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6/12/09 Year C : Advent 2 - Luke 3:1-6
Luke 3:1 In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar--when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, Herod tetrarch of Galilee, his brother Philip tetrarch of Iturea and Traconitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene-- 2 during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the desert. 3 He went into all the country around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 4 As is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet: "A voice of one calling in the desert, `Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him. 5 Every valley shall be filled in, every mountain and hill made low. The crooked roads shall become straight, the rough ways smooth. 6 And all mankind will see God's salvation.' "
Next Monday on Channel 4 the film "Dreamgirls" will be shown. It was released three years ago and tells the story of a singing group of three young women in the sixties, like the Supremes. It's advertising budget was $40million, £25 million.
How many of you have heard of the film?
God sent John the Baptist to advertise that Jesus was coming. The advertising cost as zero. He sent a man, and paid him nothing.
How many people have heard of Jesus?
God's advertising campaign was a long term one. Last week we read about Jesus in Isaiah, who looked forward to his ministry 600 years before.
Today's O.T. Reading from Malachi looked forward to Jesus over 400 years before his birth.
The advertising executive appointed by God was a bit strange. He wore camel hair clothes, they didn't have Giorgio Armani then. He ate locusts and wild honey, beluga caviar hadn't been discovered, either. It sounds like the Pilot episode to "I'm a celebrity get me out of here"!
John was no diplomat either. He called the religious leaders and the crowd a "brood of vipers" and challenged them to live righteously. You will remember that we looked at righteousness last week, Luke 21.25-36. If we had read on to verses 19 & 20 we would have known that John also denounced Herod about his sexual immorality and was imprisoned for this, to be beheaded later.
John's message to people was to repent, to turn from what was wrong, and to turn to follow Jesus. He wasn't concerned about creature comforts, people's opinion of him, status or even his life. He just got on with the job God had given him, to tell people to be ready for Jesus.
In today's epistle, Paul wrote to the Christians at Philippi, verses 4 In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy 5 because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now.
Paul was imprisoned, but even this gave him the chance to tell the whole palace guard and others about Jesus, and this had encouraged other believers to tell their story, Phil. 1:13f. The Philippian church had given Paul a gift, were in communication with him, and were praying for him.
As Christians we are to be partners in the gospel. We have the examples of John the Baptist, the apostle Paul and the Philippian church. We also have examples from church history. I'm not thinking of Calvin and Luther and so on. Think of the people who pointed you to Jesus. How did they do this? What made you listen?
We are all called to be partners in the gospel. To point people to Jesus. Some of you, if not all, are thinking, "Oh, no. I haven't got the gift of evangelism. I don't know what to do. What will people think of me?"
1) You probably haven't got the gift of evangelism, perhaps one in ten Christians have. But every Christian is called to put Jesus first in their lives and this should lead to it being apparent to others. One of the definitions of evangelism I have heard is "overflowing". It is an overflowing of our trust, our love, our joy, our hope, our peace in Jesus. It should be seen in the "righteousness" I talked about last week, of obeying God.
2) How can we overflow? By relying on God's Holy Spirit. God's Spirit brings people to repent and trust in Jesus. So we don't have to do it ourselves. Indeed, we cannot do it ourselves. But we can partner the Holy Spirit. By praying for people who do not know Jesus. By praying for ourselves, that we may have the opportunity, strength and words to speak to others. To pray for the love and knowledge we need to share Jesus. Paul prayed that the Philippian Christians would have this, 1:9 "And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight,"
3) We needn't worry about what people may think of us because we are Christians. We ought to be more concerned about what God thinks of us. We should imitate John the Baptist's trust in God. Are we being bold enough for God?
We also need to be ourselves, to be genuine. I mean, you wouldn't invite John the Baptist to a posh dinner party. Jesus, too. He denounced dinner guests for being presumptuous and spoke about the lack of hospitality of one of his hosts.
The Bible teaches that God has made us all different, thankfully! That he gives each one of gifts and abilities to build up his church. That he calls all of us, however imperfect and inadequate we may feel, to point to him.
I am very encouraged by what is happening through our strategic plan and WELL church initiative. We still have a lot of hard work and prayer to do. We still need to find people to help with the evangelism and worship areas.
Can I encourage everyone, where, they can, to help in three ways in our partnership in the gospel.
