Calling and Conviction

By: Kasey Knowlton
“Now in those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea…”
--Matthew 3:1
John the Baptist is an important figure of the New Testament since he played a vital role in
preparing the way for our Messiah, Jesus Christ. His ministry began in the mid-20s AD, and he was the cousin of Jesus. Let’s closely examine John’s story in Matthew chapter 3. There we will discover that his calling required sacrifice, faithfulness, courage, and incredible conviction.

In Matthew 3, we find that John came preaching in the wilderness of Judea. This was a
barren wasteland extending along the western shore of the Dead Sea. The first people who would have heard his message were likely shepherds and others of low social status. I find it is common for God to do things in a surprising or unexpected way (such as our Savior being born in a stable) and here, rather than having John show up outside the temple or set up in the heart of the city, he begins his ministry in the middle of nowhere with the “unwanted peoples” as his first converts. This illustrates the incredible loving nature of our God. It also shows us that John left his family’s home for the harsh environment of the desert, sacrificing the comforts and conveniences of that time. We read in Matthew 3:4 that he “had a garment of camel’s hair and a leather belt around his waist; and his food was locusts and wild honey.”  John was not dressed in fine linens or priestly attire; he was dressed primitively - literally living off the land - eating bugs and honey. This speaks to John’s faithfulness to the call God placed on his life. Think of all
he gave up, willingly living an uncomfortable life in order to fulfill God’s mission. I wonder if many Christians in churches today would be willing to take on a similar sacrifice for God’s calling.

But why is John doing all of this? Why is he calling the people to repent? Matthew 3:2 tells us.
“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” God’s Kingdom began breaking into our sin cursed world, for the Messiah had come. Matthew confirms this further in verse 3 by quoting from Isaiah chapter 40, saying “The voice of one crying in the wilderness, make ready the way of the Lord, make His paths straight!” John is clearing a path for Jesus of Nazareth. And his method for preparation was to call the people to repentance. This would not have met the expectations of those who had been anticipating the coming of the Jewish Messiah. Those Jews would’ve been expecting a mighty king to ride in and reestablish the Davidic kingdom: vanquishing Rome, bringing prosperity, establishing peace, and restoring all the promised land to their people. Instead, God’s plan began with a personal call to repentance to prepare the people’s hearts for the coming of Christ. John makes this clear in Matthew 3:11-12. “As for me, I baptize you with water for repentance, but He who is coming after me is mightier than I, and I am not fit to remove his sandals; He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in His hand, and He will thoroughly clear His threshing floor; and He will gather His wheat into the barn, but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.” Here we see the humble character of John, as he is quick to give the glory to the God who called him, declaring, “...He who is coming after me is mightier than I” and that he was “not fit to remove His sandals.” John has no interest in making a name for himself. He knows the purpose of his calling, to proclaim the One coming, making a way and not getting in the way. John’s example can be quite convicting as we follow Christ: are we consistently seeking our glory, or His?

It doesn’t take long for word to spread of John’s ministry. Matthew 3:5-6 reads, “Then Jerusalem
was going out to him, and all Judea and all the district around the Jordan; and they were being baptized by him in the Jordan River, as they confessed their sins.” Even though John’s social status would have been on par with the commoners (as was true of so many of the prophets before him), he still had no interest in making friends with the religious leaders to elevate his status, which we see in Matthew 3:7. “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 the wrath to come?’” Yikes! It's clear that these religious leaders were coming to be baptized, but it makes no difference to John. He makes zero attempts to “make good” with these religious elites; rather he immediately rebukes them! He goes on in Matthew 3:8-10. “Therefore bear fruit in keeping with repentance; and not suppose that you can say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham for our father’; for I say to you that from these stones God is able to raise up children to Abraham. The axe is already laid at the root of the trees; therefore every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.” The common teaching of that day said that the Jews participated in the merits of Abraham, which made their prayers acceptable, helped them in war, atoned for sin, and appeased God’s wrath, among other theological assumptions. John strikes all this down immediately. There’s no friendly greeting here. Instead, he makes it crystal clear that their lineage would not put them in right standing before God. Imagine a big-name church leader showed up at your church - the Pope perhaps - and your first response was to immediately rebuke him for his false doctrine and hypocrisy! That takes some serious conviction.

We see that John’s ministry reaches its true fulfillment when Jesus shows up at the river to be baptized by John. This was a declaration that John’s ministry was ending and Christ’s was beginning. Verses 13-17 read, “Then Jesus arrived from Galilee at the Jordan coming to John, to be baptized by him. But John tried to prevent Him, saying, ‘I have need to be baptized by You, and do You come to me?’ But Jesus answering said to him, ‘Permit it at this time; for in this way it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.’ Then he permitted Him. After being baptized, Jesus came up immediately from the water; and behold, the heavens were opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending as a dove and lighting on him, and behold, a voice out of the heavens said, ‘This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased.’” We see the emphasis that the Father puts upon this moment, with the Spirit descending like a dove as God declares, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased.” The Father speaks from the heavens to declare to all those present, I am confirming that this man is my Son! There should be no doubt now, this is the One whom they had all been waiting for.

It is clear that the calling on John’s life required much of him. He had to leave his home to dwell in an unpleasant wilderness. He had to sacrifice many comforts and conveniences and be seen as an outcast. He ate bugs and wore shabby clothing. Yet he remained faithful to his mission, preparing the way for our Lord. What incredible conviction he must have had to see it all through, even to the point of his death sometime later at the hands of King Herod. May we continue to ponder what we are prepared to lay down for the sake of God’s plan and calling for our own lives.

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