A Tale of Two (sets of) Sinners
“What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas”, or, so we are told. It’s called ‘Sin City’; the oasis in the desert. Despite the univiting surrounding area, people from all over flock to Las Vegas to find relief from the drudgery of their lives. It is not the first time in history that people have gone to the desert to find rest from their burdens.
Matthew describes the ministry of John the Baptist, “The voice of one calling in the desert” in chapter 3 of his gospel. Rather than going to the desert to sin, these people went for another reason.The people who came to hear John in the desert were looking for relief from the conviction of sin they felt. In fact, these people had come from many places, and were ready to repent of their sins and be washed in the waters of John’s baptism in the Jordan. These were repentant sinners ready for the Gospel.
Another group came to hear John, “But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers, who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?” (Matthew 3:7). These people had come to evaluate John; they came to sit in judgment of him. John condemns them, calling them a brood of vipers.
The Pharisees and Sadducees were the very religious leaders who had brought the repentant people to the point of despair and looking for relief from John. No such relief was waiting for the religious leaders. Instead, John pronounced an eternal judgment upon them. These men saw themselves as “law-abiding citizens”. They were full of their own authority and correctness. Despite ship-wrecking the faith of many sincere Jews, they believed they were the only ones qualified to direct their people.
It is the sin of Pride that made them believe they were perfect and righteous before God. They went to the right schools, studied under the right teachers, read the right books and lived the right life. All the while, they lived the life of blasphemy. Instead of mercy for those broken by the Law, they burdened them with further directives and morals.
One of the key roles for the priesthood was performing sacrifices for the people in their care. It was a solemn task that gave people an opportunity to receive grace and respond to God with thanks and praise. It was a solemn task because it required the killing of animals and because it was to be performed according to God’s instructions. It was a ministry of mercyby the priests on behalf of the people.
The religious leaders who approached John seemed more concerned with the people’s adherence to their dictates, than their service as intermediaries making sacrifices on behalf of the people. Grace was overturned by Law-keeping.
The church is also burdened by such leaders in our days. Men who demand a high level of obedient submission to their teachings. They reduce the Bible to a to-do list, believing we can fulfill the Law’s demands without Christ (the author and perfecter of faith). They expect their congregants to ‘tow the line’, without even offering the sligthest bit of assistance to carry the burden. They have rejected the Gospel of Jesus Christ for the works of man.
They create self-righteous leaders like themselves, laying waste to the sincere Christian who desire to hear that the Gospel is for them. Even worse, some congregants end up joining in the law-based condemnation of their fellow Christians. It would seem that the more the Bible is reduced to moral directives for the church, the more moralists are produced. The mercy of Christ is clouded over by a fog of law,evaluation, and judgment. Yes, you might have started off with Jesus, but you darn well better tow the line now! The sincere Christian in this situation is burdened beyond what he/she can bear. They long for relief. That relief is your savior, Jesus Christ.
John paved the way, but Jesus is the Way. His sacrifice does not need to be offered again and again for the remission of sins, because His blood speaks better than the blood of Abel. The forgiveness that He brings is not based on your or my ability to maintain righteous living; it is based on the perfectly lived life of Jesus. If anyone had a reason to judge us, it’s Jesus; but He doesn’t. Instead, He identifies Himself with us and offers Himself as living forgiveness and continues to intercede for us sinners. We merely need to confess (name) our sin, and He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
God, forgive us for the judgment of other Christians, rescue sincere Christians from evil leaders, and renew your church though Jesus Christ, who is the forgiveness of God for us. Amen.