Summary: The Lord set John the Baptist apart from others for a specific ministry. God does this for all the main characters in the Bible and he does for us also.
Matthew 3:1-12 “Set Apart”
We celebrate many things in many ways during our holiday season. Families and friends, the Christmas Spirit, holiday traditions and favorite foods are but a few of the blessings in which we rejoice. Of course, at the core of our Christmas celebrations is God’s gift to us—his son, Jesus the Christ, our Lord. Christmas is a celebration of God’s love, as John writes, “For God so loved the world.
It amazes me, however, that God’s love, which is demonstrated in his becoming one of us, hasn’t made more of an impact on people’s lives. Perhaps it is because Christmas has become too traditional. Maybe there are too many distractions. It the truth be told, the Church—Christians—with our history of judgmentalism and self-centeredness may have prejudiced people against the gospel message. Whatever the reason (or reasons) may be, when John penned the words, “Jesus was in the world and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. He came to what was his own and his own people did not accept him,” he couldn’t have hit the nail more squarely on the head.
Matthew writes that when John appeared in the Judean countryside his message was that people should repent for the kingdom of heaven was near. The verb tense is a little confusing. It could be translated that the kingdom of heaven had arrived and was already present, or it could mean that the kingdom of God was approaching. Though confusing in its translation, this verb tense may accurately explain our experience with Jesus and the Kingdom of God. Jesus has come, and has ushered in God’s kingdom. Jesus is with us now in the person of the Holy Spirit, and Jesus has promised that he will come again.
John’s message was filled with hope for some people. For many people, though, the message was fearful. For God to come near is a scary proposition. A distant God is safer, perhaps even more controllable. It is nice to think that there some divine intelligence created us and that we are not simply the result of some primal ooze. A certain amount of comfort also comes from being able to pray to someone or something when times are tough. If God is way out there, however (as opposed to being in us and active in our world) we don’t need to do much. We can determine our own path and set our own goals. We can seek to be the captain of our ship and the master of our fate.
The scripture contains other times when God came near. God visited Abraham when he was on his way to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah and lives were saved. Jacob wrestled with God and forever after walked with a limp. Moses received the Ten Commandments from God and his face shined so brightly that he had to cover it. In these previous experiences of God’s presence, God did not stay. With the coming of Jesus, God’s kingdom has come to stay.
When God comes close some sort of a response is required. John the Baptist called on the people to repent.
The word “repent” literally means to change one’s mind. When I was going up, my pastor told me it was making a “180”; we turn away from our own path and follow God’s guidance. Repentance involves change and we all know that no one likes change. We especially don’t like change when there are so many other things going on during the Christmas season.
There are times when we run up against the law—God’s commandments—and we realize that we have fallen far short of the law’s requirements. Some people respond by harder—saying, “I think I can, I think I can.” A truer understanding of repentance is a confession that “I can’t.” Though we don’t turn away from the law, we do turn toward God—confessing our sin and failure, acknowledging our need, and receiving God’s forgiveness.
The Holy Spirit, also, moves within us and guides us to change. The Spirit shows us where our lives are not aligned with God’s will, or places in our lives where we have not yield over control to the Lord. Often the change sought by the Spirit is close to the idea of, “Let go and let God.”Some of us may recently have sensed the Spirit’s movement in our lives as he nudged us to tithe or to move toward tithing. In addition to other areas of our lives, the Spirit might be challenging to be bolder in our witness and in inviting others to worship with us.
We celebrate during the Christmas season that the kingdom of God has come. In addition to the presents, parties, and preparations we are asked to repent and to change. Change enables us to live in the kingdom of God and is a proper response to our encounter with God in the person of Jesus.