“Real Characters” -John the Baptist, Matt. 3:1-12
Is it crazy to think differently than everyone else? That video is obviously propaganda from the Apple Company wanting you to buy their products because they supposedly think differently than others do and so they are better. They say in the video that some have been labeled crazy, misfits and rebels who dare to think differently but in the end they are the ones who change the world. Do you have to think differently than others to change the world? What if it gets you in trouble like some of those shown in that video? Is it worth it?
Did you know that the Bible tells us over and over that we are to think differently? It's all through here from the Old Testament to the New Testament: think differently! One of the first times we see it is in I Kings 8 where it says, “When they sin against you— and then think differently and plead with you in the land of their captors, hear their prayer and their plea, and uphold their cause.”
In Jeremiah 15:19 it says, “Therefore this is what the Lordsays: “If you think differently, I will restore you that you may serve me.”
There are a lot more that talk about thinking differently all the way toRevelation 2:5 that says,“Consider how far you have fallen! Think differentlyand do the things you did at first. If you do not think differently, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place.”
One of the most memorable lines about thinking differently is in Matthew chapter 3 verse 2 where John the Baptist warns people to“Think differently, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”
Now some of you may be thinking that doesn't quite sound right; almost but not exactly and you are right. It could possibly be translated something else but the most common translation of the word is “to repent”. Repent for the kingdom of heaven has come near!
That original Greek word is “metanoeo”and it literally means to think differently. Some of you are now thinking that couldn't be right. Some of you are just positive that “repent” means to get your life right with God or to confess your sins and while those are both part of it, the word simply means to think differently.
With that definition in mind, let's read that passage in Matthew starting in chapter 3 verses 1-12.
In those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the wilderness of Judea 2 and saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” 3 This is he who was spoken of through the prophet Isaiah:
“A voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.’”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. 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.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.11 “I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me comes one who is more powerful 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, gathering his wheat into the barn and burning up the chaff with unquenchable fire.”
I love how the Bible doesn’t sugar-coat the negatives in their lives but lets us see them for who they really are. It should probably make you glad you’re not in the Bible, right? I think it makes us feel better sometimes to know that some of our biblical heroes had real struggles.
We have also seen in this series how the “character” part has played out in the lives of these people. We have seen men like Moses and Job who had great character and it was proven in the hard times. We have seen others, like Samson last week, who seemed to have no character at all even when they had everything they needed.
This week we are going to look at John the Baptist who not only had character but was a character as well. John was what you might call a free spirit. He was different. We learned last week that we are called to be different or holy but John wasn’t just different than non-believers, he was different than everybody else as well. And he was born to be that way.
We see in Luke chapter 1, verses 11-17 that God had a plan for John before he was even born. Read.
11” Then an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing at the right side of the altar of incense. 12 When Zechariah saw him, he was startled and was gripped with fear.13 But the angel said to him: “Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to call him John. 14He will be a joy and delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth, 15 for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He is never to take wine or other fermented drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit even before he is born. 16 He will bring back many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God.17 And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the parents to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous—to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”
There are so many similarities between the stories of John and Samson but unfortunately they end quickly after their births. While Samson was called to be holy and different, he broke his vows repeatedly. But John was called to be holy and different and remained that way until his death. What I want to look at today is what John did with his life while he was here and how we can learn from his life what we are supposed to do.
In looking at the life of John, you can find his story all through the gospels but this passage in Matthew that we read earlier is a pretty good representative of what John had to say everywhere he went. His file of sermons was pretty thin. He didn’t need a filing cabinet or a computer with a lot of storage to file his sermons. His main topic every time he opened his mouth was what? Repentance. Think differently.
And how do you get someone to repent or think differently? If you want someone to change their way of thinking about anything, how do you do it? You have to convince them to just trust you in faith or you have to show them your way is better and John sets out to do both and encourages his listeners, including us, to do the same. Basically, you can tell them or show them and using John for a model we will see how we can do both.
In the first verse it says that John was out in the desert preaching and yet in verses 5 and 6 it says that people were coming out to him from all over to hear him. And when they heard him they confessed their sins and were baptized. They had to walk a long way to see him and yet evidently he had a great ministry. And obviously they came all the way out there because John had set up a really nice tent with the latest amenities and since he had hired this great little band from Egypt they really came out for that. He had a great light show and even did magic tricks for the kids to keep them entertained while mom and dad worshiped.
Or...it could have been that John was preaching the truth under the power of the Holy Spirit and he had such a passion for people and a passion for Jesus that God blessed that ministry. I have said before that people want to know the truth. Nobody wants to go through life purposefully deceived. And John had one purpose in his life and that was to tell people the truth about Jesus and how they could be ready when He came.
Jeremiah 20:9 says, “But if I say, “I will not mention his word or speak anymore in his name,” his word is in my heart like a fire, a fire shut up in my bones. I am weary of holding it in; indeed, I cannot.”
Jeremiah said he was weary of holding it in. John's whole reason for being on the planet was to make people aware and ready for the coming of Jesus and so he devoted his whole life to making straight paths for him.
John lived out the passage in Romans 10:14that says, “How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?”
