I have a friend who is like John the Baptist. He is a pilot in the US Air Force. In addition to his primary duty flying planes, my friend has served on the Air Force’s advance team for Air Force One, the specially-fitted jumbo jet that the US President uses to fly all over the world.
Here’s how my friend described his role. “As Presidential Advance Agents, our job was to travel out a week or two ahead of Air Force One to make sure the airport was capable of handling the airplane’s arrival. We worked with airport authorities, host nation military units, and local law enforcement to ensure parking, fuel, aircraft servicing, aircrew transportation and lodging, and security was adequate and ready for the President’s visit. We also had the pleasure of directing the airplane into its parking spot when it arrived.”
That is very similar to what John did for Jesus. Hear me clearly. I am not saying that any president or world leader is like Jesus, or that Jesus is like any world leader. Not at all. I’m just using an analogy to help us understand that John’s role was to help people get ready to receive Jesus. That’s what the Season of Advent is all about, getting ready to celebrate Jesus’ birth, and thus becoming more ready for his return. How did John help the people get ready?
Turn to Matthew 3. Last week Daymarr Jackson began our Advent series talking about getting ready by having hope in the Kingdom. You can read Daymarr’s posts, starting here. We return to what John the Baptist preached in Matthew 3, but this week looking at another element of John’s preaching. What did John preach?
“In those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the Desert of Judea and saying, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.’ This is he who was spoken of through the prophet Isaiah: ‘A voice of one calling in the desert, “Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.”’”
In John the Baptist’s role as forerunner, he helps the people get ready by preaching, “Repent for the Kingdom of Heaven is near.”
Repent? How in the world was John so popular, with crowds flocking to him, when his message was “Repent!”?
Normally, when I think of a preacher using the words “Repent!”, I think of someone who is shouting angrily at crowds of people in some busy place like the city square or outside a sporting event as all the people are trying to get inside and get away from that fire and brimstone preaching. Those preachers can sound so harsh. “Turn or burn!” they say, which is a shortened form of “Repent or go to hell!”
Is that what John means when he says, “Repent, for the Kingdom of heaven is near.”?
No. When John preached repentance, he had something much more beautiful in mind.
Check back to the next post, as we’ll begin to learn John’s vision of repentance.