Summary: John the Baptist was speaking to the Jewish people in his day; he is speaking to you and me today.
December 8, 2019
In those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the wilderness of Judea and saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” This is he who was spoken of through the prophet Isaiah:
“A voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.’”
John’s clothes were made of camel’s hair, and he had a leather belt around his waist. His food was locusts and wild honey. People went out to him from Jerusalem and all Judea and the whole region of the Jordan. Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River.
But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to where he was baptizing, he said to them: “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not think you can say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.
“I baptize you with[b] water for repentance. But after me comes one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor, gathering his wheat into the barn and burning up the chaff with unquenchable fire.”
Sermon Prayer: “Heavenly Father, I stand before Your people, to deliver Your message. Though the words are mine and I prepared this message, I pray that this message is Your message in its entirety. I pray your blessing and anointing on its delivery, its reception and most of all its application in our lives.” Amen
First, let’s understand (once again) that John the Baptist and all the players in the reading are Jewish and followers of the Talmud. John’s calling and ministry was that of foretelling the coming of the Messiah. John was also prophesied in the Old Testament:
“A voice of one calling: “In the wilderness prepare the way for the LORD; make straight in the desert a highway for our God.” Isaiah 40:3
John’s focus of ministry and preaching was – “REPENT as the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” V-2
The Jewish term for repentance is TESHUVAH and is generally accepted to mean repentance or more literally returning. Returning to God demands contrition.
"One who does teshuvah is considered as if he went to Jerusalem, rebuilt the Temple, erected the altar, and offered all the sacrifices ordained by the Torah. [For the Psalm says], 'The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, You will not despise [51:19]'" (Leviticus Rabbah 7:2 (Midrash)) – from website: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Repentance_in_Judaism
We read in verse 4 just how unique this guy John the Baptist was. He wore clothes made from camel’s hair with a leather belt around his waist. John’s diet consisted of locusts and wild honey. I tried dried crickets one time and it wasn’t all that bad, but it didn’t leave me feeling full either. Now, the wild honey – that’s a different story. I absolutely love honey and the remarkable thing is honey never goes bad. If it crystalizes, a minute or two in the microwave or by holding the jar under hot running water restores it to the liquid consistency.
My take is that John was not only humble but kind of bold at the same time. After all, he was standing up to Pharisees and Sadducees in verses 7 and 8, calling them a brood of vipers and challenging their motives for attending a baptismal ceremony. The meat of his message to them was that drifting away from a faithful life has separated them from God. The Jewish roots that feed the faith from the tree of Abraham which does not produce good fruit are now in the process of being severed. Now, let’s not condemn the faithful followers of Abraham, we are talking about those who have drifted away and believe that because they came from Abraham that they are somehow covered by grace.
“Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not think you can say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.” Verses 8-10
Finally, John speaks of the coming of the True Messiah. John states very humbly that he baptizes with water but it is not he who has the power to baptize with water but with The Holy Spirit and fire.