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Friday, December 14, 2012

Advent 3: The Forerunner


The Forerunner


Last week we looked at John as a prophet sent by God after 400 years of prophetic silence. This week we pick up from verse 7:

‘Crowds up people came out to John to be baptized by him. “You snakes!” he said to them, “Who told you that you could escape the punishment God is about to send?”’

Not from a manual of popular preaching technique !!!
Other translations have brood of vipers. Why snakes? It seems John see’s right through many in his congregation. They’ve heard that a prophet has been commissioned by God,.... that might mean that God is about to do something again ......and the one thing He does is.... judge,....... so, to escape judgement let’s do what everyone else is doing......Let’s be seen to be doing the right thing – let’s go to John the baptiser

John the Baptist says:

“Do those things that will show that you have turned from your sins. And don’t start staying among yourselves that Abraham is your ancestor. I tell you that God can take these stones and make descendants for Abraham!”

Just confessing is never enough, it’s important of course to name your sins, but it’s never enough – changed behavior is essential. Then he says – don’t think that because you are a Jew, God’s chosen race – that this doesn’t apply to you. In the modern Church we would say – don’t think that because you are a Christian that you don’t have to change - God is looking for the fruit of a changed life – otherwise He’ll chop you down and throw you into the fire. As I said earlier, this is not from the manual of popular preaching technique

A changed life is important.

Verse 10 is pivotal to the section of Scripture before us today and is central to the process of growing in holiness in this life.
When confronted by prophetic “judgmental” preaching....by this I mean preaching which says: "that kind of behavior is wrong and will bring Gods judgement on you unless you change".......when confronted with this kind of preaching we can do one of two things – we can choose to ignore it and say "everyone does.. it" OR.... we can choose to change. 

 ‘The people asked him, “What are we to do then?”’

They cannot ignore the conviction which God the Holy Spirit is bringing upon them as the word is preached – and then from being general – you snakes, don’t think you can escape, do things that show you’ve turned from your sins, don’t think you have special status.......From general John moves to specifics – because our sin is always specific.

John now addresses specific people with specific sins.
 ‘He answered, “Whoever has two shirts must give one to the man who has none, and whoever has food must share it.”


John here repeats a message that Scripture is full of, The Haves must share with The Have-Nots. That is a message for us today.

 ‘Some tax collectors came to be baptized, and they asked him, “Teacher, what are we to do?” “Don’t collect more than is legal” he told them.”

Another universal message of Scripture – be honest.
That too is a message for us today.

‘Some soldiers also asked him, “What about us? What are we to do?” He said to them, "Don't take money from anyone by force or accuse anyone falsely. Be content with your pay." 

Another universal message of Scripture – don’t abuse your position of authority – in the home, workplace, school, church (and also be content with the salary you agreed to work for).

The next verse is amazing:
 ‘People’s hopes began to rise, and they began to wonder whether John perhaps might be the Messiah. So John said to all of them, “I baptize you with water, but someone is coming who is much greater than I am. I am not good enough even to untie His sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. He has his winnowing shovel with Him, to thresh out all the grain and gather the wheat into His barn; but He will burn the chaff in a fire that never goes out.”
Why does a locust eating preacher who lives and preaches in the wilderness and makes people travel long distances and then tells them that unless they change they are going to hell ...... Why… does… He… cause… peoples… hopes… to rise and wonder whether he was the long awaited Messiah. 
Why?

I suggest the following as possibilities:

They experienced the joy of sins forgiven – have you experienced the joy of sins forgiven? The lifting of the load/the burden of guilt which ongoing sin causes in our lives – have you?

They experienced something new in their relationship with God because the barrier of un-confessed sin was removed by their sincere repentant confession and now their prayers could flow into God and His answers into them, ......the Scriptures now came alive for them, their fasting opened flood gates of blessing and their fellowship took on new meaning............. you see all these things happen when sin is cleaned up in our lives. They experienced something new in their relationship with God .......have youHave you experienced the joy which flows from the forgiveness of sins?

And they ask – is he the Messiah, because this is what we expect the Messiah to do for us when He comes; and John says: No, but let me point you to Him. He’s coming. I’m not worthy to untie his sandals. I baptise with water, He will baptise with fire and the Holy Spirit.

And friends, I want to do the same as John did (not call you a viper, but yes, if that’s what you are)..... I want to point you to Jesus, the forgiver of sins, who has come, is with us right now, and who will come again.

Confess your sins.

Do things that show you have turned from your sins.

And look to the one who came that you and I might have life, abundant, Holy Spirit inspired and empowered life.

Turn your eyes upon Jesus – as individuals, as families, as a Church, oh LORD, please let us do this as a nation.

There’s a gift for you and I to give this Christmas.

Your face turned… towards Jesus.

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