In the third chapter of Matthew, a group of notable worshipers travelled a considerable distance to a wilderness location where John the Baptist ministered. For sure they invested time and energy in coming to him; perhaps they even spent money and risked their reputations. They were interested in joining the crowed, meeting the man, hearing the message, and feeling the waters of baptism. However, as soon as they arrived on the scene, these particular religious seekers were halted in their steps and turned away. Listen to the not-so-warm greeting they received from Jesus’ herald:
… Brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Therefore bear fruits worthy of repentance, and do not think to say to yourselves, “We have Abraham as our father.” For I say to you that God is able to raise up children to Abraham from these stones.” (Matthew 3:7-9)
John, inspired by the Spirit of God, discouraged their participation in his worship service. He was not impressed by their religious garb, their educational degrees, their ministerial posts, their covenantal pedigree, their grasp and practice of the religious traditions, or their new-found fascination with this latest movement of God. All of these things were vain without the needed characteristic of repentance.
So, with this in mind this weekend, consider how John the Baptist might meet you at the door of your church. Or consider how this great servant of Christ might meet you as you pick up your Bible or turn on your computer to have your personal devotions today.
Friends, it is wonderful for you to look holy and dignified on the outside. But keep in mind that the Pharisees were masters of looking holy as they walked about in their flowing white garments adorned with bells and tassels. When it came to maintaining an external testimony, they were exemplary.
It is also admirable for you to know the content of Scripture, the doctrines of the faith, and they history of the Christian church. But realize the Pharisees were pristine in this regard as well. They were the best of Israel’s teachers. With great seriousness they held to their catechisms, confessions, and constitutional documents.
In addition, for those of you who have been called to be ministers, elders, deacons, and titled servants in Christ’s church, you have received an honor that ought not be despised. But know that the Pharisees and Sadducees held such posts in their churches and culture.
And as for your covenantal blessings, just as it was an honor to be a child of Abraham, so you are right in thinking yourself blessed because you are the recipient of a covenantal heritage that you plan on passing along to the next generation.
But all of these things — external testimony, theological education, ministerial posts, covenantal blessings, and religious activity — they are vain without the heart and practice of repentance. So before you go to church on Sunday, before you read another blog, and before you pick up your Bible to have your devotions, set your heart to repent! Yes, repentance is a gift of God, but it is also a requirement of the honorable disciple. So bow before the King. Kiss his ring, and confess your sins. Swear allegiance to his Law, and determine to adjust your practice to match his preference. Then, pick up your Bible and attend your local church service. And when you do, you will enjoy the warm welcome of God and godly men alike.