This is the manuscript I used this morning at Shepparton Baptist Church. As I shared this morning I felt as though I had put together a couple of sermons! Everyone was very gracious. Happy reading.
Luke 3:7-18 New International Version (NIV)
7 John said to the crowds coming out to be baptized by him, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? 8 Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. 9 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.”
10 “What should we do then?” the crowd asked.
11 John answered, “Anyone who has two shirts should share with the one who has none, and anyone who has food should do the same.”
12 Even tax collectors came to be baptized. “Teacher,” they asked, “what should we do?”
13 “Don’t collect any more than you are required to,” he told them.
14 Then some soldiers asked him, “And what should we do?”
He replied, “Don’t extort money and don’t accuse people falsely—be content with your pay.”
15 The people were waiting expectantly and were all wondering in their hearts if John might possibly be the Messiah. 16 John answered them all, “I baptize you with water. But one who is more powerful than I will come, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 17 His winnowing fork is in his hand to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.” 18 And with many other words John exhorted the people and proclaimed the good news to them.
Introduction to sermon
Well, we are getting closer and closer. It’s not long before it will be Christmas. According to my emails from places like Target, there are only nine days left until the big day arrives! Nine more days to finish the preparations, nine more days to battle the crowds, nine more days to fight for a car park. There are only nine more days before we celebrate the birth of Jesus. For some people, nine more days may seem to be not enough time, for others nine more days are filled with despair. Despair over what they don’t have. What they can’t do for those around them. Despair for the people they will be seeing and for those that they won’t be seeing.
In 9 more days, millions of people will celebrate, and millions will cry.
For me, nine more days isn’t long. It isn’t long because it is for nine more days that it seems much more acceptable to talk about Jesus being born. The people around us are prepared to accept conversations about a baby. I can even talk about this little baby being Jesus. The name that causes a stir most other times of the year. It’s only nine more days that I get to share the good news of Jesus, and people openly will not put up a wall. I get to share the hope and the joy that Jesus brings.
This morning our reading focuses on John the Baptist and his teaching and preaching. For John, there wasn’t a great deal of time either. He doesn’t know, but it won’t be long before he ends up in prison and is killed. This morning let’s take a look at what John is teaching but more importantly let’s take a look at who John is preaching.
If last week weren’t our Sunday School service, we would have taken a look at the lectionary readings. It would have been Luke 3:1-6. We would have looked at the need to be prepared for the coming of Jesus and at making the path straight for the coming of the Lord that we need to be aware of our shortcomings and to acknowledge the need for God in our lives. This theme continues in our reading today. John calls the Jews who came to him to be baptised a brood of vipers! These people knew the law; they knew what needed to be done yet they missed the point. All of the laws and the actions that were required were not to be righteous but to be repentant. Knowing what the law says and the realisation that we really can’t keep them needs to drive us to the point of repenting, of calling out to God to forgive us. To be aware of the amazing grace that is offered to us without cost to ourselves.
John calls us to produce fruit in keeping with repentance. He is not talking about empty traditions or actions. He is also very clear that we cannot take our history or our family’s history as something that will make us righteous. There needs to be something much, much more. We need a saviour.
Do you realise your need for a saviour or are you just following the rules? As I have prepared this message, I have been thinking about devotion times or quiet times or time with God. This can be one of the places that we end up following the rules that we set for ourselves. We must read the bible every day because that’s what we are taught. We must pray every day because that’s what is meant to happen. I reckon if you are in a place where you feel you must do these things because you have been told you must, then you have missed the point. For me, reading your bible isn’t something that you do because you must do it. You read your bible because you desire to. Reading your bible isn’t about learning how to live, though that is part of it. Reading your bible is about knowing God more. It’s about learning how amazing is this God that we choose to follow. This collection of books is the most amazing thing that I can physically lay my hands on. It has the most amazing stories in it. From the account of creation in Genesis. The sorry story of the fall of humanity. The journey of the Israelites, the unrelenting mercy and forgiveness of the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. To the honest prayers of broken people in the psalms. To the voices of the prophets. Then the amazing accounts of the life of Jesus to the teachings of Paul. Then there are the imagination inspiring books of Daniel and Revelation.
