Summary: John the Baptist's message to the religious is that God requires integrity - a real change of heart and not simply intellectual assent

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Sermon: The Message of John the Baptist 08-12-2013

Yesterday morning, I was listening to an interviewer on Radio 4 who asked Jimmy Carter, the former US President, what he thought about the idea that some people were likening Nelson Mandela to Jesus.

Did Jimmy Carter agree with them?

Jimmy Carter replied: “No, because as a Christian I believe that Jesus is the divine Son of God and Mandela was merely a man”.

But that got me thinking.

Who do I think Mandela was more like in the Scriptures?

And it struck me that Mandela - in his character – had some great similarities to John the Baptist, because he – like John was a man of integrity.

And it was only because Mandela and John the Baptist had integrity that their message could be heard.

Both John the Baptist and Nelson Mandela stood for what they believed in – and both landed in prison for it.

Mandela was offered a deal to come out of Robben Island earlier than he did – if he would compromise his principles.

John the Baptist could have kept his head if he had stopped telling Herod that he was an adulterer. He could have compromised to live.

This morning I would like to look at just one verse from our Gospel reading. The verse in which John the Baptist says:

8 Produce fruit in keeping with repentance.

What is really interesting is that John is speaking to the religious people in Israel – not the irreligious people.

He is telling them that THEY (the good guys if you would like) have to change.

It seems crazy doesn’t it until you look into the background.

For so long, the Pharisees and Sadducees had managed to live a double standard.

They taught piety on the one hand yet on the other manipulated the Word of God to enable them to live differently another.

Jesus ran into conflict with the religious people over the concept of Corban in Mt 15 and summed up the religious people’s attitude to God’s word:

These people make a big show of saying the right thing, but their heart isn’t in it.

They act like they’re worshiping me, but they don’t mean it. They just use me as a cover for teaching whatever suits their fancy.”

(Mt:15:8-9 The Message)

So when John came proclaiming a message of repentance, he was telling them that he didn’t simply require them to give intellectual assent to the religious proposition that they needed to repent.

He said: You have to change:

8 Produce fruit in keeping with repentance

Earlier this year, I reading a book by Bill Hybels called “Courageous Leadership”.

It stood me in good stead because when I went out to Kenya in May this year (2013), the Vicar of St Matthew’s Kanamai, Geoffrey Dida asked me to speak on “Leadership” at the Conference he had organised for his church leaders the following day.

The book was a very useful basis for the discussion.

Bill Hybels runs the very successful Willow Creek Community Church which was founded on 12th October 1975.

Since then, the Willow Creek Association was formed in the 1990’s, which has been used by God to reach hundreds and thousands for Christ.

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