In the Summer of 2004, my family and I witnessed a presidential motorcade near the City of Erie, PA. There was a lot of preparation and security that went into this short visit, and it was extreme and necessary. For months in advance security measures were put into place. A plan was devised for the best possible route for the motorcade to travel. The president of the United States of America was coming, and the city needed to prepare to ensure the safety and success of the visit of the most influential leader in America. We heard that the procession would be traveling near the church I worked at, and we went to a place where we knew we would see it. The spectacle was amazing! There were multitudes of police vehicles, busses, and SUV’s approaching as we stood on the side of the road. Black SUVs with secret service agents holding guns and helicopters flying overhead, it was awe inspiring. And this was all for one man.
Preparing for the visitation of someone of significance is important so that everything happens properly and without issue, and this is true with the coming of the Lord of lords and King of kings, Jesus. However, with his arrival he did not have a motorcade with police vehicles, guns, busses, helicopters, and SUVs… No, he had a man, a voice calling out in the wilderness to prepare for and proclaim the arrival of King Jesus. His name was John the Baptist. Today is the second Sunday of Advent and Advent is a time of reflection, repentance, and preparation for the coming of our Lord Jesus. Traditionally, the four themes of Advent are hope, love, joy, and peace. The theme of love is often connected to John the Baptist and his message of getting ready for the teachings of Jesus.
John The Baptist – We don’t know a lot about him, but this is what we do know,
1. John was of priestly descent. His father was a priest, and his mother from the lineage of Aaron (Moses’ brother). Both were reconsidered righteous before God. (Luke 1:5,6)
2. John was strong in Spirit. He was a person of energy and strength; and quite charismatic as you can imagine.
3. He lived in the desert (or wilderness) for most of his adult life until his public ministry began.
4. He was an odd-looking fella clothed in camel hair and a belt and he ate locusts and wild honey.
5. In his public ministry he preached the baptism of repentance for forgiveness of sins.
6. He had disciples.
7. He made preparations for the coming Messiah.
Matthew 3:1 – 6
Vs 1 - 4: Matthew describes him as the fulfillment of Isaiah 40:3, “I am the voice crying out in the wilderness, ‘make straight the way of the Lord.’” He declares that He was the one who was laying the foundation for the One who all of Israel has been anticipating… The Messiah.
He came preaching about the coming Kingdom of God and baptizing people for the repentance of sins.
Vs 5 – 6: The religious leaders of this time didn’t really appreciate what John was proclaiming and doing. He rebukes the leaders and warns them about coming judgment. His purpose was to …
1. “Prepare the way for the Lord’s coming.”– John proclaims that the King is coming. The coming Messiah has been prophesied for centuries. The religious leaders knew this, but they were not ready. The nation wasn’t ready. John declares that he is here to warn the people that the way of the Lord needs to be prepared. All preparations should have been made, but they weren’t. So, they better get their act together.
2. “He baptized them in the Jordan River “– One of the ways the people could get their act together was through repentance and baptism. But the leaders questioned his authority to baptize. John declares that the people need to repent as they confessed their sins and were baptized as a symbol of cleansing.
John 1:19 – 26
Vs 19: The religious leaders (probably the Sanhedrin) sent some priests and Levites to question John about who he was. They asked John who he was… This was not just a casual “Who are you?” question. They were coming to find out specifically if John was the Messiah, Elijah, or the Prophet.
At this point in history Israel was under Roman leadership and they had lost their sense of independence. There was a great sense of anticipation and hope for the Messiah to come and deliver the nation because it seemed the board was set for his imminent coming. The Jews believed the Messiah was coming to set Israel free from captivity and establish his Kingdom through the nation of Israel.
Vs 20 - 21: John fervently denies that he is the Messiah. He says he is neither Elijah nor the Prophet (which was believed to be one like Moses). They thought he might be Elijah because Malachi 4:5 reads, “Look, I am sending you the prophet Elijah before the great and dreadful day of the Lord arrives.” They were wondered if he was the fulfillment of the prophecy. They thought the prophet was Moses because Deuteronomy 18:15 says, “The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your fellow Israelites. You must listen to him.”
Vs 23: John tells them who he is and why he has come. He is the fulfillment of Isaiah 40:3, “I am the voice crying out in the wilderness, ‘make straight the way of the Lord.’” He is the one who laying the foundation for the One who all of Israel has been anticipating… The Messiah.