For me, this book we call the bible has it all. For me, each word is written to tell us about the personality of God. His ability to create, to bless, to forgive, to teach, to save. Reading it purely out of following the rules isn’t the reason we read it. We read our bibles because it is the living word of God and it inspires us to know God in deeper and deeper ways. Do you struggle to read your bible? I challenge you this morning to not let it become dusty. I challenge you to read it because you will find God at work in it and as you read, you will find God at work in you. Find it hard to make time? Start by reading 25 words a day. Read a chapter. Read a verse. Read something, every day but do it because you want to know more about God and not because I told you to.
Give, be honest and act with integrity
Now back to John the Baptist...
He teaches us what it means to produce fruit in keeping with repentance. As we learn how much we need to be repentant, we do produce fruit. As we continue in our lives knowing that Jesus is at work within us, this overflows into other parts of our lives. John gives us a few very brief examples. He tells us to share our clothing with those that are in need. He also tells us to share our food. He is telling us to be generous with what we have. Don’t hold it back. When I think of these things, I sometimes get reminded of the cartoon Donald Duck. When I was a kid, I watched a lot of Donald Duck (and probably far too much to be honest). Donald had an uncle. Uncle Scrooge, I think his name was. Well, whenever we saw this uncle, he would be in his mansion counting all of his gold. He has so much there were mountains of it. Don’t be like this duck. Don’t keep it all to yourselves. There are people around us that desperately need it too. Now, I am not suggesting that we give it all away. Even John says that if you have two give one away. That means that you get to keep one, but you do need to be generous.
John also tells us to be honest. The Tax collectors collected more than they should, and the soldiers force people to pay them what they didn’t deserve. They became rich from being dishonest. Be honest in all of your dealings. For me, this also means paying bills on time and paying what is due. Be honest and act with integrity in all of your dealings with people.
And always point to the one who saves. Jesus.
John the Baptist also teaches us something that he didn’t say. He teaches us something by the way he spoke and the way he acted. He knew his role. He knew who he was and what his role was. He taught me how to live, but he preached something different. He preached the good news of Jesus. This is a fantastic example of how we can be, and especially in this lead up to Christmas. We are to teach people what scripture tells us how to live. We are to teach each other to be generous, to live with integrity and honesty. But we are also to preach the good news of Jesus. Preaching isn’t just what happens here on a Sunday. The famous quote is relevant to us today as it was when it was first spoken. Preach to all people and use words when necessary. For me, preaching the good news is also about sharing. It’s about sharing what God has done in our lives; it is sharing about Jesus. Jesus who was willing to humble himself and become human. Who was born in the most innocuous of places, to live a simple life but...but was also the Son of God. He was God. And this Jesus, who was God came to earth to redeem us from our sins. To buy back our lives from death through His death. Christmas is not only about the celebration of his birth. For us, it is also a celebration of his life here on earth; it’s also recognising the full impact of his death on the cross and his resurrection. The good news of Jesus is not purely that he was born a man. The good news is that the Son of God would allow himself to be hung on a cross to die for each one of us.
John the Baptist may not have known the full implication of what he preached, but we have a deeper understanding. We know the next part of the story, even as we celebrate the beginning.
Not only are we to share the things of this earth. Our time, our money, our possessions, our knowledge, our selves but we are also to share the good news of Jesus. That every person has the opportunity to accept that Jesus is God and that he has acted to give us eternal life through his death and resurrection.
Over the next nine days, we have opportunities. We have the opportunity to look at ourselves and question our motives. Are we following the rules because that is what we have been taught to do or do we desire to know God and produce fruit in keeping with repentance?
We also have the opportunity to be extraordinarily generous. Not only can we, as people who live in a western society give to those that don’t have the basics that we expect to have (fresh drinking water, a reasonable chance at surviving childhood, good food to eat, clothes to wear) — those in desperate poverty. We can do that by giving on Christmas day to our appeal for BWAA. We also have the opportunity, to be honest, and act with integrity during this time with all of our dealings with other people.
We are all called to be generous, to be honest, and to have integrity. To be extravagant! But, more importantly, we have an opportunity to share the good news of Jesus.
So there are only nine days left. What will you do with them? Will you focus on what you need to get done? Will you focus on yourself or will you focus on what you can share? Will you join with me as we share with generosity, with honesty and with integrity? Mostly though, will you join with me as we share about the greatest gift that we have ever been given? The gift of the birth of a little baby who changed the world and the joy of knowing who this baby is...Jesus, the Son of God.