John’s Continuous Message
RUMC January 14, 2018
Pastor Paul R. O’Neil
There is a fable about a young woman who was expelled from heaven. Before she left, she was told she would be readmitted to heaven only if she brought back the one gift that God valued the most. So she began her search.
- She brought back drops of blood from a dying martyr of the faith.
- She collected coins that were given by a widow who always helped the poor.
- She brought back a Bible used by a famous preacher
- She even found dust from the shoes of a dedicated missionary.
She returned to heaven again and again with other things, but was repeatedly turned back. Then she saw a small boy playing by a water fountain, when all of a sudden she saw a man ride up on a horse, dismount and take a drink. When the man saw the boy at play, he thought of his own childhood innocence. As he looked into the water of the fountain, he saw a reflection of his hardened face. Overcome by the sin in his life, he wept tears of repentance. The young woman who witnessed this event, took one of those tears back to heaven. And that was the gift God accepted. She was readmitted into heaven with great joy.
Repentance, forgiveness of sins, and a changed life all go hand in hand. That was the message of John the Baptist, and as we look at some of the words of this mighty prophet, may we be touched by them as well.
My text is Mark 1: 1-8.
The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. 2As it is written in the prophet Isaiah, “See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way; 3the voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight,’”4John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 5And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. 6Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. 7He proclaimed, “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. 8I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”
Every year in the second week of the new year, we are reintroduced to John the Baptist. From what we know of him, it seemed John did not fit in. Everything about him was odd. In contrast to the flowing robes religious leaders wore, he wore clothes made of camel’s hair. He ate a strange diet of grasshoppers and wild honey. His area of ministry was not in the temple or in the synagogue, but the desert. I suppose if he were alive today, John the Baptist would have done well on the “Survivor” television series, but he would have been the first to be voted off.
John wasn’t the one to use warm and fuzzy words such as caring, sharing and holiday cheer. He used hard words such as repentance, judgment and right living. To most observers, he wasn’t a salesman or a politician, but a breath of fresh air; his message penetrated people’s hearts. As Christian believers, his words should resonate with us if we truly turn our hearts to the Lord.
When the Prophet Isaiah spoke of a person who would prepare the way of the Lord, he was telling the world that John and his ministry was to point us to Jesus.
Now I know I am dating myself, but do you remember the Tonight Show that featured Johnny Carson? Mr. Carson ‘s moderator, Ed McMahon, opened each show every night with the following: “From Hollywood, the Tonight show starring Johnny Carson. This is Ed McMahon along with the NBC orchestra inviting you to join Johnny and his guests. And now here’s ….Johnny.” Remember that?
Ed McMahon’s role was to introduce Johnny. That was what John the Baptist had done. John was not the main event, but he was the one who pointed others to Jesus.
Now John went a step further. He called people everywhere to get their hearts right, and we do that with a term called repentance. The Greek word for repentance is metanoia. Meta =change. Noia=mind=changed mind. The image that I have of what we need to do in the spiritual realm is the U Turn traffic symbol.
I suppose the message of John could resonate with the story of a girl who had a conversion experience in a church. All the kids in the school were talking about it, and someone asked her, “What are you now?” She answered, “A sinner.” They asked, “What’s the difference?” She answered, “Before I was a sinner running after sin, but now I’m a sinner running from sin.”
I think that was a pretty good image. When we encounter the Lord, then we run in the correct direction.
Along these lines, there was one particular woman who had been sick and hospitalized. Tests revealed she had a damaged liver, and her condition was serious. This woman was angry at God and determined to get to the hospital chapel to tell him off. Strong enough to get out of bed, she took the elevator to the first floor where she slowly made her way to the chapel. As she walked, she determined that she was going to tell the Lord that he was a fraud who passed himself off as loving and kind, and that anytime that anyone began to get happy, he would pull out the rug. As this woman stepped over the chapel threshold, she tripped and fell. As she looked up from the floor, the only thing she could see was the wooden altar with these carved words, “Lord be merciful to me, a sinner.” When she saw that, she knew the Lord was speaking. She lowered her head onto the carpet and repeated over and over, “Lord be merciful to me a sinner.” Right then and there on the carpet floor of the hospital chapel she surrendered to God. As weak as she was, she managed to get back on to her feet and made it back to her hospital room. The next day, she had more tests. At the end of the day, the doctor informed her that her liver appeared to be normal but he didn’t know how. The woman thought in her heart, “I know, oh but I know. God has brought me to the brink of disaster, just to get me to turn my life over to him.”
Repentance is more than just a theological version of a New Year’s resolution of the do’s and the don’ts. Repentance causes us to look inward, to invite Christ in our hearts.
- 1 John 1:9 “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”
- 2 Cor 5:17 “If anyone be in Christ, they are a new creation, old things have passed away. Behold all things are news.”
- Here is a quote that I like. “True repentance is about transformation, not torture or torment.”
For me, I was not attracted by the dos and don’ts of a moral Christian life. I wanted was a personal relationship with the Lord, and that is what happened to me.
John’s call is an invitation to change the direction. For those who have walked with Christ for many years, it may not be necessary to make a complete 180 degree turn. It could be just a small course correction, but we need to be willing to do that, perhaps admit our mistakes.
When you think of John the Baptist, consider the u turn traffic symbol. And when we turn our lives in a right direction, there will be transformation.