Why Religious Superstars Don't Like John the Baptist

Text: John 1:19-28

In the name of Jesus.  Amen.

It is very tough to admit when we are wrong.  It hurts.  It offends our pride.  It damages our ego. But what is even more difficult than having to admit when we are wrong is when we have to go and fix something that we have messed up.  In other words, while it hurts to admit when we are wrong, it hurts even more when we have to go and do something over again – to fix our failures. You see, when we are wrong, we can quickly apologize and be done with it.  But when we have to go and fix our mistakes and maybe start something over again… well, it is even worse.  When we have to start over, it reminds us how much we messed up the first time.  Having to start over is humbling.  It grinds against our ego.  It crushes our pride.  It forces us to humility.  And that, my friends, is where the real problem is.  

Dear friends, frankly stated, humility is not only difficult, but it offends us.  Sure we like when other people are humble, and we certainly pretend to be humble ourselves, but true humility?  Our sinful nature despises it.  Our old Adam sneers at humility.  Beneath all our Midwest pious talk and Midwest nice, humble gestures is a raging and arrogant old Adam.  

This is the reason why deep down, nobody likes John the Baptist. 

Perhaps you and I are a bit attracted to John the Baptist because he seems to be a wild man.  There is an entertainment factor to John – we are intrigued by his clothing, diet, and crazy tactics.  But when we come face to face with John the Baptist, we really do not like him.  He is really too dangerous for our old Adam. 

John’s message attacks our old Adam – it attacks our pride and ego.  

Keep in mind that in the first century, John the Baptist really made a lot of noise out in the wilderness by baptizing thousands of people. 

He was not some second-class prophet with a small religious cult living out in the middle of the wilderness.  No, John went out to the Jordan River because that is the place where the Israelites originally entered the Promised Land long ago.  By going out to the Jordan River, John was going back to the beginning - where it all started for the Jewish people.  And here is why this is so important.  There at the Jordan where the Jews first entered Israel is where John is calling everyone to repentance! In other words, John was essentially saying, everybody, wake up! 

Get back out here and do it over again. Start over.  You have messed it up.  Repent.  You are slothful and spiritually apathetic.  The Kingdom of God is at hand, so you need to get out to the Jordan and start over - do it all over again.  You have messed up.  

John was like that 4th Grade teacher who looked at your assignment and put a big “F” on the front in red ink and said to you, “Do it over; you failed.”    

Well, as can be expected, the religious leaders took notice of all the thousands of people going out to the Jordan to be baptized, and they sent some spiritual superstars to figure things out.  And what did these spiritual superstars hear and see? 

Well, according to the Gospel of Matthew, some of the religious superstars became a bunch of lemmings. 

They got pulled along in the hype of the crowd and decided to get baptized too because everyone else was doing it, and they didn’t want to be left out. But as can be expected, John blasted them! 

He said, 

“You family of snakes!  What do you think you are doing here slithering down into the waters to be baptized! 

Knock it off – repent!  Stop pretending that you are perfect.  Repent and understand that you are a sinner just like everyone else! The Kingdom of God is at hand!”       

Now, while it is fun to hear John swing at the religious superstars, it is even more difficult for us to realize that these words can be directed at us too.  

“Stop pretending that you are perfect!  Repent and understand that you are a sinner just like everyone else.  The Kingdom of God is at hand!”  

But when we consider these words for ourselves, what happens is that we want to turn our guns on John.  In fact, that is what we often do when we are called out for our sins and failures.  For example, when a pastor, boss, parent, teacher, or police officer nails you and me for sinning, we typically freak out!  We get all worked up.  We get angry. 

We get energized by a sense of injustice.  And then, we shred the pastor, boss, parent, teacher, or police officer to anyone who will listen to us.  We even do this online through social media.  Our old Adam is like a 3-year-old who is disciplined and then throws a temper tantrum against the one who would dare call us out for our sin. 

But here is the catch.  While it sometimes works to attack those who call us out on our sin – to get them to back down – it does not work with Christianity.  And here is why. 

When the Levites and priest questioned John the Baptist, he defined himself like this, 

“I am not worthy to untie Jesus’ sandal.”  

Do not let this small detail pass by. What John is saying is simply this: I am not worthy to even perform the work of a slave to a master – that is how undeserving, unworthy, and unbefitting I am.  I’m not some religious superstar.  I am nothing compared to Christ. 

So what this all means is that the message of John the Baptist, the Season of Advent, and the Hammer of God’s Ten Commandments are not intended to keep some of you humble and others of you on top, but instead to make everyone low together in repentance. 

And so, just as John the Baptist was calling everyone in Israel back to the Jordan to repent and do it over again, the church does the same every single Advent and every single church service.  The confession of sin at the beginning of the church service is not just for you as a parishioner, but it is for me too, which is why I stand on the floor with you to be the first to confess that I am a poor miserable sinner.  And the absolution?  The reason why go from standing on the floor to stand at the baptismal font is to not only pronounce the absolution to you, but to lay my hand on the baptismal font where it all began for you and me as Christians.  

Now, speaking of our church services, if you think about it, in our church liturgy, everything we speak and say comes from a disposition of humility, need, and repentance.  When we confess our sins at the beginning of the church service, we are using the words of King David – when he confessed his sins after his affair with Bethsheba.  When we sing the Kyrie, we are crying out in humility using the words of Blind Bartimaeus, who wanted to be healed by Jesus.  When we sing the Sanctus right before the Lord’s Prayer, we are singing the words recorded by Isaiah, who once said, “Woe is me!  I am lost.”  And when we sing the Agnus Dei right before communion, we are singing the words of John the Baptist – the one who was not worthy to untie the sandal of Jesus.  

The point being, we do not sing the words of Cain, Jezebel, Pilate, Judas, or the Pharisees.  But instead, we sing and speak with our brothers – David, Bartimaeus, Isaiah, Simeon, and so forth.  We sing and speak the words of those bunch of sinners who had no hope in themselves but a hope outside of themselves in the Promised Messiah.  

Practically speaking, you and I hate to repent.  We would rather remain in our pride and our puffed-up egos.  But God’s Law must come to us to grant us repentance – sorrow for our sin.  The Law must grind us to a fine powder so that we do not confess our greatness but the fact that we are poor miserable sinners.  

The Law must come first to prepare us for the gift of the Gospel. Advent must come first to prepare us for the gift of Christmas.  John must come first to prepare us for the gift of Christ, for if we do not hear the Law we won’t realize our sin.   And if we do not realize our sin, we have no need for the forgiveness of sins. 

Baptized Saints, our whole life needs to be one of ongoing repentance, where we are constantly repenting from our pride, arrogance, and egos so that we can be like one who is unworthy to untie Jesus’ sandals.  

So, dear friends, the message of Advent and John the Baptist is quite simple.  Repent. 

Start over.  Be returned to the baptismal font.  Remember that your identity is not in your pride, ego, or abilities.  But you are found in the Worthy One – Jesus Christ.  Christ is the only one who is truly worthy.  And as the Worthy One, He does not stand far off.  But is the One who came that Christmas long ago to be the Lamb of God who takes away your sin and the sins of the entire world.  

He meets your pride with Law.  He meets your humility and confession with Grace and Mercy.  

And so, you are not left only with the Law, Advent, and John the Baptist but are given the Gospel, Christmas, and Jesus Christ. 

You and I are never worthy to untie the Jesus’ sandal, but that does not stop Christ from drawing near to you.  He does draw near and considers it well-worthwhile because He is the God who draws near sinners with forgiveness, life, and salvation. 

In the name of Jesus. Amen.

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