Friday, October 05, 2007

See the Saviour

In front of you is a passage from one of the foundational documents of Christianity, it's a passage from a biography of Jesus, by Luke. I first read this book in my first year here, in Spring 1998. I'd never read the Bible before and I didn't know what to expect. Luke is like good coffee. It's carefully made – ground coffee not instant, water at the right temperature and unpolluted with tasteless additives like sugar and milk. Thoughtful, detailed, accurate. And like good coffee Luke jolts our senses back to life.

Straight away we're introduced to an earth-shattering moment, v2, 'the word of God came to John'. Stunning, people thought that God was silent, but he speaks! To John. Known as The Baptist, but we should call him The Preacher, and we'll see why... Two things Luke shows us about John:
1. John came in history, see the detailed political record in v1-2. Which is like me saying “in the fourth month that Gordon Brown was Prime Minister, when Glynis Breakwell was Vice-Chancellor of the University of Bath, and so on...” reference points that could pinpoint the date many years later.
2. John came to fulfil prophecy, God's promises, see the quote from Isaiah 40 in v4-6. Identifying John as 'the voice' We'll come back to that.
Why does Luke tell us this? Luke wants us to be certain about Jesus – he says so on page 1 of his book. He writes a book of evidence from two sources - history and prophecy showing the events of Jesus life, death and resurrection, and their explanation. Luke has no time for the idea that Jesus was a myth – these things happened, here is the evidence.

John comes in history to, v4, prepare the way for the Lord. He's the A-level results day to your freshers week... the trailers before the main feature. If John came then God must follow. We join the story as the final preparations are being done. Crowds, v7, come to John in the desert to hear him and be baptised. Baptism is Bible language for entering fully by water, or v16 we see baptism with the Holy Spirit and baptism with fire. The focus not so much on baptism, but in what someone is baptised in.

Out in the desert God's people are reminded of their exile from God. God send them away, in the days of Isaiah – 600BC – for persistent rebelling against him. Now their exile ends. John prepares the way – not for their return so much, as for the Lord's coming to them. And it is very good news. Good news about Jesus. Look at what John says:

V8. Firstly, don't trust in your background. John calls the crowd to repent saying - '”Do not begin to say to yourselves 'we have Abraham as our Father”. - though as Jews they do they are his descendants. Dangerously they assumed that physical relationship saved them. Error! John says, they are like vipers - evil and deceiving and they should know that “out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham”.

Children of Abraham is Bible language for people who trust God like Abraham, and you can read about that in the book of Genesis. God gives people 'faith' like Abraham. Could you be like them? Confident in your Christian parents, your church attendance... They're good things, but they can't save you. God comes and he will find a people for himself. He comes to us this evening in his word – what will he find? Viperous self-rescuers trusting in their background? V9, The axe of God's judgement awaits such people. Our only hope will be when our only hope is Jesus.

V16. Secondly, don't trust in your behaviour John has told people to change. People ask him, v10, what shall we do... He says, v11-14, change your way of living – be generous, act justly, be content. Notice, v9, he says bear fruit in keeping with repentance. John Piper explains this:
“this means that repenting is what happens inside us. Then this change leads to the fruits of new behaviour. Repentance is not the new deeds but the inward change that bears the fruit of new deeds. Jesus is demanding that we experience this inward change”
There's a lie going round that God loves good people. Two thousand years ago, in the 15th year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, John the Preacher showed that wasn't the case. God comes for bad people, the selfish, the unjust and the greedy. And he will change hearts.People asked, v15 – are you the Christ, God's promised rescuer? And John said, v16, no – he comes next, he does more. John baptises with water, the Christ baptises with the Holy Spirit and Fire. A bath from John can clean up the outside, but the Christ comes to give new hearts! Miraculous inward change. So there's no need to impress by faking that you're good. And no need to despair at being too bad. Our only hope is when our only hope is Jesus... [CONTINUED HERE]

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