Sunday, August 19, 2007

Matthew 3:2-John the Baptist-The Herald’s Message

A television “preacher” was interviewed on television. This man is the “pastor” of America’s largest church and has a wildly popular television ministry. The interviewer asked him about sin and this “preacher” said something along the lines of “I don’t preach about sin. We hear all the time about God’s wrath and things that will keep us out of heaven. I would rather preach about God’s goodness and His love. That is what will draw people to Christ.” Like Col. Potter used to say on MASH, “Horse feathers”. The fact of the matter is that apart from recognition of our sin and the penalty for our sin, none of us would have ever turned to Jesus Christ. In order to tell people the Good News of the gospel you have to tell them the bad news that they are lost and that they are going to spend eternity in hell suffering forever, separated from God apart from a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. This is not a popular message. A preacher preaching this kind of sermon is probably not going to end up with 20,000 or more people in his services every week. However, as we see in this verse, this is exactly the kind of message that draws sinners to true repentance by the grace of God through the Holy Spirit.

John the Baptist called the people who heard him preach to “Repent”. Metanoeo, the word that is translated as “repent”, means to change ones mind. It does not mean to feel sorry or to fear the consequences. The perception of a lost person of their sin is that it is no big deal. They don’t recognize the acts they commit as offensive to God but rather they see their sin as them exercising their rights to live as they see fit. The perspective of a Christian is altogether different. We recognize that our sin is filthy before God and that God demanded a penalty for that sin. The crucifixion of our Lord Jesus satisfied God’s demand for justice. When we recognize our sin as the offense that it is, our perspective is changed and we live differently. Essentially, this is the idea of repentance. Our minds are changed so that our perspective on our sin is changed. When we see our sin as what it truly is, our hearts are broken because of it and we change directions. We turn from sin and turn to Christ.

As an illustration, let’s look to the Bible to see an example of what repentance is and what it isn’t. In 1 Samuel 15, Saul is told to kill all the Amalekites. Instead, he killed most of them and kept the king of the Amalekites and the best of their stuff. When Samuel confronts him, Saul proudly proclaims his innocence. After several interchanges between the two, Samuel announces that God has judged Saul and the kingdom would be taken away from him. At that point, Saul exclaims “I have sinned.” This is not repentance. This is a man that has been caught and is sorry he was caught. He was not sorry about what he did. In fact, from his perspective, what he did was not sin. He repeatedly justified himself before the man of God. In contrast, in 2 Samuel 12, Nathan confronts David about his sin with Bathsheba. When Nathan calls him out, David doesn’t defend himself with butter. Yes, butter. He doesn’t say “Yes, I sinned, but, er…umm…you see”. He flatly, bluntly says “I have sinned.” That is repentance. It is honest and transparent. When are hearts are broken because we committed the sin, not that we have been caught, we are repentant. As Paul notes in 2 Corinthians 7:8-11 “8For even if I made you sorry with my letter, I do not regret it; though I did regret it. For I perceive that the same epistle made you sorry, though only for a while. 9Now I rejoice, not that you were made sorry, but that your sorrow led to repentance. For you were made sorry in a godly manner, that you might suffer loss from us in nothing. 10For godly sorrow produces repentance leading to salvation, not to be regretted; but the sorrow of the world produces death. 11For observe this very thing, that you sorrowed in a godly manner: What diligence it produced in you, what clearing of yourselves, what indignation, what fear, what vehement desire, what zeal, what vindication! In all things you proved yourselves to be clear in this matter.” Essentially, then, John begins his first sermon with a call to spiritual cleansing.

He also gives his audience the reason that they should get cleaned up. He tells them “the kingdom of heaven is at hand”. In other words, the kingdom of God was on the horizon. The book of Malachi ended the Old Testament with a call to repentance and a promise of judgment. John the Baptist arrives here on the scene telling people to get ready because the King is coming. To prepare themselves for this spiritual kingdom, they must be cleansed spiritually. This kingdom of God (he used heaven as a euphemism for God so as not to offend his target Jewish audience by using God’s name) would require spiritual purity. This spiritual purity would require repentance from sin. In order to repent, the people would have to recognize their sin as being an offense to God so as to turn in faith and ask Him to make them clean.

Scripture taken from the New King James Version Copyright 1979, 1980, 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc Used by permission All rights reserved

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