also available to listen here…
So a quick recap, we are in our series on the book of Luke. In the last few weeks we’ve seen the Holy Spirit as a focus, coming on Zechariah, Mary, Simeon and last week we heard how the HS has been working through Dan & Pete Hall in their time abroad. Isn’t it great to hear how the HS is the same HS working then through these people we are hearing about, and now through some of us…?
We’ve also seen the focus on Jesus, not directly, but in pointing the way to him – or in the waiting for a messiah.
So we are continuing in that today as we hear about John the Baptist, a prophet marking the way to Jesus.
I spoke a few weeks ago at the beg of the series about the birth of JTB, and in a way todays talk is a bit like the second part of that – as here we see JTB fulfilling his purpose. In Luke 1 we saw the angel say of JTB before his birth ‘he will be great in the sight of the Lord.. he will go on before the Lord… he will make ready a people prepared for the Lord…and later his father Zechariah prophesying over his new born son says or sings of him:
'you my child will be called a prophet of the most high, for you will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for him, to give his people the knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins….to shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the path of peace…'
I spoke about Jesus being the answer and that Johns purpose, as ours is, is to point the way to Jesus.
So here in our passage today, we see John fulfilling his calling. To prepare the way to the Lord, to point people to Jesus, to prepare them for his coming.
And my question a few weeks ago was: ‘what’s the answer?...’
And todays question follows on from that - ‘what shall we do about it?
There are no two ways about it this passage is a challenge to us all. What John said then, challenges us just as much now, to live a life worthy of Jesus:
to live a life that is transformed by Jesus,
to live a life that honours Jesus,
to live a life that points to jesus.
It is not about ritual, or religion, it’s not about an act – of baptism, salvation, conversion, whatever yours is, its about so much more than that... #thereismore !
So as I said it’s a challenge – I mean John does not exactly mince his words does he? There some pretty harsh language in here:
How would it be if I stood up here and said to you, 'you bunch of sinners, you are what are you even doing here? Who told you to come to church?' I’m not sure I’d be winning any friends, or being particularly welcoming to our church!
But this is the first thing John says to those coming out to him in the desert.
What does he say to those coming to be baptised? He calls them a ‘brood of vipers’ great greeting isn’t it?! People must have arrived thinking, we are here, we’ve made it, they would have trekked out into the desert – found the man people were talking about, the man people thought could be the messiah and what does he say to them? Basically he insults them doesn’t he?!
It’s uncompromising language – no two ways about it. Every tree that does not bear good fruit will be thrown into the fire… The ‘chaff’ will be burned up and thrown into the unquenchable fire – I mean he’s saying to them – if you don’t make the mark, that’s your destiny. Being thrown into the fire.
Difficult to hear isn’t it? Scary even. But we can’t ignore these words, reading them today? The passage said the word of God came to John, so we can be sure he is preaching this challenging message on the back of that. I think Johns words are harsh because they need to be, he needed to get through to the crowds, to shake them from their lives of living under the law. To get them beyond the ‘we’re ok because we’re Jewish’… NO. he says. you’re not. More is expected of you…
So what do those words say to us today ?
Are they a challenge to us? Do they seem harsh? Perhaps we need something to cut through our daily lives, to speak directly to our hearts?
John is preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins
a baptism of repentence – for the forgiveness of sins.
And for the Jews then, hearing Johns message would have been familiar with the act of baptism, and of ritual cleansing, washing clean – but for them it wasn’t just a one off, it happened regularly, according to Torah – the Jewish law, people were ritually cleansed, purification etc for many reasons.
The CofE says this of baptism:Baptism marks the beginning of a journey with God which continues for the rest of our lives, the first step in response to God’s love.
A first step – your first step with God might not have been baptism, it might have been something else…: making a commitment, dedicating your life to God, saying the sinners prayer… but the point is, what is your next step, and the one after that, and the one after that?
I see it like this:
It’s 3 fold:
We come to God, we get right with him.
We receive from him and then
we get to bear fruit for him.
Like a repeating cycle…
And that actually is the point John was making – this so much more than ritual, than an action. This is more than just something you do and walk away from, having done what is required of you. This is a step to a new life. It’s about a heart transformation. Jewish law was full of just that ‘laws’ and requirement, ritual cleansing, lots of ritual.
