It could certainly be classified or called a confrontation. Sometimes, not always, a confrontation is sought by two sides. One side is usually more aggressive, initially, than the other side. Very rarely do two sides run into the center of a battlefield and seek to destroy one another. You see that only in video games. One side is usually on defense. It’s one side that initiates, while the other side reciprocates and responds to the attack.
The confrontation, if you will, on this 2nd Sunday of the Peaceful Season of Advent, is between a group and one man. Which seems lopsided. The group consists of both the secular and religious leaders uniting to form one group. They are the Pharisees and Sadducees. And the one man, of course, is John the Baptist. And with the tone of John the Baptist, beginning with “You brood of vipers,” it appears the Baptist strikes the first blow in this battle of religious ways. Whose version of God is truer?
For that’s at the heart of this slightly heated discussion. This meeting of a group and one strangely clad Preacher is not husband and wife material. Like, “Are you gonna take the dog out before he goes to the bathroom on the new rug?” Or, “Honey, why did you talk to my mother that way?” Hopefully there’s some forgiveness before sleep that night.
No, John the Baptist and this group of influential 1st century leaders in Palestine is not relational stuff between each other. It would be nice if they got along swimmingly. But getting along forever and always, every day of the year, ended when Adam and Eve ate the unforbidden fruit.
Instead, this confrontation concerns “Who is God? What is he like? What does he want? What does he give to us? What do we believe about him and how do we relate to him?” And, not least, “How do we understand and accept his love for us?” This confrontation between the Baptist and this group concerns the most important topic of, “What is the true way of relating to the Lord, preparing for the Lord’s coming, and accepting his many graces?”
Without trying to easily shove aside the opposition here, the Pharisees and Sadducees are like those today who believe they know perfectly what God wants. But they miss the mark because of staunch rules, regulations, and extreme rigidity. They block themselves in religiously. They create their own barrier against God, and such barriers prevent this group from reaching their true leadership potential.
Imagine, as a parent or grandparent, having so many rules and regulations, and such rigid rigidity towards a child where they can hardly breathe? Or they’re afraid to breathe in the wrong direction? The intention may be good, but the process destroys. Imagine a student getting a 98 on a math test and the parent’s response is, “You could have done better!”
On the flip side, by no means do we allow the inmates to run the prison. Children are not administrators of their own lives. And human beings do not run heaven. We need good direction. And that good religious direction comes from John the Baptist. The Baptist is the perfect administrator. John doesn’t smother us with the things of God. He knows he is unworthy to untie the sandals of the One coming after him. As we prepare for the event in Bethlehem that changes all creation for the better, where all life is touched by his birth, our Lord comes to us by way of the truest freedom possible. Human freedom is taken away only by governments and groups, not by God.
The Baptist proclaims, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” He does not follow that up with, “If you don’t repent, I will seek your death.” John blesses us in a twofold way; that our relationship with Christ is grounded in freedom. We can accept or reject. Or anywhere in between, such as lukewarm. And second, John blesses us with this perpetual truth, which is “Repent.” Whether we are close to Jesus or far away from him, the message remains the same. ‘Repent, because God’s kingdom is now at hand in the Messiah’s upcoming birth.” Meaning, that kingdom is now within you. Meaning, we have the capacity to represent God with truth and accuracy in our daily lives, starting with “Repent.”
John’s one word “Repent,” for those who choose to accept this spiritual assignment, will take the bad fruit that Adam & Eve consumed sinfully, and spit it back out. By spitting out the horrible tasting fruit, which all sin is, and accepting “Repent” into our mouths, then your life becomes a free statement that says, “The kingdom of heaven is at hand.”
As good as the Pharisees and Sadducees could be in some respects, they could never take us to the spiritual plane of who God is, what is he like, what does he want from us, and what does he freely offer us. We are not a brood of vipers. We are not poisonous snakes. We are Christians. We are followers of Christ who fully accept what God has placed before us in our faith.
But to set our lives on the proper path throughout our days and years, John the Baptist is the one who sets us on the Godly path, the path of good fruit, with the word “Repent.” He wins this confrontation by a mile. Many Godly words and actions flow from the one word “Repent,”, as we prepare again for the first coming of Christ.