Verse 24 – 28: – By what authority was he baptizing? According to D.A. Carson in his commentary on John, “Their interest is in what authorizes John’s baptismal practices. It is not that baptism is unknown. Some Jewish groups practiced ‘proselyte baptism’, i.e. proselytes were baptized in the process of converting to Judaism… Candidates baptized themselves. One of the things that characterized the baptism of John the Baptist is that he administered it.” He continues, “They want to discover by what authority John is baptizing Jewish people as part of the preparation for the Kingdom of God he is announcing. Looking around for an adequate authority to sanction so extraordinary a practice, they wonder if he is an (end times) figure.”
John the Baptist’s whole ministry (and life for that matter) was devoted to pointing people to Jesus. He was a heart changer. He knew his place in life. He had a humble (and strong) sprit to him. He was not self-promoting; he was a Jesus promoter. He had no agenda of his own, he had God’s agenda. He was more concerned with people being right with God by preaching a message of baptism of repentance and forgiveness of sins. His purpose and goal were to show people a new way of life and a true relationship with God through the Messiah (Jesus Christ).
The religious leaders were all about rules, conformity, and power. Their whole lives and ministry were about keeping the law and being pious. They were rule enforcers. Their “religion” was more about doing than being. They were very much into self-promotion and power simply by imposing rules and regulations on people based on their interpretations and beliefs. The clothes they wore were lavish and their attitudes were conceited. They had no concern for God’s agenda; they were more about God changing his agenda to fit their plans. There was no talk of repentance and forgiveness and submitting to God. It was all about the rules. Their righteousness was based in outwardly keeping the rules.
When I look at these two groups of people, I am reminded of that these attitudes (heart changers and rule enforcers) are still among us today. Thankfully there are heart changers in this world today. There are believers today who are dedicated to promoting Jesus and his Kingdom and preaching a message of repentance, forgiveness, and salvation through Jesus Christ. They understand that their faith is not a result of keeping rules and pointing out the sins of others self-righteously. They are submitted to the one (Jesus) who has shown them the way to the Kingdom. A heart changer receives a new heart when Jesus becomes their Lord and Savior. They don’t just become better versions of themselves, they become new creations in Christ. The old has passed away and the new has come.
Unfortunately, there are still people and attitudes among us today of the rule enforcers These individuals depend on “doing” more than “being”. In their minds their fulfillment of duties, “being a good person”, and policing other believers validate them as Christian. They attend church on a semi regularly basis, they push morality, allegiance, and condemnation on others and overlook their own actions. Maybe they will put some (in some cases a lot of) money in the plate when it comes around, fight for the rights of the unborn, campaign against the evils of culture, but do not have a faith in Jesus Christ. Their doing is what they think saves them. There is little to no change in heart; they are the same person they have always been and maybe there is a little compartment in their life for God (on Sunday or when they are in a difficult situation. You get the picture.
The question I want to leave with you today is this… Are you a heart changer or are you a rule enforcer in your relationship with Jesus? Are you putting all your chips in the fact that you are a good person, you follow and enforce the rules as insurance for eternal life? Or have you repented of your sins, sought forgiveness, and given your heart completely over to Jesus to transform your life?
This message is still relevant and applicable to us today.
How is your heart? Are you ready for the coming King? This Christmas season we need to prepare ourselves for the advent of the King of kings who came to this world as a human to bring restoration and hope. We also need to check our hearts as we prepare and anticipate the return of Christ when He comes once again, not as a humble defenseless child, but as the victorious sovereign King of all creation who comes to establish His Kingdom here on earth where He will rule and reign for all eternity.
Are you ready for this day? I know I am, and I pray that as we continue through this Advent season your heart will be prepared as you worship our King on high.
Jeff has been in full-time ministry for thirty years. He currently serves as Executive Director at Anchor House Ministry at SeaPort Manatee in Palmetto, FL and he is a part-time Campus Pastor at West Bradenton Southside in Bradenton, Florida.
Jeff Has authored A Lent Devotional (A Spiritual Journey to Lent) an Advent Devotional (The Advent of Jesus) and a devotional on the book of James (James: Where Faith and Life Meet). All three are available on Amazon.
He is married to Carrie and they have four children, Micaiah, Gabe, Simon, and Berea.
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