Groundwork for the Soul: Sermon Study Guide #4- The Call

READ Matthew 4:18-25

There are many times in life when the questions of direction come to the forefront – “Where am I headed? Which direction should I go?” Which college should I attend? What should be my major? Where will I find my first job?  Should I stay in this career? Am I called to singleness, or should I get married? How should I educate and parent my kids? Now that I’m in mid life, what’s next?. When should I retire? As a retiree, how should I use my time?

The call of Jesus to follow Him is a call to consider what it means for Jesus to set the direction of our lives.


It was a pursuing call. In Jesus’ day, the idea of being a follower/disciple of a religious leader/teacher or prophet was common but the standard practice was that disciples came to the teacher. The initiative was on the side of the disciple. Jesus completely reverses this. He takes the initiative and calls. The point is that it wasn’t anything in these men that caused Jesus to call them. No one comes to Jesus on their own initiative. We need to know that we are not the one in the lead. We come on His terms, not ours.

It was a personal call. Jesus’ call is simple and direct:  “Follow Me,” not “follow my teaching and ideas, my example, my rules, my cause.” The focal point is on the person of Jesus. It wasn’t so much about what Jesus had done up to this point but about who He was. There was something compelling, commanding and convincing about Him.


When Jesus began his ministry by calling people to “Follow me,” He was inviting people to start a journey of living life under His leadership. This was the main goal and purpose of his entire ministry – to build a community of followers. This means that becoming a disciple is not a part of what it means to be a Christian - it is what it means to be a Christian. To be a Christian is to be a disciple/a follower of Jesus’ leadership – What does this look like?

The call to following Jesus is costly. The four men highlighted in this text were not peasants living a life of poverty, they were businessmen making a good living by their hard work. To follow Jesus meant they “left behind” their “nets,” “boats” and even family/business partners. Following Jesus meant downward mobility for them. The lesson is that at each point in our lives when we are considering the call to follow Jesus - it will entail a cost.        

The call to follow Jesus is comprehensive. To become a disciple at this time meant you literally followed a leader/teacher around everywhere and all the time. When Jesus said, “Follow me,” he meant “come with me where I go, watch what I do, listen to what I say; bring all of your life into your relationship with Me.” The call to follow is the same today. We can’t separate off some of our life from Jesus’ call to follow – it involves all of life.

The call to follow Jesus is communal. Jesus never calls us to follow him alone. From the very beginning we see that though his call is very personal, it is also always communal. He calls these disciples in pairs. He formed and built a community of followers on mission.


When Jesus sets the direction of our lives, he calls us to join him in his mission. In his mission, people are the priority. Just as these four men were focused on fish as fishermen - where they are, how do we find them, how can we catch them -  so if they follow Jesus, they will be focused on people. Going to where they are, moving toward them and pointing them toward following Jesus.

What’s interesting to note is that Matthew ends this section of Jesus’ launching His public ministry with two very different pictures. Picture #1 – Four men heeding the call of Jesus. Picture #2 – Great crowds from the entire land of Israel hearing about Jesus. The fame and buzz is growing! Which one gets us more excited? The crowds + fame? Or the call of a faithful few? As the story continues, we learn that the crowds ended up turning on Jesus but the faithful few started a movement that changed the world! The call to fish is a call to “think small” and invest in the people God has put into our lives.


1.      What about the sermon most impacted you or left you with questions?

2.     Where in your life are you in need of direction or asking, “Where am I headed?”

3.     How might returning to the simple/personal call of Jesus to “Follow Me” help you refocus when you are confused, overwhelmed or discouraged?

4.     Costly Call - What might Jesus be calling you to leave in order that you might more fully & faithfully follow Him?

5.     Comprehensive Call - What might Jesus be calling you to incorporate that you’ve kept separate? What would following Jesus look like in this area of your life?

6.     Communal Call - Who might Jesus be calling me to follow Him with in this season of my life?

7.     Are there any ways you are struggling to “make people the priority” in your life? Are there specific people God may be calling you to invest in in order to help them to consider or continue following Jesus?


