I heard about a church whose new building project was about to be opened by a member of the royal family. The minister of the church thought it was great, as it seemed that everyone in the church was inspired to take action. The building was cleaned. Weeds were removed. Rooms were painted. Minor repairs that had been waiting for years suddenly mattered. There's an old joke that the Queen thinks every building in the land smells of paint, because they are all redecorated just before she arrives.
Two thousand years ago, baptism was something like that. The King is coming. Get cleaned up. Show that you meet his standards. Prepare the way for the Lord. Give him a clear road.
The royal in our story did not stop at the shower room and say she needed to be cleaned up. We'd be astonished if she did. Get that picture in your head and you'll see why John was astonished. Jesus had come to be baptised. It didn't make sense. Jesus doesn't explain himself; he politely tells John that it is right to go ahead.
And when he does ... the Spirit comes down upon him, and a voice from heaven tells him that he is God's beloved son. God is pleased with him.
This Sunday we will celebrate the baptism of a believer. We pray that as people are baptised God will fill them with his Spirit, that they will know that they are God's deeply-loved children. There's no better place to be than that. Yes we do need to be cleaned up. we do need to think about the way we live. But the great news today is that God welcomes us as he welcomes Jesus.
We are his children and we are deeply loved. Like Jesus is.
Timothy was a good man. He genuinely cared for people. He was an effective Bible teacher and church leader.
People didn't take him seriously because he was young, and he was a bit timid.
Timothy needed to know that the Lord was with him, if he was to be effective.
So Paul, the experienced leader, writes to him and reminds him that the Spirit of God is on him. It's time for Timothy to overcome his natural timidity and fan the gift that God has given him into a blazing fire.
It's not our job to start the fire of God in us, but it is our job to maintain it.
The Spirit of God in our Spirit brings love, power and self-discipline. We need all three. This is one of those cases where two out of three is bad, or at least inadequate.
More on Sunday .....
May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. (Paul's letter to the Romans 15:13, NIV)
I suggest that you read the text a few times. Slowly. Let it sink in. Read it a couple of times more.
When I was a child I used to hope that my team would win the Scottish Cup. They never did. I got really excited the year the made the quarter finals but that was as good as it got. (They did win the Scottish League Cup in 1994, but that's a different story.) At a certain age I realised that they would never match Celtic or Rangers and my interest waned.
Hope on its own is pretty useless when it has to face the facts. Reality kicks in.
Yet here we are being told that we can overflow with hope, not by trying hard or by avoiding reality but by the Holy Spirit. This is not an instant work. Paul, the great first century missionary, wrote that hope comes through suffering, perseverance and character building, and above all the work of the Holy Spirit in us. The person who truly hopes is a masterpiece, and masterpieces take a while.
Even so, let's bless each other with the words of our text. Speak this text out for the people you love, for the people who need it. Paul believed that these words would make a difference. So do I. Try it and see.
The Lord Jesus Christ - slow down for a second and think. It is an amazing title. If you come to Mills Hill you are asked to say it just about every week at the end of the service.
We believe that Jesus is Lord. He is generous; that's what the word 'grace' means. But he is also Lord. The Bible say that we must all appear before his judgement seat, so that we may receive what is due to us. That's why we make it our aim to please Jesus.
So here's the big question: what pleases Jesus? The writings of the early church warn us that it is easy to make up a different Jesus. Easy to do, but not good.
The Baptist Union Declaration of Principle says:
That our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, God manifest in the flesh, is the sole and absolute authority in all matters pertaining to faith and practice, as revealed in the Holy Scriptures, and that each Church has liberty, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, to interpret and administer His laws.
So here are a couple of thoughts:
* If Jesus liked something 2000 years ago he will probably like it on the day of judgement.
* If Jesus didn't like something 2000 years ago he will probably not like it on the day of judgement.
So what did Jesus like? What did he dislike?
More on Sunday ...