An Apocalyptic Advent Day 20: John the Baptist and Repentance

Matthew 3:1-3; 7-12. In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, 2 “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” 3 For this is he who was spoken of by the prophet Isaiah when he said,

“The voice of one crying in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord;
make his paths straight.’”

7 But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to [Jesus’] baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? 8 Bear fruit in keeping with repentance. 9 And do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father,’ for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham. 10 Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.
11 “I baptize you with water for repentance, but he who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 12 His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into the barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”

John the Baptist picks up right where the Old Testament prophets left off. Wrath. Judgment. Repentance. In other words, the Christmas message.

Yes, Jesus was born 30 years before this. But he is about to begin his earthly ministry. The ministry of clearing the threshing floor, and burning the chaff with unquenchable fire. (These verses are probably not on any of your Christmas cards this year.)

This is our Apocalyptic Advent. This is the Jesus we are waiting for today. Not the baby Jesus, but the Cosmic Christ.

John’s message of repentance and judgment could make us all afraid. Very afraid. But I can honestly say that I no longer read these passages that way. I’m ready for the wrath to come. For the tree to be chopped down. For the chaff of my life to be burned up. I’m ready for my life to be nothing but God. Not that I am some pious individual who has figured out how to be holy. Quite the opposite. I’m so far from holy it’s pathetic. And I know it. That’s why I’m ready for the winnowing fork. The axe. Are you?

But still we wait. We wait for the Kingdom in all of its fullness. Today the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand. It’s here, but not fully here. The demand for the fruit of repentance is real. Christ demands our devotion. The Pharisees were trusting in their own good works and their lineage as children of Abraham.

What’s your ticket?

But those of us that are in Christ are trusting in the fact that God has changed stones like us into children of Abraham. This too is the work of the Cosmic Christ. Not only will he return one day to judge, to burn the chaff and to chop down the bad trees. But first, by his incarnation, death, and resurrection he has made a dead thing alive. He has turned stones into his brothers and sisters. How? By his grace and our repentance. By our union with Christ.

“To live is Christ” means that dead stones have been made into fruit bearing trees. We can actually bear the fruit of repentance. The fruit of grace and faith. What does this fruit look like? It looks like anything you do that is not rooted in a self-salvation scheme. It might look like gratitude instead of self-righteousness. It might look like love instead of expectations. It might look like receiving mercy instead of becoming defensive all the time. Who knows, it might even look like Christ.

Are you bearing the fruit of repentance? How does union with Christ allow us as fruit bearing trees, who were once dead stones, to live as unto Christ and bear the fruit of this new life? What might your life look like if you really were repentant today and abandoned your self-salvation schemes?

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