"Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” “Brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?” Matthew 3:2b, 7b
Picture this: Your pastor gently strolls to the podium next Sunday, slowly looks up from his Bible and notes, takes off his reading glasses, and says, “You bunch of snakes! Who told you to flee from the wrath to come? Don’t even dare to think that, just because your parents were members of this church for 50 years, and just because your grandmother’s name is on one of the pews, that you are a child of God. God could raise up children from stones if He wanted to.”
(muffled gasp! followed by murmuring and a partial exodus)
I confess that I find John the Baptist both exciting and refreshing. He was no crowd-pleaser, and yet people flocked to him in droves, confessed their sins, and were baptized by him. He pulled this off without air conditioning or stadium seating. He was not only the antithesis of political correctness; he was also the polar opposite of “seeker-friendly.” And yet, they came to a secluded desert region just west of the Dead Sea to experience him.
And what an experience he was! His camel's hair clothing was no fashion statement. His diet of locusts (yuck!) and wild honey was not found in the diet section of any Judean bookstore. He never cut his hair and never shaved. If I saw him on the street in my town, I’d have him pegged as homeless.
His birth was miraculous and heralded by angelic proclamation. He was the forerunner of the Messiah. He was the first prophet in 400 years. And Jesus once called him the greatest among those born of women. How would you like to have that endorsement on your resume’?
But the quality I most admire in John was his bold stand for God. Who else was going to get in Herod Antipas’ face and tell him that it was unlawful for him to marry his brother’s wife? Although that little confrontation cost him his head, he was a prophet of great importance for both the Old Testament and the New.
And yet, his message was simple. It could be summed up in so few words that, if your pastor preached this sermon, you could beat every other church to the Golden Corral. Nine little words:
“Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.”
All of which brings me back to the modern American church. Could your pastor stand up this Sunday and call out the “Pharisees” in the assembly, calling them a bunch of vipers? Probably not. But what John was calling for is what we so desperately need – a radical transformation that results in spiritual fruit. The call for repentance is reiterated by Jesus Himself just a chapter later at the very outset of His preaching (Matt. 4:17) and again at the end, where He instructs His disciples that “repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name.” (Luke 24:47)
Brokenness was never intended to be a permanent condition. What do you and I need to boldly repent of today?
Toward making disciples,