Summary: John the Baptist made a big impact on many people. This sermon encourages people to make a positive impact (for Jesus) upon people, and not simply to be going through the motions
Just occasionally we come across someone who makes a big impact upon us. Early in my life John Stainer made an impact upon me. At the time he had a big bushy beard – a bit like I imagine John the Baptist. John was my Sunday school teacher (John Stainer that is, not the Baptist), and he made an impact upon me because he faithfully taught me many stories from the Bible. I’ve no idea if he knows the impact he made upon me.
Next comes the Head master of my junior school, Mr. Lord, who had a wonderful head of silver hair. He was my head teacher 30 years ago and I had the great privilege of meeting him 3 years ago when I spoke at the Church where he is a faithful member. It was a Church of England Junior school and looking back I remember him as someone who quietly and yet purposefully helped me to learn about the Christian faith. To shake his hand again was heart-warming.
Third must be Rev. Phil Potter. He preached the message 22 years ago which specifically encouraged me to take the Christian faith seriously and to dedicate my like to the Lord Jesus Christ. Fourth is my friend Don Foxwell. Twenty years ago he said to me, “If the birth of Jesus, the life of Jesus, the teaching of Jesus, and the death and resurrection of Jesus are important historical events then just how important is it that we actually do something about it?”
One or two of you know that 2 years ago as I was preparing to leave Fair Oak in Hampshire I explored various possible avenues for a new job. Ultimately I was delighted to come here, and I am delighted to be here; but part of the searching process took me to 10 Downing Street and an appointment with the Lord Chancellor’s department because they are responsible for helping a number of Churches find a new Vicar. It was a strange feeling showing my passport at the checkpoint in Downing Street.
It was odd walking through the front door of number 10 and climbing the stair case with paintings of former prime ministers lining the walls; but I remember the secretary saying to me, “Look behind you now.” I did as she asked and for about two seconds at a distance of perhaps 5 metres I stared into the eyes of then Prime Minister Tony Blair; and the only reason I tell you that story is because I can honestly say that it is the likes of the famous people in my life such as John Stainer, Mr. Lord, Phil Potter and Don Foxwell who have made a lasting impact on my life. Tony Blair (God bless him) has not.
What will it take for the message of God to make a lasting impact in our community, and in the lives of the people we spend time with? Has the message of God made a truly lasting impact upon your life?
‘In those days John the Baptist came preaching: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near”’ (3:1).
In the Bible between the last book of the Old Testament (Malachi) and the first book of the New Testament (Matthew) there are 500 years of silence; but things which had been prophesied hundreds of years earlier were now coming true in the person of John the Baptist. The prophet Isaiah had spoken and written about John the Baptist: “A voice of one calling in the desert, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him’” (Mt 3:3 quoting Isa 40:3).
John was a second cousin of Jesus, born about 6 months before Jesus. He was something of a ‘wild man’. “[His] clothes were made of camel’s hair, and he had a leather belt round his waist. His food was locusts and wild honey” (3:4); and his message made a big impact on the lives of many people. His God-inspired message of repentance and the coming of God’s kingdom impacted many people. They went to listen to him and “confessing their sins they were baptised by him in the Jordan River” (3:6).
My prayer is that humbly and faithfully by your lives, by your deeds, by your faith, by your love for the message of God, by your love for God and by your love for your others - each of you will make an impact for God upon other people.
John was preparing the way, preparing a path for the arrival of Jesus. By our lives, by our preaching of the gospel in word and deed, my prayer is that we may help to prepare the way for the arrival of Jesus in the lives of others.
However, John had sharp words to say to a group of religious people who were “coming to where he was baptising” (3:7). The Pharisees and Sadducees were red-hot when it came to their knowledge of the Bible. They were ultra conservative in their beliefs. They were hard-liners when it came to questions of how to put their faith into practice but deep down many were religious people going through the motions.