Shread your heart and leave you bare? That so grieve you they propel you to action. Not out of guilt, but out of love. Passion. Urgency.
For me, it’s Matthew 7:21.
Not everyone who calls me Lord, Lord will enter the Kingdom of Heaven.
This wrecks me because I know and love so many people who think they’re good. Covered. Yup, they believe in God. Their parents baptized them as children. They’ve been confirmed and done all the rites and rituals required by their church. They have a one-way ticket to Heaven.
They live their own life. They give little to no thought or consideration to God, His Word, or prayer unless they need or want something, there’s a tragedy, or things are not going their way. But once the moment passes, God is…no longer a thought.
Matthew 7:21 and these loved ones are in the forefront of my heart and mind as I read Matthew 3:1-12 (Mark 1:1-8; Luke 3:1-17), when John the Baptist prepares the way for Jesus. Like John, my heart burns for everyone to know Jesus, to have a relationship with Him! Even as I write these words, I feel John’s urgency as though it is my own.
In those days John the Baptist came to the Judean wilderness and began preaching. His message was, “Repent of your sins and turn to God, for the Kingdom of Heaven is near. ” The prophet Isaiah was speaking about John when he said,
“He is a voice shouting in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord ’s coming! Clear the road for him!’”
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.
“I baptize with water those who repent of their sins and turn to God. But someone is coming soon who is greater than I am—so much greater that I’m not worthy even to be his slave and carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. He is ready to separate the chaff from the wheat with his winnowing fork. Then he will clean up the threshing area, gathering the wheat into his barn but burning the chaff with never-ending fire. (NLT)
When John was baptizing people, it wasn’t the same Christian baptism we experience today. Even John tells us Christ’s baptism is different—it isn’t with water but with the Spirit of the Living God! Once we’ve received Him as our Savior He gives us the gift of His Spirit to dwell in us! How cool is that?! Ephesians 1:19-20 says, I also pray that you will understand the incredible greatness of God’s power for us who believe him. This is the same mighty power that raised Christ from the dead and seated him in the place of honor at God’s right hand in the heavenly realms. (emphasis mine) That’s the Spirit in us!! How mindblowing is that?
Later, after we’ve given our lives to Christ, chosen to follow Him, and received His Spirit, we are encouraged to be baptized with water as a public testimony of our faith.
At that time, however, John’s baptism was still vital. It was about preparing the people’s hearts to welcome and receive the Messiah when He came. About them acknowledging their sin, greed, pride, self-centeredness, sexual immorality, addiction, etc. so they could confess it and repent of it. In other words, make a 180-degree turn from their current way of life and turn back to God. Once they did that their hearts would be ready to receive the Messiah, who is Jesus.
John’s passion and urgency drew people in all over the Jordan Valley. People walked for miles and miles, for days if the needed, to just to hear him preach.
They needed John’s message, and they knew it. This was no sideshow, no entertainment. These people were genuinely broken before God. They confessed their sins and turned back to Him. And God the Father received them, forgiving their sin. As a sign of their repentance, John baptized them.
Now, these groups detested each other. But later they became allies because their shared hatred of Jesus enraged and blinded them to their differences and distinct dislike of each other.
John’s greeting to them was a little less than cordial, “You brood of snakes!” Somehow, I think he got their attention—and that of the crowd. I can’t imagine this didn’t offend, embarrass, and anger them, especially with such a public criticism.
Then came his disparaging judgment, “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.”
These men have lived their lives painstakingly making sure to adhere to the laws, rules, rituals, and traditions of their culture and religion. They assumed because of their lineage and excessive religious activities they were safe. Golden. In.
How many times do we see Jesus call these men hypocrites? How often does He admonish them for loving their laws more than people? How often did He, like John here, put their lack of integrity on display for all to see? How many times did He rip off their mask to reveal the ugliness underneath?
Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. (NIV)
Please hear my heart. It doesn’t matter if you are Protestant or Catholic. Presbyterian, Baptist, or Lutheran. It doesn’t matter if you’ve been baptized as an infant, confirmed, or taken your first communion. It doesn’t matter if you’ve participated in youth groups or served in the church. It doesn’t matter if you’ve gone on mission trips or retreats or stayed home.
Beloved, believing in God isn’t enough! Even Satan does that—and shutters (James 2:19). We must believe Him, put our trust in Him. Follow Him.
God is more concerned with our integrity than our religious activity. He expects the way we live and our words to match what’s in our hearts. If we aren’t careful, we can live our entire lives like the Pharisees, trying to make sure we follow every law down to the letter, being so afraid of messing up. Sure there is pride in that. Maybe even some status. But that’s all there is. And when you look closer, you see an empty shell, the façade and hollowness of manmade religion.
God’s laws are still there but now look at the intent behind those laws. Do you see it? They’re there to draw you into a relationship with Him.
That was the whole reason why Jesus came. To make The Way for us to have a relationship with the Father—I am The Way, The Truth, The Life. No one comes to the Father except through me. (John 14:6)
Beloved, God doesn’t need us. He wants us. His arms are open wide, waiting; it’s up to us to walk into His embrace.
This knowledge adds a sweetness to John’s words, doesn’t it? “Repent of your sins and turn to God, for the Kingdom of Heaven is near.”
Maybe you have not accepted Him as your Savior yet, maybe you have. If you haven’t, are you ready? He’s there. Waiting. For you. Please don’t take too long. John was preparing the way for His first coming. Those of us who follow Him now are preparing the way for His second coming. He is coming back. I desperately want you to be prepared for His return.
If you are ready, here is a simple prayer. If you prayed this prayer, please leave a comment so I can help you with the next steps: growing in your faith, finding a church to help you learn more about Jesus. You don’t need to use my words. You can use your own, make this prayer your own.
Dear Jesus, I am a sinner. I repent of my sin and turn back to you. Please forgive me. I want to follow you. I want you to be my Lord, my Savior. Please come into my life. Make me new. Amen
If you have received Jesus as your Savior, are there things in your life you need to confess and repent of? Are your actions congruent with your words? Are you living what you believe and know to be true?
For me, this is a daily question, an evaluation. Pride, selfishness, laziness, swearing (it happens; it’s a hard habit to break). But until I do this self-assessment, with the Spirit’s help, I can’t do the will of the Father as a wife, mother, mentor, friend, or writer.
Lord Jesus, today I confess to you I am a sinner in constant need of grace and forgiveness. As I lay my sins before you, give me the strength to repent so that my actions and words match—always—and may they always point others to you. Jesus, I also lift my brothers and sister to you today. I pray especially for those who have not yet received you. Jesus, I implore you to break down whatever barriers are in the way of them having a relationship with you. I ask for you to become real to them, that they will know you are there, that they will feel your love. And, Jesus, may they fall into your arms and call you Lord, Savior, Master. Jesus, and those who know you, who follow you. I pray you will reveal any brokenness or unconfessed sin so they can enjoy a more profound relationship with you. Infuse them with your Spirit and with Fire. I ask that they will not be silent about their faith and that their words and actions match. I pray their lives point others to a relationship with you. Fill my brothers and sisters with joy and peace today, no matter what their circumstances or situations. Ah, Jesus, I love you. Thank you for our love, grace, and mercy.