Many years ago there lived an Emperor who was so fond of new clothes that he spent all his money on them in order to be beautifully dressed. He did not care about his soldiers, he did not care about the theatre; he only liked to go out walking to show off his new clothes. He had a coat for every hour of the day; and just as they say of a king, 'He is in the council-chamber,' they always said here, 'The Emperor is in the wardrobe.'
In the great city in which he lived there was always something going on; every day many strangers came there. One day two impostors arrived who gave themselves out as weavers, and said that they knew how to manufacture the most beautiful cloth imaginable. Not only were the texture and pattern uncommonly beautiful, but the clothes which were made of the stuff possessed this wonderful property that they were invisible to anyone who was not fit for his office, or who was unpardonably stupid.
'Those must indeed be splendid clothes,' thought the Emperor. 'If I had them on I could find out which men in my kingdom are unfit for the offices they hold; I could distinguish the wise from the stupid! Yes, this cloth must be woven for me at once.' And he gave both the impostors much money, so that they might begin their work.
They placed two weaving-looms, and began to do as if they were working, but they had not the least thing on the looms. They also demanded the finest silk and the best gold, which they put in their pockets, and worked at the empty looms till late into the night.
'I should like very much to know how far they have got on with the cloth,' thought the Emperor. But he remembered when he thought about it that whoever was stupid or not fit for his office would not be able to see it. Now he certainly believed that he had nothing to fear for himself, but he wanted first to send somebody else in order to see how he stood with regard to his office. Everybody in the whole town knew what a wonderful power the cloth had, and they were all curious to see how bad or how stupid their neighbour was.
'I will send my old and honoured minister to the weavers,' thought the Emperor. 'He can judge best what the cloth is like, for he has intellect, and no one understands his office better than he.'
Now the good old minister went into the hall where the two impostors sat working at the empty weaving-looms. 'Dear me!' thought the old minister, opening his eyes wide, 'I can see nothing!' But he did not say so.
Both the impostors begged him to be so kind as to step closer, and asked him if it were not a beautiful texture and lovely colours. They pointed to the empty loom, and the poor old minister went forward rubbing his eyes; but he could see nothing, for there was nothing there.
'Dear, dear!' thought he, 'can I be stupid? I have never thought that, and nobody must know it! Can I be not fit for my office? No, I must certainly not say that I cannot see the cloth!'
'Have you nothing to say about it?' asked one of the men who was weaving.
'Oh, it is lovely, most lovely!' answered the old minister, looking through his spectacles. 'What a texture! What colours! Yes, I will tell the Emperor that it pleases me very much.'
'Now we are delighted at that,' said both the weavers, and thereupon they named the colours and explained the make of the texture.
The old minister paid great attention, so that he could tell the same to the Emperor when he came back to him, which he did.
The impostors now wanted more money, more silk, and more gold to use in their weaving. They put it all in their own pockets, and there came no threads on the loom, but they went on as they had done before, working at the empty loom. The Emperor soon sent another worthy statesman to see how the weaving was getting on, and whether the cloth would soon be finished. It was the same with him as the first one; he looked and looked, but because there was nothing on the empty loom he could see nothing.
'Is it not a beautiful piece of cloth?' asked the two impostors, and they pointed to and described the splendid material which was not there.
'Stupid I am not!' thought the man, 'so it must be my good office for which I am not fitted. It is strange, certainly, but no one must be allowed to notice it.' And so he praised the cloth which he did not see, and expressed to them his delight at the beautiful colours and the splendid texture. 'Yes, it is quite beautiful,' he said to the Emperor.
Everybody in the town was talking of the magnificent cloth.
Now the Emperor wanted to see [the clothes] himself while it was still on the loom. With a great crowd of select followers, amongst whom were both the worthy statesmen who had already been there before, he went to the cunning impostors, who were now weaving with all their might, but without fibre or thread.
'Is it not splendid!' said both the old statesmen who had already been there. 'See, your Majesty, what a texture! What colours!' And then they pointed to the empty loom, for they believed that the others could see the cloth quite well.
'What!' thought the Emperor, 'I can see nothing! This is indeed horrible! Am I stupid? Am I not fit to be Emperor? That were the most dreadful thing that could happen to me. Oh, it is very beautiful,' he said. 'It has my gracious approval.' And then he nodded pleasantly, and examined the empty loom, for he would not say that he could see nothing.
His whole Court round him looked and looked, and saw no more than the others; but they said like the Emperor, 'Oh! it is beautiful!' And they advised him to wear these new and magnificent clothes for the first time at the great procession which was soon to take place. 'Splendid! Lovely! Most beautiful!' went from mouth to mouth; everyone seemed delighted over them, and the Emperor gave to the impostors the title of Court weavers to the Emperor.
