John the Baptist looms large on the horizon during Advent. Why John? Isn’t this after the birth of Christ? Why would we read this before Christmas?
John’s ministry was to prepare the way for Christ, which is what we are doing during Advent. You may remember beautiful story of the baby who leaped for joy…
(Note: To learn more about Advent and how to observe it at home with family and friends, read this book!)
Well, this baby grew up… now he is this very odd man. He lives in a cave. He eats locusts dipped in honey (Try that if you are on a “biblical” diet). He wore a scratchy goat’s hair shirt, and preached in the middle of nowhere. He was not married (which may be explained by his eating, dressing, and housing habits).
John the Baptist is the guy who shouts “WAKE UP!” He is the last prophet of the Law. The law is anything that shows us that our world is distorted and fallen from what it was created to be.
Why do we need to hear Law? Church Father Chrysostom says, “You don’t know to repent unless you know that you are off the mark.” Kind of similar to how we sometimes aren’t aware we are sick until the doctor explains the test results. So how did it go for John the Baptist preaching the Law and diagnosing souls? First, lets look at his three groups of patients.
The Pharisees came by. These are the temple and synagogue attending, law abiding, bible reading, and rigorously disciplined Israelites. They were a lot like us church-going folks today.
Also at the banks of the Jordan were the Sadducees. They prioritized political power over faith. They didn’t believe in God’s direct intervention in the world, they didn’t believe in the Prophets, and they didn’t believe in an afterlife. They didn’t believe in much else besides a general idea of God, and the need for political, religious, and cultural compromise. Their agenda was set mostly by the culture around them. They were somewhat like liberal or “spiritual but not religious” groups today.
The People (The Crowds)
Then there was a mass of people from all over Judea and Jerusalem. They are the everyday Israelites, the majority of the people, who believed in Yahweh, and considered themselves a part of the covenant People of God. And yet they did not carefully follow the law or totally avoid idolatry or immorality. They were confused about the Bible and unsure about how to serve God.
They believed in Yahweh, but were overwhelmed by the Pharisee’s demanding rules. They were under the rule of the Sadducees, but rejected their unbelief. They were caught in the middle. These folks were like the vast majority of Americans Christians today, especially those who profess faith in Christ but are not connected to any church.
Before John came preaching in the Wilderness, the people hadn’t repented, because they didn’t know what to repent of, how to repent, or why to repent. The Pharisees hadn’t repented because they didn’t think they needed to. The Sadducees hadn’t repented because they didn’t believe in sin really.
John’s message to all three groups was: “Repent for the Kingdom of heaven is at hand!”; “Prepare the way of the Lord”; “Bear the fruit of repentance”
Few voices today are like John the Baptists. We hear many cries to “repent” but so often they are aimed at the “other” groups and not at all three.
If those liberals would just repent…
If those extreme fundamentalists would repent…
If those nominal Christians would just repent…
If those atheistic materialist secularists would just repent…
If those self-righteous evangelicals would just repent…
If those other people in my church would just repent…
But what about me?? We haven’t truly repented if we are still waiting for others to repent.
The majority of “The People” went down into the water of John’s Baptism, confessing their sins. Very few, if any, Pharisees and Sadducees repented.
As John announced – there is one coming. He was about the step on the scene in John the Baptist’s day. He will step on the scene at the end of this age. John was calling people to repent, to tell God the honest truth, and to change. And yet this process was not over. Really, John the Baptist was helping people realize that they need a Lamb from God to take away their sin with its guilt and shame. They needed Jesus.