[Aug 04]--What Was His Message?

Matt. 3:1-12

Yesterday’s passage mentioned that John the Baptist was a prophet (in fact, the first one in about 400 years), and today’s reading demonstrates that pretty effectively. Despite some peoples’ image of a prophet as someone who predicts the future, their main job was not to be fortune-tellers but to present God’s message to people, which sometimes included prediction but often didn’t. Most of the time, prophecies fell into two main categories. If the people were disobedient to God’s law, then the prophet pointed this out to them. And if they were going through terrible times, he could also provide the Lord's message of comfort. From reading about John today, you can probably guess what type of message he usually relayed.

By the way, what does the Bible mean by repentance? Literally the Greek word means to "change one's mind," but in context of what the Bible says about it, it means so much more. Basically  the Scriptures use it in the sense of a change of mind which ultimately results in a change of lifestyle. If someone is heading due east and they make a u-turn and go due west, that’s repentance. We need to repent when we come to Christ, pledging ourselves to abandon our old way of life to follow him (see here, among many other passages). But we also need to repent as believers when we find ourselves in disobedience to him--read through the letters to the churches in Rev. 2-3 and see how many times you see the word “repent.”

You can see that concept of "change of mind leading to a change of life" here in today's passage. Notice that John called for “fruit in keeping with repentance.” If someone claims to have repented but isn't demonstrating any change in lifestyle, then this belies their assertion.

Another thing I find very interesting in his message is his complete rejection of salvation by heritage. Many Jews thought they were on good terms with the God of Israel simply because they were physical descendants of Abraham. In fact, there was a common perception that Abraham was standing at the gates of Hell, checking every person about to pass through to see if they were circumcised, and sending them up to Heaven if they passed his personal inspection. To this, John’s response was absolutely not!!!

Baptism was not original with John. When a Gentile wanted to convert to Judaism and follow the one true God, he was baptized to symbolize his new life. But what made John so different was that he was baptizing everyone, because everyone was out of sync with God’s standards and needed repentance. As you might guess, this was pretty scandalous—the notion that (gasp!) even practicing Jews needed to get right with the Lord.

And why did they need to repent, especially now? Because the Messiah was on the horizon! He was almost here! Later we’ll talk more about how John viewed himself in relationship with Jesus, but for now we’ll just point out that he was all about pointing people to the One who was coming after him. According to John, the Messiah was coming, and he (the Messiah) was about to separate the wheat from the chaff. The way people harvested wheat was to toss it into the air. The wheat would fall to the ground while chaff--useless pods which looked like wheat to the casual eye--would be blown away by the wind. The Coming One was going to do this with humanity, and all of us needed to be on the right side of the coming separation.

Lord Jesus, these are hard words from your servant, but they come right from your heart. Is there something of which I need to repent? Something that’s separating you from me? Whatever it is, please show it to me and let’s deal with it. Right now.

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