Summary: John’s message was rough and to the point, but he proclaimed the Gospel
3rd Sunday in Advent December 17, 2006 “Series C”
Grace be unto you and peace, from God our Father and from our Lord, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Let us pray: Dear Heavenly Father, through the power of your Holy Spirit, open our hearts and minds to your word, that we might hear your truth and prepare anew to receive your Son into our lives. Kindle in us a deepened faith, and give us the courage to turn from those things that hinder us from embracing your kingdom in honesty and truth. This we ask in Christ’s holy name. Amen.
Dr. Richard D. Campbell in his book, I Did It My Way [Signed] God [C.S.S. Publications, 1982] began his commentary on our Gospel lesson for this morning with the following illustration. “The impact of the preacher who was the ‘forerunner’ for Jesus was more like that of the great Puritan divine, Jonathan Edwards.
The Rev. Edwards preached with such vivid forcefulness about the judgment awaiting sinners that he often had people begging him to stop preaching. In his most famous sermon, ‘Sinners in the Hands of An Angry God,’ he terrorized people with the picture of themselves suspended over the fires of hell in the hands of an angry God who might, at any moment, let them go.
To cite a more humorous example, John the Baptist may have had an effect on people not unlike that of the famous Green Bay Football Coach.
Vince Lombardi. One of his former players said that when you were summoned to Coach Lombardi’s office and he told you to sit down, you didn’t even bother to look for a chair. You just sat right where you were. His players were absolutely intimidated in his presence. And these were fully grown, huge, muscular, adult men!” End quote.
To be sure, John the Baptist is pictured by the Gospels as an intimidating figure. Aside from his rugged appearance and even more rugged diet, his preaching style was anything but gentle. Could you imagine me, stepping into this pulpit, week after week, and screaming out insults at you. “You brood of vipers…you poisonous snakes. Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruits worthy of repentance. Listen to me. The ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree that does not bear good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.”
Somehow, I can’t imagine myself doing that. And if I did, I can’t imagine that our worship attendance would improve significantly. We Lutherans are a little too refined to appreciate such rugged, blatant talk, especially when it is aimed at us. And yet, the Gospels tell us that crowds came out to hear John preach, and to be baptized by him. And they weren’t only the people of Israel who flocked to hear John. As our lesson indicates, there were even some Roman soldiers among the crowd.
So why is it that the people traveled out of the cities and towns to hear John preach and to be baptized in the muddy Jordan? One of the reasons that Dr. Campbell suggests, [Ibid.] “is that John was no respecter of persons. He treated everyone alike – rich or poor, young or old, titled or untitled. The Baptist apparently paid no special deference to privilege or influence. We all like to see that in leaders…” End quote.
Well, that is certainly true. John showed no partiality to anyone in his call to repentance, including Herod, whom John had rebuked because of his relationship with Herodias, his brother’s wife. Of course, that was one time that John should have kept his mouth zipped, because Herod had John imprisoned, and Herodias later had him killed. But John spoke the truth, even when it was not politically correct – even when the truth cost him his life. And that is an admirable trait.
But I doubt that John’s integrity was the sole reason that the people came out by the thousands to hear him preach. John not only spoke the truth without partiality, his message, as rough and direct as it was, proclaimed the Gospel. John was calling people to prepare themselves, to repent of their sins, to open their hearts to the will of God, because God’s Messiah, who would usher in God’s kingdom, would soon be revealed.
That is the significance of the last verse of our text for this morning, which reads, “So, with many other exhortations, he proclaimed the good news to the people.” Yes, John spoke with harsh words, calling a spade a spade, in order that he might motivate the people to prepare for what God was about to accomplish through Jesus the Christ.
John’s message had a tone of urgency about it, to be sure. He wanted those who heard him to not delay, to turn away from those things that they knew hindered their relationship with God – because God was about to accomplish their salvation. Unlike Jonathan Edwards, who portrayed God as being angry, torturing people by holding them above the fires of hell, John calls us to repent because we are about to behold the grace of God in Jesus the Christ.