“Amen preacher! That's your job. You go get 'em.” I think you know what I'm going to say next, don't you? You know I'm about to say that we are all preachers, right? Well, hang on to that thought for just a second. Let me remind you of D. L. Moody. Moody was definitely a preacher. He was from the old school when they had revival sweeping across the country and he would preach to great crowds and saw thousand and thousands come to know Jesus. I would love to have heard him.
But D.L. Moody didn't just lead people to have a life-changing relationship with Jesus from the pulpit. He made a vow to talk to some individual every day about Jesus. At least one time a day he was going to have a conversation with someone and tell them about the grace and love of Jesus Christ. He was a preacher in and out of the pulpit. He had such a passion for people and a passion for Jesus that made him lose sleep and not eat until he had told somebody about Jesus.
I have a friend whose father had been an evangelist for years and years but he had developed Altzheimer's Disease and was dying in bed but kept trying to get up and get dressed. His son asked him why he wanted to leave and he just kept saying, “I have to win one more for Jesus. Just one more for Jesus.”
That's a passionate preacher. But preachers are supposed to passionate, right? That's why they get paid. That's what they are trained to do. It's in their blood. And that's usually true. Now let me tell you about my nephew Levi. Levi was about 7 or 8 I think when he went missing one day. His mom went around the house looking for him but couldn't find him anywhere. She looked all over and finally went outside and saw the neighbor. She asked him if he had seen Levi and the neighbor said that Levi had rung his door bell and asked him if he knew Jesus. He then quoted John 3:16 and told the man to repent and be saved. The neighbor said the last he saw of him he was walking across the street to tell the other neighbor. They found him down the street talking to the neighbor down there about Jesus.
Oh, Lord, I pray that you would make us more like little Levi! Sometimes we don't say anything to somebody because we are afraid they might ask a question we don't know or because we don't have enough scripture memorized. Levi had the right idea though. He knew enough. Quoting John 3:16 and telling people to repent, to think differently, is enough.
How about you? When was the last time the name of Jesus came off your lips outside of these walls? Has it been a day, a week or a month? Dear family, if you have not had a conversation with someone in 2012 about the love and grace of Jesus outside of church then I, like John the Baptist, tell YOU to repent! YOU need to think differently. How bad do you have to hate your neighbor not to tell them the Good News? That's all John the Baptist was doing in these verses was telling people the Good News. He said,“Repent. For the kingdom of Heaven is near.”
Now let's look in the following verses to see that he not only told them to repent but made it plain that the other way to convince someone to think differently was to show them. We have to tell people but we also have to show them. Readverses 7 and 8 again.
The Pharisees and the Sadducees were the religious folks of the day. They were the church people, the learned, the “spiritual” and they came all the way out to see John, not because they wanted to be convicted but because they wanted to convict. They didn't like the simple message John was preaching and saw that his ministry was being blessed and so they came to put a damper on it.
John, Mr. Politically Correct, immediately calls them a brood of vipers. He had not read the book, How To Win Friends and Influence People. But he called it like he saw it and he was right on. Vipers are a very poisonous snake and were not meant to be messed with and that was not lost on John and his comparison.
He then goes on to tell them to produce fruit in keeping with repentance. What does that mean? I told you that repentance means to think differently and when someone starts to think differently about anything they start to act like it. John is simply telling the Pharisees and Sadducees that if they are as spiritual as they are supposed to be then they will produce the spiritual fruit that they are supposed to.
The story of Simon the Sorcerer is told in Acts 8:9-24. In it Simon was a man who did black magic and amazed people with it and made a lot of money doing so. When the disciples preached to Simon, it says he believed and repented but later when he saw the disciples lay hands on people and the Holy Spirit came into their lives, Simon tried to pay them to give him that power. His life had not really changed. He believed but the proof of his belief was not fulfilled in his actions or his fruit.
Now compare that to the Ninevites inJonah chapter 3 who heard Jonah preach repentance and it says that they fasted, prayed and repented and their lives were changed and it says that God saw that they turned from their evil ways and He had compassion on them.
When Jesus comes into your life and you start to think differently, you will start to act differently. The desires of your heart will start to mirror the desires of God's heart. That's what Psalm 37:4means that when you delight in the Lord, when your life is truly changed, you won't be able to keep from telling others about Jesus and your life will start to bear fruit that matches up with your words because He will give you those desires.
If you have to tell people that you are important...you may not be all that important. If you have to tell somebody that you are funny...you may not be all that funny. If you have to tell people that you are a man of great integrity...I'm concerned about you. And if you have to try to convince someone that you are a Christian...maybe you and God have some business to attend to.
So, what it boils down to is that we need to tell people about Jesus but our walk should match the talk. In fact, you can't have one without the other. When you think differently, you will walk differently. And just know that people are watching you and listening to you. People are watching to see if your walk matches your talk. They are just waiting to find some little lack of integrity. They can't wait to see you slip and fall and then they will say that our God is no different than any other and that how we live doesn't matter and that there is no hope.
Well, it's our job to make them think differently. Just like it was John's job. Just like it was DL Moody's and Levi's and mine. It's your reason for being on this planet. And do you know why John was so passionate about preaching repentance?
Because Jesus was coming! He was preparing people to have a relationship with Jesus. He says in verse 11, “But after me comes one who is more powerful than I.” He says in John 3:30that “He must increase and I must decrease.”John lived his life for the sake of the kingdom always telling people to repent and always bearing the fruit of that repentance.
How about you today?