Page last updated



Why Don't You Do It Now?

by RevJan

based on Matthew 3:1-12

They had decided only that morning to go out to the country for a picnic. It was a nice warm day, and the children would enjoy playing among the trees and grasses in the hills. Mother packed cheese, fruit, bread, and fresh veggies for lunch. Father told the children to gather a few playthings, and off they went. Many other families had decided to spend the day in the country. The journey became a celebration in itself; a celebration of warmth, a celebration of spring, a celebration of nothing to do but enjoy yourself for a few hours. They found a grassy spot under a tree near the river and spread out their blankets. Several families they knew were close by. They made sure to stay with their own kind that day. They didn't want their children mingling with the low-lifes from the other side of town. After a while, Mother noticed that people were walking down-river a bit. There seemed to be a central gathering place. She suggested to Father that they walk that way after lunch, if anyone was still there, and see what was going on. The children played and ate, rested and ate and ate. Soon they were asking if they could go swimming. "Swimming?" Father said. "What makes you think anyone can swim in this river?" "Well, look," the oldest said, "there's a man coming back now. His clothes are all wet. I've seen lots of people who've been swimming walking back from the river with their clothes all wet . . ." "Can we Father? Can we pleeeeeeeeeeeese!" the youngest interrupted. The oldest gave her a dirty look. "As I was saying," he said with annoyance, "I've seen lots of people walking around in wet clothes today." "I'll have to go see," said Father. "I've never known this to be a good swimming place. I'll go in a few minutes." As he was talking, one of his friends came up to him. "Have you heard?" the friend said? "Heard what?" Father said. "About the Messiah?" "Messiah?" Father asked. "What are you talking about?" "There is one," his friend told him, "down by the river. A man called John. Some think he may be Elijah. That is why there is such a large crowd here today, many have come out to the country to hear him." "What does he say?" Father asked. "Oh, many things. He's a bit strange, ‘though. He lives out here in the hills all the time. By himself. Lives off the land — eats grasshoppers and honey." "I hope he doesn't eat them together!" Father laughed. "No, no. You don't get the point. This one may be him. He makes a lot of sense, and some people are beginning to believe he may be Elijah — or even the Messiah himself!" "Well, well," said Father. "I can see that this man has affected you. I'll walk with you and see what he has to say." "The Messiah," Father thought to himself. "Doesn't he know that the Messiah will come with chariots of fire? Doesn't he know the Messiah will come with an army of 10,000 angels to destroy Rome? I will go to humor my friend, but there can be no Messiah unless God first proclaims it. We would all know, the whole nation, if this person is the Messiah." "All right, friend," father said. "I'm coming."

The scene was amazing. The man his friend had talked about was standing in the water, preaching. People were lined up for a mile waiting for him to baptism them. As he baptized them, he preached: "Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise." Even tax collectors came to be baptized, and they asked him, "Teacher, what should we do?" He said to them, "Collect no more than the amount prescribed for you." Soldiers also asked him, "And we, what should we do?" He said to them, "Do not extort money from anyone by threats or false accusation, and be satisfied with your wages." [Luke 3:11-14] "There is something about this man," Father thought. He listened. He recognized him as the son of Zechariah and Elizabeth. They had been old when their son was born, very old. Perhaps that accounted for his strange behavior. And yet, as Father listened, he was drawn to the man. He started walking closer. "Perhaps," he thought, "I will be baptized . . ." Several of his other friends had gathered, too. They also had been watching the strange proceedings at the river from a distance. But, as more and more of them gathered, the whole group began to move closer. They wanted to hear what else this man had to say. They were being drawn as flies to a flame . . . Suddenly, they realized, he was talking to them: "You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruit worthy of repentance. Do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our ancestor'; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. "I baptize you with water for repentance, but one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and will gather his wheat into the granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire." [Mat 3:7-12] How dare this ragamuffin in dirty clothes, with his strange diet, unkempt, and unclean address them, the most respected, most holy, most religious people in all Israel? How dare he talk this way to them?

How dare he indeed? So often, when we read this Bible passage, we concentrate on the image of Johnny B., the long-haired hippie freak who wore camel's hair for clothes, ate grasshoppers and honey, and generally "told it like it was." He was not a man you wanted around your daughter — or your son, for that matter! Yet, when we talk about Johnny B., we tend to forget the other people in the story. The Pharisees and Sadducees were the holiest people in Israel. They were law-abiding, churchgoing, middle-class. They believed that because of their dedication to the law, and their status as Jews, they would be blessed by God when all the other nations were judged accursed. They were, after all, Sons of Abraham. They were horrified by John's words. Wouldn't you be? If I had begun my sermon this morning saying: "You snakes in the grass. . . ." Wouldn't you be offended? We are the Pharisees and Sadducees to whom John addresses his stinging words. "You brood of vipers!" Jesus' words would be for the downtrodden, the homeless, the drug addicts, the gang members, the lost. John's words are for the establishment, the law-abiding church members: "Repent! The Kingdom of God is at hand!" John knew there were going to be some changes when the Messiah came. John knew that the established majority would have to change its ways before God's kingdom would be complete. John was telling them to get ready for the changes they would have to make.

Jesus the Messiah called people to change their habits, to change their way of doing business, to change the way they related to each other. Jesus himself changed many things. He would not allow a woman caught in adultery to be stoned. (Who did he think he was?) He healed a bent-over woman on the Sabbath. (Who did he think he was?) He went on a rampage when he saw the money changers in the Temple. (Who did he think he was?) At Passover, he took the Cup of Salvation — the cup of Elijah — and said it was his blood. He took the Afikomen, the last bit of bread, and said it was his body. I might as well take this communion bread and say "this represents Frosty the Snowman, whom we all know and love," and take the chalice and tell you "when you drink this, remember Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer." To the casual observer, Jesus's actions were that radical. John the Baptist says if we want to be part of God's kingdom, then we had better be prepared for radical change. "Turn from your ways to God's ways," he tells us. "Do not call yourselves Christian unless you are willing to repent and change." Repentance has two sides—turning away from sins and turning toward God. To be truly repentant, we must do both. We can't just say that we believe and then live any way we choose; neither can we simply live a morally correct life without a personal relationship with God, because that cannot bring forgiveness from sin. Repentance demonstrates real faith. Confession of sins and a changed life are inseparable.

For most of us, confessing our sin is no problem. We can always tell you what we did wrong, and very often why we did it wrong. And, if we can't name our own sin, there's usually a close friend or family member ready and willing to name it for us. But how many of us truly change our lives? How many of us inconvenience ourselves for the Kingdom of God?

Four hundred years ago Martin Luther had this to say about the birth of Christ:

there are many of you in this congregation who think to yourselves: ‘If only I had been there! How quick I would have been to help the baby! I would have washed his linen.' . . . If you had been there at that time you would have done no better than the people of Bethlehem. Why don't you do it now? You have Christ in your neighbor. You ought to serve him, for what you do to your neighbor in need you do to the Lord Christ himself.

We'd like to keep the baby in the manger. We'd like to have him clean, smelling of baby powder, surrounded by quiet cattle and gentle lambs, laying on fresh hay, while an angel chorus sings lullabies. But the reality is that the baby in the manger grew into the Christ whose mission was to change the world. That baby grew to Jesus Christ who forgave sinners, healed the sick, had compassion for the needy, and even loved Pharisees and Sadducees. The baby grew to be Jesus Christ, who calls us to grow and change, and then walk with him and change the world.

Father had two choices that morning: stand in the river and be baptized by John, or turn his back, walk up-river and return to his comfortable middle-class, law-abiding, church-going life.

If you were Father, what would you do?