Bereans in Idaho Falls: read Matthew 3 & discuss in the city
The wilderness is no strange place for Idahoans. In central Idaho, we have the largest track of wilderness in the lower 48 states, teaming with forests, mountains, and streams. In southeastern Idaho, we inhabit a barren desert of lava rock, sage, and juniper. Imagine what it would be like if a prophet were preaching and baptizing a day’s walk west of town. Let’s say that he dressed in a peculiar fashion like a mountain man, sported a beard, and lived off the small game that he shot or trapped. Picture the wild and urgent look in his eye as he preached on your sin, the coming of the Christ, and impending judgment. This Christmas, would you desire to hop in your car and go hear him?
In the wilderness of Judea, two thousand years ago, John the Baptist, the man with a mane of hair and wearing camel’s hair, had one clarion call: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” One little girl shared a good definition of repentance. It means that you are sorry enough that you don’t want to do it again. Repentance is entrance into the Kingdom of Heaven, which is listed over thirty time in the book of Matthew. Entrance qualifications are not a gorgeous figure. A beautiful face. A six figure income. A Rhodes scholarship. Entrance means a humble turning to God and a humble turning from sin.
In our Southeastern Idaho wilderness, we are plagued with a number of sins. Religious pride spawns a sundry crop of sins: smug superiority, insensitivity, righteous comparison, and blindness related to our own sense of helplessness. On the other hand, our selfishness pride leads to discouragement, depression, inferiority, and a host of insecurities and fears. Presently, you might be bitter, angry, jealous, covetous, lazy, full of lust, or greed. Unfortunately, our addictions are too numerous to count: television, Redbox movies, video games, facebook, chocolates, ice cream, coffee, soda, alcohol, shopping sprees, romance novels, drugs, pornography, popularity, or even sleep. It could be your whole world might crash if you don’t make it to the Apple Athletic Club for your special fitness regime or you don’t head to the mountains for the weekend or if you miss out on the business deal. What makes you most happy at Christmas?
Our hearts are idol factories, accentuated by the Christmas season. Our bodies and our houses must look their best that we might receive props and accolades. And our families must respond according to our own desires. Quite frankly, we need to ask ourselves – what are our expectations? What is it that can so easily push our buttons and jerk us into a slump? Could it be that though we are surrounded with glittering Christmas lights, music, and festivity, our hearts feel like a wilderness?
Or maybe you have a false sense of security. No problems. Everything is great. You come from a great family. Your genealogy is impeccable. But you know that doesn’t cut it, don’t you (John 8:39-40, Matt. 8:10-12, Rom. 9:6-7)? You need to repent. Repentance is where you are personally acknowledging before the Holy God of heaven that you need a change of heart.
John the Baptist said to the Pharisees and Sadducees, “Bear fruits worthy of repentance.” It can’t be just a superficial, external repentance. It has got to be a change from the inside out. But herein lies the problem, how can you change your own heart? How influential are we at changing our own stubborn habits? Even more seriously, how do we escape the wrath to come because of our sin? The Baptizer is crying in the wilderness about a Messiah to come, who carries a winnowing fan, who will thoroughly clean the threshing floor, and who will burn chaff with unquenchable fire.
In the town of Idaho Falls where so many are trying to be worthy, I know I am not. Most of my life is filled up with useless chaff. I know that I don’t even come close to the glory of God. Like John, I am not even worthy to carry the sandals of the King. We have no slaves in Idaho Falls today, carrying the shoes of their masters, yet if Yeshua walked the streets of this town and decided to dip his feet in the Snake River, who would be worthy enough to stand behind Him, holding His sandals?
Amazingly, Jesus came to John at the Jordan River, requesting to be baptized. John had a hard time with this, so Jesus answered, “Permit it to be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Of course, Jesus did not need to be purified of any personal sins. He got baptized because He was personally identifying with you and me. It is a symbolic way of Him taking on our sin. Earlier, John had rightly declared the Messiah to be the righteous Judge, the terrifying Lion of Judah, who has all authority to purify Israel. Yet elsewhere, John proclaims Jesus as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. When Jesus got baptized, He publicly showed how he would die and be buried in my place. He would take my eternal fire. And that He would also rise from the dead. Surely, the Old Testament Hebrew scriptures point to this pivotal event in history (Acts 26:22-23). If you are a strict Jewish scriptorist, of the Pharisee sect like Paul, you will come face to face with Christ and His work.
In His incarnation, the King came not to wipe out the wicked in Idaho Falls. Of course, John the Baptist probably thought that Jesus was going to wipe out the wicked in his lifetime. This was difficult for him to understand, especially when he sat in prison just before he was beheaded. No, the King came to die for us, and in doing so, make all things new. He died, taking on the full penalty for our sins. The Judge vicariously bore our just punishment.
And it’s in the water that we see a confirmation of the mission of Jesus Christ. We see one of the most beautiful Trinitarian passages in the entire Bible. God the Son is anointed by God the Holy Spirit. And directly from heaven, God the Father declares His approval of the mission. “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased” (Ps. 2:7, Is. 42:1).
Christmas is in the air. The Son is the central delight to His Father. Christianity is where Christ makes you most happy. Are you a Christian?
Questions for Bereans in Idaho Falls
1. Show me from Scripture how the Jewish prophet, John, bridges the Old and New Testaments and is the forerunner of Jesus Christ (Consider Is. 40:3, Mal. 3:1, 4:5-6 with Matt. 17:10-13 and Lu. 1:17).
2. Show me from Scripture what it means to repent (Hebrew – teshubah, Greek – metanoeo)
3. Show me from the Scriptures why the perfect King chose to be baptized in water. Any pointers from the Old Testament?
4. Do you repent and believe in Christ?
5. What is the kingdom of heaven? Are you in this kingdom? How does this kingdom compare with what you see people building in Idaho Falls, America, and other nations of the world?