God had been silent for about 400 years when He sent the last Old Testament prophet to Israel to proclaim the eminent arrival of the long-awaited Messiah. That prophet was the man we know as John the Baptist. John, who was born to quite elderly parents, was empowered by the Holy Spirit while he was still in his mother’s womb. If John the Baptist were to reappear today, would he be welcome in your church? Would he be welcome in your pulpit?
John didn’t appear in a three-piece-suit with shiny shoes and slicked-back hair. He lived off the land in the wilderness, had long hair and a beard, and looked like what many would call a “bum“. He didn’t “look good” and he probably didn’t smell much better. Would he be welcome in your church? Would he be welcome in your pulpit?
John didn’t come proclaiming a “gospel” of prosperity or “name-it-and-claim-it” religion. He came proclaiming repentance from old ways of living and self-righteous ways of thinking, and that the kingdom of God was at hand. Would he be welcome in your church? Would he be welcome in your pulpit? Would you welcome and heed his message? What was his message?
7 Then he said to the multitudes that came out to be baptized by him, “Brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? 8 Therefore bear fruits worthy of repentance, and do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I say to you that God is able to raise up children to Abraham from these stones. 9 And even now the ax is laid to the root of the trees. Therefore every tree which does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.”
10 So the people asked him, saying, “What shall we do then?”
11 He answered and said to them, “He who has two tunics, let him give to him who has none; and he who has food, let him do likewise.”
12 Then tax collectors also came to be baptized, and said to him, “Teacher, what shall we do?” 13 And he said to them, “Collect no more than what is appointed for you.”
14 Likewise the soldiers asked him, saying, “And what shall we do?” So he said to them, “Do not intimidate anyone or accuse falsely, and be content with your wages.”
15 Now as the people were in expectation, and all reasoned in their hearts about John, whether he was the Christ or not, 16 John answered, saying to all, “I indeed baptize you with water; but One mightier than I is coming, whose sandal strap I am not worthy to loose. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 17 His winnowing fan is in His hand, and He will thoroughly clean out His threshing floor, and gather the wheat into His barn; but the chaff He will burn with unquenchable fire.” (Luke 3:7-17)
Does this message seem vaguely-familiar? John the Baptist was giving applications to the “Tall Orders” God gave through Micah the prophet almost eight-hundred years earlier:
He has shown you, O man, what is good; And what does the LORD require of you,
But to do justice, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God? (Micah 6:8)
Jesus Christ would later sum up these “orders” when some Pharisees confronted Him:
34 But when the Pharisees heard that He had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together. 35 Then one of them, a lawyer, asked Him a question, testing Him, and saying, 36 “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?”
37 Jesus said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and great commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 22:34-40)
The Jews staked their claim on being children of Abraham, but that wasn’t good enough. Injustice was rampant in Israel, and even though God had condemned it almost eight-hundred years earlier, things still hadn’t changed. John’s message of repentance required more than just mere words, it required concrete actions.
We can show our love for God by loving our neighbor, not just in word-only, but by tangible actions. When my neighbor-gal came home at 11:30 one night and couldn’t walk into her home by herself because of the pain in her broken foot, she needed REAL help. She also needed to borrow my walker again, so real help was both helping her get into her home and putting my walker into the trunk of her car. Mere words of consolation would not have done for her what she needed done. Help required action. I am no “shining-star” in this, but I do try to do what I can, when I can.
John baptized people in the Jordan River in the same way new converts to Judaism had been baptized for hundreds of years, naked, and all the way under. Would you allow him to baptize you?
If John the Baptist wouldn’t be welcome in your church, you are in “good company“, because the religious-establishment of his day didn’t like him or his message either. They were particularly incensed that he was baptizing people. He hadn’t graduated from “Jerusalem Theological Seminary” and hadn’t gone through all the steps to become a “recognized” preacher. He didn’t have the right “credentials“, even though he was a prophet, and he was operating outside of their “system“. Of course Jesus Christ didn’t have the right “credentials” either, even though He was the Incarnate Son of God.
Even if we wouldn’t welcome John the Baptist into our church and pulpit, we should welcome his message. We can learn a lot from John’s simple message of repentance:
Abandon our self-righteous attitudes and admit that we can’t fix ourselves.
Love God with all of our being.
Truly love our neighbor as ourselves.