Summary: A fresh call to repentance for the forgiveness of sins.

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They were waiting for their long-expected Messiah.

In April 2011 Prince Charles became the longest serving heir apparent in British history, having waited 59 years, 2 months and 14 days. Charles overtook the record set by his great-great grandfather king Edward VII; and that’s quite a record when you think the monarchy stretches back over 1,100 years.

On February 17th 2011 Belgium set a record. They had gone for 249 days without a government.

Guinness World records no longer accept claims for long periods of sleep or sleeplessness. However, it appears that the record for the longest period without sleep is 18 days, 21 hours, 40 minutes during a rocking chair marathon. The record holder reported hallucinations, paranoia, blurred vision, slurred speech and memory and concentration lapses.

Waiting for an hour going nowhere on the M25 for an hour can seem like a very long time, especially when you need the toilet! I wonder what you’re waiting for.

The arrival of John the Baptist on the scene around 30 A.D. (give or take a year or two) meant that many long years and years of waiting were finally over. 400 years had elapsed since a recognised prophet had last spoken – and that was Malachi.

1,500 years had elapsed since the Jews had been rescued from Egypt. Expectations were high that the Messiah, the Christ, the Saviour would come; so centuries of waiting were now over.

It was 30 years since Jesus’ birth. Were the wise men or shepherds thinking, “When will the action begin?”

Imagine the writer, Mark, sitting down to write his account of the life of Jesus. Imagine his excitement as he recalls the start of this most important period of history: ‘The beginning of the gospel about Jesus Christ, the Son of God’ (1:1); and when Mark writes ‘gospel’ he’s using a word that was used for good news – good news with implications for world history!

This was world shaking news about the long-awaited Messiah – Jesus the Messiah, Jesus the Christ.

Prophecy was being fulfilled. The wait was over.

But here we are, nearly at the end of 2011, nearly 2000 years since the resurrection of Jesus, nearly 2000 years since his earthly ministry, nearly 2000 years since Jesus promised to return some day, and the church continues to wait. Our wait continues.

When God’s people were enslaved in Egypt 3500 years ago they waited, and they waited, and the Lord heard their cry. 2000 years ago when nothing had been heard from a prophet for 400 years God once again broke into human history by sending John the Baptist to announce the ministry of Jesus.

Today, as we wait for the long expected return of the Lord Jesus, let’s take courage and encouragement from the message that John preached; because it speaks with total relevance to our situation.

‘It is written, “I will send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way – a voice of one calling in the desert, prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him”’ (Mark 1: 2-3).

Of course we are at a big advantage because we live in a time when Jesus has already come. We have in our possession the facts of the life and ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus, and we live on this side of the victory won by Christ on the cross.

But we are waiting for that time when Christ will return to erase once and for all sickness, pain, bereavement and death, and sin: e.g. gossip, slander, lies, adultery.

John the Baptist came as a ‘messenger’ but that word can equally be translated to say that John came as a ‘herald’; and a herald was one who announced the coming of a King.

Imagine for a minute that John the Baptist, or more accurately John the Baptiser, is our guest preacher today. I’ve not put him on the preaching rota because that could go one of two ways – but John stands up to preach to us, to this part of Christ’s Church in Billericay. What would he say? What would his message be? He came ‘preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins’ (1:4).

Perhaps repentance stirs up images of a man outside a train station or on a street corner wearing a sandwich board saying, “Repent!” Forget that image.

He wasn’t preaching doom and gloom. He was preaching Gospel Good News; repentance for the forgiveness of sins! John was calling people to turn away from, and leave behind everything that was sinful in their lives; and to turn back to God.

That is what John the Baptiser would say to us today.

Leave it behind. Turn away from it. Return to God.

Whatever it is; however big it might be; however hard your pride is saying, “No”; however far away from God you are right now; however embarrassed you are about the real state of your heart, or the depth of the sin you’ve got involved in - leave it behind. Turn away from it. Return to God. His arms are open and waiting!

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