Rev. Deacon Allen Batchelder
December 8, 2013 – Advent II
Isaiah 11:1-10, Psalm 72:1-7, 18-19; Romans 15:4-13, Matthew 3:1-12
From the Prophet Isaiah:
In that day the root of Jesse shall stand as an ensign to the peoples; him shall the nations seek, and his dwellings shall be glorious.
From St. Paul’ Letter to the Romans:
Isaiah says, “The root of Jesse shall come, he who rises to rule the Gentiles; in him shall the Gentiles hope.”
And from the Gospel of St. Matthew:
John the Baptist says, “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.”
Let us pray:
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in thy sight, O God, our Rock and our Redeemer, our Strength and our Salvation.
This is the second Sunday in Advent, as we prepare ourselves for the coming of the Messiah, Jesus Christ. The prophet Isaiah foretold His coming. He looked beyond his people’s trials to the glorious kingdom that will be established when Messiah comes to reign (Is. 11:1-9). David’s dynasty was ready to end, but out of Jesse’s lineage, the Messiah would come (Rom. 1:3). A godly remnant of Jews kept the nation alive so that the Messiah could be born.
When Isaiah looked at his people, he saw a sinful nation that would one day walk the “highway of holiness” and enter into a righteous kingdom. He saw a suffering people who would one day enjoy a beautiful and peaceful kingdom. He saw a scattered people who would be re-gathered and reunited under the kingship of Jesus Christ.
Over 400 years had passed and the nation of Israel had not heard the voice of a prophet. Then John the Baptist appeared on the scene and a great revival took place. But who was this John the Baptist? Why was he so significant? What was this John the Baptist like?
When we read about John the Baptist, we see he was a straight talker, said it like it was and wasn’t afraid to offend people in order to tell them the truth. He was a true prophet. John’s preaching centered on repentance and the kingdom of heaven. The word, repent means “to change one’s mind and act on that change.” But why repent? It’s because the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand. The Kingdom of heaven, that is God’s kingdom, God’s reign, God’s rule, is at hand. But what does all this mean?
All kinds of people came to hear John preach and to watch the great baptismal services he conducted. Many publicans and sinners came in sincere humility (Matt. 21:31-32), but the religious leaders refused to submit. They thought that they were good enough to please God; yet John called them a “generation of vipers.” Jesus used the same language when He dealt with this self-righteous crowd (Matt. 12:34; 23:33).
The Pharisees were the traditionalists of their day, while the Sadducees were more liberal. The wealthy Sadducees controlled the “temple business” that Jesus cleaned out. These two groups usually fought each other for control of the nation, but when it came to opposing Jesus Christ, the Pharisees and Sadducees were united.
John’s message was one of judgment. Israel had sinned and needed to repent, and the religious leaders should have led the way. The ax was lying at the root of the tree; and if the tree or Israel did not bear good fruit, it would be cut down. If the nation repented, the way would be prepared for the coming of the Messiah.
John fulfilled the prophecy given in Isaiah 40:3, “A voice cries: In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God.” In a spiritual sense, John was “Elijah who was to come” for he came in the “spirit and power of Elijah” (Luke 1:16-17). He even dressed as Elijah did and preached the same message of judgment (2 Kings 1:8). John was the last of the Old Testament prophets (Luke 16:16) and the greatest of them (Matt. 11:7-15).
And what was he saying? What was his message? It was to prepare the way for the Lord, to make his paths straight. That is, John’s role was to prepare people for Jesus, the salvation that Jesus was bringing: The Gospel – the good news – of the Kingdom of Heaven. That Jesus would shortly be proclaiming. The Good News that the war is over, peace is coming, because the people’s sin has been pardoned. That’s what John did, he prepared people’s hearts for the coming of Jesus the Messiah, by preaching and telling people to repent.
The Jews baptized Gentile converts to Judaism, but John was baptizing Jews! His baptism was authorized from heaven (Matt. 21:23-27); it was not something John devised or borrowed. It was a baptism of repentance, looking forward to the Messiah’s coming (Acts 19:1-7). His baptism fulfilled two purposes: it prepared the nation for Christ and it presented Christ to the nation (John 1:31).
Baptism is always a voluntary thing on the part of the person being baptized. And what came with the baptism – confession of sins. You know, one of the biggest problems we face with evangelism in our modern culture is that people don’t think they are sinners. It’s always someone else. We are under the impression that as long as I am a “good” person; then I am okay. People don’t realize they have offended God; that they have rebelled against God.
Remember our ancestors Adam and Eve. God told them not to eat of a particular fruit in the Garden of Eden; and they did anyway. They thought they knew better than God. It was the same with the Pharisees and Sadducees and it is the same today. We think we know best. That’s what sin is. It’s a kind of arrogance. It’s when we write our own rules. It’s when we ignore God. It’s when we don’t put Him first in our lives. Sin is the belief by a person that he knows better than God or that we don’t need God. You’ve heard the expression: move over God, there’s two of us.
