Here’s Johnny!

People of a certain age will get that reference … you younger folks may need to look it up!

The arrival of John the Baptizer on the scene is always so abrupt. I think this is fitting for a man whose entire raison d’etra was to be abrupt. He liked getting up in people’s grill about their sin and apostasy. His lifestyle was weird, his appearance was startling, and his message was unapologetically austere and forthright: “Change your life. God’s kingdom is HERE.”

Matthew 3 (The Message)

1-2 While Jesus was living in the Galilean hills, John, called “the Baptizer,” was preaching in the desert country of Judea. His message was simple and austere, like his desert surroundings: “Change your life. God’s kingdom is here.”

John and his message were authorized by Isaiah’s prophecy:

Thunder in the desert!
Prepare for God’s arrival!
Make the road smooth and straight!

4-6 John dressed in a camel-hair habit tied at the waist by a leather strap. He lived on a diet of locusts and wild field honey. People poured out of Jerusalem, Judea, and the Jordanian countryside to hear and see him in action. There at the Jordan River those who came to confess their sins were baptized into a changed life.

His presentation attracted folks from far and wide as though the circus had come to town. Yet when they heard him, the Holy Spirit convicted them about their sin and their need for redemption. John baptized them into a “changed life.”

7-10 When John realized that a lot of Pharisees and Sadducees were showing up for a baptismal experience because it was becoming the popular thing to do, he exploded: “Brood of snakes! What do you think you’re doing slithering down here to the river? Do you think a little water on your snakeskins is going to make any difference? It’s your life that must change, not your skin! And don’t think you can pull rank by claiming Abraham as father. Being a descendant of Abraham is neither here nor there. Descendants of Abraham are a dime a dozen. What counts is your life. Is it green and flourishing? Because if it’s deadwood, it goes on the fire.

Like Jesus, John had no trouble calling out the Pharisees and Sadducees for their hypocrisy. What a brood of snakes they were, showing up and showing off with very little to show for it. But in fairness, we have pews filled with people who are the same. Churches are filled with well-dressed folks who ignore the gospel message of God’s love for all people … folks who dress the part but are empty and hollow inside. John calls us all out when we put on airs while neglecting the poor and needy in our community. If our doors aren’t open to the marginalized in our society, we might as well close them. Our lives must change, not our seasonal wardrobes.

11-12 “I’m baptizing you here in the river, turning your old life in for a kingdom life. The real action comes next: The main character in this drama—compared to him I’m a mere stagehand—will ignite the kingdom life within you, a fire within you, the Holy Spirit within you, changing you from the inside out. He’s going to clean house—make a clean sweep of your lives. He’ll place everything true in its proper place before God; everything false he’ll put out with the trash to be burned.”

Are you baptized? Do you lead and live a changed life? Jesus came to light a fire in you for the things he is passionate about. And if we turn our backs on that, he will clean house and bounce us to the curb. Everything true will remain before God. May we be found to be people whose lives are green and flourishing in our zeal to live Gospel lives and invite others to come in.

Seasonal Finery by Kathy Schumacher

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