Many Pharisees and Sadducees came to the place where John was baptizing people. When John saw them he said to them: “You are all snakes! Who warned you to run away from God’s anger that is coming? You must do the things that show that you have really changed your hearts and lives. And don’t think that you can boast and say to yourselves, ‘Abraham is our father.’ I tell you that God could make children for Abraham from these rocks here. The ax is now ready to cut down the trees. Every tree that does not make good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire. – Matthew 3:7-10

So much of religion can be little more than posturing, passionate opinions, and religious pomp without much true substance. God, however, demands lives that are consistent with the words of our mouths. Wearing robes, having titles, coming from a strong religious heritage, and liking to be recognized as religious, in and of themselves, simply don’t count with Jesus. He wants to see the fruit of lives dedicated to him as God. In fact, Jesus uses terms of utmost derision for those claiming to be religious but not living righteously. He reserves the greatest punishment for those who take advantage of their religious positions. What counts with our Lord are lives that are true to God, not ones that merely look and sound religious. Faithful and just God, thank you for being consistent and true. At times, dear Father, I find myself struggling to have the purest of motives and sincerest of commitments. Please forgive me when my faith is more about religious showy rituals and not about a changed daily lifestyle. Help me to be more true to what I say I believe, and not get caught up in religious pretensions. Matthew 23:2-7, 27-28 – James 1:22-24 – Matthew 7:24-27

The Famine Is Over

People went to hear John. The people came from Jerusalem and all Judea and all the area around the Jordan River. People told the sins they had done, and John baptized them in the Jordan River. – Matthew 3:5-6

There is something self-revealing in God’s word when presented in all of its liberating and uncomfortable truth. Amos had warned God’s people many years earlier that there would be a famine for God’s word, a time when the voice of God through the prophets would go silent. John was the re-awakening of God’s voice through a prophet. There was a clarity and ring of truth in his convicting message. He called people to a life-change through the confession of sins and baptism. People flocked to hear him, and then changed their lives based on John’s message from God. John was not in a convenient location. John didn’t have money or power to gain an audience. What was John’s attractiveness? God’s voice was recognizable in his preaching. The famine was over! People flocked to feed on the truth of God! Holy and Righteous Father, give me a love for your truth and a passion for your word. Through your Spirit, please enable me to understand and apply your truth in my daily life. Amos 8:11-12 – Matthew 21:25-26 – Matthew 11:7-10

Preparing the Way

John the Baptizer is the one that Isaiah the prophet was talking about. Isaiah said: “There is a person shouting in the desert: ‘Prepare the way for the Lord. Make his paths straight.'” John’s clothes were made from camel’s hair. John had a leather belt around his waist. For food, John ate locusts and wild honey. – Matthew 3:3-4

Preparation is hard work. To be the one who prepares the way for someone else’s travel, but doesn’t get to go down that road, well, that is even tougher. To live all your life so someone else can find the spotlight is toughest of all. But to lose your life in this cause, goes beyond words. John spent his life for one purpose: to prepare people to know Jesus as God’s Son, the Christ. Can our purpose in life be any less? What would happen if we decided to begin each day with the commitment that we would live, talk, act, and care for people with the express purpose that their hearts become prepared to acknowledge Jesus as Lord? So let’s find out, beginning today! Loving and patient Father, I’m a little slow sometimes to catch on to what you want me to do. But, I know you want me to live my life with the same purpose John lived his: to help prepare people to know Jesus as Lord. Give me eyes to see those searching for Jesus and a life that beckons them to follow him. John 3:27-30 – 2 Kings 1:7-8 – Malachi 3:1-4

At the Door

At that time John the Baptizer came and began telling people a message {from God}. This was in the desert area of Judea. John said, “Change your hearts and lives, because the kingdom of heaven is coming soon.” – Matthew 3:1-2

So often the things we most desire, the things we are looking for most earnestly, are near us, but we miss them. “If it had been a snake, it would have bitten you,” I heard growing up. We would “give our eye teeth” to have been witnesses of all the things that will transpire from the baptism of John down to the giving of the Great Commission. We will see so many people who come into Matthew’s story of Jesus and who just flat out miss him and God’s Kingdom. How could they be so close to Jesus and not recognize him? The Kingdom and God’s Son are right in front of their eyes! But, the key to finding the Kingdom, both in their day and in our own, is our willingness to change our hearts and reform our lives to live passionately for God as we trust his grace to save and redeem us. Those who followed John were ready to find Jesus and his Kingdom. Those who refused to repent missed it. Holy God, Almighty Father, and King of Heaven, I confess that I often lose my way and live for myself. This selfishness hurts my family, those I work with, and especially me. But, dear Father, I know it hurts you most of all, because it blinds me to your truth, hardens me to your grace, and makes it so difficult for me to yield my life to Jesus as Lord. By the power of your Spirit, transform me to be like your Son. Matthew 11:21 – 2 Timothy 2:23-26 – 1 Corinthians 2:7-8

Divine Partnership

After Herod died, an angel of the Lord came to Joseph in a dream. This happened while Joseph was in Egypt. The angel said, “Get up! Take the baby and his mother and go to Israel. The people that were trying to kill the baby are now dead.” So Joseph took the baby and the baby’s mother and went to Israel. But Joseph heard that Archelaus was now king in Judea. Archelaus became king when his father Herod died. So Joseph was afraid to go there. Joseph was warned in a dream. So Joseph left there and went to the area of Galilee. Joseph went to a town called Nazareth and lived there. And so the thing happened that God said through the prophets. God said that {the Christ} would be called a Nazarene. – Matthew 2:19-23

In this passage, we see Joseph caught in a wonderful and mysterious dance with God. God revealed his protective guidance in dreams, through angels, and in visions. Joseph, however, still had to discern the meaning of God’s help and had to choose to obey his direction. So often we want everything spelled out, “just like they did in the Bible.” We forget that Joseph and Mary were living a mystery that was too big to wrap their minds around; at times it was frightening and at other times it was just bewildering. The human guidance, advice, and training they received to prepare them for what lay ahead of them are remarkably similar to our own—little or none. This, of course, made them rely more on God each day for his direction and protection. Interestingly, after the initial burst of divine revelation, Joseph and Mary appear to have been faced with the same kind of child raising issues that most of us face, with one exception: they were raising God’s Messiah. They had to rely on God to lead them through this mystery. So must we! Ever-present Father, I am comforted to see your protection of your Son when he was so vulnerable. I am thankful that there is never a place or time that your presence is not with him. Please inspire my confidence in your presence in my life, too. I long for you to make yourself known in my life each day as I seek to live for you. Proverbs 3:1-6 – Jeremiah 23:5-6 – Psalm 5:4-6