Challenge of John the Baptist

“(1) In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, (2) and saying, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!’ (3) For this is he who was spoken of by the prophet Isaiah, saying:
‘The voice of one crying in the wilderness: “Prepare the way of the Lord; make His paths straight.”’
(4) Now John himself was clothed in camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist; and his food was locusts and wild honey. (5) Then Jerusalem, all Judea, and all the region around the Jordan went out to him (6) and were baptized by him in the Jordan, confessing their sins.
(7) But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them, ‘Brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? (8) Therefore bear fruits worthy of repentance, (9) and do not think to say to yourselves, “We have Abraham as our father.” For I say to you that God is able to raise up children to Abraham from these stones. (10) And even now the ax is laid to the root of the trees. Therefore every tree which does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. (11) I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance, but He who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. (12) His winnowing fan is in His hand, and He will thoroughly clean out His threshing floor, and gather His wheat into the bar; but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.’” (Matthew 3:1-12)
                John the Baptist fascinates me. In other Gospels you learn he is a miracle birth himself. His parents were far beyond the age of child rearing, but God blessed them with John. In the Gospel of Luke you learn that story, and how John was filled with the Holy Spirit in his mother’s womb. I wonder what he was like as a child. John the Baptist and Jesus Christ are cousins. If they got together for play dates back then, what would that be like for the both of them? John knew who Jesus was when John was still in his mother’s womb, and when Jesus was still in His mother’s womb. What really fascinates me about John, though, is what Jesus said about him. Jesus said that John is the greatest man to ever live. In the eyes of our Lord and Savior no man will ever reach the level of John the Baptist. I want to know what he was like, what his voice sounds like.
                John had some fire in him, and more courage than I ever realized before. He is out in the wild, preaching and teaching, doing things that are normally done in temples and performed by men trained to them. The Pharisees and Sadducees. But here is John, a wild man who eats locusts and honey. I have never known anyone to be completely filled with the Holy Spirit, so in my mind I bet John had a glow about him. I see him with a spark in his eyes that is both kind and compassionate, and then also burning with the truth of God’s judgment. I doubt it was easy to look John in the eyes. I doubt he was an overly clean man, probably not well groomed considering he lived in the wild. He lived in Judea, Israel, so I have no doubt he had that manly musk of sweat and dirt about him. I seriously doubt he looked anything like the normal teachers of the day. None of that mattered to the people who listened to what he had to say. They didn’t care that he was lowly, poor, and ‘uneducated’ to the standards of that day. The people believed him. I never saw him nor heard him, but I believe him too.
                Now I want to be like John, but I came to John as one of the Pharisees and Sadducees. Maybe just as you are coming to this passage as a Pharisee or Sadducee. I was one of the brood of vipers. I did not come to John to hear what he had to say, I came to basically assure myself that whatever he was saying isn’t true. We have all heard of hell, and the burning torment that will come upon us unless we are saved through the blood of Jesus Christ. So a lot of nonbelievers, and I was one of them, come to the Bible and to Christians to prove them wrong.
                The Pharisees and Sadducees had their reasons for why they shouldn’t listen to John the Baptist concerning Jesus. They were the sons of Abraham, whom God made a covenant with. By that very fact alone they assumed they would get to heaven. The Pharisees and Sadducees also believed themselves to be very righteous, religious people whom God would welcome into Heaven with open arms. These are the two key mistakes I made, and probably the two key mistakes a lot of people make today.
                First is disbelief. Their reason was they were born Jews of the bloodline of Abraham. My reason for disbelief was the hypocrisy I saw among religious people. I was a pagan, worshipping God through nature. Maybe you are an atheist, or a Buddhist, or a Muslim. Whatever you want to call it you believe something else, even if that something else is nothing at all. And according to whatever you believe, when you die, you will be perfectly fine. John tells us that when we come before the judgment seat of God whatever we believed, or assumed, or thought was true isn’t going to matter. God isn’t going to give us a ‘get out of jail free’ card because we casually dismissed him for whatever we thought was better or truer. There are very few people in this world who will be able to claim ‘I didn’t know’. If you are reading this, you definitely can’t claim that. You know. The Pharisees and Sadducees knew.
