Sharing Our Faith Together

Worship for 12 December 2021, 3rd in Advent

by Jim Shaw 12 December 2021

Welcome to our worship on this 3rd Sunday in Advent. The worship here is reflective of the service being taking place in our church today.

Liturgy for the 3rd Sunday inAdvent:
Bible sentence:
“The word of God came to John, son of Zechariah, in the desert.  So John went throughout the whole territory of the river Jordan preaching.  ‘Turn away from your sins and be baptised, and God will forgive your sins’.”

Today, the third Sunday in Advent, we light three candles to remind us of John the Baptist.  He told people that Jesus was coming, and that meant that things would have to change!

We sing:
John the Baptist by his preaching
And by water poured,
Brought to those who heard his teaching
News of hope restored:
“Keep your vision strong and steady, 
And by ready
For the Lord”.

Today in our Gospel reading we will be focusing on John the Baptist’s message: Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven has come near; and be baptised, so God can forgive your sins and you will escape his coming judgment.  But one greater than me is coming: he will baptise you, not with water, but with the Holy Spirit and fire”.  This is in summary what he proclaimed.

The one greater than John has come: He is Jesus the promised Messiah.  He said, I am the light of the world.  Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.  Chris and the band were singing about Him before our service started.  Let’s join them in worshipping Jesus now.  Let this song come from your heart. 

Song: “Jesus, be the Centre”.

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“Lord Jesus, thank you that you have come. Thank you that you are the light of the world.  Thank you that you are coming back in person to rule as King over all the earth.
Help us now to worship you With all our heart and mind and strength;
For you alone are God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, For ever and ever:  Amen.”

The OT Prophets are full of wonderful descriptions of God’s people Israel restored to the Lord, reconciled to him, and singing his praises.  God’s people the Jews have not yet been fully restored to him through faith in Jesus, their Messiah.  But we who have received Jesus as God’s promised Messiah can know that restored relationship to the Lord.  Let’s worship him with a thankful heart as we read these short readings.

Zephaniah 3.14-20; Isaiah 12.2-6

Song: “The light of Christ has come into the world”

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We now have our Gospel reading, setting out the message that John the Baptist brought to the people of Israel. Luke 3.7-18

All four Gospels give an account of John the Baptist’s ministry, before they go into detail on Jesus’ ministry.  We look today at what Luke tells us about John in chapter 3.  Luke first of all narrows down the year: in our calendar it was 26 AD.  John was in the wilderness region of Judea, between Jerusalem and the Dead Sea.  The word of the Lord came to him, just like had happened to the Old Testament prophets of old.  We read in v 3 that “he went into all the country around the River Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins”.  This is where our Gospel reading for today starts.

What was baptism?  The person who came to be baptised immersed themselves in water - John used the river Jordan - and then came up out of the water.  The Greek word ‘baptizo’ is found outside the NT.  It often means, to drench, saturate, become waterlogged.  It is also used in the NT of religious Jews ceremonially washing themselves and their cups, pots and other vessels (see Mark 7.4).  But what did it signify for the people that came to John to be baptised?  There is no equivalent to baptism in the OT.  But we get a clue from Matthew’s account, 3.2.  He tells us that John’s message was: “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven has come near”.  We know that at this time there was a widespread hope and expectation in Israel that God’s promised Deliverer, his Messiah or anointed one, was about to come.  That God would bring about his promised salvation - deliverance, and restoration of his people to him their God.  Baptism by immersion was how Israelites could purify themselves.  It signified that they wanted to be included in God’s faithful end-time people, ready for the day of salvation.  But that day would also be a day of judgment.  Repentance was to save themselves from being condemned in that last judgment.

This, then, seems to be the background to John’s call to, “repent and get baptised!”  Now for our passage and v 7.  Crowds responded and came out to see John and to be baptised.   But not all were sincere.  John did not spare them.  This is how he spoke to them:
“You brood of vipers!  Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath?”  That’s the day of the final judgment.  “Produce fruit in keeping with repentance.  And do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father’.  For I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham.  The axe is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire” (Lk 3.7-9).

Repentance is heart change, a radical change of mind, the determination that you must change your life to live God’s way.  Unless that change of behaviour follows, it is not real repentance.  It is hypocrisy - pretend religion.  Only real repentance would save the people from the coming judgment.  Don’t rely on God’s promises of blessing to Abraham and his descendants, John told them.  God was looking for more than this.

John then gave examples of the radical changes of lifestyle that would show real repentance.  Share what you have with those have none.  Don’t use your position to cheat others, to line your own pockets.  Even if everyone else does it.  Be content with what you lawfully have.  We might say: let the Bible, God’s word, inform your conscience; then live according to your conscience.

