The Message of John - Repent!
September 24, 2018
The Preaching of St. John the Baptist by Pieter Bruegel the Elder
Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be brought low; and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways shall be made smooth; And all flesh shall see the salvation of God. – Luke 3:5-6
God called John to be a smoother and a “straightener”. In many ways, John’s role was nothing more than to clear away the obstacles that might impede the message of the one who would come after him.
He was a voice.
He was a voice in the wilderness.
And he cried out with passion and conviction removing excuses and uncovering facades.
He was the one to come before Jesus who could really move some mountains and clear some paths. John was a co laborer with God as we are called to be and His mission was simple:
To be an agent through whom all flesh might see the salvation of God.
God has no desire to hide His salvation. He wants all to see it. He wants all to receive it.
We have the task of removing the impediments.
What kind of impediments are there? Sometimes mountains are too high, valleys are too low, and roads are too crooked and rough. We can cooperate with God to change that.
One impediment to people seeing God’s salvation is our tendency to speak religious jargon that no one understands. We mask the grace of God in a jungle of theological language and church talk.
Another is our insistence on traditions that have lost their meaning. Or it may be our own negativity or the contradictions of our lives – the dichotomy between what we profess and what we practice.
We have to remove the obstacles that keep people from coming to Christ or even hearing the Word of God. The problem is not so much that people don’t want to hear as much as they sometimes cannot hear over the irrelevant chatter. Remove the impediments and let everyone see the salvation of God.
And now also the axe is laid unto the root of the trees: every tree therefore which bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire. - Luke 3:9
Once a thriving industrial plant, the factory had ceased to be productive. Chaos was the order of the day. Supervisors could not predict who would show up for work and when. Even the unions were in a state of panic.
The problem was attendance. It was the first time I’d ever heard of an adult business with an attendance committee. People were not showing up for work; but neither were they quitting or getting fired. Because of contractual clauses, they were remaining on the company and union roles and bleeding both dry in benefits.
They wanted to be employees, but they didn’t want to show up for work. They wanted the benefits of employment, but none of the obligations. They didn’t even show up.
That is the way John viewed the “generation of vipers” who came to be baptized. Some of them wanted the benefits of association with God and the symbols of covenant relationship, but they did not see the relationship between that and being useful.
Fruit trees exist to bring forth fruit. That is their nature and that is their function. God’s people exist to bear fruit as well. It is both the nature and function of covenant people to be useful in the kingdom of God.
John was harsh. He knew what orchard owners did with barren trees. They cut them down to make room for more productive crops. He considered it presumptuous of people to think that they should be allowed to continue being useless and not be replaced.
Remember that John was preparing the way for the Lord. He was the voice that God used to flatten hills and make crooked roads straight. And he was telling it straight. He, like the law, was a schoolmaster to prepare the way of the message and messenger of grace. His role was to amplify the need for repentance and make it plain that God was not pleased with the status quo.
We need to hear this word today. God wants our lives to bear fruit. If they don’t we are simply occupying space on Heaven’s roster. Show up!