                “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” John cried this out. He cried this out over and over again. He cried it out so loudly that it created such a stir that the Pharisees and Sadducees had to come see what the big hoopla was all about. He is, still to this day, crying it out loud enough through the Bible and other people that it brought me (a viper) down out of my nest to see what all the hoopla is about.
                The second key mistake I had been making was my belief that my good works was enough. I, after all, was a good person. I didn’t steal. I didn’t kill people. I paid my taxes. I was generally a nice person most of the time. So when I die—and all this stuff turns out to be true—I figured God was a loving God and would let me in because of my good behavior. My tree bears good fruit. Well it does if you cut out all those ‘little white lies’ I tell, but that is only to be nice to people. Oh, and the cutting people off on the road, or in the parking lot, or in a line on Black Friday. But those are just small things. And God surely won’t mind all my cursing, swearing, and taking His name in vain. He should overlook all that worshipping another god before Him….even though it is His first commandment. Because I am nice, and good, and shiny, and pretty. Well I am if you overlook all the sin in my life that God clearly states is sin in the Bible. But God is a loving God, so I should be all good. My fruit, after all, is mostly good. 80/20. Okay maybe more like 60/40. Maybe even 50/50 on a bad day, but those don’t happen to often. Either way, God will understand.
                Yeah. Right. Jesus told us that John the Baptist is the greatest man to ever live. He is the best. He is the most good. If there was ever a tree who would bear good fruit…it would be John’s tree. Jesus is telling me I will never be as good as John. If you can’t accept that, check your pride. John was a good guy all the time. I somehow doubt he had 50/50 days. So what does John tell me? Even he, the best man to ever live, isn’t worthy enough to carry the sandals of Jesus. John says he isn’t even good enough to be the slave of Jesus. So if the greatest man to ever live…by God’s own decree…isn’t good enough to the lowest slave of Jesus…where do I stand? John is the greatest man, and even he can’t do it without Jesus. Even John the Baptist needs the saving blood of Jesus Christ.
                As a viper this made me uncomfortable. In my heart of hearts I knew I was no John the Baptist. So I knew I couldn’t escape hell by claiming my own awesomeness and shiny parts wouldn’t appease God. Once I sorta chewed on that I began to doubt my excuse of not believing would go over well with him either. Somehow I didn’t think God would look favorably on “Yeah I thought I was awesome and I didn’t believe anything you had to say to me.” Sounds kind of disrespectful. Okay to be honest it sounds completely disrespectful. So with my eternal soul at stake (forever is a very long time to spend in hell) I thought I could devote enough of my time to read one Gospel. I actually read the Gospel of John, and I know this is the Gospel of Mark. I am starting with Mark because Mark focuses on the sheer volume of prophecies Jesus actually fulfills. I’ll get to John, and hopefully you will to.
                So I changed my mind, I repented. When Jesus takes his winnowing fan to the threshing floor…I don’t want to be the chaff. For those of you who don’t know what that really means—I didn’t either—here is a small wheat harvesting lesson. They used to gather up wheat in a bar. Then they would come out with this big shovel like spatulas to dig into the wheat harvest. They would toss and bounce the wheat on the shovel thingy to separate out the chaff. The wheat, being heavy, would fall back onto the shovel. The chaff, being light, would get caught in the air and blow away. They would then sweep up the chaff once they were done and throw it into the fire.  I was very lucky that someone cared enough for me to make me read the Bible for myself. I made my own decision.   I am eternally grateful that when it is my turn to be tossed into the air, I will fall back into the safety of Jesus’ harvest…rather than meet the burning end of the furnace.
                It’s strange to think that these twelve verses changed my life. I chewed on them, pondered them, and arrogantly took up the challenge to read the Bible. I, after all, knew better and wouldn’t be swayed. I chuckle at those thoughts now. Jesus did baptize me with the Holy Spirit. I might not glow or look like John did…but my insides, my heart and soul, have never again felt cold or empty or lost. I have a peace I couldn’t ever achieve on my own. My Raggedy Andy caused me to pick up the Bible to meet John the Baptist. John the Baptist stirred me up enough to meet Jesus. Jesus came into my life with the Holy Spirit to sink into a relationship with God. And nothing in my life has been the same since. And for that I will always be humbly, deeply, lovingly grateful.
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