peter 3:21 says, “Baptism now saves you.” Titus 3:5 says, “He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal.”
Think of firemen. They douse fires with water.
But that's literally. How can water douse the fire of God's wrath? Because of who it's linked to!
Think about baptism. We are "baptized in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” (Mt. 28:19) If we were baptized into our own name OR into the name of our great grandfather OR into the name of our favorite superhero, it wouldn't mean anything. No human being can prevent the wrath of God.
But God can. And that's exactly who Jesus was. It's exactly whom you were baptized into.
If you haven't been baptized into God's grace or had your child baptized, think seriously about what God's promise in baptism is. If you believe Jesus rose from the dead, why not believe his saving promise in baptism?
2. Fight Fire with Fire
Listen to John's words about this Jesus: "But after me will come one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not fit to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.”
Jesus did just that. At Pentecost, he sent the Holy Spirit to his disciples. Suddenly, the small room they were in sounded like a hurricane. They started speaking in languages that they hadn't previously learned. They saw tongues of fire appear on their heads!
The power that Jesus showed at Pentecost is the same power that is in baptism. It is the same fiery power that saves us. Because we need to fight fire with fire. In other words, we need to turn to Jesus to save us from God's coming wrath because the only one who can prevent this fire from overtaking us is God himself. He does it, because God's love is more powerful than his wrath.
It was his love that caused God Almighty to become a little one celled infant in Mary's tummy. It was his love that caused God Almighty to humbly live amongst sinners. It was his love that caused God Almighty to die on the cross! It was his love that caused God Almighty to suffer the fiery wrath of God that we deserved!
It's kind of like a campfire. Once all the firewood is burned up, then there is no longer any danger of fire. The fire goes out.
Jesus suffered all of God's wrath for us. Now, through faith in Jesus Christ, we will not suffer God's wrath. It's already been burned up.
III. A Fireproof Barn
God doesn't stop there. Listen to what John reveals, “12 Jesus' 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.”
John says that Jesus will come and take the wheat away. By wheat, he is referring to those who produce fruit. He is referring to believers!
And listen, dear believers, to what God promises you! He will take you to his barn. You will not be out back by the big bonfire of hell. You will be safe. Forever. In his fireproof barn, enjoying the cool air of our Lord's love.
So, repent! Turn from your sins. Stop doing them. Live for the Lord. He loves you so.
If you are nervous of what life might be like without a sin you've been in for quite some time, look at your Lord! His love is more powerful than his wrath. Won't his life provide for you in your life? Won't his love help you to live life apart from sin? Won't he provide for your better than whatever that sin was?
Because this is God's promise to you: Through baptism into his family the sins that would cause God's fire to come upon are removed. Our powerful Lord has used the fire of his love to consume the fire of his wrath. He promises to one day take you to heaven.