Groundwork for the Soul: Sermon Study Guide #3- Temptation

READ Matthew 4:1-11

Matthew Chapters 3 & 4 are all about the groundwork that was laid for Jesus to be prepared and ready to launch His public ministry.  Matthew (and the other gospels) are clear – undergoing and resisting temptation was an essential prerequisite for Jesus. Why would Jesus need to be led into the wilderness for 40 days to be tempted by the Devil himself? Answering this question clarifies the nature of Jesus’ redemptive mission and helps us understand the place of temptation in our lives.  


What is temptation?

Temptation, by and large, is a lost concept in our day. Maybe this was something people talked about in Medieval times or in Puritan England or America but it’s not viewed as a valuable part of our current moral & ethical conversation. When we do use it, we often refer to the temptation of food or sexual attraction in a harmless, all in good fun kind of way. For most people in our culture, temptation is a trivialized concept. But for a smaller subset of people, temptation is actually a magnified concept. For some religious groups, everything in the culture is a temptation to be avoided or feared. These groups create sub-cultures or go into hiding. To admit temptation or to fall into temptation is to feel like you’re a pariah or an outcast.

What’s the Bible’s perspective?

The story of Scripture tells us that the entire trajectory of human history was changed because of temptation. In the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve gave into temptation resulting in the entrance of sin and death into the world. The same is true for our personal stories - how we handle temptation can also alter the trajectory of our lives.  But the Bible also teaches that, though temptation is dangerous, it doesn’t define us. It’s a normal and expected part of our being human in a world where evil and sin exists. We could define temptation as anything that draws us away from God’s will and call for our lives. From this definition, we see temptation is distinct from sin and is ultimately relational – temptation lures us away from a trusting relationship with God Himself.


Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness by the devil was a vital part of his mission to confront and conquer the power of evil and sin over us. There are three ways we see this:

1) It was a Reversal.  

The same Greek word, Peirazo, can be translated as trial, test or temptation depending on the context. This is important for understanding temptation because the same event can be a temptation from Satan to weaken our faith and, at the same time, a test from God to strengthen our faith in Him.

It’s crucial we know that temptation and the devil are not outside of God’s sovereign purposes & control. God actually turns the tables on Satan and beats him at his own game. In passing this test, Jesus is even more secure of His identity as God’s beloved Son and was better prepared to face the suffering, resistance and ultimately the cross.

2) It was Real.

Jesus’ temptation wasn’t a show. It is important to affirm Jesus was really tempted. Not only did Jesus experience real temptation, Jesus experienced temptation more fully and powerfully than any other human being who ever lived - because he never gave into it. Jesus knows the power and lure of sin better than anyone.

3) It was Representative. 

Matthew’s main point in telling this story is not to give us an example of how to resist to temptation but a champion who resists temptation for us. The two most tragic falls into temptation in the story of Scripture are Adam and Eve’s fall in the garden and Israel’s many failures in the wilderness journey. We see parallels to both of these failures in Jesus’ temptation.  The message is clear. Jesus is the true Adam and the true Israel – He resists where they fell. He has come to restore what was lost in Adam and to fulfill the calling Israel never was able to fulfill.



Though Matthew’s main point is to show us Jesus’s victory over temptation for us, we do learn some important lessons about how we can handle temptation in our lives from this text.

First, we are encouraged to recognize temptation in our lives.

Just as in Jesus’ life, temptation often follows on the heels of spiritual high points and at times when God is calling us to something new. The devil went after Jesus’ weak spots and he goes after ours too. Do you know the ways you are currently most tempted to be drawn away from God’s will and call for your life? If we don’t know our weak spots, we’ve already been defeated.

Second, Jesus helps us see how temptation is resisted.

Jesus recalled Scripture (all from the book of Deuteronomy) to counteract the deceit and lies of evil. If Jesus needed to have the truth of scripture at the ready, we – all the more – need the word of God to fill our minds and hearts. Jesus also stood firm in remembering his baptism. Satan tried to undermine his identity (If you are the son…). Jesus remembered and stood firm in what was most true about him – he was God’s beloved son, in whom His Father was well pleased.

Third, Jesus’ temptation shows us how to recover when we fall into temptation.  

