The Peaceable Kingdom
HW in HI
based on Matthew 3:1-12
John the Baptist might have made a typical American, but he was not a typical
Israelite. There was nothing typical about John the Baptist. He lived in the wilderness.
But it was well known in those days that demons inhabited the wilderness. Maybe if you had
a good reason, you might travel there with a group of your kin your family
but one certainly did not live in the wilderness. And John wore clothing of camel's hair
with a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey. Weird. This
is not what was worn and this is not what was eaten. Not in Israel, not 2,000 years ago.
John probably would have been an okay American. You know, a rugged individualist, lover
of the outdoors. Sort of a John Muir, Sierra Club kind of guy. And maybe he would be a
good member of generation X. The scripture doesnt say whether or not he pierced his
body somewhere or other, but the camels hair clothing and eating bugs that
could be generation x.
So what on earth is going on? Why are people flocking to him? Theyre coming in
droves. Well, Israel did have a great history of prophets. In the past, prophets had
warned of captivity if the Israelites did not turn toward God. And here was John the
Prophet, baptizing people, and calling them to confess their sins and change their ways.
The author of the gospel, Matthew, has figured things out. He tells us that the prophet
Isaiah told us that John would come: "This is the one of whom the prophet Isaiah
spoke when he said, "The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: 'Prepare the way
of the Lord, make his paths straight.'" Well, John was in the wilderness. No doubt
about that. And he told the people, Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.
And they did. They came in droves and were baptized.
Some of the people who came seemed to be coming for the wrong reasons. They werent
repenting. They just wanted to get baptized. Actually, we still see that today. People
will call up the church and say, We want to get our baby baptized. Baptism is
a good and beautiful thing. With baptism we become a full member of the church. But often
times these are people who have no intention of turning their lives to God, and so baptism
doesnt make any sense. Usually we suggest they start coming to church, so that the
promises they make are real promises. This is a problem faced by just about every church,
but John had it first.
John, however, doesnt mince words. He says things to these people that I hope no
clergy would ever say. You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to
come? John probably could not have done a better job of insulting them. He insults
their heritage and their honor and social standing all at once. They are the illegitimate
children of snakes. John the Baptist was hurling the first Yo Mama insult.
Something like, Yo mama wears army boots. But worse.
John has a point to make. He tells them, Bear fruit worthy of repentance.
Which is to say, confess your sins and start acting like children of God, not children of
snakes. And he tells them, Dont think just because youre good
Israelites, that youve got it made. You dont. Your heritage is no guarantee
that you will be a child of God. If necessary, God will raise up children from elsewhere.
Actually, he says: If necessary, God will raise up children from stones. John
had guts. He was blunt, and he pretty much didnt care whom he insulted. The people
he was condemning were good keepers of the Torah. But John told them, So what?
They were of the right heritage. . But John told them, So what? They knew all
the right people. But John told them, So what?
It is easy for us to sit here, redeemed by Christ, in our beautiful little church. John
wasnt talking about us. But lets imagine for a moment that he is. Are we
pretty sure of ourselves, that were doing just the right things and saying just the
right prayers? Do we gloss over the confession on Sunday mornings because, well, after all
we havent much to confess? Are we proud of our heritage? Are we sure that
there is some advantage in being part this or hapa that? Are we pretty sure that St. Peter
already has a nice big check mark right next to our name, and were getting right
If any of us applies to us, perhaps this is a good time for us to confess our sins. We
dont have to tell them to John the Baptist. We can tell them straight to God. Maybe
now is a good time to confess our sins and what? If we just confess our sins, the
job is only half done.
This is a true story. A man was travelling on business in Europe, with a group of
business people. They had a bit of time off when they were in Paris, so two of them went
to see Notre Dame. One was a lifelong Roman Catholic; well call him George. George
decided to go into the cathedral and make his confession. He stood in front of the church
for endless minutes, and finally turned away, tears in his eyes. He told his friend,
I cant do it. You cant say confession unless youre ready to
I believe that was the essence of John the Baptists words to the Pharisees and
Sadducees. Dont come get baptized. Youre not for real. Youre not
ready, even if you say you are. First, turn your heart to God. Then repent of your sins.
Then Ill baptize you.
And if we are already baptized? Well, our sins are forgiven. We know that. But like
George, our confession will mean nothing unless we are ready to turn to God.
This Advent as we prepare for Christmas, let us turn our hearts toward God. The prophet
Isaiah tells us of the coming of Christ and the kingdom of God:
The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the
calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them. The cow
and the bear shall graze, their young shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat
straw like the ox. The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp, and the weaned
child shall put its hand on the adder's den. They will not hurt or destroy on all my holy
mountain; for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the
sea. On that day the root of Jesse shall stand as a signal to the peoples; the nations
shall inquire of him, and his dwelling shall be glorious.
The kingdom of God will be peaceable and glorious. We live between the first coming of
Christ and the second. The peaceable kingdom is not yet here. Not it gets a little closer
as we turn our hearts to God. In the words of Paul, May the God of hope fill us with
all joy and peace in believing, so that we may abound in hope by the power of the Holy