Just a few notes. First, as I’m on vacation and am staying at my in-laws’ house, my ability to get on the internet is a tad restricted, so I may or may not be able to blog every day this week. Second, my computer just crashed this morning, so when I get back, my ability to use it will still be in doubt, so please be praying we can find a quick fix.
Finally, as you can tell from the title, harmonizing the Gospels will be a bit tough at times, at least when trying to keep the titles short.
We leap approximately 18 years in time from when Jesus was 12 years old to when he turned 30. And just before he began his ministry, his cousin John started his own. The apostle John makes very clear who John the Baptist was and was not, saying,
There came a man who was sent from God; his name was John. He came as a witness to testify concerning that light (i.e. Jesus), so that through him all men might believe. He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light. (John 1:6-8)
Or as John the Baptist himself put it when questioned by the priests, the Pharisees, and the Sadducees,
I am not the Christ…I am the voice of one calling in the desert, “Make straight the way for the Lord.” (John 1:20, 23)
His whole purpose in life was to pave the way for Jesus. To prepare people’s hearts to receive him.
It strikes me that as followers of Jesus, God has passed on that mission to us. To prepare people’s hearts for Jesus. We cannot make them follow him. All we can do is plant the seed.
Our message, really, isn’t much different from John’s. The main difference, of course, was that he was preaching that they needed to prepare their hearts because God’s salvation was coming. (Luke 3:6). We preach that God’s salvation has already come in Jesus Christ.
But the other thing that strikes me is that John really didn’t mince words. When he saw the Pharisees and Sadducees coming down towards him, he said,
You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not think you can say to yourselves, “We have Abraham as our father.” I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire. I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me will come one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not fit to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor, gathering his wheat into the barn and burning up the chaff with unquenchable fire.” (Matthew 3:7-12)
Why did John come down so hard on these people? Because for the most part, they were hypocrites that looked good on the outside, keeping the letter of the law, while on the inside, they were utterly corrupt. They thought they were in with God because they were Jews. Not only that, unlike the “ignorant,” they knew God’s law. But on the inside they were filled with pride, and were utterly devoid of the mercy of God in their lives.
And though he was less harsh with the rest of the people, even the most hated of people in Israel, the tax collectors and astonishingly enough the Roman soldiers (although some would argue that the soldiers were Jewish soldiers), nevertheless, he called them to repentance as well. He warned them that they could not just keep living the way that they were. Because as he told all of them, a day of judgment is coming.
We need to do the same. We need to tell people like it is.
We of course need to tell people that Jesus loves them. That he died to take the punishment for their sins, and that they can be forgiven and made whole. But if they refuse to listen in their pride, stubbornness, or utter sinfulness, we also need to warn them that a day of judgment is coming. Because if we don’t, God will hold us accountable. (Ezekiel 3:16-21; Acts 20:26-27)
How about you? Are you telling it like it is?