Matthew 11:7-19: A Self-Righteousness that Deafens

Read: Matthew 11:7-19

One of the popular things to do with movies is to prefix the title with “The Last” then append some word. A few popular examples are The Last Samurai or The Last Jedi. The motif of being “the last” of anything in these movies shows the last of a long lineage that has come to its end. If someone was to make a movie about John the Baptist, they could call it “The Last Prophet” for the same reasons. John was the last prophet in the vein of the Old Testament prophets. The Old Testament prophets gave warnings of doom should Israel not repent, but also foretold of redemption or blessing should they repent.  John came with the same message where he proclaimed the kingdom of God and offered a baptism of repentance. Jesus calls John a prophet and even more.

Matthew 11:10 quotes from Malachi 3:1, which is the promise of one that is coming to prepare the way. Immediately following the verse in Malachi is a commentary on those who would “stand” when he appears. The question it asks is rhetorical, as the answer to this is only the righteous who will be cleansed. But to those who do not will receive justice.

Jesus draws on this imagery pointing out two kinds of people: those who hear him and those that do not. The imagery of the piper playing a happy tune and the hearers not dancing or the dirge and the people not morning is precisely the conditions of those that don’t here, rather they are apt to accuse the messenger of things he is not guilty of rather because he associates with those who are less than righteous in the eyes of those who believe themselves to be righteous.

Self-righteousness even today can blind one from hearing the message that they need to hear. The antidote to self-righteousness though is a constant reminder of one’s own sin and ones need for repentance and cleansing. Jesus offers this to whomever is willing to humbly come to him and ask for it. May it be as John 1:9 says – repentance so that God will forgive and cleanse all unrighteousness.

Lord, keep me humble so that I can hear you and see my sin!

Matthew 3:1-6: The Kingdom At Hand

Read: Matthew 3:1-6

John the Baptist lived as a man on the fringe of society, choosing to scratch a meager existence out of the Judean wilderness rather than enjoy any of life’s luxuries. Nevertheless, he attracted a following.

His message was simple: “Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” In no uncertain terms, John is making a statement concerning the coming of Jesus and the impending judgment that would come as a result of Jesus’ second coming. For this reason, he was seen as a prophet, specifically fulfilling Isaiah 40 which is also echoed in Isaiah 57. Both of these prophecies speak of a voice calling for the people to make way for the coming king. Many of the laity in John’s day believed him to either be Elijah, who as taken up to heaven without dying (2 Kings 2:1-14) or someone like Elijah. The camel hair garment and leather belt herald back to the garb that Elijah himself wore (2 Kings 1:8). Jesus affirms this view in Matthew 11:7-14, where he applies Malachi 3:1 and Malachi 4:5-6 to John as well. Paul also affirms John’s prophetic ministry in Acts 13:24.

According to Jesus too John was the last in the line of prophets before Jesus came (Matthew 11:13). This is significant because it in a manner of speaking point to the end of the Old Testament prophecy and a transition to the New Testament era where the Apostles picked up the prophetic mantle, particularly the Apostle John. Jesus’ ministry was to fulfill the law and the prophets and Matthew is making a case for this here in chapter 3 and all through the book when he points to how Jesus fulfills various prophecies.

John himself is a prophet and a fulfillment of prophecy. This is important, because it does vindicate the ministry of Jesus as messiah and ultimately as king when his kingdom does come in glory. Recognizing the factual implications of this is what makes the need for repentance all the more important. Scoffers may look on, asking when Jesus will come back. After all, it has been 2000 years since Jesus supposedly ascended into heaven. 2 Peter 3 assures believers that scoffers will arise, but God will remain faithful to his promise. The warning against lawlessness and an encouragement to remain faithful in spite of scoffers that arise. His promises are true and he will do them.

Lord, your kingdom is coming! Help me to be mindful of this and live accordingly!

Luke 5:27-32: A Call to Repentance

Read: Luke 5:27-32

Right after Jesus demonstrates his authority to forgive sin, Jesus does something else rather alarming: Jesus calls a “sinner” as one of his followers and then participates in a feast in his honor that is attended by more of these so called “sinners”. Jesus’ propensity for breaking social taboos was already known when he touched a leper (Luke 5:13). Tax collectors in the day of Jesus were one of the most despised members of society for a number of reasons. First, they were seen as traitors because often times they were indigenous members of a conquered who were hired by the conquering Romans to collect taxes for Rome. Second, tax collectors were also extortionist, wringing more money out of taxpayers than the taxpayer owed. Tax collectors got to pocket this extra as profit.

Levi, also known as Matthew (Matthew 9:9), was one of these, nevertheless Jesus saw it fit to call Levi as his disciple. Levi would go on to write the Gospel of Matthew. Levi abandoned everything and followed Jesus when Jesus called him, just like Peter, James, and John (Luke 5:9-11). He had almost certainly heard of Jesus and was nearby at the healing of the lame man. By implication, Levi like Peter was confronted with the awesomeness and holiness of God and repented of his sins. His natural response was obedience, so that when Jesus did call him he obeyed and obeyed immediately just as Peter did.

The Pharisees grumbled against Jesus because he, being a righteous man, associated with sinner which is something that a Pharisee would never do. Jesus replies with a metaphor pertaining to a physician coming to heel the sick, and he relates to his mission to calling the sinner to repentance. The Pharisees were zealous about following the law and for that reason did not, at least outwardly, appear as one of the “sinner”. Jesus on other occasions though does point out their sin (Matthew 6:1-2, Matthew 22:18, Matthew 23:11-31).

