John the Baptist breaks the ice and just shows up, and lights a stinkin’ fire.

Donald Miller makes the comment: “I love how the gospels start, with John the Baptist eating bugs and baptizing people. The religious people started getting baptized because it had become popular, and John yells at them and calls them snakes. He says the water won’t do anything for them, it will only get their snakeskins wet. But if they meant it, if they had faith that Jesus was coming and was real, then Jesus would ignite the kingdom life within them.” [1]

snake on SusanJohn has guts, telling the most religious people in the world that they need to repent of and be forgiven for their sins. A 30-year-old, talking to the old pastors and seminary professors that way? A guy pretending to act like Elijah. I can just see them shaking their heads and pursing their lips. Well, the prophecies said that the establishment was going to be confronted and uprooted, and the leaders would be brought down and the good people given more than their fair chance. Well, John has drawn first blood. “You nest of snakes! You’ll get what’s coming to you. Don’t even get in line for this baptism. There are no excuses here. I couldn’t give a rip about your heritage, the one that’s so all-fired important to you.” The gall! Who does he think he is?

But he doesn’t even stop there. In verse 9: John is announcing the end of the bondage of his people. All oppressors will be hacked. He is announcing the same thing Mary did, the same thing the angels did, the same thing Simeon did: a socio-political revolution is upon us! It’s upon YOU. The world as we know it will never be the same.

The crowd is stunned (3.10). “What should we do then?”

First of all, he says, we upend economic inequality and drive a stake in the heart of conspicuous consumption. Those who are in power? Stop using your power to oppress, to maintain inequalities and the separation between power and the powerless, and the rich and the poor. Let’s not wait for the Lord to return: make the changes that are right to make NOW. Put your power down, and distribute it fairly. Do “Jubilee” all the time. In other words, do yourself what God will eventually do anyway: share power, resources, and money. Ditch all your notions of political and social power, and start from scratch, following God’s example. Not bad for a first sermon.

Then he drops a bomb on them, as a perfect example of everything he’s been talking about. They want to recognize him, affirm his authority, give him leadership and power, and create an inequality. John, without batting an eye, says, “Nothin’ doing. Jesus is coming. He’s the one to recognize. If you think I am trying to upend things, you wait ‘til HE walks through the door.”

Go figure. What does he get for it all? Arrested. Should have seen THAT one coming. The halls of true power don’t accept any challenges. Just try to conceive of the corruption, greed, violence, and money that is expended by those in power to stay in power. Think Mubarak in Egypt, Saddam Hussein in Iraq, Mao Tse Tung, Stalin, and Baby Doc in Haiti. Then take yourself to John the Baptist, and his arrest makes perfect, stupid sense.

 

[1] Donald Miller, Blue Like Jazz,

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