Matthew 3:2-12; John 1:19-28
“I baptize you with water, for repentance, but the one coming after me is more powerful than I am – I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.” – Matthew 3:11 ESV
John was a unique character, to say the least. We’re told that his “clothes were woven from course camel hair, and he wore a leather belt around his waist” (Matthew 3:4 NLT). His diet consisted of locusts and wild honey. But while his attire and dietary choices may seem a bit odd, his role was out of the ordinary. John, the cousin of Jesus, had been chosen by God for a very important task. He was to prepare the way for the coming of the Messiah. His job was to preach a message of repentance to a people who had long ago replaced their relationship with Yahweh with a mindless, heartless exercise consisting of rule-keeping and religious rituals. Their God was distant and silent. Their hearts were cold and their faith was weak. So John was given the task of calling them back to God. John was the first prophet of God to speak on behalf of God in over 400 years. And like the prophets of old, John’s message was one of repentance. He was calling the people to return to God. The Greek word for repentance literally means to “change one’s mind.” They needed to change what they believed about virtually everything – from their views about God, sin, righteousness, and religion. As Jews, they had become convinced that being simply being descendants of Abraham was enough to guarantee their relationship with God. But as John warned the religious leaders, “Don’t just say to each other, ‘We’re safe, for we are descendants of Abraham,’ That means nothing, for I tell you, God can create children of Abraham from these very stones” (Matthew 3:9 NLT).
They needed to change their mind about God. They needed to change their mind about obedience. They needed to change their attitude about righteousness. They needed to come back to God in repentance and asking for His forgiveness. He had been silent for 400 years for a reason. They had refused to listen to the prophets. They had refused to live in obedience to His will. And now, if they were going to be able to accept the coming of the Messiah, they would need to repent of their sins and return to God, asking for His forgiveness. And those who did, were baptized by John in the Jordan. But that was simply the first step in the process. John’s baptism, while essential, was incomplete. They were still going to recognize and accept Jesus as the Messiah sent from God. Their baptism was an outward sign of their commitment to God. But they were going to need to have their hearts transformed. That would require a different kind of baptism, a baptism of the Holy Spirit. One of the greatest changes of mind they would need to undergo would be their misconception that somehow they could produce their own righteousness – that through self-effort, they could earn favor and acceptance with God. John was calling them to repent of their wrong ideas and false forms of righteousness, and to turn back to God for His help. Holiness could not be achieved with God’s help. Righteousness could not be obtained alone. John was preparing the way by restoring the people’s dependence on God. Their ability to accept the Messiah would be directly tied to their reliance upon God. They needed to acknowledge their own sinfulness and rebellion, so that they could freely accept God’s salvation in the form of His own Son, Jesus Christ.
Father, we too need to change our mind about You and what is required to have a right relationship with You. Too often, we believe that it is our own self-effort that earns us favor with You. We get it into our minds that we can somehow keep You pleased by doing more. We work hard. We do religious things. We attempt to live our lives in ways that will somehow keep You happy. But we fail to recognize that we need You. We need to repent of our self-righteousness and return to You for help. Only You can make us holy. Only You can help us live the lives You’ve called us to live. And it is all made possible through the gift of Your Son, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men