The Gospel of Matthew

This devotional is written by Jake Elsley. Jake is a technology entrepreneur saved at thirteen years of age, while dressed in a chicken costume at Soul Survivor. 

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John the Baptist Prepares the Way

 3 In those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the wilderness of Judea 2 and saying, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near." 3 This is he who was spoken of through the prophet Isaiah:

"A voice of one calling in the wilderness, 'Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.'"

4 John's clothes were made of camel's hair, and he had a leather belt around his waist. His food was locusts and wild honey. 5 People went out to him from Jerusalem and all Judea and the whole region of the Jordan. 6 Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River.

7 But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to where he was baptizing, he said to them: "You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? 8 Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. 9 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. 10 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.

11 "I baptize you with[b] water for repentance. But after me comes one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 12 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."

Reflection

When I first opened this passage, I could not work out the point of the detail. I am a person who likes succinctness, and I could not understand why every translation mentioned John the Baptist's habit, leather strap, or that he ate locusts. Why would God inspire such verbose? I then started to reflect on the context of chapter, and hierarchical society that was present, and noted The Message's interpretation of verse 11, which says, "compared to him [Jesus], I'm a mere stagehand".

In this period, Pharisees and Sadducees were religiously astute persons. They looked down on people less fortunate, strictly enforced the religious law, dressed in fine clothes, ate the best food, and acted with arrogance. When they prayed in public, it was to show people how holy they were, rather than encourage others. Jesus described them as being beautiful on the outside, and full of the bones of the dead inside (Matthew 23:27).

Looking at this passage, the detail turns out to be very important. The etymology of 'strap' means 'a loop on a harness'; 'habit' a uniform; and 'locust' an insect known for migration and destruction. John the Baptist - the epitome of surrendering to God - did not care for the status that the Pharisees did. He wore a strap, rather than a belt. He wore a unform, rather than a fashion statement. And he ate something known for its bitterness and low societal status.

In my eleven years as a follower of Jesus, I have grown to understand sin as anything which distracts me from God, and repentance as humbling myself before God and acknowledging that I am merely a stagehand in God's plan for my life. In the same way that the locust caused mass destruction, Jesus's love caused the destruction of the Pharisees' and Sadducees' religious order, and flooded an unloved community with grace, acceptance, and forgiveness.

God wants us to know that same grace, acceptance, and forgiveness today. But for that to happen - and for us to be truly baptised in Christ - we must shred the things which do not matter, repent of things that distract us, and surrender our earthly ways. We must let God become the master, and us the stagehand.

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