Sermon from Sunday 10th Jan 2021

Mark 1:4-11 (EHV)

John appeared, baptizing in the wilderness and preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.

The whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him. They were baptized by him in the Jordan River as they confessed their sins. John was clothed in camel’s hair, and he wore a leather belt around his waist. He ate locusts and wild honey. He preached, “One more powerful than I is coming after me. I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the strap of his sandals! I baptized you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10 Just as Jesus came up out of the water, he saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. 11 And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love. I am well pleased with you.”

Dear heavenly Father, send your Holy Spirit on us so we may trust you love us when we’re baptised in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

“God loves you just the way you are!”

Have you heard this comment before? Have you said it before? Do you believe God loves you just the way you are?

Well, I believe there’s reason to doubt this.

I don’t believe God loves me just the way I am, because this would suggest there’s no reason for me as a sinful person to change from who I am.

You see, if Jesus loves me just the way I am in my sinful condition, then there’s no reason for Jesus to come to earth in human flesh, no reason for Jesus to be baptised, no reason for Jesus to suffer and die, no reason for his resurrection, no reason for me to repent, no reason for me to follow Jesus, and no reason for me to be baptised, receive Holy Communion, or even go to worship.

In other words, if God loves us just the way we are, then we don’t need Jesus!

For this reason, I reckon this commonly quoted statement by well-meaning Christians is one of the best anti-mission statements we can spread as a church.

If we tell everyone God loves them just the way they are, then they don’t need Jesus and his sacrificial love, don’t need to repent, don’t need to be baptised, don’t need to hear of God’s forgiveness, and therefore don’t need the church because they reckon they’re already right with God because he loves them just the way they are.

This isn’t the message of the Bible.

I mean, when John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness, what was the message he spoke? Did he tell people “God loves you just the way you are”?

Or did he tell them to repent and be baptised for the forgiveness of sins, which means he believes they were sinners who weren’t right with God and needed to be washed of their sins?

Perhaps another way to put God’s love could be: “God loves you just the way you are, but not enough to let you stay that way.”

Now I suppose this is a little closer to the truth, but it’s still not the full truth. You see, if this was the truth, then all he’d want us to do is change from our sinful ways.

In this case, John would have only needed to tell people to repent; you know, “Change your ways and live perfect lives as God expects!”

But if he only did this, then he’d only be preaching the Law. He’d be telling us we all have the power to save ourselves through our own obedience. He’d be saying we all have the potential to be better people and can actually make God happy, so all we need to do is try harder.

But if we could actually change ourselves or somehow meet God’s perfect expectations, then we still don’t need Jesus, or baptism, or the church.

Now, don’t get me wrong. Does God love you? Absolutely! God loves you so dearly he needed to take drastic action to save you. But God doesn’t love you so much he wants you to stay as you are. God also doesn’t just want you to be a better person. God wants you to repent and be baptised. And once you’re baptised, he wants you to repent and believe the gospel.

Now, believe it or not, this is a highly unpopular message.

No-one likes to be told to repent because no-one wants to hear they’re not ok, that they’re not doing the right thing, that they’re not good enough, or that God may not love them just the way they are.

I mean, do you think you need to repent? And, if you’re aware of your need to repent, are you willing to do so? Or do you think you’re better than everyone else around you and think they need to repent before you do?

You see, most people have self-inflated egos and we often think much higher of ourselves than the way God thinks of us – after all, God sees the truth of our sinful condition and we don’t. We’re often blind to our own sins, which is why we struggle to repent.

We fool ourselves into thinking we’re ok but everyone else isn’t. This is why many of us like to point out everyone else’s faults, failures and flaws, but hate it when confronted with our own. When this happens, we’re likely to attempt all types of self-justifications, excuses, and other defensive behaviours.

But if you think about it, as long as we make out everyone else is the one with all the faults, failures and flaws, then we also give the message that we don’t love people the way they are.

I mean, if we did love people the way they are, then why do we have so many relationship issues, fights, arguments, divisions, separations, and divorces?

