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Mark 1:1-8 and John 1:6-8, 19-28                                      17th December, 2017

by Pastor Michael Dutschke

John the Baptist would have made quite a sight, wouldn’t he?  His clothes were made of camel hair and he had a leather belt around his waist.  Maybe he also had the remains of his lunch of locusts and wild honey in his beard!

His appearance wasn’t attractive, and neither was his message.  REPENT.  Mark said he preached a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.  He was an unattractive man with an unattractive message, but he certainly drew a crowd.

The whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem went out to him. Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River. Mark 1:5

EVERYONE came to see him!

So, all of a sudden, had hundreds and thousands of people each had their own personal conviction of their sin, and now in desperation were seeking forgiveness to clear their consciences - Including religious leaders who prided themselves on obedience to the law?. 

It sounds like they were desperate.  Were they?  Yes.  They were desperate to be set free.  Not, however, from person guilt or the consequences of personal sin – or fear of consequences of their personal sins.

No.  They were desperate for the nation of Israel to be set free.  Israel had been under enemy occupation for 700 years.  And for a Jew, enemy occupation of their land and national sin were the same.  If they were under enemy occupation, they believed it was connected to their sins as a nation. 

They knew their history.  God had given them this land.  They had a covenant with God.  God had basically said, “Honour and Obey me, and you will prosper – economically and politically.  Turn away from me, and you won’t.”

In their history, when they sinned as nation, God allowed one of their enemies to defeat them and occupy their land.  As a result of that wake up call, they repented of their sins and cried out for mercy.  Then God raised up a leader from within them  to rescue them from enemies (Like Gideon).  They were a free nation again.  It was a well known and repeated pattern.  But it had been a long time between drinks.  They had had over 700 years of enemy occupation.

Assyrians – Babylonians – Persians – Greeks – Romans.

And it had been 400 years since the last prophet, Malachi, prophecied their deliverance.  So for 700 years they had been waiting to be delivered.  The prophecies (or promises) of deliverance would have been passed down from generation to generation.  Maybe the words of Isaiah were in minds of the people when they heard about John the Baptist.

Wash and make yourselves clean. Take your evil deeds out of my sight; stop doing wrong. Learn to do right; seek justice... Therefore the Lord, the Lord Almighty, the Mighty One of Israel, declares: “Ah! I will vent my wrath on my foes and avenge myself on my enemies....Zion will be delivered with justice, her penitent ones with righteousness.

Isaiah 1:16, 24, 27

After waiting 700 years for God for deliverance, and after 400 years of silence from God - when God’s prophet says confess your sins and repent through a symbolic act of baptism – being washed clean – no wonder there was a big line up.  And the question on everyone’s lips as they waited in line was, “Is John the one who has come with power to deliver us?”

This was John’s testimony when the Jewish leaders sent priests and Temple assistants from Jerusalem to ask John, “Who are you?”  He came right out and said, “I am not the Messiah.”...John replied in the words of the prophet Isaiah: “I am a voice shouting in the wilderness, ‘Clear the way for the Lord’s coming!’”   John 1:19-20, 23

So in preparation for they Lord’s coming, they did what John told them to do.  They confessed their sins, and were baptised in the Jordan river.

I suppose you could argue they were fulfilling their side of the covenant with God.  Their bad behaviour in the past as a nation had brought about bad consequences.  Therefore, their good behaviour now ought to bring about good consequences.  That’s how it works in life.  Doesn’t it?

There are consequences to bad behaviour.  If you want to avoid these bad consequences, then repent (which literally means a U turn) and modify your behaviour.  Is that how it works in life?

Because of my behaviour on the roads (4 speeding tickets in less than 3 years), I was facing very bad consequences.  I have changed my behaviour with how I drive on the roads.

Why?  Fear of consequences.

How does it work in the school classroom?  What happens when a student displays bad behaviour?  The experience bad consequences.  How do they avoid bad consequences?  Behave correctly.

How does it work in the correctional services system?  What are they trying to correct?  They are trying to correct bad behaviour.