But this baptism was about so much more than Jewish ritual cleansing. It required of those taking part ‘repentence’ and the expectation was that it would be a transformation, that something would change. It was no good coming to take part in this ritual and then just going back to your old life, John says, ‘produce fruit in keeping with repentence’. ie: if you truly repent, your sins are forgiven. Your life will be changed your actions will be changed…
Repentance can be an off putting word can’t it? It conjurs up images of shame and guilt, and perhaps to some extent it should but the definition of the word repentence says this:
Repentence is the activity of reviewing one's actions and feeling contrition or regret for past wrongs. It generally involves a commitment to personal change and resolving to live a more responsible and humane life (and we could add in a Christian sense, perhaps resolving to live a life more focused on God.)
That’s not so scary is it? And that is all that God requires of us to have a relationship with him.
It’s not just about doing something publically, or taking part in a ceremony, more than that has to happen. We have to come willingly, but putting before God our wrong behavior, and as a result God draws closer to us, he cleanses us, he forgives us and a transformation takes place.
But it is always our choice. And it isn’t always easy. But if you want to know more of God, if you want to be closer to him. If you want to bear fruit for him, that is what is required of you.
So this morning I think we should be asking - is there anything stopping us receiving from God? Is there anything we need to lay before him?
Remember the 3 stages:
we get right with God
We receive from him and then
we get to bear fruit for him.
It’s a repeating cycle… not a one off action, but something we need to continue to do throughout our lives…
As I said earlier - Have we had a key moment like this – a physical action - might be baptism or confirmation, or it might be an action of saying the sinners prayer, making a commitment to God. But then, what do we do with that?
Have we had the same heart transformation? Are we transformed? Do we go on being transformed?
It’s actually surprisingly easy to get into a pattern of life that includes God, but is on our own terms. It might be - I don’t need to go to church… I meet God out in fields when I’m walking. Or I go to church on a Sunday, what more do I need to do? I go to a prayer group…. I wonder how many of us have found ourselves ‘going through the motions’ of being a Christian. But where is our transformation?
Are we resting on our laurels, resting in the knowledge that we are Christians, our place is secured? Last time I spoke I said that WE are bringers of Gods kingdom. So are we actually bringing it? Or just sitting around, looking forward to it?
John says to the people here – don’t say to yourselves, its ok we have Abraham as our father – ie: their Jewish inheritance, we’re ok. What does he say to them? Yeah right, God can make sons for Abraham out of rocks – you still think you’re ok?
Well how about us? Do we find ourselves reliant on carrying a name? And often it isn’t that we are deliberately ignoring our inheritance, I don’t think those Jews were being beligerant I think they actually just didn’t even think beyond themselves ….
So let me ask this: Actually what does saying “I am a Christian” – mean to us? We bear the name of Christ – Lord of all. Saviour of the world. King.
But you know we see Jesus in Matt 7 saying this:
21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven…
Shouldn’t “I am a Christian’ mean something more than just a personal statement?
What is the difference in us? Compared to those around us?
Me called myself a Christian for years – expand on give example...
bottom line - No relationship, no repentence, no fruit…
Here's a great example: I expect that you have all seen pictures of Pope Francis on the news or in the papers. Now there is a man so obviously lives with a heart full of Love. And it overflows from him doesn’t it? He is continually challenging the perceptions of his role isn’t he? He lives in a small apartment rather than the Vatican palace. He makes time for people, normal people not just dignitaries. This week I saw a really beautiful film of him, where he was traveling through a town on the way to an event and the people knew he was going to travel through and some had stopped at the roadside to wave. One family had a severley disabled daughter and they put up a banner saying Pope please stop here and bless Roberta. And he did just that. He stops right alongside them, gets out and comes forward and kisses the girl and then spends few minutes shaking hands with those around him. It is a really moving clip.
Here is a man so obviously overflowing with the love of Christ.
Now he is the Pope and he was elected via a ritual, an event a physical event, as have many popes before but it is so evident that here is a man who is not defined by this event, his title or the doctrine of his church. Here is a man producing fruit for the God that he loves.
34 You brood of vipers, how can you who are evil say anything good? For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of
You know if you watch the clip as well, the other thing I noticed that there are officials around him and they are all smiling, hardened body guards an a cardinal!. And one of them stops to pick up something a member of the family has dropped. They aren’t just standing on duty and doing a job, I think they have all been touched by the actions of the Pope, his demeanour, his heart…
Could we say the same about the people around us? Are they touched by the overflow from us? By our fruit?
Msg version of this passage says this:
Do you think a little water on your snakeskins is going to deflect God’s judgment? It’s your life that must change, not your skin……
… What counts is your life. Is it green and blossoming? Because if it’s deadwood, it goes on the fire.”