Recovering from a fall is one of the most important parts of spiritual maturity and growth. When we fall, we can either go deeper 1) into despair, self-focus, beating ourselves up, doubting and thus be weakened against future temptation OR 2) into the gospel, focus on Jesus, into repentance and thus be strengthened against future temptations. Jesus is the only one who resisted all temptation. His victory frees us to admit our struggles and failures and find grace when we fall. As Alister McGrath writes, When we fail - as, sadly, we will - we need to allow God to put us back on our feet again and recommission us into his service. God has a long history of taking self-confessed failures and doing great things through them. Perhaps when we fail, we are most receptive to the grace of God.”



1.     What about the sermon most impacted you or left you with questions?

2.     Do you agree that the concept of temptation is largely a lost and trivialized concept in our culture? Or do you come from a background where you’ve magnified temptation as something that, if admitted, would have made you an outcast?

How does it help to know the Bible teaches that temptation is dangerous but never defines us?

3.     How might knowing that God turns the tables on temptation and uses it (as a test) to strengthen our faith change how we think about and deal with our own temptations?

4.     Look up Hebrews 2:14-18 & 4:14-16. Do you think of Jesus as someone who completely understands your greatest temptations? How does knowing that Jesus sympathizes with our weakness help us handle times when we are tempted or fall into temptation?

5.     “Matthew tells us the story of a champion, not an example.” What difference does it make knowing that this story isn’t a manual in how to resist temptation but a report of Jesus’ victory for us?

6.     Where are you currently most tempted to be drawn away from God’s will and call in your life? Jesus’ 3 temptations can be seen as representing 3 major weak spots where we are drawn away from God. Which do you most struggle with and how are you resisting?

·          Temptation of Pleasure + Comfort – “Turn the stones to bread” Does your temptation for the pleasures and comforts of life numb you to your deeper spiritual hunger for God’s living word?

·          Temptation of Praise + Credit – “If you love me you’ll make my life about me, my agenda, plans and success. If you don’t, I won’t trust you.”

·          Temptation of Power + Control – “You can have all power, if you worship me.” The temptation to look for security or control over our lives anywhere but in God always leads us into compromise/idolatry.

7.     Read the Alister McGrath quote above. How have you learned to recover from falling into temptation? Do you tend toward despair and despondency or have you learned how falling can drive us further into grace?

Special Study: Membership and Leadership in the Church

READ 1 Peter 4:10-11 & 5:1-5

In a time where the church is seen as increasingly irrelevant and, in some cases, extreme, church membership and leadership may be two of the most important areas where the church can demonstrate a counterculture, yet compelling, picture of the gospel. These are two areas that – if we get wrong – will only further marginalize and distance the church from its neighbors BUT - if we get these two things right – they have the power to persuade people that the gospel might be worth listening to. Peter shows us that how gospel brings into a being 1) a beautiful and attractive community of grace and 2) a revolutionary yet appealing approach to leadership that is found nowhere else.



The gospel calls us to make three important shifts in order for us to be a part of building communities of grace in our specific churches.

1) From Consumers to Stewards:

Peter writes, “As each has received a gift, use it… as good stewards of God’s varied grace.” Membership in a church community begins with the conviction that we each have been given a gift or gifts from God to use to build & strengthen the community. God chooses to use people to deliver His empowering favor & strength (ie his grace) to other people. Stewardship (in the original language - oikonomia) is an economic term used to describe a household manager entrusted to manage the resources of the owner. Instead of approaching church as church shoppers (How can this church meet my needs?) we need to approach church as stewards (How can I use my gifts to help this church’s ministry & mission?).

2) From Competitors/Comparers to Servants:

From a very early age, we are taught to use our gifts to compete, compare, to gain advantage over others, to get attention – to win. Peters says it should be different in the church – we are to use our gifts to “serve one another." Competition and comparison in community are the antithesis and opposite of grace. Grace implies that we are equally broken, sinful and in need of God’s strength and salvation and that we are all equally valuable and significant to God. Competing and comparing breaks down relationships – everything is about winning. But a servant says, “I’m not here to find a way to win at your expense; I’m here to help you win at my expense.” A serving community models the gospel – Jesus lost everything (that was rightfully his) so we would win everything in Him (that we don’t deserve).

