Notes from last Sundays talk for those interested… as aways, these are just my notes so, sorry for errors/typos etc…
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
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,
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:
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
Remember the 3 stages:
we get right with God
We receive from him and then
we get to bear fruit for him.
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
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
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
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
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?
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
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
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
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
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
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
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:
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.
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
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
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
a life that points to Jesus
Spend time with God – get right
Receive from god
Go out and bear fruit for 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?