Summary: Examining the message and implications of John the Baptist.
BEAR FRUIT OR BURN
Text: Matthew 3:1-12
Good morning. If you have your bibles please turn with me to the gospel of Matthew 3:1-12.
Today we begin a new series that begins here in Matthew 3 and ends with the Sermon on the Mount through chapter 7. And this section of Scripture in the gospel of Matthew is arguably the most concise, haunting and confrontational part of the Bible. The Sermon on the Mount represents the essence and core of Jesus’ teaching about the Kingdom of God and living under the reign of God. Mark Twain once said that it wasn’t the words of Jesus that he didn’t understand that disturbed him, but rather the words that he did. And for the next few months, we will be looking at this disturbing and unsettling portion of the Bible in order that we might actually obey it and live it out in our lives. And so let’s look specifically at the ministry and message of John the Baptist.
We are introduced to the man John the Baptist who was a contemporary of Jesus – in fact, he was related to Jesus through his mother Elizabeth’s relationship with Mary. This man John was preaching and baptizing people in the desert of Judea with a simple message, “REPENT, FOR THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN IS NEAR.”
The word ‘repent’ is metanoia and it means to change one’s mind and one’s entire life and set of prior presuppositions and attitudes of life; change of how one views the world and reality; a radical reorientation of a person’s life, purpose and direction. Furthermore, repentance is not remorse or regret which tend to be emotions contained within a person. Instead, repentance is an action, a literal turning one’s life around in another direction and of turning away from everything they once assumed as the goals and purposes for their lives.
The quote from the prophet Isaiah also clarifies the message of repentance proclaimed by John – specifically that to repent meant to make crooked paths straight, to level the high mountains and to fill in the valleys…a drastic reform was need in order for the arrival of an awesome Presence.
Background of John
- John was sort of a freak…he’s not the sort of person that most of us would hang out with or invite home for dinner…he doesn’t fit with our notions of civility and proper cleanliness. Although camel’s hair may in today’s world signify wealth and luxury, it was back then an indication of poverty, of being relegated to animal skins – crude and unfashionable – nothing like the fine linens and garments adorned by city dwellers.
- The leather belt is a specific similarity to the prophet Elijah who was also described as a man wearing a leather belt.
- Locusts and wild honey was also a further reflection of poverty.
- John’s entire being reflected a rejection of the civilized world – he was an ascetic – sort of like an ancient monk who rejected all worldly comforts of the flesh and instead opted for communion with God via simplicity and poverty.
- JOHN NOT ONLY MINISTERED IN THE DESERT, HE EMBODIED THE DESERT. AND IT WAS BECAUSE OF THIS DESERT-LIKE EXISTENCE THAT HE POSSESSED A GREAT SENSE OF CLAIRVOYANCE IN TERMS OF UNDERSTANDING THE WILL OF GOD. Unhindered by the temptations and distractions of city or suburban life, the desert provided John with the ability to see true reality from God’s perspective and to hear distinctly the words and will of his heavenly Father.
The Christian disciplines share many similarities with the desert. If we ever want to grow and go deeper with the Lord, we need to remove ourselves from the context of the familiar and escape to a quiet place void of distractions, temptations and demands in order to seek hard after the Lord.
- This is why prayer is referred to as having a quiet time with the Lord. Oftentimes the only quiet period of the day is very early in the morning when everyone else is still asleep –and the discipline of prayer oftentimes means establishing habits that are not comfortable, out of the ordinary, not easy or convenient.
- Same goes with fasting – to voluntarily deny ourselves food or drink for a period of time in order to seek the Lord.
- Other disciplines of solitude and simplicity – all of these are attempts by Christians to create for themselves a desert-like experience in order to rid ourselves of distractions do serious business with the Lord.
Too often we wonder what the will of God is and we wonder why we never hear or sense God’s voice, leading or direction. For most of us American Christians, we’ve lost our way and have been duped into thinking that we could have both the American Dream and still go to church and everything will work out – when deep down we still lack life purpose, a God-given vision or picture of what we are to do to make an impact that would honor the Lord. Instead, we fumble, stumble and bumble through life without a clue as to the will and purpose of God for our lives. This is precisely why the call of the desert – that empty, deserted and lonely place called prayer, fasting and solitude can help to make sense of the chaos and restore unto us the peace and knowledge of the will of God.