And so the first step towards coming to God, is we need to acknowledge our sin. And that’s what these people were doing at John’s baptism. They were confessing their sins. And if you haven’t confessed your sins, then you are still separated from God. But the Good News is, that if you do confess your sins and repent, then God can and will forgive you.
Now we have some distinguished visitors arriving at John’s baptism. It doesn’t say that they were baptized, but perhaps they just came down to the waters see what was going on. These people were two Jewish religious groups: the Pharisees and Sadducees. Although the Pharisees and Sadducees were quite different to each other, they had the reputation of being very religious, and they thought they were right with God. So, does John welcome them with open arms; No! He called them a “brood of vipers!” In other words, he called them “offspring of snakes.” Why did John say that to them?
The problem is two-fold. First, John is saying that they need to “bear fruit” in keeping with repentance. That is, if you repent of your sins, if you confess your sins, turn to God, then there must be something to show for it. It MUST affect the way you live.
Second, the Pharisees and Sadducees thought they were okay, that they were right with God, simply because they were Jews, descendents of Abraham. This happened in Isaiah’s time. Isaiah proclaimed repentance and the Jews wouldn’t listen and they were exiled and punished for their sins. And now in John the Baptist’s time many of the Jews had the same attitude.
So, John is preparing the way for Jesus – that it is not just good enough to be born into the right race, the right family, but there must be repentance – and not just a repentance of words, but a repentance of action, of a changed life, of good fruit.
Are we Christians any different? Do we not preach “forgiveness of sins;” that God loves us and will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. The problem is, we forget the repentance part.
Did God did say, go forth and do whatever you want, because I will forgive you? No! John the Baptist’s cry is the same today, “repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”
We all need to examine ourselves and our relationship with God. John the Baptist warns people that they were not okay with God simply by virtue of their birth or that they were from a religious family; or that they did the right rituals. Now many of us are in a similar boat. We have grown up in Christian homes. We have grown up in the church. We come to church each week (most of the time). Most of us are members of this church. So, because of these things, we call ourselves a Christian, because that’s what we’re supposed to do, that’s what our parents did. And because of that, we think we are right with God.
Now don’t get me wrong. It’s great to be brought up in a Christian home; it’s great to have the things of God taught to you from an early age through the Sunday school, and that’s what we are doing with our kids. But unfortunately, being brought up in at Christian home won’t save you. Going to church every Sunday won’t save you. Just because you were baptized, won’t save you. These circumstances can certainly help, but they won’t guarantee that you will be saved. You can’t rely on your upbringing, your Christian heritage, or just calling yourself a Christian. You must decide for yourself to follow Jesus Christ, and live it.
You see, every one of us must decide for ourselves to follow Christ or not. And if you decide to follow Christ, as John the Baptist says so clearly, then you must do it properly. 100%. You must be honest about it. You must show fruit of your repentance. It must be obvious from the way you live, that God is number one. As far as God is concerned, there is no such thing as Christianity Lite. What are the priorities in your life? Do you put God first?
Is serving the Lord with your time, your abilities, your money, the number one priority in your life? Do you make the proclamation of the Gospel the priority of your life? Does your behavior towards others show that Christ lives in you? Are you kind, generous, thinking of others ahead of yourself, helping those in need, the poor? Do you spend time each day in prayer and Bible reading, soaking up the Word of God? When you talk with people, email them, post on your Face book wall, do you talk about the things of the Lord? Have you made Jesus the priority in your life?
John mentioned two other baptisms: a baptism of the Spirit and a baptism of fire (Matt. 3:11). The baptism of the Spirit came at Pentecost (Acts 1:5). Today, whenever a sinner trusts Christ, he is born again and immediately baptized by the Spirit into the body of Christ, the church (1 Cor. 12:12-13). In contrast, the baptism of fire refers to the future judgment.
Jesus will come again and He will sort out the wheat from the chaff. He will sort out those who truly are His, and who show it in their lives. The wheat he will gather into His silo, and the chaff He will burn with unquenchable fire. He came to bring Good News of forgiveness, but it is only good news for those who recognize their sin, repent, and turn to God, who then have their sins forgiven and who show fruit of that repentance.
Thus, John the Baptist bore witness to Jesus Christ as the Son of God, and also as the Lamb of God (John 1:29). Because of John’s witness, many sinners trusted Jesus Christ (John 10:39-42). The word “trust” can also mean “hope.” Not only do believers have hope, but they also have joy and peace and power (Rom. 15:13). As we prepare for His coming, may we bear witness to the saving grace of Jesus Christ!
Let us pray:
Merciful God, who sent your messengers the prophets to preach repentance and prepare the way for our salvation; Give us grace to heed their warnings and forsake our sins, that we may greet with joy the coming of Jesus Christ our Redeemer; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.