Not for Self-improvement
Lord God, You know my needs before I ask and You invite me to be with You. I bow before You.
Read Matthew 3:1-12
Scripture taken from the Holy Bible, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society. All rights reserved throughout the world. Used by permission of International Bible Society.
“… it is not our worthiness of God but our willingness for God that is the crucial human attitude in rightly relating to him, and this remains the essence of the Good News” (John R. Claypool).
At this point we move from Jesus’ infancy to his adult life. John the Baptist lays the foundation for Jesus’ ministry. John brings old-covenant prophecy to its climax and builds the bridge to the new covenant. Key themes of Jesus’ ministry are previewed: in particular, the new exodus, the new Israel and the Kingdom of Heaven.
John operated in the wilderness, the location of the first exodus, through which the path was to be prepared for the new exodus, and the Lord’s coming. He called for repentance and confession of sins–not just of general sinfulness. He baptized Israelites as though they were Gentile converts. Israel was no longer true to its calling. Its leaders were “a brood of vipers” (7). If there were no repentance, the axe would be laid to the tree, and God would raise up new children to fulfill his promise to Abraham. The Kingdom of heaven–God restoring his rightful rule–was already breaking in, 20 miles outside Jerusalem. John was the prophetic signpost pointing to the coming one, whose ministry would separate humans even more radically than John’s, like wheat from chaff during threshing. The resulting community would be both new and purified.
The Christian faith is not a resource for human self-improvement. It announces the end of fallen humanity and brings into being a new humanity. God can raise up new children (9). Through God’s grace, signaled in baptism, members of the old humanity may become members of the new one, just as members of the old Israel could become members of the new. To underestimate the challenge of John’s ministry is to risk underestimating the challenge of Jesus as well.
Have you become over-familiar with the word “new”–new birth, covenant, creation; all imply that the “old” couldn’t remain as it was. Is the Gospel more radical than you have allowed?
Lord, show me myself. I do not wish to live in delusion. Show me Your grace that I may have hope and be transformed.
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