1) To deliver the KFC orange Christmas leaflets. The KFC advertising budget is a lot closer to God's than "Dreamgirls" because we rely on people, too. Between the four churches we are aiming to deliver a leaflet to every home in the parish that tells people something about Christmas the services at the churches and how we want to help people. I am encouraged that some leaflets have already been taken, but we need them all to be delivered as soon as possible, please.
One of the services on the sheets is the Christmas Tree memorial service, next Saturday from 4 p.m. In which bereaved people can put the name(s) of their loved ones on a star which will be placed on the St. Martin's Christmas tree. There are full details of this in the Notice Sheet and Parish news, and it has already generated interest.
2) If you cannot deliver leaflets then can I encourage you to pray. We are praying in the St. Martin's Centre tomorrow evening from 8 p.m. for an hour. Please come if you can. There is no compulsion to pray out loud. If you can't come then, then there is Wednesday morning in St. Martin's from 9.30 a.m. For about forty minutes, or you can pray at home, or in your home groups.
Philippians 1:3 I thank my God every time I remember you. 4 In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy 5 because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, 6 being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus...
9 And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, 10 so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ, 11 filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ - to the glory and praise of God.
Year C : Advent 2 - Luke 3:1-6
LK 3:1 In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar--when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, Herod tetrarch of Galilee, his brother Philip tetrarch of Iturea and Traconitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene-- 2 during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the desert. 3 He went into all the country around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 4 As is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet: "A voice of one calling in the desert, `Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him. 5 Every valley shall be filled in, every mountain and hill made low. The crooked roads shall become straight, the rough ways smooth. 6 And all mankind will see God's salvation.' "
In his gospel Luke has already woven in the stories of two babies. Jesus and John. There are similarities. Both births are special. Both are destined to be prophets. Yet Jesus is the Son of God, born to a virgin, the Messiah.
I don't know how often you have visitors. We have visits from parents and other visitors. When we do Melanie spends time getting the house ready, making it clean and presentable for those who are coming.
John the Baptist had a similar role to someone cleaning a house for important visitors. He was preparing them for Jesus. Getting them to turn from their sins to do things God's way.
Look at passage.
Verse 1 may be a nightmare for those who have to read this passage, but it is very helpful. We know from 1:3 that Luke's gospel was written as an orderly account for Theophilus so that he may know the certainty of what he had been taught.
Luke precision means that we can date this to 28 A.D. This coincides with the high priesthood of Caiaphas which was from 18-36 A.D.
This is reassuring because it affirms that our faith is true. We can point to a place and time in human history and know that Jesus was born and ministered in a historical place. Because Luke was so precise we can be sure of when Jesus public ministry began.
Whilst we are called to hope in something that we cannot see, we have a secure, historical foundation for our faith both in the Bible, and outside the Bible. As well as the Bible we have contemporary Jewish historians such as Josephus who was born in A.D. 37. He was not a Christian but wrote : " Now there was about this time Jesus, a wise man, if it be lawful to call him a man for he was a doer of wonderful works, a teacher of such men as receive the truth with pleasure. He drew over to him both many of the Jews, and many of the Gentiles. He was the Christ; and when Pilate at the suggestion of the principal men amongst us had condemned him to the cross, those that loved him first did not forsake him, for he appeared to them alive again the third day as the divine prophets had foretold these and ten thousand wonderful things concerning him; and the tribe of the Christians so named after him, are not extinct to this day."
The New Testament was written from about 40 to 100 years after Jesus birth. The earliest part of the N.T. that has been found is part of the gospel of John and is dated 130 A.D. From the point of view of historical documents this is a very short time after it was written.
Other historical documents that are largely undisputed have a much greater time span between the time they were written, and the earliest known copy. For example, Livy's Roman History was written between 59 B.C. and 17 A.D. Yet the earliest copy is dated 900 A.D. There are about 20 copies of this.
The earliest complete N.T. dates from 350 A.D. and there are over 24,000 copies of it. Isn't it good to know that there is so much comparatively recent evidence to back it up, and that it contains specific details as we have just seen in Luke's gospel.
So, in A.D. 28 the word of God came to John the Baptist. This was significant because there had been a gap of over 400 years since the last O.T. prophet. A prophet is someone who passes on words from God. There is a sense in which John is the last of the O.T. type of prophet in that he called people away from their sin and back to God.
