1 In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea,
2 Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.
3 For this is he who was spoken of by the prophet Isaiah when he said,
The voice of one crying in the wilderness:
Prepare the way of the Lord;
make his paths straight.
4 Now John wore a garment of camel's hair and a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey.
5 Then Jerusalem and all Judea and all the region about the Jordan were going out to him,
6 and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.
7 But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism, he said to them, You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?
8 Bear fruit in keeping with repentance.
9 And do not presume to say to yourselves, We have Abraham as our father, for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham.
10 Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.
11 “I baptize you with water for repentance, but he who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.
12 His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into the barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.
Part of the history of the Church is that there has always been a relatively small group of people who are really interested in what we call "theology". Someplace back a hundred years ago or so a movement began to grow up bent on making every believer into a theologian capable of teaching the Scriptures with some competence. But people's gifts are different, and not everyone is built for the same task.
It shouldn't surprise us, then, that while "Jerusalem and all Judea and all the region about the Jordan" came out to see and hear John the Baptist, most really came with a gut-level need. They somehow knew in their hearts that the rituals of Judaism weren't enough to deal with their sin. And these "regular" people didn't need a huge explanation from John as to what baptism means or a discussion on the relationship between baptism and circumcision. They just knew they felt better when they came up out of the water after repenting of their sin.
That's why John doesn't deliver a sermon to them. Everything he says, he says to the "Pharisees and Sadducees" who came for baptism. And what he says to them isn't pretty. They had felt nothing in their gut or in their heart. They were coming with an arrogant swagger and the feeling that what they were doing was "religiously correct". So John blasts them.
Church! It is so easy to get caught up in the mechanics of worship and church life. More Christians, it seems to me, are worried about the delivery of the reader on Sunday morning than about the deep truths of what that person is reading. C.S. Lewis once wrote:
"Every poet and musician and artist, but for Grace, is drawn away from love of the thing he tells, to love of the telling till, down in Deep Hell, they cannot be interested in God at all but only in what they say about Him."
Who warned you to flee from the wrath that is to come? Those who claim Abraham as their father (or who call Jesus "Lord") are so often more creatures content to live under the floorboards of Church buildings than they are souls fleeing to the only One who can help them. Does your life today bear the fruit that befits repentance?
Look down in pity, Lord, and see
The mighty woes that burden me;
Down to the dust my life is brought,
Like one long buried and forgot.-- Isaac Watts (1674-1748)
Yours in Christ,
(If you'd like to interact with me about this or any of our series in Matthew's gospel or if you have questions about your faith and just want to talk, please do write back or call me. You can comment on the blog itself, write me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or call my cell at 603-370-8395 anytime)