Throughout the whole of the night before the morning on which the procession was to take place, the impostors were up and were working by the light of over sixteen candles. The people could see that they were very busy making the Emperor's new clothes ready. They pretended they were taking the cloth from the loom, cut with huge scissors in the air, sewed with needles without thread, and then said at last, 'Now the clothes are finished!'
The Emperor came himself with his most distinguished knights, and each impostor held up his arm just as if he were holding something, and said, 'See! here are the breeches! Here is the coat! Here the cloak!' and so on.
'Spun clothes are so comfortable that one would imagine one had nothing on at all; but that is the beauty of it!'
'Yes,' said all the knights, but they could see nothing, for there was nothing there.
'Will it please your Majesty graciously to take off your clothes,' said the impostors, 'then we will put on the new clothes, here before the mirror.'
The Emperor took off all his clothes, and the impostors placed themselves before him as if they were putting on each part of his new clothes which was ready, and the Emperor turned and bent himself in front of the mirror.
'How beautifully they fit! How well they sit!' said everybody. 'What material! What colours! It is a gorgeous suit!'
'They are waiting outside with the canopy which your Majesty is wont to have borne over you in the procession,' announced the Master of the Ceremonies.
'Look, I am ready,' said the Emperor. 'Doesn't it sit well!' And he turned himself again to the mirror to see if his finery was on all right.
The chamberlains who were used to carry the train put their hands near the floor as if they were lifting up the train; then they did as if they were holding something in the air. They would not have it noticed that they could see nothing.
So the Emperor went along in the procession under the splendid canopy, and all the people in the streets and at the windows said, 'How matchless are the Emperor's new clothes! That train fastened to his dress, how beautifully it hangs!'
No one wished it to be noticed that he could see nothing, for then he would have been unfit for his office, or else very stupid. None of the Emperor's clothes had met with such approval as these had.
a little child at last said. 'But he has nothing on!'
'Just listen to the innocent child!' said the father, and each one whispered to his neighbour what the child had said.
the whole of the people called out at last 'But he has nothing on!'
This struck the Emperor, for it seemed to him as if they were right; but he thought to himself, 'I must go on with the procession now. And the chamberlains walked along still more uprightly, holding up the train which was not there at all.
John’s voice made sense. The message of John the Baptist is needed. His words seem so harsh, “you brood of vipers/snakes.” But the words are authentic, something resonates. Apart from dramatic changes the people are hopeless, and the words resonate. The little child said, “the king has no clothes on” the obvious words nobody dared say, nobody dared think, for they did not want it to be true. But for those who are willing to hear, the words are not harsh, the words are harsh for the King that doesn’t want to hear them, so he puts John in prison, but not for the crowd. The Bible says of these harsh words of John the Baptist that they are GOOD NEWS. READ Luke 3:18. John has no interest in tearing down the people, no interest in crushing them, he is no tyrant: John’s harsh words are actually good news for those who choose to listen and respond.
The Good News was announced by the angels in Luke 2:10 when Jesus was born READ. I find it so interesting now as John the Baptist, about 30 years later, is sent to prepare the people for Jesus public ministry, it is said of John that he preached the Good News. The Good News. The Good News. And the Good News begins with a call to shape up your life. READ Luke 3:18. For those who are willing to hear, it is good news to know what it is that you need to do to get your life in shape. Some don’t want to hear, so they act more like Herod and put the messenger in jail, or ignore. The Good News is bad news for those who refuse to hear. Herod did not want to hear that he is naked and made evil choices. Judgment, while scary, is good news for those who are willing to hear. I had a friend in high school that got arrested for driving drunk. He spent one night in jail. It changed him forever. Jail was good because it changed him. Judgment is good for those who are willing to hear. And respond. And change.
The Good News begins with an invitation for you to change and transform your life. John’s “harsh” words are actually good news according to the scripture. Luke 3:7 the people are called snakes, how can this be good news? Because John doesn’t leave it there, he speaks for God and continues the sentence, because something can be done about it. // Like a doctor who accurately diagnoses the problem and gives a prescription. I’ve heard more than one person battling undiagnosed health problems that they would like to know even if it is cancer so they can know and do something. Even bad news would be good news so they can know. The Good News is not to discover you are naked, the good news is that the Lord has some clothes for you to put on…
Here is a hint about how to understand the Bible. Sometimes, if something is repeated over and over and over, it must be important. In our scripture today, a single question is repeated three times. It must be an important question. Let’s take it as a clue as to how we are to go forward in our own lives. John confronts the people speaking the naked truth to them, later, Herod the King imprisons John because he doesn’t want to hear the truth, but that is NOT the response of the crowd. What is their question? It’s in Luke 3:10 [What should we do then?] and what do the tax collectors ask Luke 3:12? And what do the soldiers ask, Luke 3:14.
