In those days John the Baptist appeared in the desert of Judea announcing, “Change your hearts and lives! Here comes the kingdom of heaven!” He was the one of whom Isaiah the prophet spoke when he said:
The voice of one shouting in the wilderness, “Prepare the way for the Lord; make his paths straight.”
John wore clothes made of camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist. He ate locusts and wild honey. People from Jerusalem, throughout Judea, and all around the Jordan River came to him. As they confessed their sins, he baptized them in the Jordan River. Many Pharisees and Sadducees came to be baptized by John. He said to them, “You children of snakes! Who warned you to escape from the angry judgment that is coming soon? Produce fruit that shows you have changed your hearts and lives. And don’t even think about saying to yourselves, Abraham is our father. I tell you that God is able to raise up Abraham’s children from these stones. The ax is already at the root of the trees. Therefore, every tree that doesn’t produce good fruit will be chopped down and tossed into the fire. I baptize with water those of you who have changed your hearts and lives. The one who is coming after me is stronger than I am. I’m not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. The shovel he uses to sift the wheat from the husks is in his hands. He will clean out his threshing area and bring the wheat into his barn. But he will burn the husks with a fire that can’t be put out” (Matthew 3:1-12, Common English Bible).
John the Baptist, this wild looking guy with a really strange diet, is at the Jordan River, preaching and baptizing folks. His message was repent and change your heart! When most folks came they confessed their sins and John baptized them.
Enter the Pharisees and the Sadducees. These were often portrayed as the bad guys in Scripture. It is important for us to remember, however, that these were the most religious people of their day. They knew the Scriptures. They knew the law. And, they tried to live their lives in a way that showed their world just how religious they were. That tends to sound pretty good. The problem was, they read too much of their own press. They really weren’t as good as they thought they were and while the worked to follow the letter of the law, they often would forget the intent of the law and people got hurt because of their interpretations. That is not what God had in mind.
All too often we are more like the Pharisees and Sadducees than we want to admit. When I directed a youth mission camp program a few years back, I would tell the kids I was the camp Pharisee. It was my job to enforce the rules. Fortunately for me, that isn’t the kind of Pharisee John was talking about in our lesson for today.
As I read and re-read this lesson as well as others in the Bible, I have come to understand that confession is an important part of the conversion experience. Confession is also something we Protestants have lost over our history. What do I mean? I’m glad you asked.
For most of Church history, Christians went to their priest and shared their sins with the priest. They believed that the priest then interceded with God on their behalf. Roman Catholics and those of the Eastern Orthodox traditions still believe this way.
In the Protestant Reformation, one of the doctrinal changes to occur was an understanding that we, as people of faith, didn’t need our priest to intercede with God on our behalf. As Christians we can approach God and carry out our own confession.
While an accurate understanding, their is still something important we lost, actually two things. First, there is something important in the ear actually hearing what we are saying in our heads. I believe words are important and we need to hear those words. For most of us, almost all our private, personal prayer is done silently. This would include our confessions. We don’t actually “hear” ourselves when we make confession. Often times I think our subconscious believes that, because we didn’t hear it, we never actually said it. I know Jesus said, in essence, what we think, we also live. On the other hand, God gave us ears and we need to hear!
The second thing we lost is, telling someone else makes things more real as well. I am not saying here that you need to come to me or your pastor. What we do need is to come to a trusted spiritual friend, someone who will tell us that we are wrong, pray for us and hold us accountable. We need a person who will come to us and ask us how things are going with living out our confession. When we don’t follow that, it can become extremely difficult to live our lives as confessing people of faith.
I don’t know if the Pharisees and Sadducees made confessions when they came to John the Baptist at the Jordan. As I read our lesson I have an understanding that they did not. Hence, John’s comments about being children of snakes and the need to make fruit that shows changed hearts and lives. That really is what repentance is all about, confessing and turning away from our sins. It is pretty easy to tell with the reactions of the Pharisees and Sadducees in the verses of the Gospels that at least for most of them, they just weren’t ready to confess, repent and produce fruit showing changed hearts and lives.
Do you have a confidant you can confess to and who will hold you accountable? What do you need to confess?
Have a blessed day in the Lord.
Joy and Peace,
Copyright 2017, J. Keith Broyles, All Rights Reserved