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When the King Comes

In October of this year, President Trump visited Lido Island in Newport Beach for a fundraising event at Palmer Luckey's house. Luckey, a young entrepreneur who was inspired by Trump's book Trump: The Art of the Deal, is primarily known for founding Oculus VR, a virtual reality company.

Three security personnel
The planning for this fundraising event began two years in advance. The Secret Service, Newport police, Harbor Patrol and many SWAT teams all had to be there to secure the area. The Press and Secret Service had to have their staging areas. The guests had to be brought in in shuttles. The Port-a-potties had to be brought in on trucks. A check-in and waiting area had to be set up. They had to think up creative ways to accommodate the ever-growing guest list. Palmer Luckey's house had to be thoroughly inspected. Every electrical outlet in the house had to be tested. A portion of the harbor had to be blocked off so no boats could approach. And all this for less than a two-hours visit from the President.

I had no idea any of this was taking place until my cousin posted pictures on facebook. She's a Lido Island resident and witnessed the event. She said that when it was all over, it took two weeks for her and her neighbors to recover from all the excitement and activity. I can only imagine. 

I was reminded of this event when I read Luke 3 the other day, which tells how John the Baptist prepared the way for Jesus' coming. However, John's preparations didn't include security personnel, city shuttles, or getting anyone in their Sunday best. After all, Jesus wasn't a king of Nazareth or Jerusalem or the Jews. He was the King of Heaven. So John's preparations looked different. 

John urged people to clean up their hearts instead of their towns. He urged them to repent and be baptized because: "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.” (Luke 3:9 NIV)

But here's the strange thing. When Jesus showed up, he didn't wield an ax or throw people in the fire. I think this is what the Israelites were hoping the Messiah to do, but instead Jesus healed and forgave sins. Jesus also taught, not like the religious leaders who cited this authority and that scripture. Jesus taught like he was the final authority on religious matters. And this annoyed the religious leaders to no end. 

"How dare this Jesus act like he knows what God wants! How dare he say we aren't measuring up! Who does he think he is!?"

I recall reading a book awhile back. I wish I could remember the title of it. It contained stories of various people who lived in West Germany during the Cold War. One of the stories explained how a town prepared for some government leader to drive through. The prep included painting the lower half of the buildings because that was all this dignitary was going to see through his car window. The prep team purposefully hid the town's poverty and starvation and hopelessness so this particular leader wouldn't see the actual effects of his government on its people.

This seems rather similar to what the religious leaders were doing to their flock of sheep. They taught the people how to look righteous on the outside. "Behave! Follow these rules and do lots of holy things!" And the leaders enforced their religious standards with threats of excommunication. However, by doing this, they miscommunicated God's expectations to the people. God didn't just want people who looked holy but who actually were holy.

So Jesus said:

Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! . . . on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness. (Matt. 23:27-28 NIV)

And John in preparing the way for Jesus said, 

You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. (Luke 3:7 NIV)

See, the only way for people to prepare for Heaven's King is by having a good heart that produces good fruit.  John the Baptist tried to explain what that looked like, and Jesus expounded even further. In fact, Jesus showed us what that looked like by doing it himself. His whole life was a sort of judgement on mankind because it showed us all the ways we weren't doing it right. 

This high standard is what God expects. It's way beyond our reach. It calms winds and cures mental illnesses. It loves everyone deeply, even oppressors and bigots and racists. It touches the diseased. It is patient with stupid people. It addresses the hypocrisy even of respected people. It doesn't take the easy route. It obeys God all the way to Calvary and dies for people that don't even like you. This is what we owe God and when we die, he'll demand it of us. "Did you do it?" 

Jesus' life on earth not only revealed how seriously hopeless our problem is, but it also footed the bill. "Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, (how) much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God." (Romans 5:9)

So in summary, John the Baptist prepared the way: "Get your hearts ready! Repent! God's chosen is coming and he's not going to like what he sees!"

Then Jesus came and showed them something new, something nobody had seen before.

And John in prison was like, "Hey, what about the judgement and hell fire? Jesus, are you the guy or is there another guy?"

And Jesus was like, "The lame walk. The blind see. I came not just to show you who's sick but to be the cure. Blessed are those who know they're sick. And blessed are those who don't trip over my extension of mercy because they so desperately want judgement on everyone else." (I'm doing an awful paraphrase here of Matthew 11 in case you were wondering.)

Maybe John was just a bit like Jonah in that John really wanted to see some sinners burn like snakes fleeing from a field fire. Maybe he really wanted some religious frauds to get their comeuppance. Maybe he forgot that God's salvation was for all people and that God, by sending Jesus, was giving millions and millions of people a chance to recognize their moral sickness and repent.

When we live a life of repentance, making way for Jesus to live within us, when we surrender our thoughts every morning, realign our passions every noontide, confess our failings every bedtime, we are preparing our hearts for Heaven's King to abide there. This is how we produce fruit in keeping with repentance. 

And the effect of this king—not just visiting for two hours but living inside us—lasts a lifetime.

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