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COLUMN: The kingdom of God

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By Steve Gettinger

A reading from Matthew 3:1-12:
In those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the Desert of Judea and saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.” 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.’” 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. People went out to him from Jerusalem and all Judea and the whole region of the Jordan. Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River. 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? Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. 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. 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. 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. 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.”

In the gospel reading from Matthew 3, John the Baptist encounters two different and distinct groups of people. The first group is described as those who “went out to him from Jerusalem and all Judea and the whole region of the Jordan.” This was a large group that was “confessing their sins” and were baptized by John.
The second group was “many of the Pharisees and Sadducees” who were, “coming to where he was baptizing ” John addressed this group in a far different manner than the first. He said: “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. 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.”
John’s encounter with these two groups of people is really quite telling, because when it comes to faith in Christ, things really aren’t very complicated. According to John the Baptist we fall into one of two groups, “sinners and a brood of vipers.” So, which are you, a sinner, or, a brood of a viper?
Some of you are probably hoping that there might be some additional categories. If you are waiting for more choices there aren’t any. It’s (A) a sinner, or, (B) a brood of a viper.
Let us take a closer look at the difference in the two groups of people who came out to Jordan that day and try to understand why the first group was received so graciously by John while the second group was driven away harshly.
Let us start with a look at the first group of people. The first people coming to John were sinners who were confessing their sins. They knew they didn’t measure up to God’s holy and righteous standard. They were sorry for not measuring up. In fact, they were not only sorry for not doing the right things, they were sorry for not being right with God!
So, the question for you is, do you confess your sins to God? If so, then keep on confessing them. Even if they are the same sins you have confessed before, keep on confessing them. It is part of the mystery of the grace of God that He forgives the repentant sinner even for repeat sins. God’s grace cannot be extinguished, nor, can it be used up.
Now, let’s take a look at the second group of people, known as the Pharisees and Sadducees. They were self-righteous religious leaders who believed that they did not need to repent or be baptized. They presumed that they were right with God because Abraham was their ancestor.
Let me ask you a question. Do you presume that you are saved from the wrath of God because you are on the membership list of a church or because you try to live a good life? If the answer is yes, God wants you to forsake your presumption, confess your sin, and seek forgiveness through faith in Jesus Christ.
Lastly, I would like for us to look at what John the Baptist called the fruit of repentance. The fruit of repentance is what comes as a result of our repentance. Sometime the fruit of repentance is making restitution for the harm we have caused from our sins. If you stole something return it. If you broke something fix it or replace it. If you have said hurtful things or treated people badly, then apologize. Another fruit of repentance is striving to avoid sin.
But, most of all, let the fruit of repentance be a prayer of repentance. Maybe a prayer like this: “Father in Heaven, I am a sinner in need for your forgiveness. Wash me clean. Create in me a clean heart and renew a right spirit within me. Let Jesus be my only hope. Let the righteousness of Jesus cover my many sins!”