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Walter Albritton

January 14, 2018

 

Methodists would have run him out of town!

 

        Had John the Baptist been a Methodist preacher, he would have been run out of town by every church he served. You don’t call good Methodist folks “a brood of vipers” and get away with it.

        But Brother John had no church nor was he a pastor. He was a prophet whose thundering voice attracted large crowds to his wilderness pulpit. And he wasted no time mollycoddling people in the hope he could gain their approval. He shelled the corn by telling people the truth.

        John was on a mission – to warn the Jews that the wrath of God would soon fall on them unless they turned from their sins. Their only hope of escaping God’s fierce judgment was to repent, be baptized in the Jordan, and start loving people and living like God wanted them to live.  

        The crowds were impressed by John’s preaching. Instead of condemning John, people urged their friends to come hear him. Many did come, were convicted of their sins and waded into the Jordan to be baptized.

        The context of John’s place in history is important. For centuries there had been no prophetic message from God but the Jews still had hope the Messiah would one day come. The sudden appearance of John fanned the flames of their hope. Perhaps John is the Messiah. He seemed like the kind of Messiah they expected, a fiery leader who would overthrow their oppressors with military power.

        John’s ego was not inflated by the compliments of the people. He knew his purpose – to point people to Jesus. The scriptures expose John’s humility. John said of Jesus, “Behold the Lamb of God!” Once he said, “He must increase and I must decrease.” At another time he said, “One more powerful than I is coming.” And John even said he was “not worthy to untie his sandals!” Untying sandals was the work of slaves.

        What John was doing, the Bible makes clear, was “preparing the way” for Jesus. Repeatedly John said, Jesus will do more for you than I can do. “I baptize with water,” John said. “But Jesus will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.”

        John’s strong message teaches us that ritual and religion are not enough to please God. Baptism is not enough, John said. He insisted they “bear fruits worthy of repentance.” John explained that this meant they must love the poor by sharing their food and clothes with them.

        Tax collectors extorted the poor. To them John said, “You must begin treating people fairly; collect no more than the amount prescribed for you.” In other words, stop stealing from people!

        Soldiers, who used threats and accusations to “shake down” the weak, were advised by John to “show you are right with God by being satisfied with your wages.”

        It remains true to this day that God is not satisfied with ritual and religion. God has no interest in religion. He sent His Son to deliver people from religion. So, for us today, it is not enough to repent, be baptized and join a church. Ritual and religion, without love for the poor, will neither save us nor give us peace with God.

        What is needed is a delicate balance between faith and works. Our works will not save us. But it is a phony faith that produces no deeds of love and mercy. God desires that our deeds match our words. When they do, then our lives, like that of John, will point to Jesus. The way we live will recommend Jesus to the people who do not yet know him. + + +