Psalm 72: 1-7, 18-19
Romans 15: 4-13
Matthew 3: 1–12
It’s beard-growing time again ! No, not so I can play Santa. It’s for that mysterious wild-man John the Baptizer. He’s back for another round, this Sunday and next.
Thanks to Los Misioneros del Sagrado Corazon en el Peru
Notice John’s staff, which displays a cross.
Notice the camels’ hairs in his garment and his leathern belt— reminiscent of Elijah (2 Kings 1:8).
Notice the man nearest to John thumbing his nose, mocking the strangely- dressed character.
Notice the youngish- looking fellow in the foreground scratching his head: “Huh?”
Notice the guys with the little boxes (“phylacteries”) strapped on their foreheads in obedience to the law (in Deuteronomy 6:6 & 8). They are Pharisees and Sadducees, city slickers who had no respect for the wilderness preacher.
You would love John’s sermon:
“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven draws near!”
“You brood of vipers!
Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?
Bear fruit worthy of repentance.
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.
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.
I baptize you with water for repentance....”
-Matthew 3:2, 7-11
Searching the New Testament for information about John the Baptizer yields some fascinating little hints as to how important he is in the story of God’s Good News coming to us humans.
For example, it is clear that John had his own disciples, several of whom stayed with him long after Jesus came to John to be baptized and set off on his own journey of ministry (Matthew 11:2, Luke 7:18). Also, a number of people whom John baptized migrated to other parts of the Roman Empire, carrying John’s teachings as their faith (Acts 18:25 and 19:3).
Jesus affirmed John the Baptizer’s ministry by praising him to his own audience: “What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. This is the one about whom it is written, ‘See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way before you.’ I tell you, among those born of women no one is greater than John....” (Matthew 11: 7-11)
But imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and it is very striking, in Matthew’s gospel, how Jesus began his own ministry by preaching the very same message as John:
“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven draws near!” (Matthew 4:17)
God sent John the Baptizer ahead of Jesus into Palestine 2000 years ago, and John made quite a splash (!) there and then.
God is sending you and me (us who have repented and been baptized in the name of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) into our community now to prepare the way for Jesus to rule in people’s hearts. It is important for us to take our script from John. Instead of calling attention to ourselves, our assignment is to, like John, point to Jesus:
“He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.”
It’s all about Jesus.