Later, Jesus would commission Levi and the rest of the disciples to make disciples of all nations as Jesus had done with them in the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20). The first step in making disciples though is to find sinners and present them with the gospel. Part of the gospel is telling people about the reality of their sin (Romans 3:23) and the call to repentance as Jesus did in verse 32. To those that do repent, they are called to obey, as Levi did. In the Great Commission tells his disciples to teach others to obey. The same commandment goes out to all who call themselves Christians too. Associating with sinners is not an endorsement of their action. Christians shouldn’t be be afraid to be seen with sinners. In fact, it is necessary if one is to be about the work of making disciples, which starts calling people to repentance and obedience to Jesus’ commands.

Lord, I believe!
Help me to proclaim repentance and obedience to the world!

Luke 3:15-20: Minimize Me

Read: Luke 3:15-20

John the Baptist knew his place when it came to Jesus. He was well respected and revered as a prophet by the people that were coming to be baptized, and many thought that he may be the Messiah. In spite of all this, John humbled himself and used whatever authority and influence he had to point people to Jesus. John says of Jesus that he is not worthy to undo the thong of his sandal, which was considered a lowly task generally performed for the lowliest servant when guests came to one’s house.

John’s message was called “good news” yet Luke depicts Jesus as one with a winnowing fork. The winnowing fork was an instrument used to separate the wheat from the chaff, and the chaff was carried away by the wind and burned in fire. John speaks of Jesus baptizing by the Holy Spirit and my fire. Baptism of the Holy Spirit – that is receiving the Holy Spirit – is something that happens to all who believe when they become Christians. The Holy Spirit indwells all believers (John 2:20; 1 Corinthians 12:13). The allusion to fire though is not clear. It could either be a prophetic statement about what happened at Pentecost (Acts 2:1-4) or a reference judgment that will come. In the context, the latter makes more sense because John is talking about Jesus separating the wheat from the chaff, and burning the chaff.

To illustrate how the gospel is offensive to some, Luke uses John’s encounter with Herod. John was bold enough to call out Herod, a strong and power ruler, on the adultery that he had with his sister-in-law, Herodias. Matthew 14:1-12 gives more details on the matter, where Herodias prompted her daughter, who had danced for Herod pleased him, to ask for the head of John the Baptist. Herod had John arrested and beheaded to fulfill her wishes. John made no special provisions for anyone and did not really care about his safety either, rather he was concerned about proclaiming good news and pointing people to Jesus.

The word “gospel” means “good news”. The coming of Jesus is good news for those that will accept it. For those that will not, it is offensive because it confronts people with their sin. But John the Baptist was embolden to preach this good news of Jesus rather than live in fear of what might happen to him. John’s martyrdom, zeal, and humility for the sake of gospel of Jesus serves as a reminder of the the attitude and priorities Christians ought to have concerning Jesus. Christians ought to get the good news of Jesus out and put Jesus in the spotlight so that he can be exalted.

Lord, help me to minimize myself and maximize Jesus in all things!

Luke 3:7-14: Detestable Religion

Read: Luke 3:7-14

John’s words are harsh. He calls those that are coming out to be baptized a “brood of vipers”, which in that time and place was not something nice to say. “Vipers” in the ancient near east were associated with wicked men. Jesus uses the word to describe the Pharisees and Sadducees on 3 occasion (Matthew 3:7, Matthew 12:34, Matthew 23:33). It was a serpent who deceived Adam and Eve in the Garden too (Genesis 3:1-15). Being called a viper was to associated a person as cunning and subtle with ulterior motives – they saw baptism as yet more religion. Those coming to be baptized by John were “fleeing wrath” which implies that they knew judgment was coming and were looking for a means to effectively purify themselves. The thinking was that the more piety one had, the less likely judgment was to fall in them. Likewise, as implied by verse 8, those coming to be baptized were clinging to their heritage as well, thinking that because they were from the line of Abraham made them special and that they wouldn’t face judgment.

The people were right to recognize that there was impending judgment, but they were approaching it the wrong way, wanting to address sin with religion and traditions without changing their hearts and actions. John on the other hand saw through both of these. He was calling people to repent (that is, change one’s heart and mind about sin) and bear fruit in accordance with repentance. He agrees with the people that judgment is coming when he says the ax is near the root of the tree and every good tree that doesn’t bear fruit will be cut down and burned. He specifically addresses three groups of people: those with abundance, tax collectors, and soldiers calling them to do good and be generous rather than hoard and extort.

When faced with sin or hard times, the natural tendency of people is to want to get “right with God” and they do so by by getting more religious. They will attend church, undergo rites and rituals, pray, read their Bible, among other things. None of these things are inherently bad, but if they are being done for the wrong reasons, then they are of little or no use because religion doesn’t help one’s standing before God. God wants people to repent and come to him in faith, not continue to live the same way as they did before and attempt to atone for sin with religion. The natural overflow of repentance though isn’t religion, rather charity and righteousness which God desires more than religion. In fact, James 1:26-27 says that “true religion” isn’t rites and rituals, rather caring for orphans and widows. Micah 6:6-8 and Isaiah 1:1-17 aptly describe how God sees religion in light of righteousness – religion is detestable to God when one’s deeds and heart are evil. Rather than seeking out more religion, Christians should repent and do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with God!

Lord, I repent of my sins! Help me to bear fruit in keeping with repentance!