But John did not limit his message to “repent; be baptised; because judgment is coming”.  He proclaimed that the promised Messiah was coming.  Verse 16:
“One who is more powerful than I will come, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie.  He will baptise you in OR  with the Holy Spirit and fire.  His winnowing fork is in his hand to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but he will burn the chaff with unquenchable fire”. (Luke 3.16)

Luke singles out two aspects of John’s proclamation on the coming Messiah.  The first was that he would baptise them, not in or with water, but in or with the Holy Spirit.  Now the OT prophets had said that God would pour out his Spirit on his people in the last days.  The one we know best is Joel 2.28, “And afterward, I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh”.  But John was much more specific.  He said that the coming Messiah would baptise people in the Holy Spirit, just as John was baptising them in or with water.

But the coming Messiah would also exercise judgment - a sifting of people, just as the farmer separates the valuable wheat from the chaff at harvest.  God would not only judge the nations.  He would judge and sift his own people Israel.  John makes it absolutely clear that it is the coming Messiah who will carry out that sifting.

SO, this was John’s ministry and his message, as Luke records it.  And his message started being fulfilled almost immediately.  Jesus joined those coming to John to be baptised.  Why did he want to be baptised?  He certainly did not need to repent and find forgiveness.  There may have been various reasons.  But I think he wanted to identify himself with the faithful end-time people of God that John was calling out.  So, the promised Messiah was now in Israel, among the people.  Over the next four years, Jesus made it abundantly clear to Israel that he was their long-awaited Messiah.  He showed himself to be “the one mightier than I”, in John’s words.  Because he had identified himself with the people, he was able to bear their sins and die in their place.

Then further aspects of John’s proclamation were fulfilled, in a remarkable way.  At the Pentecost festival, after his death, resurrection and ascension, Jesus from heaven poured out the Holy Spirit on his gathered disciples.  Tongues of fire came to rest on each of them; and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, Luke tells us in Acts 2.  Just as John had said, “he will baptise you with the Holy Spirit and with fire”.

But what about the judgment John had warned about?  In one sense, judgment comes on individuals in their lifetime, if they don’t believe in Jesus Christ.  This is what John’s Gospel says, 3.18 & 36: “Whoever does not believe stands condemned already, because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son”.  And in v 36, “whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on them”.  Then 40 years after the Jews and their leaders rejected and got Jesus crucified, God’s wrathful judgment descended on Israel as a whole.  The Romans destroyed Jerusalem and with it the temple, with massive loss of life and colossal hardship and suffering.  Yet the Christians escaped Jerusalem’s destruction.  They heeded Jesus’ warnings and fled to the hills.  So, John’s warning of imminent judgment was again fulfilled.  But we still await the final fulfilment of the judgment that John proclaimed.  That will come at the end of the age.  Jesus taught about it in his parable about the wheat and the tares (Matthew 13).

SO, John passed the test of a faithful Old Testament prophet: what he prophesied came true.  But what does his message mean for us nearly 2,000 years later?  Let me bring out three things.

First, God is still calling out and assembling his faithful, end-time people - a people who are purified - holy in God’s sight;  a people who are obedient to Christ, who are awaiting Christ’s return and the finale of this age.  Gentiles as well as Jews can now be part of that people.  But the way into that people is still by faith, repentance and baptism.  Listen to the Apostle Peter’s words in Acts 2.38, when Pentecost had just happened:
“Repent and be baptised, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins.  And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit”. (Acts 2.38)

That’s still the gospel message for everyone today. Believe who Jesus is; repent; be baptised; receive God’s forgiveness; and receive his gift of the Holy Spirit.  But what if you’ve already been baptised as an infant?  Then do this: make a declaration before others that you have decided to follow Christ and be one of his people.  And take seriously the call to repent.  Does your lifestyle and behaviour show that you live for Christ?  Is he your Lord on the inside?  Who is in the driving seat of your life?  Is it you, or Jesus Christ?

Second, take seriously the warning about coming judgment.  This is the truth, set out in Heb 9.27: “it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment”.  Will you survive that judgment?  Remember what I read earlier from John’s Gospel (3.36): “whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on them”. If Jesus the Son of God is not your Lord in reality, in the business of life, then you have rejected him.  And what awaits you is God’s wrath in its final, awful form.  That’s the Gospel message just as much as “for God so loved the world . .”.

And third and last, have you been baptised in the Holy Spirit?  Do you trust in Christ?  Do you believe what the Word says about him?  Is he your Lord?  Then the Holy Spirit lives in you.  But does the Spirit fill your life?  Remember, baptism means immersion - picture going under the water.  Have you been immersed in the Holy Spirit?  So he can saturate you, transform you, fill you.  Remember Jesus’ words (John 7.38), “Whoever believes in me . . rivers of living water will flow from within them”.   Is that your experience?  It’s what normal Christian living is supposed to be.  This is God’s power at work within you, transforming you and flowing out to others.  Has “God’s love been poured out into your heart through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us” (Rom 5.5)?  If you know this is not your experience, then I urge you: do something about it.  Follow the steps in Acts 2.38.  Don’t let up until Jesus and the Holy Spirit are real to you. Death can come at any moment.  Then it will be too late.  