3) From Concealors to Sharers:

Many people are comfortable with and even excited by the idea of receiving gifts to use in meaningful service to build a community but the idea of sharing our needs, struggles and asking for help is another matter.  The word Peter uses for God’s “varied or manifold” grace (poikiles) is same he used earlier in the letter to refer to the “various” trails we experience in life (1:6). Peter means for us to see the connection. God’s varied grace meet us in our various trails– as we share our need for help and give our gospel community the opportunity to pour grace into our brokenness, pain and need.  



In 1 Peter 5:1-5, Peter turns his attention to the leaders of the church. In using the metaphor of a shepherd tending a flock, Peter is undoubtedly drawing on his own call to leadership in the church by Jesus. At the end of the Gospel of John, Jesus calls Peter to feed his lambs and tend his sheep.

This metaphor also utilizes the shepherd leadership of Jesus Himself, the “Chief Shepherd” who laid down His life for the sheep (John 10:11), as the model for leadership in the church. Leadership in the church must always mirror and follow the leadership of Jesus, not whatever models are current and dominant in the culture models. When Jesus’ model is followed, the church portrays a leadership style that is found nowhere else.

1) The Team

If anyone had the right to claim the top of the organizational chart in the church – it was Peter! He was the leader of the 12 disciples. He was the clear leader of the early church. He was told by Jesus – “Your name is Peter (rock) and on this rock I’ll build my church." But Peter does not pull rank but says “I exhort the elders among you as a fellow elder.” There could be no clearer or stronger way Peter could tell us that leadership in the church is meant to be team leadership. Gospel leadership is not about building yourself up – it’s about building a team that shares leadership.

2) The Job Description

Peter uses three “titles” interchangeably for the leadership role in the church – elder, shepherd, overseer. These are 3 different ways of looking at the same role.  He then highlights three areas that leaders can damage and harm others – leading out of duty and burden, leading for shameful gain (financial gain or self-promotion) and leading with a domineering and overbearing style. When church leaders fall into any one of these things, they do permanent spiritual damage and drive people away from the gospel.

In contrast, a leader in the church should be a joyful, eager example of the cruciform life (suffering to glory). A good shepherd always never tells the sheep to go anywhere he hasn’t been and is willing to lay down his life for the well-being of the flock. This job description of the leader is not to tell people what to do but to show them how to live in grace.

3) The Uniform

In v5, Peter addresses everyone in the church -“all of you clothe yourselves with humility toward one another for God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” In his commentary on 1 Peter, Douglas Harink says, “the verb 'clothe itself' appears to derive from a word probably identifying a garment or apron a slave tied over other garments in order to perform certain menial tasks.” This has special application to the leaders of the church. You should be able to pick out the leaders by the uniform they are wearing – they should be the ones wearing the apron of humility. This means leaders in the church lead with an awareness of their need, weakness, fragility, limits and own sinfulness. Church leaders know it is possible that God would actually oppose our church/community. If we become a community of ungrace (pride and self righteousness), we can expect God to be absent. Only to a humble person/community can God pour out us grace. So leaders in the church must always live in and lead from a posture of humility.


1.     What about the sermon most impacted you or left you with questions?

2.     In her book, Living into Community, theologian Christine Pohl writes, “The ways we’ve been formed by church and culture have not given the skills or virtues we need to be part of the very communities we long for and try to create. While we might want community, it is often community on our terms, with easy entrances and exits, lots of choice and support, and minimal responsibilities. Mixed together this is not a promising recipe for strong or lasting communities.”

Do you agree? How have you seen this affecting your own approach to church? What do you think are the most important parts of the “recipe” for building a strong and lasting community?

3.     How are you tempted to approach church as a consumer? Do you have a sense of the gift or gifts God has given you to steward to help build into the ministry and mission of the church?

4.     A servant says, “I’m not here to find a way to win at your expense; I’m here to help you win at my expense.” How might this impact your approach to church?

