Summary: John the Baptist's message of repentance is just as controversial today as it was in in his day. It was a message that caused people to think and evaluate what they were doing and why. It does the same today? Ready for some controversy?
Throughout history there have been many controversial characters: kings and queens, presidents and politicians, artists, actors and song writers, scientists and CEOs. What is it that made them so controversial? By what they did or said, they made people uncomfortable, forcing people to have to think, to evaluate why they thought a certain way, what they were doing, why they were doing it, and finally why they believed it to be right or wrong.
I think it’s safe to call John the Baptist a controversial character as he arrived on the scene around 26 AD. Now, calling him a controversial character might not come as much of a surprise. After all, when you address your audience as, “You brood of vipers!” (Matthew 3:7) you’re probably going to ruffle a few feathers no matter when you live or where you live. But it wasn’t so much what he called them, but what he called them TO DO that made John so controversial. He was calling people to look at their hearts and their lives and to evaluate – to stop and think about what they were doing and why they were doing it and what it was accomplishing.
John’s message is still rather controversial today because God calls us to do the same. God calls people to look at their hearts and their lives, to evaluate what they are depending on to be right with him and worthy of his heavenly home. It is a message that calls us to consider what we are listening to, or maybe more accurately, who we are listening to and maybe even most importantly, why we are listening. Are you looking for someone to tell you what you WANT to hear, or are you looking for someone to tell you what you NEED to hear? John the Baptist’s message is still a controversial one, a message that calls us to make some rather important evaluations.
Matthew 3 is the first time that we hear about John the Baptist since when he was born and given that unexpected name of John by his parents Zechariah and Elizabeth. We find John, probably around 28-29 years-old living out in the wilderness along the Jordan River about 15-20 miles to the east of the city of Jerusalem. John’s message is simple and to the point, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near” (Matthew 3:2). These words remind us of what we learned last weekend, of the special mission that God had selected for John even before John was born. John was to prepare the way for the Lord’s arrival. Yes, the promised Messiah, the Giver of forgiveness, the Light of salvation, the Path of peace was near. Jesus was about to begin his public ministry, announcing to the world his purpose for arriving 30 years earlier as a baby in Bethlehem. He had come to secure eternal blessings for the citizens of his kingdom. In just three years, Jesus would offer his perfect life at the cross for the payment of the world’s sin. With his death, Jesus would crush the devil’s hope of taking people to hell. For all those who trust in Jesus, they have citizenship in Christ’s kingdom. They live under theirs Savior’s protection and are rewarded with the victory of heaven that Christ has won for them. Yes, “the kingdom of heaven has come near.” What God’s people had waited thousands of years for, was just around the corner – the Messiah Jesus had arrived to save his people from their sins.
Unfortunately, many were unprepared for that kingdom of heaven. Remember, that was John’s mission, to prepare people for Jesus’ arrival. That preparation might be summarized with a single word, “Repent!” Repentance is literally, “a change in mind” or, “a turning.” Repentance is evaluating our hearts and our lives in the light of what God’s will is for us as revealed in the Bible. Repentance is identifying what the prophet Isaiah pictures as the crooked roads and valleys of sin. Repentance is looking for the lack of trust in God’s promises, the lack of eagerness to hear God’s Word, the disrespect for those in authority, the anger, the lust, the jealousy, the gossip, the sinful desires that invade our thoughts, attitudes and actions – anything that is a deviation from God’s will. Repentance is turning to the Lord, admitting that each sin is worthy of God’s punishment. Repentance is trusting the Lord’s announcement that in Christ Jesus, all of our sins have been forgiven, removed from his memory forever. Repentance is turning FROM sin, straightening out those crooked roads and filling in those valleys, fighting those things that we know to be contrary to our Savior’s will.
Now let me ask you, does repentance make you feel uncomfortable? Initially, yes. No one likes to admit that they were wrong or see where they’ve been wrong. That’s uncomfortable. John the Baptist’s appearance, his meager clothing of camel hair and his wilderness lifestyle were a reflection of his uncomfortable message to repent. But as much as we may not WANT to hear John’s message, it is a message that we all NEED to hear. Because only when you recognize your sin do you see your need for God’s forgiveness of that sin. And when you see your need for God’s forgiveness, it is a gracious God who fully meets that need in a way that only he can do.