Take time now to pray.  Near the start of our service today we sang, “Jesus, be the Centre, be my source, be my life, Jesus . .  Be the fire in my heart; be the wind in these sails; be the reasons that I live, Jesus”.  Did you play the song and join in?  Did it flow from your heart?  If it did not, then the Holy Spirit does not fill you.  Admit this to him.  Ask him to come and fill you.  Jesus assured us, “ . . how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him” (Luke 11.13).

Hymn: “Breathe on me, breath of God”.  If you have been doing business with God, make this hymn your prayer.

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The two Collects for the 3rd Sunday of Advent.  
The first one is a prayer for ourselves:
“God of mercy and power, whose Son rules over all,
Grant us so to live in obedience to your holy will,
That at his appearing we may be raised to eternal life;
Through Jesus Christ our Lord,
Who is alive and reigns with you,
In the unity of the Holy Spirit,
One God, now and for ever.  Amen”.

The second collect is also a prayer for all who minister to us: 
Jacky Quarmby, local preachers and other ministers, and also our Church stewards,
“God for whom we wait and watch,
You sent your servant John the Baptist
To prepare your people for the coming of the Messiah.
Inspire the ministers and stewards of your truth
To turn our disobedient hearts to you;
That, when Christ shall come again in glory to be our judge,
We may stand with confidence before him,
Who is alive and reigns with you,
In the unity of the Holy Spirit,
One God, world without end. Amen”

Dedication of the offering to the Lord.
“God of all goodness and grace,
Receive the gifts that we offer;
And grant that our whole life may give you glory and praise.
Through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.”

Prayers of thanksgiving.  
“O Lord our God, we give you thanks

  • For the testimony that John the Baptist gave to Jesus.  For all the people whose hearts he prepared to receive Jesus as the promised Messiah.  For his obedience to God’s call right through to his execution by Herod.  For him being the first Christian martyr who died for his faith.
  • Thank you, Father, that your Son Jesus willingly came to earth, to identify with us, and to die for our sins.  That because of his perfect life, sacrificial death for us and his resurrection, we can be reconciled to God and live at peace with him, through faith in him.
  • Thank you, Lord Jesus, for pouring out from heaven the Holy Spirit for all who believe in you to receive.
  • Thank you, Lord, for baptism in water - for your way for us to confess our faith in Christ, to be assured of forgiveness of sins and to receive the Holy Spirit.
  • Thank you, Holy Spirit, that you want to dwell within us, to assure us of your presence and God’s love, and to change our lives from within.
  • Thank you for our church fellowship here in Newmount - and for the other churches in Littleover and Blagreaves Churches Together.
  • Thank you for “Christmas Refuel”, our Saturday fun morning yesterday for families.

Prayers of intercession:

  • For our Government at this time, faced with the challenge of the new variant of the COVID virus; for the scientists here and around the world who are working feverishly to enable us to understand the threat of the Omicron variant, and how to combat it
  • For our health service and all who work in it, under enormous pressure from the illnesses that winter brings, from the backlog of those needing treatment, and now the new threat of the virus
  • For all those who are in need in our community.  For all those in our community that have never heard the gospel message about you, Lord Jesus - that struggle through this life without a life-giving relationship with you, and that face a terrifying eternity.  “Lord, your word says that you want all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. Help us, and all the Christians here in Derby, to demonstrate you to all those around us.  Show us how we can get the message of salvation, of new life in Christ, to our friends and to those around us. And this week, we particularly pray for all the families and households in Swarkestone Drive and Bretby Square
  • For those we know who are ill, those in residential care, and for the members of the families who have lost loved ones.
  • For our sister churches in Alvaston and Chellaston.  Father, you know their concerns and needs; we ask you to answer their prayers as they call on you.

“Father, we make all these requests to you through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Lord Jesus, you are there before the Father interceding for us.  And we know, Father, that you hear his prayers and you hear and will answer our prayers too.”  Amen.

“Let’s say the Lord’s Prayer together:

Final Hymn: “Jesus, the name high over all”.   Let’s proclaim our faith in him and all that he means to us.

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Let’s say this final prayer together as we close:
“May the love of the Father enfold us,
The wisdom of the Son enlighten us,
The fire of the Spirit enflame us;
And the blessing of God, the Three in One,
Be upon us and abide with us now and for ever.  Amen”