5.     Do you struggle with concealing your needs and struggles? Why do we have a difficult time making our needs knowing to our church community? Have you experienced God’s grace strengthening you through others after you’ve shared a need or a struggle?

6.     Why do you think there is a growing distrust and suspicion about church leadership? What is your experience with healthy and unhealthy leadership in the church?

7.     Which of the 3 aspects listed above regarding church leadership is most important to you? Why?

8.     Peter essentially says the church is doomed to fail without humility. Why is humility so crucial? Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote, “How can I possibly serve another person in unfeigned humility if I seriously regard his sinfulness as worse than my own?” What would it look like for church leaders to lead with this attitude? What difference would it make? What difference would it make for the people you lead (at work, in the family, etc)?



Groundwork for the Soul: Sermon Study Guide #2 - Back to the Basics

READ Matthew 3:13-17

If we are following along in the story Matthew is telling we should be surprised by this passage. The suspense has been building. In Chapters 1 + 2, we read that a baby has been conceived by the Holy Spirit. He is “God with us." He is the fulfillment of the story God has been writing in history. He will save His people from their sins. Then John the Baptist appears and builds even more suspense. “There’s someone coming after me mightier than me, I’m not worthy to carry his sandals, He’s coming with fire!” In v13, Jesus comes onto the scene and… His very first act is to come forward to be baptized with sinners in the Jordan river. What? John is confused. We are underwhelmed. Why did Jesus get baptized? The answer to this question brings us back to the basics about Jesus and back to the basic questions in our souls.


Jesus’ baptism could be thought of as his inauguration ceremony. At an inauguration, a new leader has the opportunity to send message about his/her priorities and plans. This is exactly what Jesus is doing. In being baptized, Jesus says, “Here is the statement I’m making: I’m being baptized not because I need to repent of my sin, but to show you that I’ve come (not with the fire of judgment) but to meet you right where you are – broken sinners in need of a new start.” Jesus starts his ministry by fully immersing himself into humanity’s struggles and suffering due to sin. His baptism was the beginning of Him bearing this with us and for us. Here’s what scholar Fredric Bruner says about this:

“The first thing Jesus does for the human race is go down with it into the deep waters of repentance and baptism. Jesus’ whole life will be like this. It is well known that Jesus ends his ministry on a cross between two thieves; it deserves to be as well known that he begins his ministry in a river among sinners.”

This is so important for us as when we are doing groundwork in our own souls. The question we should start with is: “Where am I?” Jesus’ baptism frees us to ask and answer this question honestly and truthfully no matter where we are. The most important spiritual moments for us almost always begin when we honestly ask and God graciously shows us “You are here."

We don’t have to fear God coming against us if we admit we are struggling.  Jesus came to be with and for sinners desiring change. He never leaves us where we are; but He always begins with where we are – no matter how broken and messy it is.


Jesus baptism is also His introduction to the world by the Father.  After he is baptized, the heavens open up, signifying that God is revealing himself to the world in Jesus. The Holy Spirit descends on Jesus signifying that He comes out of the waters of judgment and sin in order to bring a new creation by the power of God’s Spirit (see Gen 1:3; 8:11). But perhaps the most notable part of the introduction is what is said, “This is my beloved son in whom I am well pleased.” Even though we can safely assume that Jesus already knew this was true of him, in his humanity, he needed to hear it as confirmation before he started his ministry. This shows us that even for Jesus the issue of identity was primary. He had to get this right before anything else started.

It’s the same for us. The question “Who am I?” is one of the most basic questions of the soul. Where do we look for our sense of self? Our sense of worth? How we answer these questions affects everything else in our lives. There are two common approaches to question of identity – the first being the more traditional approach and the second the approach of modern western culture:

1)     I am who others say I am – The voices of others: This could be the voice of our parents. We find our identity in their approval, affirmation, or to prove them wrong about what they have said about us. It could be the voice of a spouse or a loved one – their approval defines us. The problem of this approach is that we feel great pressure to meet others’ expectations and if this is all we are, we lose ourselves. Our Identity is lost.

