We are very familiar with speed bumps and rumble strips. They are common now and are on every highway and interstate. I remember the first place I ever experienced them. On Route 22 in Easton, PA there is a very sharp curve, called “Cemetery Curve” – appropriately named in light of the many deadly accidents, though actually named because of the nearby, historic cemetery. Over time, the many warning signs leading up to the curve proved to be insufficient. Finally, rumble strips were used, and I remember the first time going over them and the startling sensation that made you slow down and pay attention.
The strips were there as a preparation for what was to come – to educate you that there was an appropriate way to negotiate that turn. Likewise, the Old Testament was full of signs and information that a coming Messiah would be on the scene. A part of that would be someone who, in the spirit of Elijah, would prepare the way for the coming of Israel’s king. This person was the cousin of Jesus – John the Baptist.
The idea of “preparation” is a major teaching point of Matthew chapter 3. But, prepared in what way?
The message of John was of repentance and baptism (identification); it was a message of spiritual preparation. It was a message saying, “You’re not okay with God simply because of who you are (the Jewish people – the Sons of Abraham). To be okay with God, there needs to be a repentance from sin and an identification with God’s truth and God’s program (such identification evidenced by baptism).”
What is repentance? By definition, it means to agree with God about the nature of sin (to see it from the same perspective He sees it), along with a commitment to walk in the opposite direction (which is the proof, or fruit of a genuine repentance).
You surely know of the most famous Peanuts comic strip – the one with Lucy and Charlie Brown practicing football. Lucy would hold the ball for Charlie’s placekicking. But every time Lucy had ever held the ball for Charlie, he would approach and attempt to kick with all his might. At the precise moment of the point of no return, Lucy would pick up the ball and Charlie’s momentum would send him through the air and deposit him on his back.
One of these strips had Lucy holding the ball, but Charlie Brown would not kick it. Lucy begged him to kick the ball. But Charlie Brown said, “Every time I try to kick the ball you remove it and I fall on my back.” They went back and forth for the longest time and finally Lucy broke down in tears and admitted, “Charlie Brown I have been so terrible to you over the years, picking up the football like I have. I have played so many cruel tricks on you, but I’ve seen the error of my ways! I’ve seen the hurt look in your eyes when I’ve deceived you. I’ve been wrong, so wrong. Won’t you give a poor penitent girl another chance?”
Charlie Brown was moved by her display of grief and responded to her, “Of course, I’ll give you another chance.” He stepped back as she held the ball, and he ran. At the last moment, Lucy picked up the ball and Charlie Brown fell flat on his back. Lucy’s last words were, “Recognizing your faults and actually changing your ways are two different things, Charlie Brown!”
Now that is not really repentance. Saying you are sorry is one thing, but living a different way is another. My favorite college professor Dr. McGahey always said, “Nobody was ever saved being just sorry for their sins.” True repentance leads to change because of a new heart condition resultant from faith in the work of Christ.
John preached a message of preparation through repentance and baptism. The key word related to baptism is “identification.”
We choose identification all the time. Perhaps in our culture it is an identification with a sports team … a school … a club or organization. Sometimes, the things we identify with may be counter-cultural. In fact, identifying with Christ is that very thing. In a world that is going the wrong way and is under the control of the kingdom of darkness, identifying with God – with Jesus Christ – is always going to be counter-cultural. It was that way for the Jewish people before the coming of Christ. It is true where you work out in the world, or go to school. It has always been this way and always will be, until the day God makes all things new and right upon the return of Jesus Christ.
Matthew 3:1 – In those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the Desert of Judea 2 and saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.” 3 This is he who was spoken of through the prophet Isaiah: “A voice of one calling in the desert, `Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.’ “
Prophetically speaking, this was spoken of by Isaiah …
Isaiah 40:1 – Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. 2 Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and proclaim to her that her hard service has been completed, that her sin has been paid for, that she has received from the LORD’s hand double for all her sins.
3A voice of one calling: “In the desert prepare the way for the LORD; make straight in the wilderness a highway for our God. 4 Every valley shall be raised up, every mountain and hill made low; the rough ground shall become level, the rugged places a plain.
5And the glory of the LORD will be revealed, and all mankind together will see it. For the mouth of the LORD has spoken.”
Another Old Testament foretelling of John the Baptist is in Malachi 3:1 …
“See, I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me. Then suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to his temple; the messenger of the covenant, whom you desire, will come,” says the LORD Almighty.
John certainly had a unique appearance, even for that era …
Matthew 3:4 – John’s clothes were made of camel’s hair, and he had a leather belt around his waist. His food was locusts and wild honey.
