Why Don't You Do It Now?
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.
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
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 sidesturning 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
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,
If you were Father, what would you do?