2)     I am who I say I am – My voice: This approach rejects the idea that others give me my identity – only I can do this. I create my identity. This could be through my career, success or achievements. It could be through my looks, my fitness or the image I want to portray to others. It could be being the perfect parent, the perfect Christian or the perfect __(fill in the blank)____. Though it may appear liberating at first, it turns out that our own voice is just as demanding, critical and confusing as the voices of others. We never know if we are enough. We end up living in more pressure and insecurity.

Christianity tells us the only source of a secure and liberating identity is found when realize I am who God says I am. Because Jesus came to fulfill all righteousness for me and forgive all my sin, when my trust is in Jesus, God says to me, “You are my beloved son/daughter, in you I am well pleased”


In addition to being Jesus’ inauguration and introduction to the world, Jesus’ baptism was also His commissioning into ministry. The words in verse 17 are the combination of a few key Old Testament passages – Psalm 2:7 (the Messiah King) and Isaiah 42:1-2 (the Suffering Servant). Together they give Jesus his mission: Your mission is to bring the world back into submission to my rule and to set everything right that’s gone wrong; to bring lasting justice to the world without harming or breaking fragile and sinful humanity. How is this possible? Only by the cross. At the cross Jesus took on the identity of a sinner separated from God so we could have his identity as a beloved son. He lost the voice of the Father, so we could recover it.

In recovering our identity by His sacrificial death, Jesus fulfills His mission. He crushes our sin without crushing us.

When we recover our identity as God’s beloved children and hear the approving voice of the Father, we begin to willingly surrender to God’s reign in our lives. Even more, answering the question of identity with the gospel enables us to answer and pursue the question of our calling free from shame and fear. Shame (the feeling that we are not enough, defective and don’t matter) is evil’s chief weapon against the joyful release of our creative capacities for the glory of God and good of others.

We can only find and fulfill our callings if we are free from having to prove ourselves; when we have nothing left to prove. The voice of the Father – “you are my beloved child, in whom I am well pleased” -  frees us from the voices of shame and fear to discover and fulfill our calling in God’s kingdom.


1.     What about the sermon most impacted you or left you with questions?

2.     By being baptized Jesus is telling us, “Before I show you how to get out of this mess, first I want you to know that I’m with you in it.” How does this free us up to be honest with our struggles? How would you rate your own ability to be honest and vulnerable about your struggles and sin?

How would you answer the question, “Where am I spiritually today?” 

3.     Which of the two approaches to identity most characterize your own sense of identity, self and worth – the voice of others or the voice of yourself? Do you agree that we all sense a pressure and feel anxiety in basing our identity on the voice of others or ourselves? How does this look for you?

4.     Look up Psalm 2:7-12 and Matthew 12:15-21. At Jesus’ baptism these two passages were brought together to commission him to ministry, telling him: Your mission is to bring the world back into submission to my rule and to set everything right that’s gone wrong; to bring lasting justice to the world without harming or breaking fragile and sinful humanity. How does the cross make this possible?

5.     What difference would it make in your life if you believed that – at all times – God the Father says of you, “You are my beloved child, in you I am well pleased”? How would this address your battles with shame and insecurity?

6.     “We can only find and fulfill our callings if we are free from having to prove ourselves.” Do you agree with this statement? How does the need to prove ourselves keep us from being joyful in what God has called us to do?



Groundwork for the Soul: Sermon Study Guide #1 - Prepare

READ Matthew 3:1-12

This series of sermon studies is designed to help you walk through the season of Lent. This season of examination and repentance provides us a yearly opportunity to do groundwork for our souls. We begin the journey of Lent in the wilderness with John the Baptist. Interestingly, all 4 gospel writers thought we needed a preparation from John before meeting Jesus. This is how Jesus is meant to be encountered – by first going through John’s 4-step orientation. 


