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Seeking to equip people to live as Christian disciples wherever God has placed them.

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

“Waiting for Another”

Matthew 3:11-12

We have here the real purpose of John’s ministry.  It is not actually baptism nor is it a call for repentance (as happens often in Israel’s history).  John is not so much offering a practice (baptism) as he is announcing a person.  This is the real reason for his coming into the wilderness.

John states three essential characteristics for this “one” whose coming he is announcing.  First, he will be more powerful than John.  This leads us to ask, what in fact is John’s power?  It is not a power in any political or social sense.  It is rather the power of his preaching and teaching.  Therefore what is being said here is that Jesus will quite simply be a greater prophet than John.  Second, this “one” will be more righteous, more worthy than John.  That may seem obvious to us since we know the identity of the figure John announces.  To John’s original hearers that was not the case. The final characteristic is that this “more powerful” one will bring a baptism of fire and the Holy Spirit.  This in effect is a prophecy of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit came upon the disciples as tongues of fire (Acts 2:3).

Throughout this Advent we will be looking at the figure of John the Baptist.  Advent means coming.  Jesus comes as a baby at Christmas.  Yet even as an infant he is king.  In the words of the Wise Men he is born king of the Jews (Matt. 2:2).  He of course later will be identified in the words the Greeks used to describe Zeus as “King of Kings and Lord of Lords” (Revelation 19:16).

Advent is also a time of judgment.  John speaks of the wheat and the chaff.  Throughout Matthew’s gospel we see warnings of judgment focused on both the disciples and the religious leaders.  The joy of Christmas is a sober one.  Christ comes to save but that also reminds us of the basic fact that we need a savior.  To turn away from him is to face the destruction of fire, the opposite of the fire of the Holy Spirit.

John reminds us that Jesus challenges us.  Jesus does this in order to save us.  Advent tells us that we can have no illusions about ourselves.

Faithful and gracious God I pray that you would anoint me with the Holy Spirit and the fire of your presence.  Keep me focused on the fact that you will come again.  I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.