Sermon by Martin James 12.12.2021

Sermon by Martin James

Sunday 12.12.2021

Luke 3:7-18

Part of my early Christian upbringing was in the Baptist church of one of my grandmothers. So I often used to hear fire and brimstone sermons!

After last week’s passage with John the Baptist introducing himself as the Lord’s forerunner and calling for the people to prepare, he now launches into quite a diatribe. He’s having quite a go at the crowds who have gathered to hear him. v7 - John said to the crowds that came out to be baptized by him, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?

In the previous verses, as we heard last week, John was preaching about his baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. Calling people to recognise their wrong ways and how God longed for them to repent. But now, all of a sudden it seems, he launches into the crowd with very strong words. He calls them a brood of vipers.

John had lived in the desert. It was an area that was covered with brushwood. In the climate it was very dry. It was so flammable that areas easily caught fire. And then out of nooks and crannies would come vipers scurrying to escape the blaze.

That’s who John was likening the crowds to. And it came with that warning - Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? He said that because of the Jew’s belief that as God’s chosen people they were exempt from judgement. v8 - Bear fruits worthy of repentance. Do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our ancestor’; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to rise up children to Abraham. John told them in no uncertain terms that racial privilege meant nothing in God’s scheme of things.

Racial privilege of course today has its’ own overtones. Black lives matter for example. And calls to diversity. That to my mind puts a different perspective on Boris’s call for levelling up.

When God calls Peter to go to the house of the Roman centurion Cornelius he comes to realise that God accepts people of all races. Acts 10:34&35 - 34 Then Peter began to speak to them: “I truly understand that God shows no partiality, 35 but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him. And St Paul teaches in his letters, in fact he does it twice, in Romans 2:11 and Ephesians 6:9 where he writes For God shows no partiality.

Now John gets into what we might today call the social Gospel. In reply to questions from the crowds, the tax collectors and soldiers “What should we do?” (v10) he replies -v11- “Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise.” To tax collectors -v13- he said “Collect no more than the amount prescribed for you.” To soldiers he said -v14- “Do not extort money from anyone by threats or false accusation, and be satisfied with your wages.”

There are many calls and opportunities in today’s society to share with those in need. For example things like food banks. Or support for the homeless. What of those poor refugees from Afghanistan settling in our country?

Back to John the Baptist’s call to the people of his day. By this time the people are beginning to question who he is. Is he the Messiah they ask? And he has an immediate reply - v16 - I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.

The baptisms conducted by John involved washing with water, that washing which we are familiar with ourselves in Christian baptism. In Christian baptism of course we have the sign of the cross. A very powerful symbol.

But for the Jews of John's day it was also a powerful image because of their concern over such things as ritual cleansing. Therefore they would recognise baptism as something to represent being made clean. But the baptism which the Messiah would offer would go further. It would be more than the washing with water that could be seen and felt. Jesus would also give to those who would repent and follow him a personal experience of the Holy Spirit. And with it new life.

And remember the Old Testament prophets. Just as they had pointed towards God's promise of a Messiah to come, so too did they point towards God's promise of the Holy Spirit. For example:- Ezekiel 36:26 - "I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you". And Ezekiel 37:14 - "I will put my Spirit in you and you will live". Also Joel 2:28  - "I will pour out my Spirit on all people". That last one came to pass on the day of Pentecost.

 

So God had it in mind all along.

 

And through it all see the promise in our first reading from the prophet Zephaniah. Actually that whole passage reads like a hymn of rejoicing. But listen to v17 - The Lord, your God, is in your midst, a warrior who gives victory. The New International Version translates that The Lord your God is with you, he is mighty to save. And v20 - At that time I will bring you home,
at the time when I gather you. That should resonate with us today. Our salvation. And coming home, in other words the second coming of Jesus.

 

They are promises available for us today. The promised Saviour whose birth we will be celebrating in a couple of weeks. The Lord who saves us as we respond to his call and accept his promise. The Lord who saves us as we repent of our sins and turn to him. He is the Lord who gives us new/eternal life because of what he has done for us on the cross. All because of his great love for us.

 

So John has had his say. If we read on in the chapter it becomes different for him. Herod throws him in prison because he challenged the king about his marital arrangements. But, he had done what God wanted of him. The herald to prepare the way. His call to people to repent. 

 

And after all his strong words to the crowds, after he has berated them, he ends with words of encouragement. v18 - So, with many other exhortations, he proclaimed the good news to the people. May we be encouraged in our walks with the Lord. As we go through Advent, as we come to Christmas. And as we look forward to the completion of God’s kingdom here and in the life to come.

 

 

 

Martin James St Mark’s 12.12.21