The prophet Isaiah (quoted in v3) wrote that the wilderness will be the place to look for God’s great coming into the world to lead people to His full and final restoration. It will be like a second exodus journey through the desert into the promised land of new creation. John’s ministry shows us that we must trek to the wilderness in order to be prepared to meet Jesus and to know Him more deeply. Why the wilderness? Two things happen in the wilderness that are precursors to spiritual insight and growth – 1) We are stripped of our comfort. When we are too comfortable & cozy, we tend to drift into spiritual compromise. We have to go from our normal routines to see this. 2) We are shaken out of our complacency. The Jordan river was the site of Israel’s original entrance into the land. Baptism – at the time – was practiced only for Gentile converts to Judaism. John’s message is, “We are starting all over!”. The one who will be prepared to encounter Jesus is the person who is not ashamed to start at the beginning - again and again.


In the wilderness moments of our lives, we are ready to hear John’s message, “Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!”. To understand what John is saying, we need to make sure our understanding of the word “repent” is correct. “Repent” means to change your mind. The Hebrew equivalent is translated “turn”, “come back”. “Repent!” is not God saying to us “You are bad. Be good or else!”; it’s God saying, “You are lost, come home! You’re going the wrong way, turn around!”. John is calling for us to ask, “Where am I headed in the wrong direction?” “What do I need to turn away from in my life in order to turn toward God?”

John’s call to repentance was not a cause, when you feel like it message. The kingdom of heaven is at hand. He’s saying that, in Jesus, God’s restorative and transformative kingdom has come. The time for repentance is now. We often have false sense of urgency about matters of secondary importance and a lack of urgency about matters of primary importance. John’s message is meant restore a proper sense of urgency to our spiritual lives.


In v7-10 John sees religious leaders/professionals coming out and he has some very challenging things to say them. It turns out the people who thought they were closest to God and the most prepared to meet Him were the farthest from God and least prepared. Why? They were the wrong measures to assess their faith. John provides us with three ways to test the genuineness of our faith:

1.      Fruitfulness (v8) – Just as fruit is the natural byproduct of a healthy tree, spiritual fruit is the natural result of true repentance. Is my faith producing more love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control in my life? If not, we need to re-examine where our faith lies.

2.      Presumption – In v9 John calls out the religious leaders for their presumption. They presumed they were spiritually superior because of the ethnic heritage &  their leadership positions. We need to learn to repent – not just of our sin – but of our goodness; our self-righteous presumption that leads us to think we were better than others.

3.      Leadership – In calling them these leaders a “brood of vipers”, John is referencing a common belief that viper babies killed their mothers. It was quite an insult. John was saying they were not only in need of repentance, they were a danger to others. Leaders with no spiritual fruit, filled with the pride of presumption can do great spiritual harm to others. True leaders are lead repenters – the first to say “I was wrong. I’m sorry”.


It’s important to remember the reason why John is taking us through these steps of preparation is to prepare us to meet Jesus; to lead us to Him. He says in v11, “Ultimately I can’t change you, only he can, I can’t transform you, only He can.” John comes with a baptism of repentance (preparation); Jesus comes with a baptism of the Holy Spirit and fire (transformation). How does Jesus’ fire baptism cleanse us without consuming us?  The answer is that Jesus underwent his own baptism (Mark 10:39) at the cross. The fire of Jesus’ passion against our sin is not directed at us by at refining us and removing sin and brokenness from us. This is why in our wilderness seasons, in our times of repentance and confession, we can always trust He is not condemning us but refining us to be more like Him.


1.      What about the sermon most impacted you or left you with questions?

2.      The season of Lent is what we might call a “chosen wilderness” – a time to fast or forgo comforts in order to hone our spiritual readiness and receptiveness. How do you know when you’ve become to spiritually comfortable and complacent? What causes you to drift into these? How have wilderness seasons helped you come to know Jesus more deeply?

3.      Do you have a hard time with the word, “repent”? How does it help to know it is God calling us to “turn around”? Martin Luther’s 1st Theses (of the 95 that began the Protestant Reformation) was – “When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, “Repent”, he wanted the whole life of believers to be a life of repentance.” Do you agree? What does this look like for you?

4.      Which of the 3 assessments above is most challenging to you? Why? How might you respond in this area in repentance? 

5.      Is there an place in your life where you sense God is currently refining you? Are you struggling to remember God’s refining purposes are good? Share with the group (or a friend if you are reading this on your own) and pray for faith and perseverance.