My question for the title today: Why is this guy so weird? It is because he was a “rumble strip” pointer to Christ. For anyone who had a heart to know the truth and who knew the Scriptures of the O.T., they would be led to understand that this man was the Elijah-like forerunner – the one who would point to the Messiah. Look at this passage in 2 Kings 1 …
1After Ahab’s death, Moab rebelled against Israel. 2 Now Ahaziah had fallen through the lattice of his upper room in Samaria and injured himself. So he sent messengers, saying to them, “Go and consult Baal-Zebub, the god of Ekron, to see if I will recover from this injury.”
3But the angel of the LORD said to Elijah the Tishbite, “Go up and meet the messengers of the king of Samaria and ask them, `Is it because there is no God in Israel that you are going off to consult Baal-Zebub, the god of Ekron?’ 4 Therefore this is what the LORD says: `You will not leave the bed you are lying on. You will certainly die!'” So Elijah went.
5 When the messengers returned to the king, he asked them, “Why have you come back?”
6 “A man came to meet us,” they replied. “And he said to us, `Go back to the king who sent you and tell him, “This is what the LORD says: Is it because there is no God in Israel that you are sending men to consult Baal-Zebub, the god of Ekron? Therefore you will not leave the bed you are lying on. You will certainly die!” ‘ “
7 The king asked them, “What kind of man was it who came to meet you and told you this?”
8 They replied, “He was a man with a garment of hair and with a leather belt around his waist.” The king said, “That was Elijah the Tishbite.”
So Elijah was an eccentric dresser as well. Again in Matthew 3 …
5 People went out to him from Jerusalem and all Judea and the whole region of the Jordan. 6 Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River.
MT 3:7 But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to where he was baptizing, he said to them: “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? 8 Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. 9 And do not think you can say to yourselves, `We have Abraham as our father.’ I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. 10 The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.
MT 3:11 “I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me will come one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not fit to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. 12 His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor, gathering his wheat into the barn and burning up the chaff with unquenchable fire.”
These remarks would have reminded the “tuned in” Jewish listener of two Old Testament passages:
Verse 11 here would recall these words in Joel 2:28-29 …
JOEL 2:28 “And afterward, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions.
JOEL 2:29 Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days.
Verse 12 of Matthew 3 should remind them of Malachi 3:2-4 …
MAL 3:2 But who can endure the day of his coming? Who can stand when he appears? For he will be like a refiner’s fire or a launderer’s soap. 3 He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver; he will purify the Levites and refine them like gold and silver. Then the LORD will have men who will bring offerings in righteousness, 4 and the offerings of Judah and Jerusalem will be acceptable to the LORD, as in days gone by, as in former years.
The time came when Jesus was likewise baptized by John …
MT 3:13 Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to be baptized by John. 14 But John tried to deter him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?”
MT 3:15 Jesus replied, “Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.” Then John consented.
MT 3:16 As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and lighting on him. 17 And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”
Here is what we may take away from the story of John the Baptist:
We learn of the story of the coming of Christ and see that story in the bigger context of Scripture. It reminds us of the great plan of God and of the great blessing we have to be a part of that. Our inclusion is resultant from the ultimate rejection of Christ by the Jewish nation, the postponement of the earthly kingdom, and the subsequent spread of the Gospel to all peoples and nations.
We also take away the timeless truths of preparation / repentance / identification. There is a tendency to not be prepared, but to rather be impressed with the wrong things – the busy things of this world.
So are you prepared? There is another coming of Christ foretold; and for that, the Scriptures also have “rumble sticks.”
1 Peter 1:3 – Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade–kept in heaven for you, 5 who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. 6 In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. 7 These have come so that your faith–of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire–may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. 8 Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, 9 for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls.
1PE 1:10 Concerning this salvation, the prophets, who spoke of the grace that was to come to you, searched intently and with the greatest care, 11 trying to find out the time and circumstances to which the Spirit of Christ in them was pointing when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the glories that would follow. 12 It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves but you, when they spoke of the things that have now been told you by those who have preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven. Even angels long to look into these things.
1PE 1:13 Therefore, prepare your minds for action; be self-controlled; set your hope fully on the grace to be given you when Jesus Christ is revealed. 14 As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance. 15 But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; 16 for it is written: “Be holy, because I am holy.”
How do we show our preparation? Through repentance and identification …
REPENTANCE – seeing our sin or human condition as God sees it and doing what the Scriptures say to do.
IDENTIFICATION – We boldly wear our team uniform of faith, even in the context of rejection and despise. It’s okay to be weird.