Altar Call –
Methodists would have
run him out of town!
Had John the Baptist been a Methodist
preacher, he would have been run out of town by every church he served. You
don’t call good Methodist folks “a brood of vipers” and get away with it.
But Brother John had no church nor was
he a pastor. He was a prophet whose thundering voice attracted large crowds to
his wilderness pulpit. And he wasted no time mollycoddling people in the hope
he could gain their approval. He shelled the corn by telling people the truth.
John was on a mission – to warn the Jews
that the wrath of God would soon fall on them unless they turned from their
sins. Their only hope of escaping God’s fierce judgment was to repent, be
baptized in the Jordan, and start loving people and living like God wanted them
The crowds were impressed by John’s preaching.
Instead of condemning John, people urged their friends to come hear him. Many
did come, were convicted of their sins and waded into the Jordan to be
The context of John’s place in history
is important. For centuries there had been no prophetic message from God but
the Jews still had hope the Messiah would one day come. The sudden appearance
of John fanned the flames of their hope. Perhaps John is the Messiah. He seemed
like the kind of Messiah they expected, a fiery leader who would overthrow
their oppressors with military power.
John’s ego was not inflated by the
compliments of the people. He knew his purpose – to point people to Jesus. The
scriptures expose John’s humility. John said of Jesus, “Behold the Lamb of God!”
Once he said, “He must increase and I must decrease.” At another time he said,
“One more powerful than I is coming.” And John even
said he was “not worthy to untie his sandals!” Untying sandals was the work of
What John was doing, the Bible makes
clear, was “preparing the way” for Jesus. Repeatedly John said, Jesus will do
more for you than I can do. “I baptize with water,” John said. “But Jesus will
baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.”
John’s strong message teaches us that
ritual and religion are not enough to please God. Baptism is not enough, John
said. He insisted they “bear fruits worthy of repentance.” John explained that
this meant they must love the poor by sharing their food and clothes with them.
Tax collectors extorted the poor. To
them John said, “You must begin treating people fairly; collect no more than
the amount prescribed for you.” In other words, stop stealing from people!
Soldiers, who used threats and
accusations to “shake down” the weak, were advised by John to “show you are
right with God by being satisfied with your wages.”
It remains true to this day that God is
not satisfied with ritual and religion. God has no interest in religion. He
sent His Son to deliver people from religion. So, for us today, it is not
enough to repent, be baptized and join a church. Ritual and religion, without
love for the poor, will neither save us nor give us peace with God.
What is needed is a delicate balance
between faith and works. Our works will not save us. But it is a phony faith
that produces no deeds of love and mercy. God desires that our deeds match our
words. When they do, then our lives, like that of John, will point to Jesus. The
way we live will recommend Jesus to the people who do not yet know him. + + +