Saturday 16 December 2017

Sunday next is the 3rd Sunday of Advent, and the theme is on John the Baptist. We do in fact honour John on the 24thJune, and on that day in Spain, which is still largely a Catholic country, they do so in style with ceremonial processions through the streets. John was a very special character in the Bible, being described by Jesus as ‘a prophet greater than any born of woman.’

A period of 400 years elapsed between the Old and New Testaments and John acted as a bridge between the prophecies of the Old Testament and the coming of the Messiah. God chose John to prepare the people for the coming of Jesus. John attracted huge crowds to see and hear him; they came from all directions, North and South, East and West. They came from all levels of society

John was bold and fearless preacher giving a message of confession and repentance, and did so in the most direct way accusing them of being a brood of vipers, and told them there was a wrath to come. He was not one to seek popularity and attacked hypocrisy. Most preachers would rejoice in being able to emulate his appeal, although they would hesitate to use the language he used in today’s atmosphere, where the least criticism raises accusations of phobia or bigotry.

The Church now needs Ministers like that who will give sound doctrinal teaching, not flinching from doing so and will not fear of what people might say. Jesus said, ‘woe unto you when men speak well of you’.

John spoke of God’s judgement and hell, which is now considered to be offensive. I attended a meeting where there was stated to be a famous mural, which was supposed to show sinners being chased into hell. I commented to several other Ministers that I could not understand it as it was faded somewhat. One answered that it was outdated as ‘we don’t preach about hell now’. When I said well I do, I received looks of horror as if I had landed from a strange plant. But we should acknowledge that when Jesus spoke about heaven, He invariably spoke of the alternative, hell. People would rather have smooth comforting words I accept, but a Minister’s duty is to say what should be heard instead of what people want to hear. People will never take notice until they are afraid of the consequences, and if we are silent we are betraying our calling.

Because of his successful appeal to people a delegation of priests was sent out to find out if he was acting in an orthodox manner. The Jews believed, and were proud of the fact, that they were God’s chosen people and He would one day send a Messiah who would be a great national leader who would lead them to world conquest. It was also believed that prior to the Messiah coming Elijah the great Old Testament prophet would come back to herald the Messiah’s coming.

The priests wanted to see who John actually was. When John spoke of baptism it was not the meaningless kind that is sometimes practised in churches today. Baptism was a symbol of admittance into the Christian faith, taken by someone who had come to need a personal Saviour in the person of Jesus Christ, who they would take into their hearts and lives and live according to His teaching.

John wasn’t concerned with numbers or adding to some Church roll, he wanted genuine commitments. The Bible is clear in all four gospels that the Christian life involved repentance and the following of a new way of life. If we analyse our lives we will find there are things we have said and done and sincerely wish we hadn’t, but there is nothing we can now do except pray that God will forgive us, and that others will accept our flaws.

The place where John ministered was way out in the wilderness a bleak and desolate place, living off the land, getting his clothing from wild camel and food from whatever grew there. There is a wilderness in many people’s hearts.

John calls us to a new life in Jesus Christ and it was with such a desire that people sought out John. Jesus can come to us in very different ways. It may be through a poster we noticed, which is why we need well thought out poster displays which will catch people’s eyes and strike them, and they ought to be relevant. Thousands have been led to Christ through reading posters placed on the London tube system by the London Christian Mission. Other people have been influenced by the words of a preacher, but the most telling witness is that of other Christians drawing in others by their way of life.

It is possible to become so engaged in religious activity dressing ourselves with religion without changing our hearts. Church attendance is essential and proper, but words without practice are of no merit. We Christians need to be more aggressive about our faith and be prepared to act and rebel as other faiths do when bloated bureaucrats try to stifle expression. We have to display in our manner of living we are Christians, and that extends throughout the whole week and not just on Sunday. Confession has to mean repentance and an honest intention not to go on committing. It is sheer hypocrisy to say sorry and then continue doing what we know is improper.

We are now approaching Christmas and the secularisation of it is almost complete, which is why all who hold the Christian faith dear must be prepared to support Christian worship. Advent is a time when we come out of the wilderness and be inspired by the ministry of John the Baptist.

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