Going Deeper 12-6-19

The Gospel reading for Advent 2…

Matthew 3:1-12  1 In those days John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness of Judea, proclaiming, 2 "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near." 3 This is the one of whom the prophet Isaiah spoke when he said, "The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: "Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.' " 4 Now John wore clothing of camel's hair with a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey. 5 Then the people of Jerusalem and all Judea were going out to him, and all the region along the Jordan, 6 and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. 7 But when he saw many 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 worthy of repentance. 9 Do not presume to say to yourselves, "We have Abraham as our ancestor'; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. 10 Even now the ax is lying at 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 one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 12 His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and will gather his wheat into the granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire."


Something was wrong.  People seemed to sense that their way of understanding and doing things was somehow inadequate, including their religion with all of its rites and rituals, all centered in and around the Jerusalem temple.  Many knew in their hearts that it was time to change direction.


To repent is to change direction, to turn around and head in the opposite direction.  When news traveled about John the baptizer calling for repentance and announcing that the “kingdom of heaven” was at hand, people went out to him in droves.  Matthew is clearly using hyperbole when he wrote that “the people of Jerusalem and all Judea were going out to” be baptized by John, but it means that there was a big movement underway… so big that some of the religious leaders seemed to desire to be baptized as well. 


Little did the religious leaders know that John was going to call them out.  He was even going to call them names!  Still more evidence that the Jewish religion of Jesus’ day was way out of line.  It was time to hit a reset button.  Everything was about to change.


It can sometimes be easy to miss the point of just how radical the changes were that Jesus came to bring about.  Even more radical was how He would go about His work.  Yes, like John, Jesus would call out the religious leaders.  After all, they bore the responsibility for perpetuating a system that had totally lost its way, and thus were what Jesus described as “blind guides.”  In the end, the religious leaders led the way in forcing the crucifixion of Jesus.  But Jesus went about His work as a servant, culminating with Him laying down His life without resistance.


What are the lessons here for us?  First and foremost, we must understand that Jesus did not come to reform religion.  He came to do away with it, and to clarify that through belief and being baptized in His name, repentant sinners were/are radically changed from enemies of God to children of God.  Being reconciled to God through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, we are now freed from the wages of sin and called and empowered to follow Jesus… not by performing a certain set of religious rites and rituals, but through living in a dynamic, gratitude-based and Spirit-empowered relationship with God.


Prepare ye the way of the Lord!

Mark Gabbert, Pastor
Zion Lutheran Church
Wellington, Colorado

"No one cares how much you know until they know how much you care."