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There was no compromise about John the Baptist. John did black or white. He did not do gray.

For John you were either a Kingdom of Heaven person, or a kingdom of earth person.
You were either a god-person or a not-god person.
You either did God, fully completely and totally, or you did not do God.

He appears, and he preaches. And he says three things

1. The Kingdom of heaven, the rule of God, has come near.

For over 2000 years the people of Israel – or at least those of them who believed the promises of God – had waited for God’s rule to come to earth.

God had told them – through promises given to people like Abraham, through the prophets - that one day the Messiah (God’s special ruler) would be born, he would establish his reign of well-being, abundance, joy, justice and peace. And this reign would never end. Even death would be destroyed.

And now John appears and proclaims: ‘The Kingdom of Heaven has come near’.

John announces a new era, a new government. ‘God is not dead. The promises that we have believed for two thousand years are not empty promises. The rule of God is very close’

2. He calls on people to repent.

John the Baptist was God’s alarm clock. The people – and remember these were the Jewish people - they did God, or at least they said they did God.

But they had fallen asleep. They rather assumed that because they were descendants of Abraham they were OK. And suddenly the alarm goes off. John calls them to wake up.

The repentance that John is speaking of is not just about saying sorry for the things that we do or think that we know are wrong.
The repentance he is talking about is not just about brushing up our act.

That is the way we often think of the second coming. We say Jesus is coming, it might be tomorrow, so brush up, improve yourself

One of our children was told that he had a music exam sometime in November. I have to say that not much practicing got down. However, when he was told, ‘Your exam is in 2 weeks time’. Things changed. The serious practicing began.

Author Doug Mendenhall shares a brief parable (slightly adapted):
“Jesus called the other day to say he was passing through and [wondered if] he could spend a day or two with us.
I said, "Of course. Love to see you. When will you arrive?"
I mean, it's Jesus, you know, and it's not every day you get the chance to visit with him. It's not like it's your in-laws and you have to stop and decide whether the advantages outweigh your having to move to the sleeper sofa.
That's when Jesus told me he had actually just stopped off to fill up at Tesco’s
I must have got that rabbit-in-headlights look, because my wife hissed, "What is it? What's wrong? Who is that?"
So I covered the receiver and told her Jesus was going to arrive in eight minutes, and she ran out of the room and started giving guidance to the children—in that effective way that drill instructors give guidance to recruits. …
My mind was already racing with what needed to be done in the next eight—no seven—minutes so Jesus wouldn't think we were reprobate loser slobs.
I turned off the TV in the lounge, which was blaring some weird scary movie I'd been half watching. Plus, I turned off the computer, because I didn't want to have to explain why we were letting the children play Call of Duty to Jesus, either, six minutes from now.
My wife had already thinned out the magazines that had been accumulating on the coffee table. She put The Church Times on top for a good first impression. Five minutes to go.
I looked out the front window, but the garden actually looked great thanks to my long, hard work, so I let it go. What could I improve in four minutes anyway?
I did notice the post had come, so I ran out to grab it. There was a lovefilm envelope, and a bunch of catalogues tied into recent purchases, so I stuffed it back in the box. Jesus doesn't need to get the wrong idea—three minutes from now—about how much on-line shopping we do.
I ran back in and picked up a bundle of shoes left by the door. Tried to stuff them in the front closet, but it was overflowing with heavy coats and work coats and pretty coats and raincoats and extra coats. Why had we bought so many coats? I squeezed the shoes in with two minutes to go.
I plumped up sofa pillows, my wife tossed dishes into the sink, I scolded the kids, and she shooed the dog. With one minute left I realized something important: Getting ready for a visit from Jesus is not an eight-minute job.
Then the doorbell rang.”

But actually, I am not sure that is what John is getting at.

When he calls people to repent, he is not calling us to a ‘must do better’ attitude.
Instead real repentance is about a complete ‘change of mind’:

John is calling us to be desperately honest with ourselves.