So, as long as we do the right thing, everything in life will go well.  And God will be happy with us, and his favour will rest on us. Is that how it works?   

Repentance only goes so far.  It usually follows an experience of bad consequences from sin - Internal or External.  Bad consequences can actually be the catalyst for us to repent, whis is a good thing.  When we suffer the consequences of our bad behaviour, and we get to the point of repenting (deciding to do a U turn with our behaviour) that is a good thing.  What is worst thing for someone who is behaving very badly?  No consequences. 

Is it a good thing that high profile celebrity men are being forced to deal with the consequences of their bad behaviour - sexual harassment and abuse of women?  Is it good when perpetrators of domestic violence are confronted with their sin?  Yes.  Because they that presents them with an opportunity to repent.  Rehabiltiation centres are full of repentant individuals.  They go there in order to turn their life around. 

So John the Baptist was sent to prepare the way.  To prepare the way for us to change our behaviour?  Is that what God wants?  He wants more than that.  He wants to change our hearts.  Having hearts that are turned towards God, not just good behaviour, is what God has always wanted.  As he says in Isaiah 29 

And so the Lord says, “These people say they are mine. They honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. And their worship of me is nothing but man-made rules learned by rote. Isaiah 29:13 (NLT)

And God had the solution.  600 years before John the Baptist came on the scene, God told us His solution. The Old Covenanat would be replaced with a new covenant.

And I will give you a new heart, and I will put a new spirit in you. I will take out your stony, stubborn heart and give you a tender, responsive heart.And I will put my Spirit in you so that you will follow my decrees and be careful to obey my regulations.  Ezekiel 36:26-27

Which is what Jesus did.  He changed heart.  He immersed people in love and that transformed their hearts.  He healed hearts.  Like he did with Zacchaeus.  Zachhaeus was a tax collector, and was certainly behaving badly.  Jesus didn’t say to him, “Change your behaviour”.  No.  He showed him unconditional love, by eating at his house.  That transformed Zachaeus’ heart.  As a result, he changed his behaviour.

Meanwhile, Zacchaeus stood before the Lord and said, “I will give half my wealth to the poor, Lord, and if I have cheated people on their taxes, I will give them back four times as much!” Jesus responded, “Salvation has come to this home today, for this man has shown himself to be a true son of Abraham. ”  Luke 19:8-10

On another occasion Jesus protected a woman who was caught in adultery, from being condemned and stoned to death.  She experienced the unconditional love of Jesus.

Then Jesus stood up again and said to the woman, “Where are your accusers? Didn’t even one of them condemn you?” “No, Lord,” she said. And Jesus said, “Neither do I. Go and sin no more.”  John 8:10-11

This was not a call to change behaviour in order to receive love.  It was a call to change behaviour out of a transformed heart.

4 words that get used a lot in a church service.

Confession (admitting our sin)

Repentance (choosing to do a U turn with our behaviour)

Forgiveness (not holding someones sin against them)

Acceptance (showing unconditional love)

Put them in order.  What happens First?  Second?  Third? Fourth?

God doesn’t wait for our confession and repentance before he will give us his forgiveness and acceptance.  Zachaeus was persued by Jesus with Acceptance and Forgiveness.  His response what confession and repentance.

Finish with prayer of David.  A man after God’s own heart.  Why was he given that title?  It could be because he knew he was loved by God.  Even when he sinned, he knew he was loved. 

Psalm 51 is a prayer that David wrote when after he confessed his sin of adultery and murder.

Have mercy on me, O God, because of your unfailing love. Because of your great compassion, blot out the stain of my sins.  Psalm 51:1

For I recognize my rebellion; it haunts me day and night. Against you, and you alone, have I sinned; I have done what is evil in your sight. Psalm 51:3-4a

Create in me a clean heart, O God. Renew a loyal spirit within me. Do not banish me from your presence, and don’t take your Holy Spirit from me.  Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and make me willing to obey you.  Psalm 51:10-12

AMEN

Pastor's Message