So, where are our lives green and blossoming? where is the fruit in our lives? Where is the evidence of a life changed? Where is the presence of God in our daily lives?
The people in the passage ask ‘What Should I do?’
It could be in so many different ways, from the small to the huge. Checking on your elderly neighbour to social action projects. From offering to pray for a friend to taking part in street ministry. From getting alonsgside someone who is struggling to living incarnationally in an area where God has called you – these are all things people in this church are doing.
Sometimes it can be as simple as being open about your faith. My husband Phil, some years ago had a colleague who was a Christian. She didn’t shout about it but she was just open about it, when asked what she was dong at the weekend she would say, well I’m going to church actually.
Anyway they were colleagues for a number of years before we both began to really look at the Christian faith. It was at that time when Phil had a lot of questions (we both did!) that he was able to say to her – do you still go to church? And that opened up an amazing conversation about Jesus and she answered so many of his questions. And in fact the very next day he gave his life to Jesus.
That only happened because she had a relationship with Jesus, she was bearing fruit just by being open about her faith in a quiet and unassuming way.
Here’s another story to the other end of the spectrum. I am involved in a small charity called Hope House Haiti UK, which I have mentioned before, we support a school and orphanage in rural Haiti, one of the poorest areas of the world. 3 years ago my friend, the chairman of the charity and I were at the Hillsong women’s conference. At that conference she felt God saying to her, you need to go to Haiti. She had a contact in her family and she went for a short term trip. From that, the last 3 years have been bonkers! She has been out every year since, taking a small group of people. Now 3 years later we have set up a charity to support them, we have raised thousands of pounds for them, and next January she is taking a group of about 10 people out there.
And everything about this project from the people, who run the school and orphanage to those of us running the charity, it is all based on a relationship with Jesus. Prayer is so key, hearing from God is vital. Hope House is the fruit of a relationship with God…
The point is fruit is the evidence of a life transformed. If you’re still not sure about what is fruit, a good place to start is Galatians 5 – the fruit of the spirit:
Love joy peace patience kindness goodness faithfulness gentleness and self control…
Can we say we are displaying the fruit of the Holy Spirit?
But lets remember our cycle: to bear fruit we have to be in the right relationship with God.
Get right with God, receive from God and bear fruit for God…
Now, It is really important to say that we are not talking about works here… You cannot earn your place in the kingdom. It is a gift, a free gift for anyone – as we see in v 6 – 'all people will see God’s salvation' – it is there for everyone. That’s what Grace is – that God gives us this amazing wonderful gift even though none of us have a right to it, none of us have earned it, none of us deserve it. But we still get offered it.
So, I’m not standing up here saying you need to produce fruit in order to get into Gods kingdom. No. but what I am saying is that you have been given this amazing gift – so what are you going to do with it? Where is your fruit?
SO I guess the question for us is exactly the one the crowds asked: what should we do?
The bible says this:
Matthew 5:16 ESV
In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.
James 1:22-25 ESV
But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves…. But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets, but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing.
Our cycle again:
1) Get right with God (ie; repentence). We come before God and get right with him.
2) We receive from God. Having got in a right place with God we put ourselves in a position of being able to receive from him…
3) we are filled up, we go out and share – we bear fruit for God
So as I draw to a close I want us to be thinking about where is our fruit? Both individually and corporately.
As a church we went through a corporate period of repentence back in September. It wasn’t easy, it was quite painful but it was the things that God had brought to mind that we brought before him. And I think since then we’ve entered a period of receiving from him, we are getting prepared to go out and bear fruit.
So now is the time for us to be asking corporately ‘what should we do?’
Our vision statement is to be ‘a transforming presence in Mid Sussex’. How can we be a church that is exactly that – a church that bears fruit?
There are things starting to happen,
We have started to develop our outreach locally as many of you will have heard about - expand…
and that feels like a real example of having repented, we are receiving from God and he is allowing us to bear fruit. Amazing ways he has opened doors, answered prayers, created opportunitites…
Is God calling us as the church to something in your area? Or to a specific need?
And as individuals – what should we do?
What is God asking of you – are you right with him? Or are you just going through the motions? Where is your fruit?
living a life worthy of Jesus
living a life that is transformed by Jesus
living a life that honours Jesus
living a life that points to Jesus
Spend time with God – get right with God
Receive from god
Go out and bear fruit for God – share God…
let me leave you with this one question:
If Jesus is the answer, what are we going to do about it? What are YOU going to do about it?