Luke 3:1-20; Ezekiel 40-41; Isaiah 62
You’ve probably seen something like this on a medical TV show; perhaps you’ve even experienced it in real life. A person complains constantly about different symptoms. No one can pinpoint the cause of their symptoms. Rather than sympathizing with the person who’s hurting, people begin to suspect that he or she is faking it. They ignore the pleas for help until they see the new doctor for a different reason and then have the chance to describe their symptoms to the doctor. The doctor listens attentively and then says, “let me run some tests.” When the doctor returns, they say something like “According to the results you have a reverse cerebrospinal reduction of the fibula.” (Note: that was a completely made up string of medical sounding words.) Your reaction, of course, is shock. “That sounds terrible!” “It is, but, it’s treatable and we can take care of it now that we know what it is.”
The right diagnosis can make an amazing difference in how a disease is dealt with. As bad as the diagnosis may be, at least there’s an option to deal with the problem in most cases. Knowledge is a powerful weapon in the medical field, and in all of life. If you know what’s wrong, you can do something about it. Relationships thrive when couples communicate. When people play the “well, if you don’t know, I’m not going to tell you” game, nothing’s going to be fixed. Nothing’s going to change. So, back to our biblical story, John came preaching a message that was pretty hard for some people to take. He called some of his listeners a “brood of vipers.” He accused others of being greedy and needing to learn to share. Others he accused of extortion. Some began to wonder if he was the Messiah – a thought he tried to quash immediately, letting them know about the soon coming of Jesus. And then Luke summarized his description of John: “And with many other words John exhorted the people and proclaimed the good news to them.” (Luke 3:18 NIV)
John didn’t pull any punches in his preaching. He laid it on the line. He told them how the cow ate the cabbage. I’m sure that you can think of a few more clichés the people use to describe preaching like that. He was not seeker friendly, to use the more modern term. But John made sure that he told the people who came out to listen to him two things. He told them that if they really repented and sought to get right with God, this is what their repentance would look like. To those who were greedy, sharing would show their new attitude. Tax collectors and Soldiers would show their commitment by stopping their extortion and treating people right. The second thing he told them was of the Messiah to come: one whose sandal straps he was unworthy to untie. John may have baptized with water, but this Messiah would baptize with fire and with the Holy Spirit. This was the good news he proclaimed.
We like to point out the sins that other people have – usually while conveniently forgetting our own. There are some people who enjoy doing that so much, they seem to think that God hates the people they’re screaming at. John understood that in his rebuke of sin, there needed to be a message of hope, a message of grace. Grace doesn’t allow for unfettered sin and sometimes people need to recognize their sin in order to be able to receive God’s grace, but any message we preach needs to be covered in God’s grace. People realized that John had a message from God and that John’s message, as harsh as it may have seemed at the time, was loaded with God’s grace. The diagnosis may have seemed terrible to people then, just as it does today. But, when people understand the diagnosis about sin, we can begin the treatment by showing them God’s grace.
Lord, sometimes that diagnosis is hard. I’ve grown comfortable in my sin. Give me the grace to repent.
Scripture taken from the Holy Bible, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.