February 25, 2024 | Doug Sauder
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“John’s clothes were made of camel’s hair, and he had a leather belt around his waist. His food was locusts and wild honey. People went out to him from Jerusalem and all Judea and the whole region of the Jordan. Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River.”—Matthew 3:4–6 (NIV)
Like a bolt of lightning slicing through a placid and peaceful sky, John the Baptist came to a nation that had been lulled into a spiritual slumber. That doesn’t mean they weren’t a religious people. In fact, the Jewish people were renowned for their religious fervor and devotion.
But an important insight must be injected here. Though the roots of religion ran deep into the Jewish nation at this point in time, the people hadn’t tapped into a true life-giving source. Religion had become routine, ritualistic, and rote. Everything had been forced into a formula by which God would respond to a requisite amount of pious deeds prescribed by the Pharisees—the official arbitrators of all things spiritual.
Year after year and layer after layer, the spiritual heart of Israel was coated with the veneer of sanctimonious righteousness. But beneath these layers, an unresolved desire lingered. God isn’t meant to be known or related to this way. No spiritual system or structure can satisfy the deepest needs of the human heart . . . to be personally known, accepted, forgiven, and loved. Outwardly, all seemed to be in religious order. Inwardly, there was a desperation to be rightly related to God.
So, it shouldn’t surprise us that John’s message of repentance was so well received. When he showed up appearing like one of their prophets of old and announcing the way of repentance, people sensed this is what had been missing all along. The spiritual system of the day said they were fine, but their conscience knew better. Their sin had alienated them from the Source of love, light, and life. Recognizing and confessing this was the way forward to reconciliation and all that was lacking within them.
There’s a lesson to be learned here. Outwardly, a person can look like they have it all together. They go through all the religious motions or they appear to have life locked down, but inwardly, their crying out for an answer as to why they’re lacking in all that’s life giving.
This is where we, as those entrusted with the truth of God’s good news. Like John, we have a role in sharing how sin has separated us from the One we need to be reconciled with. But be careful, because in this responsibility, we can end up focusing on the outward and draw assumptions as to who does and who doesn’t need to hear this message. Assumptions such as, “Oh, so and so won’t listen to me” or “the gospel is the last thing that person will want to hear.”
Don’t ever make any assumptions! You never know what’s going on beneath those outer layers of someone’s soul. As this passage reminds us, people can be a lot more ready to receive the relief that confession and forgiveness in Christ brings than we realize. Just be faithful to share it.
Pause: What was the contradiction between the outer and the inner condition of Israel at this time?
Practice: Consider the last time your outward appearance has hidden an inner condition. How should this lead you in viewing others?
Pray: Lord, help us to be as You are so we don’t look at the outside of others and draw conclusions, especially when it comes to their need to know You and the way to knowing You. May we see people as You do. Amen.
Pastor Dan Hickling serves our online community, also known as the Calvary Chapel Online Campus. He and his wife Becky have been married for 22 years and have two children, Lauren and Danny. Both Dan and Becky have been part of the CCFL church family for 22 years and have served in full time ministry for 20 of those years.