In those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the wilderness of Judea and saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” This is he who was spoken of through the prophet Isaiah:
“A voice of one calling in the wilderness,
‘Prepare the way for the Lord,
make straight paths for him.’”
John’s clothes were made of camel’s hair, and he had a leather belt around his waist. His food was locusts and wild honey. People went out to him from Jerusalem and all Judea and the whole region of the Jordan. Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River.
But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to where he was baptizing, he said to them: “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not think you can say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. The ax 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.
“I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me comes one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor, gathering his wheat into the barn and burning up the chaff with unquenchable fire.”
- Matthew 3:1-12
This is late to be talking about the first Advent Sunday, but the Interim Associate Pastor preached a wonderful sermon on repentance. With the usual stuff about the promises fulfilled in Jesus, the Hope found in Jesus, the fulfillment of prophecies, etc., a sermon on repentance seemed odd.
Should it? Matthew 2 ends with Joseph, Mary, and Jesus leaving Egypt and returning to Nazareth. It is there where Jesus grew up. Abruptly, Matthew 3 is talking about John the Baptist (or for some, the Baptizer), about thirty years later in the narrative. John is the one who went before to prepare the way. And what was John’s message? Repent.
Repentance in preparation for the entry of Jesus is kind of a catch-22. We can turn from our sins, but without the Holy Spirit within us, we are not totally successful at staying away from our sins. Instead of doing a 180 degree turn and running away from our sins, we often do a 360 degree spin, and we are sometimes caught in the allure that the Devil gives our eyes, wanting the sinful pleasure one more time.
Yet, for a time, we can resist without God in our lives. We might even convince ourselves that we can hold on without God. It can be done, sort of. It will be painful. It will be unfulfilling. And we are left full of self-pride, and angry at everyone. Angry at the believer for their Joy. Angry at the sinner for their momentary, but fleeting pleasure. We might sound like a Pharisee. You know the ones I’m talking about. John the Baptist called them, “A brood of vipers.” Their self-importance was bolstered by their strict following of silly rules that they made up themselves.
So, if it was good enough for God to kick off the arrival of Jesus by sending John the Baptist, why can’t we kick off an Advent season in the same manner with the same message. We definitely need it.
As the preacher was preaching, she said that John was very blunt. She spoke of the boldness of John. I started to think that if John came back today, he’d be ridiculed as an uneducated buffoon. John was definitely not Politically Correct. At that point, I was really liking John the Baptist.
“Come on, John, tell it like it is!”
Then the preacher said, “John was annoy…“ My mind ended the sentence. “John was annoying.” Yes, I agree.
But what she really said was, “John was anointed with the Spirit.” Yes, of course.
John the Baptist was both annoying to the brood of vipers and the king and he was also anointed by the Holy Spirit.
The preacher mentioned that she would love to be as bold as John the Baptist, but she didn’t think she could handle his diet (wild honey and locusts). I might draw the line with locusts, but when I was 5 or 6, Pawpaw, my mother’s father, took me under his wing. He’d dress me up with a beekeeping hat and we’d smoke the hive, get some fresh honey, and go back to the house. By then, Mawmaw had the biscuits coming out of the oven. I doubt if anything can beat fresh honey, picked five minutes ago, fresh biscuits right out of the oven, and butter melted over the top. A year or two later, Pawpaw was bedridden with cancer. The picture above is all that remains of the beekeeping gear. The hives are long gone.
I’d like to compare myself to John the Baptist. You can answer the questions for yourself. Can I be blunt? Oh, yes. Guilty as charged. Can I be annoying? Absolutely. Can I be anointed? Yes, and I pray for more anointing each day. Can I be bold? Ah, is that the rub?
John the Baptist lost his head for being politically incorrect and boldly saying the words out loud.
Sure, it doesn’t seem right to be openly offensive. Today, we consider that attitude crude, but John and then Jesus were openly antagonistic with the Pharisees. Jesus’ disciples asked Jesus to tone down His remarks about the Pharisees. In a way, political correctness has existed for centuries. It is only now being used as an instrument to prevent the new John the Baptist from speaking, and negating his message when he or she does speak.
If you are timid, God can give you the courage and strength. We must repent of timidity.
Is the message worth losing your head? Absolutely, and if we don’t speak boldly and bluntly, we will lose the freedom to do so.
While there is a call to repent, let us repent of timidity, and boldly declare, “Jesus is coming soon. Repent and prepare the way of the Lord.”