He’s on my side: A reflection on Matthew 3

I wrote this post at some point back in July and it got lost in the shuffle. I found it today when I was looking for something for work and thought I’d throw it up on the old blogerino.

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I’ve been listening to some sermons lately from the Imago Dei Community out in the fair (fare?) city of Portland. At the moment they’re working through Matthew and so as I began to listen the other day the pastor made a point that really struck a chord with me.

The text is from Matthew 3 where we find Jesus’ crazy locust eating cousin John living out in the desert. What’s he doing out there? Well he’s preparing the way for Jesus. In other words, if we can’t handle what John is saying (and it’s quite something) then we can’t handle what Jesus is saying.

The first thing we hear John proclaim is this: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.” Who is he saying this to? Well, to everyone. He’s saying it to you and he’s saying it to me. Repent! Jesus is coming and we have all like sheep gone astray and are in need of redeeming. We’ve all fallen under the power of sin, but we’re not only victims we’re perpetrators and so we need to repent and turn away from our sin.

But what do we do? We try to justify our sin. We make excuses for it. We compare it to others to make ourselves feel ok. We hide it. Or, we just flat out ignore it and pay it no attention at all. But John says, forget the excuses, forget the justification. Just repent. Turn.

Continuing in the seventh verse:
“But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to where he was baptizing, he said to them: “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not think you can say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.”

I’ll keep this short because what I really want to point out here is when Jesus says, “And do not think you can say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham.”

See, the Pharisees and Sadducees were two different groups of people but they had one thing in common: both groups were sure that they understood the true heart of the scriptures (or of God). Both groups were convinced that if God were to show up (say, in the form of a Messiah or something) that he would take their side because they were the ones who *really* understood what God was all about.

How many of us are just like this? I know I am. How many of us think that if Jesus were here in the flesh he would side with us? Surely, if Jesus were to return now he would side against those crazy, nut-job fundamentalists, no? Or, perhaps he would side with the fundamentalists against those liberal queer-loving “progressive” Christian folks? Or maybe he’d show up and side with the Christian apologists and we’d once and for all know just how reasonable the Christian faith really is!

We’re all convinced that God would side with us. We’re convinced that we are concerned about the one (or two) issue(s) that is closest to God’s heart.

But do you hear it? John’s voice piercing through the noise, proclaiming, “Repent!” Because he’s saying it to you and he’s saying it to me. He’s saying it to all of us Pharisees and Sadducees that are convinced Jesus would side with us against “them” (whoever they are). And just as we’re about to defend ourself he continues, “do not think you can say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.'” That’s not the issue. The issue isn’t about whether or not you have Abraham as your father. The issue isn’t about whether or not you can reasonably defend your faith. The issue isn’t about your progressive political views.

Repent!

Because “out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham.”

You think Jesus would side with you against them? Please, he can raise up people like you out of these rocks.

So, what are you banking your insurance on?

Is your insurance in the fact that you care for the poor? Is it in the fact that you strive to obey the law? Is it in the fact that you can wield Reason like a sword? Is it in the fact that you’re interpretation of scripture is impeccable?

Repent.

Repent.

Repent. For the kingdom of God is near.

“The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise,” (Ps. 51:17).

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