John's Good News
"So with many other exhortations, he proclaimed the good news to the people." Thus Luke ends the story of John the Baptizer's introduction of Jesus to the people of Israel. At first reading, it's pretty difficult to find the good news in John' e words. He called the people who came to hear him snakes in the grass who were only coming out to hear him in order to save their skins. What do you think the church council would say at our next meeting if that's what I said in the sermon today? I doubt they'd call it good news, or even good preaching.
So it takes another reading to find the good news that Luke saw, and hear it as good news for us also. When we do, we discover JOHN'S GOOD NEWS and it's:
--the good news of self-discipline --the good news of God's caring --the good news of future hope
1. John preaches the good news of self-discipline. His sermon is about repentance, and he criticizes people who requested the baptism of repentance over and over again like a meaningless ritual without true repentance in their lives. Repentance in the Bible means turning away from sin and back to God; it means changing behavior. The people Hear his words and realize their error, and ask: "what then should we do?"
And John tells them, "be disciplined". Have self-discipline. You tax collectors better quit extorting more than the rightful amount. You soldiers who accompany the tax collectors, quit extorting protection money. You affluent, give up one of your coats to someone who has none. In short, it is a message to the people of God to live lives that were self-disciplined in every way.
We hear a lot about self-discipline today. We know how we ought to eat and exercise and take care of ourselves. Many of us take those words seriously, and discipline ourselves in our daily living with exercise and right eating.
Yet how many of us express that same self-discipline in our faith lives? How many hands would go up if I asked "who read" the Bible every day?" How many of us pray every day, and pray for more than our own concerns? How many of us really work at our Bible Studies or Sunday School lessons or confirmation assignments... or do we just slide by? John calls for self-discipline in the lives of all believers.
The good news is, that we feel better and are healthier when we are self-disciplined. I've got one of those Nordic Trade in the basement, and when fall turns to winter, and it e dark and cold and icy outside, I give up my walks with the dog, and climb on the Nordic Trak. Let me tell you I HATE getting up in the morning and going to the basement and getting on that Nordic Trak. Yet the reality is, the good news is, I feel much better when I do, and my day goes better too.
Spiritually, too, we feel better when we discipline our lives, and our lives somehow go a little better when we live the way God asks, live in God's word and in God's way and God's love.
2) The second point is that John preaches the good news of God's caring. We wouldn't be hearing these words of John the Baptizer calling the people of Israel to repentance if we had a God who didn't care.
Those of you who are or have been parents know about caring; you know about calling your child to change direction. You know about calling that child in from playing near a busy street or too close to the farm machinery. If you didn't care, you wouldn't call. Likewise our God cares about us, and calls us to live within his way and his will, not for HIS benefit, but for ours.
One of the most misunderstood and misused gifts of God is the Ten Commandments. Nearly everyone associates the 10 commandments as God's great "NO!" They have a negative connotation and thus we have a negative attitude about them. Some even feel the commandments were given so that believers wouldn't have fun in life.
Yet it's the very opposite which is true. God gave the commandments for our benefit, for our good, that our lives might run more smoothly. Think for a minute how many human laws are based on the Ten Commandments, and think about how chaotic and desperate our living would be without those laws.
JOHN'S GOOD NEWS is that God cares about us, and speaks to us. When God calls the people of Israel in 700 BC or in 500 BC or in 2 BC to repentance, when God calls the people of Christ in 1994 AD to repent and to change their lives, it is because that God cares.
One of my children has the responsibility to take the check along to school to purchase lunch tickets. That child failed to do 80 three days running this week, even though it was propped up on the breakfast table in plain view.
So the gentle debate that followed between my wife and I was this: do we take the check over to school and get the tickets for the kids so they don't have the embarrassment or upset of too many charges, or do we let them experience the consequences of forgetting to do that job?
Upon reflection about that debate the good news is that both answers were loving, caring answers. Both answers were demonstrations of parental love. In one there was a gentle nurturing and watching out for the child, and in the other there was a teaching of responsibility as the child grows up.
That's a lot like what God does with us. Sometimes God nurtures us and hugs us and holds Us and helps us along; and even carries us through the difficult days. And sometimes God lets us walk more on our own and stumble if we must and experience the consequences of our choices and our behavior. In either case the good news is God cares, God loves, God is always there.
So John calls the people of Israel to repentance, to turn around, back to the God who cares about them and who loves them.
3) John preaches the good news of future hope: "...one who is more powerful than I is coming..." All John could offer was a ritual of cleansing through which the people could express their guilt and be told of God' forgiveness; but which would have to be repeated again and again and again as one realized one's continued sinfulness.
The one who was to come, to whom John pointed, would offer a baptism of the Holy Spirit, which would bring people into spiritual oneness with God and demonstrate the power of God once and for all to forgive sins.
John knew Jesus was the Messiah. He knew Jesus was the one sent by God to cleanse people of all sin. The gospel writer John remembers the Baptizer John saying of Jesus:
"Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!"
John knew that those future actions of Jesus would be for all people; and would give people a future and a hope. It's JOHN S GOOD NEWS.
During this Advent season, we celebrate not only the one who has come, but who has come and is coming again. In that Jesus is our hope and our future. We come like the people of old, seeking his forgiveness and his blessing, and even communion with him. Daily we experience the blessings of our faith, and as great as those blessings are, we know they are but a foretaste of the life that is to come.
So we give thanks for JOHN'S GOOD NEWS. It reminds us of all that God has promised and has given. It is Good News of self-discipline; of God's caring: and of our future and our hope. To him and in him and with be all glory for ever and ever. Amen.
May the Peace of God which passes all understand keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.
Daniel Behnke Marshfield, Wi