Text: Matthew 3:1-12
Function: To help us be peacemakers.
Intro: John the Baptist was the forerunner to Jesus. He came to prepare people for the coming of the Messiah. He was the original Advent calendar.
John was an oddball. His diet consisted solely of grasshoppers and wild honey. He made his own clothes out of camel hair, which is hot, and he wore it in the desert. He was an enigma. He was weird.
John came at a desperate time. And perhaps such an oddball is exactly what they needed. The people were seeking peace and listening to this odd prophet seemed to help them. He did have God’s true message and God’s Spirit was opening their eyes.
And here is what I see about the people’s reaction. The People were sincere (verse 6).
They confessed their sins. Remember JTB’s message was simple living, if you have an extra coat, give it away to the poor and insure your business dealings are honest and etc.
His message of repentance was a message of repentance from greed and selfishness to sharing vital resources because people around them were freezing and starving.
The People repented and confessed the sinfulness of the greed that comes from fear. John told them to trust God again.
They believed him and were getting ready for Jesus to come.
JTB, they do not know, has the dual role of prophet and the first evangelist to call people to come to Jesus Christ. He is literally the first ever Baptist preacher and his version of Christianity is still to be invented because this is before Jesus Himself begins to preach.
He is getting the people ready for the new Kingdom of God which is coming.
His job is to get their hearts prepared spiritually and to convince them that their hope is not in vain.
And it is working!
By the thousands the crowds are leaving the comfort of their homes, traveling into the desert to look at this man who is dressed so oddly simple that he has become an event in history himself. Exciting things are happening and the people, who are desperate, are sincere in their desire to live in a new kind of kingdom where people share resources and love each other as much as they love themselves.
This is pretty exciting. The Christmas Spirit is catching on among the populist.
God’s Spirit is moving and people are responding in a positive way. Hope is reborn, and because of hope, love begins to flourish in little outbreaks of sincere generosity and sharing.
And it is happening everywhere among all peoples near the region. Even Roman soldiers are hearing the words and are so moved that they are willing to lay down their arms and join the movement.
And then the religious leaders are afraid that they cannot control the population anymore.
(hold 2 fingers up) The religious leaders were not sincere. And somehow, John the Baptist, the prophet, sees through their insincerity and shouts a warning to them that we read in Vs 7 “Who warned you that you could escape…?”
Why does John the Baptist make such a blanket statement about these leaders? isn’t that prejudice?
Both Nicodemus and Gamaliel were from this group and they were sincere. Why this judgment against them?
I am going to have to stretch this on the principle that pre-judging people based on their class or occupation is a sin. We label it prejudice when we refer it to race, religion, and gender identity. This is also prejudice.
So why is John prejudiced against the group of people when we have later evidence from scripture that some of them were sincere?
Based on that stretch, I am going to surmise that it is the system that John is decrying.
It really is not that big of stretch because John the Baptist is talking about the Kingdom of heaven. This is huge. This is the introduction to the Jewish people that God is not really that interested in the Jewish nation, or any nation state, God is interested in an heavenly kingdom that refuses to place any earthly kingdom above the command to love one another as much as we love our own selves, our own families, and our own nation.
Again, that is why most Churches of the Brethren do not have American Flags in them. That is another reason why Brethren have refused to take up arms in support of any human kingdom.
And John is laying out the structures, the principles and the looks of this new heavenly kingdom to God’s people.
He says it almost as succinctly as Jesus when Jesus said in the upper room said: A New Command I give you, Love one Another and then, The Holy Spirit is coming.
Although John says it in a negative way, John does say this: “bear good fruit” (verse 10) and let the Holy Spirit change your heart (verse 11).
I don’t know about you, but I rejoice that Salvation, the Salvation, the healing that God has for the world is no longer dependent on the blood sacrifices offered day after day and year after year for 4,000 years.
Instead, the healing and salvation comes from when people are living out the fruit of the Holy Spirit in their Christian lives.
And that is what was happening right then during the ministry of John the Baptist.
There was a revival in Israel going on in the desert. It was indeed a great awakening and a popular movement.
It was healthy, holistic and genuine. It was a picture of what should and could happen when God’s people start living out the love for others that God has given them.
And those religious leaders at this time were concerned that this was a revival that they could not control.
John warns them sternly and in so doing he warns the systems of the world that reinforce selfish living. He condemns greed, especially when others are harmed by ones greed.
Let me put this in perspective.
About 10 years ago I posted on the Internet that I was preaching this passage from the gospel of Luke that emphasizes “he who has two coats should give one to the one who has none.”
My daughter, in complete sincerity asked the group this question: “But what if my coat does not match my outfit?”
The bible says, If you have 2, give one away. Her response, “But what if it does not match?”
That is the perspective we have to approach that scripture with. It is one of privilege that those people could have never imagined. Two coats for a commoner? Impossible!
Of course, I have several hats so that they do match my several coats.
It begs the question. When do I have too many? Of course, we can always point to someone who has more and justify ourselves as not as greedy. But we have to remember this: To the person who has none and is freezing, I have one too many.
It kind of put this whole repentance thing in perspective. The people had a sincere repentance. But those who were accustomed to privilege, in this case, the religiously wealthy class, their repentance reflected their greed. The poor were sharing everything so that they could all survive and the upper class was still hoarding their excess because they believed that somehow they were entitled to more because of what family or class to which they were born.
The elephant is the room is that we too, historically and currently, are in the World’s upper class.
Here is the question for me: What if sharing costs me to much? What price is to much for sharing? Is it the color of my outfit or is it my neighbor’s survival?
The consumerism of our culture is indeed an indictment because I want my daughter’s coat to match her outfit.
These are hypothetical questions for a moment. Indulge me.
Would it have been a sin if my vote was indeed “America first” when the whole system of greed that excuses basic care for the least of these in exchange for my convenience or excuses turning my head away from the poor because serving them would inconvenience me?
Is nationalism a sin?
Well, if it comes before the command to love one another, then yes it is.
I cannot save the world entire. We know that. We also know that we are indeed sincerely generous people who care when others are struggling. We are the kind of people that would sacrifice to help another. Many of us would even give our lives for another.
And Jesus Himself knew that there were sincere religious leaders. I know many!
So I assume, John’s indictment is indeed against systems and not specific people.
John reminds them that it is okay to be good. It is okay to share. It is okay to love the other, the stranger. It is even commanded that we do good.
He preached this message to desperate people in desperate times and started showing them how individually caring for others is the true form of Godliness. It is the gospel fleshed out in their actions.
And that leads us to peace, today’s theme.
Peace comes in the individual nature of our salvation as I stop worrying about how others are doing and renew my commitment to trust God for my resources and continue to share Jesus.