To the religious people, the Pharisees, he is saying: ‘You’ve been playing as God people, but the evidence of your lives is that you are not God-people. Change. Seek God. Seek his strength; seek his guidance; seek his glory’.

And to non-religious people, he is saying: ‘Stop living for all the things that you have been living for: the children, the job, for love, for what other people think of you, for money, for possessions. Stop living for self. Change the direction of your life. From today’, says John, ‘Seek to live for God and for his kingdom’.

We are spiritually paralysed by the idea that if we live a ‘good’ life we should be OK, and all we have to do to be right with God is to live ‘better’ lives.

But God does not want goodness (at least, he does not want our kind of goodness), but God-ness.

I’m sure that 99% of us live relatively ‘good’ lives. But we allow our society to define what ‘goodness’ is and not God. And we live ‘good’ lives for the wrong reasons: we’ve been taught that it is the way to gain security, to get on, to satisfy our desires and to gain approval from the people we think matter.
We may live ‘good’ lives, but we are blind to God.

And the people who do not live ‘good’ lives – the people who we think society should punish, and who God should punish even more, (the benefit frauds, the child abusers, the drug pushers): many of them are driven by the same motives as us. The reason they live ‘bad’ lives is because they think that by living ‘bad’ lives, they can gain security, get on, satisfy their desires, and gain approval from the people who they think matter. And they live ‘bad’ lives blind to God.

God wants us to first live God-lives, because then we will live good lives: but they will be good lives by God’s standards and not ours. And they will be good lives for God’s sake and not ours.

3. John points people to Jesus.

He points them to the one who is coming as God’s ruler of God’s kingdom. And that person is Jesus.

It is Jesus who is the one who offers to baptise us with the Holy Spirit: who will not simply pour water on us on the outside, but will change our hearts on the inside.

God people are not just people who have chosen to live for God, for the Kingdom of heaven.
They are not just people who put their trust in the invisible God, believing the promises that God has given us.

God people are people who have been baptised with the Holy Spirit.

There is something of God in them, around them, about them. It is tangible.
They know God; they can talk with God; they have an intimacy with him.  
They’re not strong, or clever, but they believe the promise of God that his Spirit will help them to begin to change and live as God people.
Things don’t necessarily go well for them. Indeed sometimes in seems that things go worse for them. But they have a sense of peace and of joy and of intimacy with God in the suffering.
They’re not perfect, but they know that because of Jesus they are forgiven. And because of that they can say sorry.
They are not necessarily the most successful people in life, but they bear good fruit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control;
They’re not immortal, but they have an amazing hope because they believe the promise of God that those who put their trust in Jesus will physically die, but will not really die.

And God people long for the Kingdom of God. They long to meet with Jesus.

If a God-person was told that Jesus was at Tesco’s garage, they wouldn’t spend their time trying to sort things out. They would put out the welcome banner. They’d be at the doorstep waiting for him to arrive. They know that they are not perfect; and they know Jesus knows they are not perfect. But they know that he loves them, and they love him. And they long to be with him. 

A story is told about the former Archbishop of Westminster, Cardinal Basil Hume (I do not know if this is true). When he told a friend, the then Abbot of Ampleforth, that he only had a few weeks left to live, the Abbot is reported to have said, ‘Oh Basil. I am delighted for you’.

John told people that the Kingdom of Heaven was close at hand. We know that that was true, is true and will be true.
It was true, because Jesus came. He was born as a baby. He lived, he preached the Kingdom; he lived the Kingdom.
It is true, because Jesus is here, and his reign can begin in our hearts and minds.
It will be true because one day, at the end of history as we know it, Jesus will return and then his reign will be visible.

And so the call of John to repent, to turn to God, to turn to his Son Jesus Christ, and to allow Jesus to baptise us with his Holy Spirit, is as relevant now as it was then.

The Kingdom of Heaven is very close at hand. You’re either on his side; or you are not. 


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