I love the way John gives very specific answers….what should we do. What John doesn’t say to the tax collector: give up your job and become a pastor. He doesn’t say to the soldier, put down your sword and become a missionary. He says find a way to be a Christian in the marketplace, wherever the Lord has placed you. If you are a teacher then be a teacher as a Christian and show the love of Christ to the students, administrators, parents. If you own a business then live out your faith in that endeavor. Whatever you do, wherever you are, be a faithful person looking to God and being a witness for him. Reveal your Christianity by the way you practice your responsibilities in life.
Luke 3:10-14 shows us what repentance looks like, what it means to get our lives in shape. One person at the Sumas RV Park on Friday told Bill how hard she is working to get her life in shape, the personal discipline of staying away from substance abuse and having a different attitude in resolving problems and relating to difficult people. We need peace, and that comes through better choices, hard decisions, getting our lives in shape and looking towards Christ. Start by asking the question, “What do I do?”
I’ve noticed that until people are asking this question, they cannot be helped. I spend a lot of time listening to people, not because I’m so brilliant or know the answers, but what I do know is that until people are asking questions, they cannot be helped. So I listen for questions. And that’s one of the main reasons I want people with questions to come into this community of faith, or to Seeds of Hope, because while I may not know all the answers, hopefully somebody will connect with every person who is seeking answers for their lives. “What should I do?” When I hear somebody begin to ask that question, my ears perk up and my hope soars for them, because that is the beginning. When people reach the bottom of their problems and begin to ask sincere questions, it’s a wonderful place. My friend Bill is travelling across the country with no money looking for answers to his deep questions of faith and purpose.
Luke 3:10-14 shows us what repentance looks like. How to get in shape.
Luke 3:10 the crowd asks, “What shall we do?” READ Luke 3:11. Our natural tendency is to be self centered, we worry about ourselves, get concerned about ourselves, spend too much time focused on ourselves. You begin to get in shape by caring more about others. Everyone has something they can give to others, an ability, a needed resource. Simply begin by looking out for others, look for opportunities. When I was a young pastor I had visions of changing the world. Now if I can make a little bit of difference for one person in the Nooksack Valley or the Foothills everyday then that is enough. I believe the Lord is calling us to serve those who have less power/authority/ability than we do…
Luke 3:12-13. READ. Tax Collectors are known for being greedy, they have opportunity, for the way it worked is that they were required to collect a certain amount, then any amount on top of what the state took is their cut. How do we repent of our ways: be honest in every situation. I used to sale $5-$10K a year of stuff on ebay, do you know how easy it would be to hide defects, to fudge, to misrepresent, and get a little more money, or sometimes a lot more money! The times I would do it I felt so guilty.
Be honest. Be true. You get your life in shape by simply being honest in how you deal with others.
The soldier is told something similar, the powerful soldier is told in Luke 3:14, never manipulate for personal gain. And that little word “content” is used. Find contentment and you find peace. And peace is a gift from God.
john the Baptist jolts the people by telling them the obvious: you are naked, your life is a mess, your life is out of control, you have no peace. Some people respond by denying the truth, and the King throws John in jail to silence him. But others ask the question, “What shall we do…” John responds, be generous, be honest, don’t manipulate for personal gain but care more about others than yourself. And one more way is added:
John points to the greatness of Christ. READ John 3:15-16. If you leave Jesus Christ out of the equation of getting your life in shape, you will miss the mark. The bookstores are full of self-help books with good advice. But without Christ, there is a hollowness. Jesus Christ adds depth and purpose. Whatever else Luke 3:16 means, it clearly means that Jesus Christ himself changes lives, redeems people from the depth of hell, and don’t tell me there are not people in Sumas living a life of hell.
The greatest hope you can have is Christ himself. To believe that he can change you, for it is not in your strength, but in the transforming power of Christ. READ Luke 3:17. The Lord will put you through a refining fire, leaving the wheat of your life, the good, and burning up the chaff, the worthless. A life focused on Christ is a life that will be transformed. This is why Jesus Christ is the embodiment of the Good News. Jesus will give you meaning and purpose, Jesus will cover your shame and nakedness and dress you with the finest clothes. Jesus Christ will put your life in order.
Get your life in shape by accepting the fact that you are naked, no longer hiding your sins. Instead of throwing the messenger in prison, ask the question, “What shall I do.” Care about others, be honest, don’t manipulate for personal gain, and above all else, embrace Jesus Christ as th e one that will purify your life. The emperor has no clothes, said the child, “You brood of vipers” said John the Baptist. This is Good News for those who hear and ask the question, “What shall I then do?” Amen.