December 4, 2016
Introduction: What comes to your mind when you hear the word ‘kingdom’? Personally, it conjures up a place or realm where a king or queen oversees his or her people. In Matthew, kingdom refers not as it is used in the passive sense we have just described, in this context. John the Baptist sees God’s kingdom as God actively ruling. God is not seen as a disengaged ruler, instead He is seen as a ruler actively engaged in working with his people. Part of John’s urgency in calling the people to repent, to change their mind from sinning to one of working with God to care for His creation. As we engage the reading for today, it is clear that John is inviting us to focus on caring for the needs of others.
I) All Judea and Jerusalem come out to be baptized by John. We must remember that baptism then had a different meaning associated with it, compared to what we think now which is a baby being sprinkled with water. Certainly it meant then to dip or even plunge, but it also had the connotation of drown or sink as a ship getting sunk. So the word had the association of death and even violence. When John was calling upon the people of his day to bear good fruit, he was challenging them to work with God by making a wholesale change in how they lived out their lives.
II) As John was approached by the religious leaders, the Pharisees and Sadducees, he looked at them and asked ‘who warned you offspring of snakes to flee the wrath to come? He goes on to talk about bearing fruit worthy of repentance. This brings to mind the Garden of Eden and the serpent inviting Eve to eat of its fruit. John even brings to mind the tree of good and evil when he says that even now the axe is laid at the root of the tree making sure the people made the association with the utter destruction they will face if they fail to transform their lives. The results of this decision were now being lived out as they struggled with having to live lives that focus on having to do more than simply obey the law. They cannot even use the claim that they are children of Abraham! John tells them that God can create new children to Abraham out of the very rocks that surround them on every side!
III) We are to live our lives with urgency as well. Knowing that God will act in the near future. Jesus will come and it is up to us to be ready for his appearance. He will be infinitely more powerful than John. For he will baptize us with the Holy Spirit which will not only give us more power, but more responsibility to live out our lives using this power responsibly as we serve the needs of others. He will bring the rule of his kingdom into our lives and it is up to us to work to help establish his kingdom by how we respond to his call to bear the fruit that will exemplify his love of creation.