John in the Day of Preparation        

A Sermon preached at Torpoint  27/2/05

How did the Lord Almighty plan for the salvation of man?
What vital preparations did he make
      to save men from the condemnation of sin?
When our glorious God so carefully designed and crafted all this world,
      he knew that man would disobey him,
      he knew that his whole creation would be spoiled.
But he had also devised a program to rescue it.
      He made detailed plans and preparations.

And he revealed it to a succession of prophets over 4000 years.
      Adam's son Abel gave his best for a sacrifice,
            but he knew it would never be not good enough.
            The Lord assured him that one day a Perfect Sacrifice would come.
      God gave Noah specific instructions to build an Ark
            and to cover it inside and out with pitch, which he did.
            In Hebrew the word translated pitch is Kippur and means Atonement.
            For Noah the black tar represented the forgiveness of God.
            So the Lord loudly proclaimed that Noah, his family and the world
                  those in the Ark would be saved by the Atonement of God.
      Jesus himself testifies that Abraham who lived 2000 years before Jesus,
        'saw the day of Jesus Christ'.
            He told Isaac, "God himself will provide the Lamb, my son".
      Isaiah saw the 'Suffering Servant', pierced for our transgressions,
            and upon whom was laid the iniquity of us all.
      Daniel was assured that the Anointed One would come
            to put an end to sin,
            and to bring in everlasting righteousness.
      Zechariah was shown the day when a fountain would be opened
            to cleanse all Jerusalem from their sin.

Such was God's careful planning and preparation.
These and many others were followed by a silence for 500 years.
God's preparations are so different from what we might have planned.
      There were no newspapers, no journalists, no satellite TV
            to announce the long prophesied Saviour's arrival on the scene.
The One who would transform sinful men into holy children of God.

Then one day:
Some Magi saw a special star in the East that heralded the coming
      of Messiah. (We looked at this last month)
A few shepherds were told by the angels to go to Bethlehem.
Two righteous 'wrinklies' in Jerusalem, Anna and Simeon, died with a smile.
      As promised, they had seen the baby Jesus, the Saviour of the world.
And again there was silence.

After some 30 years John Baptist comes onto the world stage.
      A wild young man with a radical message.
The King of the Universe sent him to prepare the way for his Son.
What was his message? What method should he adopt?
      Cobble together a forum of representatives from all people to agree
            some plans. A League of Nations, or better a United Nations.
      Forgive the poor their debts.
      Banish national barriers, stop all war. Set up a One World Government.
      Encourage all people to be responsible for this planet and its resources.
      Make racial hatred illegal. And insist on religious tolerance.
No! No!

Jesus testified that John was the greatest of all the prophets.
The Sovereign Lord sent this extraordinary man
      to proclaim his simple message:
      "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near." Math 31

And an endless stream of men and women came to hear God's word.
      The Jordan river was flooded with their many tears
            as they confessed their sins to God and pleaded for his mercy.
      They longed to know the forgiveness of God.
      They knew they were rotten and longed to be different.
      They had earnestly tried to be good - and failed.

Salvation is never by reformation of behaviour,
      It is only by transformation of character.
      God does not tell us to try to improve the old nature;
            it is a new birth that is needed,
            A new nature that inclined to sin.
Early in his ministry Nicodemus came to Jesus by night with his problems.
      What did Jesus tell him? Try harder! No. "You must be born again."
      But how? At that time there were 3 ways for a Jew to be 'born again':
                  bar Mitzvah at 13 when a Jew became responsible
                  and becoming a Rabbi (at over 30 yrs)
            "I've done all this," cried this earnest Jew, "How can I start again?"
            "You must be born again," repeated Jesus,
                  "You must be born of water and of the Spirit."
      You must be born of water -
            that is: the baptism of repentance - the baptism of John.
      But John also testified,
            "After me will come One who is more powerful than I ...
            He will baptise you with the Holy Spirit and with fire." Math 311
      So Nicodemus, you must also be born again of the Spirit. -
            that is: by the revelation of truth - the baptism of Jesus.

Thus the Son of God makes it clear
      that salvation is never by reformation of behaviour;
      it only by transformation of character.
      It is by the new birth - that only Jesus can give us -
            that we are enabled to begin to live a new life.

John's preparation was brilliant. God had prepared his man well.
But John knew his ministry was incomplete.
      Repentance by itself was also insufficient.
      He also longed for the Saviour.
Then one day he saw him! Immediately he proclaimed,
      "Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!" Jn 129
      The Messiah has come, he is here, NOW! After 4000 years!