John wandered about calling people to 'repent'. The Greek 'metanoia' literally means a change of mind. Here it is referring to people who were sorry for their past life of sin. Sin is falling short of God's plan for us to love him with our whole being, and loving other people like ourselves. Sin is selfishness really. Putting ourselves first.
The repentance involved a conscious decision to turn away from such a life, being sorry for sinning, and deciding to follow God's way. The Jewish religion involved regular animal sacrifices for sin, yet the O.T. shows that what really matters to God is not the mechanics of temple worship but lives lived for God. This, in turn, will result in worship.
Just as a bath cleans us so the waters of John's baptism represented forgiveness. Making a fresh start with God. Being clean in his sight.
Just as having a bath doesn't guarantee that we will be clean for long, so the waters of John's baptism could only have a limited effect. Only the forgiveness that Jesus brings can gain eternal forgiveness. Only the new life that Jesus brings can give the power that is needed to conquer sin. So the Baptism of John was temporary and preparatory. An example of this is Andrew, Peter's brother. He had been a follower of John and went on to become one of Jesus first disciples ( John 1:35ff ).
The word of God came to John son of Zechariah. It was customary to call someone John-ben-Zechariah, ben meaning 'son of' in Hebrew. Yet this also reminds us of the miraculous way in which John was given to Elizabeth and Zecharian earlier in Luke's gospel. This , and the links between Elizabeth and Mary, and thereby between John and Jesus are more than accidental.
A number of years ago a new roundabout was built nearby on the A34. One of the first things that they had to do was to level the ground using large earthmoving equipment like bulldozers. John the Baptist is like a bulldozer for God. Making a straight and level path for a royal visitor. He is seeking to move away people's sin.
John is calling in the desert or wilderness. Traditionally it is associated with the Israelites when they wandered the desert for 40 years after they had refused to trust God. After the wilderness, the desert experience comes the blessings of God. Out of the wilderness came John. Signalling a new chapter in God's dealing with humankind.
Luke goes on to quote Isaiah 40:3-5 as being fulfilled by John. Isaiah was written over 600 years before this. Isn't it incredible that 600 years after these words were given to Isaiah they are fulfilled?
This shows us that God's salvation is not an accident, it was planned. Planned before time began.
This also shows us that if we want to know more about God we need to know more about the Bible.
A Christian factory manager used to visit fellow Christians in their homes for fellowship. He was in a mining area one day and called on a Christian friend who was a miner. It was late in the afternoon and the miner had returned from the pit, bathed, changed his clothes, and was now poring over his well worn Bible. 'Well Jamie, what are you reading today ?' said the visitor.
'Romans 8' was Jamie's reply.
Several weeks later the factory manager called again, and found Jamie still studying his Bible, still at Romans 8.
The manager said, 'Why Jamie, you were digging into that Chapter some weeks ago when I last visited you.'
The miner replied, 'Aye, sir, I'm sinking a shaft here.'
We need to be aware of the need to dig deep into our Bibles to discover the treasures that are there for us. For it is a living thing, speaking to us in the power of the Holy Spirit who inspired it to be written. God's Spirit who inspired the Scriptures is also the one who brings them alive to us. Enabling us to understand them, see their relevance, and apply them to our lives. Even though the Bible is such an old book it is still a bestseller. It is estimated that 1,250,000 are sold in this country every year.
2 Timothy 3:16, "All Scripture is God breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work."
Someone once said, 'He who has the Holy Spirit in his heart and the Scriptures in his hand has all he needs.'
The Bible is our manual for life. And it is more. Verse 6 says "And all mankind will see God's salvation."
The Bible declares how we anyone be saved. The good news is for everyone. We can be saved from the consequence of our sin that cuts us off from God. Saved through Jesus who came to receive the punishment due to us fro our sin as he hung on a cross.
Advent can be seen as a time of preparation. Not just practical preparations for Christmas but preparing ourselves spiritually to welcome the birth of Jesus as if it were the first time. To prepare ourselves to be ready for his next coming when he will come in power and glory to judge the living and the dead.
As we think of the ministry of John the Baptist in making the way straight for Jesus, let us consider what areas of our lives God is calling us to change. What sin he wants us to turn away from.
Let us also resolve to be devoted to reading, understanding, and applying God's word, the Bible in our lives. So that we may be thoroughly equipped to do every good work for God, to his praise and glory. Empowered by the Holy Spirit who inspired the Scriptures to be written, and lives in every Christian.