Sunday, May 20, 2012

Why doesn't anyone listen to John the Baptist?

Oh, the abundance of human wisdom flowing from pulpits each and every Sunday morning. Good jokes will be told ... and many people will laugh. Tender stories will be related ... and tears will flow. Books and commentaries will be referenced, powerpoints and multimedia will be utilized, and - supposedly - the truth will have been proclaimed!

I cannot testify to the heart of every preacher, but I do know that sincerity alone is not the measure of a message. How many people sincerely thought the way was clear to cross the road ... only to be hit by an unseen vehicle. They were sincerely wrong.

Oh, but today's preacher is well dressed, and gets along fine with everyone. He shakes hands, mixes and mingles, and is a pillar of his community. "Surely Preacher So-and-So would never lie to me!" Perhaps not intentionally. Perhaps he sincerely believes that his message was sent to him directly from God ... although the bulk of the material was taken from a Christian bestseller ... and only two Scriptures were indirectly quoted.

Why doesn't anyone listen to John the Baptist? We know for a fact he was a man sent from God, because the Bible says so (John 1:6). True, he doesn't dress like a normal preacher (a garment of camel's hair cinched up with a leather belt) or eat like one (locusts and wild honey were preferred). But surely no church of today would dismiss a man just because he didn't dress and eat like them ... would they?

No, we must evaluate the content of the preacher's message before kicking them to the curb! So let's take a look at what John was preaching. His chief message in preparing the way for Christ was "repent" (Matthew 3:2).

"Maybe I didn't hear you right, Jonathan. Are you suggesting that preachers stop peddling fluff and start challenging people to leave their sins?" I'm just reporting what John the Baptist preached (although my answer to that is "yes"). I'm simply acknowledging what I know was ordained by God. John preached repentance ... and people repented (Matthew 3:6).

He confronted the religious leaders of the day and truthfully assessed them to be a brood of vipers (Matthew 3:7). They wanted to be baptized so that they could associate with the common man ... and John turned them away, demanding they not only repent of their sins but that they bear fruit in keeping with that repentance (Matthew 3:8).

So again, why aren't we listening to John the Baptist? Oh, I remember ... it's because he didn't preach a popular message. He preached in preparation for the Christ, "The axe is already laid at the root of the trees; therefore every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire" (Matthew 3:10). Hmmm ... Jesus was coming. In order to be ready, people needed to repent of their sins and start bearing real fruit. Hmmm ... which part of that is not still relevant to this day?

John - in preparing for the Messiah, the Son of God - didn't preach on social issues of the day. He didn't warm up the crowd with a quick laugh and a witty anecdote. He didn't preach what he read from a man, but what he had received from God. He didn't spend his preaching time telling us how to resolve conflicts with one another, or how to be better parents or spouses. Why? Because there was something bigger at stake ... something far more important than our mundane inadequacies. The Lamb of God was coming, and it would be His job to take away the sins that condemned us to hell (John 1:29).

Sin? Wasn't that John the Baptist's message? Repent of your sins? Yup, that's the one! Why exactly aren't we hearing THAT message being preached today? Oh, right ... I forgot again ... it isn't popular. Preachers don't stay employed for long when they start preaching about sin.

But John the Baptist, sent by God, preached sin ... and it's repercussions. He didn't preach a coming Jesus who would love and hug everyone ... and heal everyone ... and feed everyone. He preached of a landowner coming who wasn't very happy with the way His fields were being managed. "His winnowing fork is in His hand, and He will thoroughly clear His threshing floor; and He will gather His wheat into the barn, but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire" (Matthew 3:12).

Again, which part of that is irrelevant? The eternal assessments are being made ... both of those who preach and those who listen. Standing before the Lord's throne someday, the question will be asked often I'm sure, "Why didn't our preacher ever tell us about how serious You were?" The answer is simple: If he had, you would have fired him and replaced him with someone to say what your itching ears wanted to hear (2 Timothy 4:3). 

Shame on you, the supposed people of God who refuse to hear truth! Shame on you, leaders who lead by their own wisdom rather than the Lord's! Shame on you, preachers who preach that which is temporarily popular rather than what is eternally profitable! Shame on those who are holding to a form of godliness and denying the real power of righteousness! Avoid such men (2 Timothy 3:5)!!

Jesus is coming again. He is going to gather up the wheat and burn up the chaff. Knowing that, why are we content to listen to preachers who will not warn us of that fact and help us rightly determine our status before the Lord? We need more men like John the Baptist, who will warn us - day in and day out - to put away the sin that so easily entangles us (Hebrews 12:1) and repent.

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