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Summary: A sermon on repentance and coming out of the wilderness of life.

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Matthew 3:1-12

“A Change of Heart and Life”

by: Ken sauer, Pastor of East Ridge United Methodist Church, Chattanooga, TN

(Many ideas in the first part of this sermon are attributed to N.T. Wright)

Imagine a police motorcade sweeping down Ringgold Road.

First there are the motorcycles with flashing blue lights.

People quickly move to the side of the road as they approach.

And everybody knows what’s happening!!!

An important person has been away a long time, and he’s coming back at last!

Two large black cars come by, filled with bodyguards and officials.

Then the car with a flag at the front, containing the MAN HIMSELF comes into view.

By this time the road is clear; there are no other cars in sight.

Everyone is standing still and watching, waving flags and celebrating!!!

Now take this scene back 2,000 years.

The King has been away a long time, and word gets around that He’s coming back at last!

So off goes the herald, shouting to the people: “The King is coming! Make a road for Him in your hearts! Make it good and straight!”

That message had been echoing through the life of the Jewish people for hundreds of years by the time John the Baptist hit the scene!

It was part of the great message of hope, of forgiveness and of healing.

It was what the people hung their hats on!!!

It’s what they were counting on.

And John was Israel’s first prophet in 400 years!!!

God would, at last, come back bringing comfort and rescue.

And “Yes!!!” John is saying in our Gospel Lesson for today, “that’s what’s happening now!”

“It’s time to get ready for the King.”

“The King, God Himself, is coming back!”

“Get ready for God’s Kingdom!!!!”

And John the Baptist, a cousin of Jesus…

…who didn’t dress like a business man, fisherman, farmer, Pharisee or television evangelist…

…but instead had a strange outfit made of camel hair is a preacher of preachers!!!

His striking message made everyone sit up and take notice.

In essence, the people saw the blue lights flashing, and stopped what they were doing to get ready.

But the trouble was that the people weren’t ready—not by a long shot.

It’s kinda like, you may think your house is reasonably picked up and well-kept, but if you suddenly get word that someone important is coming to visit you may well look around and see nothing but dirt!!!

So, it’s time to clean!!!

And the Jewish people, even the really devout ones who worshipped regularly in the Temple, knew in their bones that they weren’t ready for God to come back.

The prophets had said that God would come back when the people repented, turning to God with all their hearts.

That was what John the Baptist was called to tell them; and they came in droves!!!

They came for baptism.

John was plunging them in the water of the river Jordan or pouring the water over their heads as they confessed their sins.

And this wasn’t just a symbolic cleansing; it was a sign of the new thing that God was doing in history for the world!!!

Over a thousand years before, the children of Israel had crossed the River Jordan when they first entered the promised land.

Now they had to go through that same river again, as a sign that they were getting ready for a Greater Promise—God’s defeat of all evil and the establishment of God’s Kingdom on earth as it is in Heaven!!!

And so, “Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River.”

But why did they come?

Why did they heed John’s call?

We are told, “In those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the Desert of Judea…”

Some of the earliest translations say, “John the Baptist came, preaching in the wilderness of Judea…”

I kind of think that is a bit more accurate.

John appeared in the wilderness.

And the wilderness is a hostile and ominous place.

It is the place of hunger, thirst, death, outlaws, and demons.

It is home for dangerous creatures—scorpions and snakes.

In John’s day, the wilderness was considered an area of primal chaos or as cursed by God.

John the Baptist went into this dark region to do battle with the forces of evil.

Jesus did the same thing after His baptism by John.

Where is the wilderness today?

For some, it may be found in the board rooms of companies where the bottom line is making a profit—no matter the moral or human cost.

For others it is in the hallways of our high schools where kids are under great pressure from other kids to conform and become the kind of people they never thought, nor desired to be.

For some, the wilderness may be found in the media where so many conflicting voices are vying for our hearts, minds and souls.

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