But it doesn’t stop there, because we also give the message we’re not going to love or forgive them until they repent, change their ways, and attempt to make up for their wrongs against us. But even if they did, we may still be tempted to refuse to forgive them because we’re still being controlled by our own hurt, resentment, anger, or the delusion that we’re still better than they are.

Yet, to make things worse, many of us refuse to accept our own part in our relationship breakdowns. Since we’re always blaming everyone else and pointing out their failures, we give the impression we haven’t sinned. Or at least we give the impression our sins aren’t as bad as everyone else’s!

But the Bible tells us we all sin, and God doesn’t love our sin. Sin is part of our corrupted fallen nature. Making excuses or trying to hide our sin doesn’t change the fact we’re all sinners who have inherited the sickness of sin from Adam and Eve.

God doesn’t love us being in this corrupted sinful state, because that’s not the way he wants us to be. It’s like we’re all sick with the genetic sickness of sin and need a cure. In this case, we don’t need a vaccine to protect us from inheriting this disease of sin in the first place, but we need an antidote for our sinful nature. We need to be purified, which brings us back to the message of John the Baptist.

You see, God does love you! But because God doesn’t love you the way you are in your sinful state, God needed to act. God acted so that you might be restored to him, be his holy child, be washed of your sin, and be with him in eternity. This is why God sent Jesus to be baptised for your benefit.

Now, even though some may consider baptism to be the way to join the ‘Jesus club’, or that it’s some kind of ‘hell insurance’, or it’s a way to ‘get people done’, or even that it’s our ‘ticket into heaven’, but it’s much more than all this. Baptism involves a lifetime of living with the Holy Spirit who constantly leads you to repent and believe the good news of forgiveness and salvation in Jesus’ name.

Although the baptisms which John the Baptist performed were more of a baptism of repentance, it’s when Jesus was baptised that this earthly baptism received heavenly power and authority to do much more than just forgive sins.

Sure, it washes away your sin like water washes away dirt and grime, but through baptism you’re also claimed, or rather; reclaimed as God’s own possession and therefore baptism rescues you from death and the devil, and it gives eternal salvation to all who trust the words and promises of God.

Baptism also acts a little like an antidote; where the holy medication and heavenly cure of Jesus’s life, suffering, death and resurrection, are given and imputed into you in order to effect the forgiveness of sins, and freely grant you life and salvation.

This doesn’t mean you have to be baptised every time you sin again, but every time you return to, and remember, the promises made to you in baptism, which is how you keep practicing a life of repentance and faith, you receive a top-up of that injection of forgiveness and holiness again.

Not only this, but Baptism also joins you to Jesus like a branch being grafted onto a vine. Therefore, since you’re joined to Jesus, this means when God looks at you, he doesn’t see a disobedient and unholy child anymore, but he sees his only Son. And, since he’s pleased with and loves his Son so dearly, this means he’s also pleased with you. He’s pleased when you live in the daily repentance and faith given to you in the waters and promises of baptism.

You can trust the water and words of baptism has effected forgiveness for all your sin, has regenerated and renewed you into holy people, has adopted you as children of God, and has given you eternal life through Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. Through trusting the promises of baptism, you can trust God loves you and you’re now right with God.

Not only this, but living in the promises of baptism can also affect your earthly relationships. You see, the pattern of repentance and baptism can have real power to reconcile your relationships with each other. The same pattern of confession and forgiveness can be lived out in such a way it reconciles strained relationships in order to restore love, joy, and peace.

So, let’s face it: God loves you. That’s why he sent Jesus. That’s why he calls us to repent and believe. That’s why he gave us the gift of baptism.

God loves people who are willing to submit and trust in his promises, including those promises effected in the waters of baptism. God loves people who seek to live in the pattern established through baptism where our daily repentance and forgiveness helps us to live in, with, and under the love and grace of God.

God dearly loves his Son and is well pleased with him. God also loves you and is pleased when he sees his Son live in you through the power of the Holy Spirit so that…

…the peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.