What a message!
Doesn't the whole world cry out for the day when sin shall be no more?
      When love and peace shall reign?
      When sorrow and pain are ended for ever?

When Jesus was baptised and set out on his 3 years of ministry,
      What was his message?
      Exactly the same as John.
            From that time on Jesus began to preach,
            "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near." Math 417

There is one small problem with this - both then and now -
      The world generally does not approve of the way the Lord Almighty
            plans to bring in his kingdom of truth and righteousness.
      Yet Jesus says twice in Lu 13
            Unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.

But John was thrilled. He knew what it was to repent.
      He had done so, not just once, but he found it to be a daily necessity.
      Now he had seen the Lamb of God who takes away sin;
            And he had heard the Father declare,
                  This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Math 317
This was the whole point of his ministry -
      to point men to Christ the Saviour, who takes away the sin of the world.

Now we need to be clear on one further matter.
How would the Lamb of God take away the sin of the world?
      He did not just forgive them with a sort of divine benevolence.
      He actually transferred all my sin - and yours - to himself.
            Then he endured the death penalty that my sin deserves.
            So the just punishment that should have been be mine, became his.
            He "Redeemed" me.
            He paid in full the price, the fair wages of sin.

Do I see the just consequences of my sin?
      Yes, and my heart cries out for mercy.
      Can I pay the price that heaven's justice demands? No, not at all.
      Can I endure the just verdict of the Judge of all mankind? No.
      Is there any excuse I can make, any legal technicality I can offer? No.
      Are there any extenuating circumstances I can offer? None whatever.
We are all alike; utterly hopeless and helpless.

We cry out; but is there anyone to hear our cry?
Our thirst for righteousness is desperate.
Our longing for a meaning to life in this dark, uncertain world.
We long to know what it is to be completely forgiven.
We cry, "O God, be merciful to me, a sinner."

And the Lord Almighty, has been longing to hear such a cry.
      Like the Father of the prodigal son,
            who every day longed to see his wayward son return.
 Now the day had come when the cleansing fountain was opened.
      His Beloved Son was crucified.
      The pure sacrificial blood was poured out, once for all.
      "It is finished," cried the crucified One, with his dying breath.
      And our sins were taken away;
            never to be seen again,
            never to be remembered by God.

This is what John proclaimed.
This is what all God's preparation was for.
This is the day when we hear a voice,
      far out in the desert, in the wilderness by the Jordan river:
      "Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!" Jn 129

It is a day when light begins to shine.
When hope begins to displace despair.
The burden of guilt begins to get lighter.
We hear the voice of Jesus say
      "I did not come to help you, but to bear the burden for you."
It is the day when we are baptised into his death;
      the day when we are born again with him in his resurrection,
            and the day when he clothes us with his righteousness!!

Such is the abounding grace and mercy of Jesus Christ,
      the Saviour of the world.

So like John I now cry with my whole heart to you all,
      "Behold, behold the Lamb".


Jesus, the name high over all,
In hell, or earth, or sky;
Angels and men before it fall,
And devils fear and fly.
Jesus! the name to sinners dear,
The name to sinners given;
It scatters all their guilty fear,
It turns their hell to heaven.
Jesus! the prisoner's fetters breaks,
And bruises Satan's head;
Power into strengthless souls it speaks
And life into the dead.
O that the world might taste and see
The riches of his grace;
The arms of love that compass me
Would all mankind embrace.
His only righteousness I show,
His saving grace proclaim;
'Tis all my business here below
To cry, "Behold the Lamb!"
Happy, if with my latest breath
I might but gasp his name;
Preach him to all, and cry in death,
"Behold, behold, the Lamb!"


Before the throne of God above,
I have a strong, a perfect plea;
A great High-priest, whose name is Love,
Who ever lives and pleads for me.
My name is graven on his hands,
My name is written on his heart;
I know that while in heaven he stands
No tongue can bid me thence depart.
When Satan tempts me to despair,
And tells me of the guilt within,
Upward I look, and see him there,
Who made an end of all my sin.
Because the sinless Saviour died,
My sinful soul is counted free;
For God, the Just, is satisfied
To look on him and pardon me.
Behold him there! the risen Lamb!
My perfect, spotless Righteousness,
The great unchangeable I AM,
The King of glory and of grace!
One with himself, I cannot die;
My soul is purchased by his blood;
My life is hid with Christ on high,
With Christ, my Saviour and my God.