“John’s clothes were woven from coarse camel hair, and he wore a leather belt around his waist. For food he ate locusts and wild honey. People from Jerusalem and from all of Judea and all over the Jordan Valley went out to see and hear John. And when they confessed their sins, he baptized them in the Jordan River.
But when he saw many Pharisees and Sadducees coming to watch him baptize, he denounced them. “You brood of snakes!” he exclaimed. “Who warned you to flee the coming wrath? Prove by the way you live that you have repented of your sins and turned to God. Don’t just say to each other, ‘We’re safe, for we are descendants of Abraham.’ That means nothing, for I tell you, God can create children of Abraham from these very stones. Even now the ax of God’s judgment is poised, ready to sever the roots of the trees. Yes, every tree that does not produce good fruit will be chopped down and thrown into the fire.”
Matthew 3:4-10 NLT
As we read the physical description of John the Baptist, it’s a little tempting to think words like “homeless,” “hobo,” maybe even “a little crazy.” I can’t help but wonder would I give him more than a second glance? Would I determine the value of what he said based only on what my eyes could see? Or would I close my eyes and listen carefully to what he said with my heart?
In spite of John’s radical looks, we see people came from all around the region to hear him and, most importantly, they believed what he said, they confessed their sins, and were baptized! They were hungry for a change! John was giving them something they weren’t receiving from their Jewish leaders: answers to questions, but most important, he was showing them how to receive forgiveness from their sins to gain peace.
These same people probably attended temple and made sacrifices as was required by law. But I believe they had grown weary of the constant condemnation of the Pharisees and Sadducees. They may have done their best to obey the laws but the laws changed frequently and it seemed the only thing they gained from the leaders was a sense of hopelessness and futility.
Their lives may have been filled with the best possessions, the finest foods, the most entertaining and elite of friends, but in spite of all of that, there was something missing. Although John didn’t fit into their genteel or elite society, he had answers and his messages made sense. What they heard from John was if they made sincere changes in their lives they would not only receive forgiveness, but they would be ready for what was coming: the Messiah, the King of kings!
John shocked a lot of people when he spoke strong truth with outrageous bravery. He boldly told the highest Jewish officials not to rely on their heritage or status, their education or possessions, because none of that was going to save them from God’s wrath or condemnation! John told them in no uncertain terms, they too had to repent and prepare themselves for the coming Messiah.
But the officials were outraged! Who was this man that he would dare to speak to them in such a way? Their positions of authority, their possessions and wealth, was foundational to their own self-importance and no one was going to take that away from them!
These leaders were “surface people.” Everything looked and sounded good on the outside but there was an awful darkness on the inside of these Jewish leader’s hearts. They no longer worshipped the one true God, they worshipped themselves and what their positions afforded them.
I have a very difficult question for all of us today; have we become surface people too? Do we say the right “Christian-ese” words, dress and parade around in our finest clothing at church? Do we attend all the services and special events, only to sit down in the seat of judgment or self-importance when someone different comes into the church?
Think very carefully about these questions as I share a story about a time I took a seat in the “judgment chair.” This is not a proud moment for me and God humbled me that day, and I’ve never been more ashamed or more grateful for His correction and forgiveness!
It was Easter Sunday and I was a regular church attender so I knew a lot of people. I was going to Bible studies to learn more about God every week, and I was also a regular tither and volunteer. I was dressed in my finest clothes that day because I was volunteering at the information booth and would be seen by a lot of people. I was serving with one of the oldest members of church; a man who was humble from the inside out. We were there to answer questions or provide material about the church to the people who were coming to service that weekend.
Suddenly, a very young and beautiful girl came to the booth and I was completely shocked by her attire. It was so provocative and her heels so high, I wondered how anyone could walk in them! I was literally stunned and couldn’t move or speak, but my mind was in high gear as I began to rapidly judge everything about her. I didn’t just sit in the judgment seat, I self-righteously plopped into it!
My co-volunteer saw her and exclaimed joy as he quickly crossed the booth to greet her. He grasped her hand and said, “I’m so happy to see you! You look beautiful!”
What???? (Praise God that word of shock and outrage stayed inside my head and didn’t escape my lips!)
Do you know what that child said back to him—because she truly was not much more than a child—she glowingly said, “I wore my very best for Jesus today.” Then squeezing my friend’s hand she turned and walked into the sanctuary with her shoulders held high, to sing and worship her King.
I stood there in silence and watched her disappear in the dark of the sanctuary and that self-righteous attitude in my heart began to crumble, because even I could see the purest sincerity of her heart.
Tears began to slide down my face, and my wise friend put his hand on my shoulder and said, “She was rescued a few weeks ago from a sex trafficking ring. Her parents sold her when she was just a small child and she’s been sexually abused for far too many years by some of the richest men in Texas, and from around the world. Because she is so young and beautiful she was sold often.” He paused to let the horror of those words sink into my heart and mind.
Continuing he said, “Yes, everything she is wearing is a reflection of who she was, but today she chose the very best in her closet to worship her rescuer, Jesus Christ. I know many will not approve of her outward appearance today, and we have a woman from the church working with her to make some outward changes, but I can assure you her heart is as pure as the newly fallen snow.”
Can I tell you I have never been so ashamed of myself? Even as I type these words right now tears are flowing once again down my face. I will never forget that life changing moment and that Easter Sunday I sat in the sanctuary and wept for my sin of judgment and pride, because for a few moments that Sunday my heart looked a lot like those Pharisees and Sadducees, but Jesus saw and heard my prayer of regret and He forgave me.
It’s not what we have, it’s not our genealogy, nor is it the finest connections that will prepare us for heaven. It’s not who we were or what we did, or what may have happened to us, it is simply the status of our heart, surrendered to Jesus, and the forgiveness we have received from Him that saves us.
How is your heart? Are you prepared for the return of Jesus Christ?
Father God, “Oh, what joy for those whose disobedience is forgiven, whose sin is put out of sight! Yes, what joy for those whose record the Lord has cleared of guilt, whose lives are lived in complete honesty! When I refused to confess my sin, my body wasted away, and I groaned all day long. Finally, I confessed all my sins to you and stopped trying to hide my guilt. I said to myself, “I will confess my rebellion to the Lord.” And you forgave me! All my guilt is gone. Many sorrows come to the wicked, but unfailing love surrounds those who trust the Lord. So rejoice in the Lord and be glad, all you who obey him! Shout for joy, all you whose hearts are pure!” (Psalm 32:1-3,5,10-11 NLT) In the name of Jesus I pray. Amen.