Does Jesus bring judgment on unrighteous sinners? Is his purpose to confront us with our sinfulness, threaten us, and put us on the straight and narrow? I used to think so.
John the Baptist Preaches
Matthew chapter three begins,
In those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the wilderness of Judea and saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”
Through my fundamentalist eyes, I saw John the Baptist as a great preacher against sin! All the preachers I knew were hell-fire and brimstone preachers against sin, and they were not about to let anybody get away with anything. John the Baptist seemed just like them. The kingdom of God was coming and people had better watch out!
“You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath?”
One can almost imagine a modern-day prophet in sackcloth on a busy street corner holding a ‘REPENT!’ sign.
Jesus Begins to Preach
Then, John the Baptist baptizes Jesus and Jesus goes into the desert. Jesus returns and the next thing we learn (chapter four) is that John the Baptist is in jail. How does Jesus’ respond?
From that time on Jesus began to preach, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”
He preached the very same thing that John the Baptist preached. Jesus was a hell-fire preacher against sin as well! But just a few verses later we find something different,
Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people. News about him spread all over Syria, and people brought to him all who were ill with various diseases, those suffering severe pain, the demon-possessed, those having seizures, and the paralyzed; and he healed them. Large crowds from Galilee, the Decapolis, Jerusalem, Judea and the region across the Jordan followed him.
Where are the hell-fire sermons? Where is the harsh tone against sin and the call for repentance? Instead of warning the people of the coming of the kingdom, Jesus tells them it is good news! Instead of a hard line against sin, he brings healing—and good news.
Notice how the people respond. Instead of cowering against his onslaught or begging for mercy they flock to him willingly—eagerly. They come in large crowds! And they show no fear or trepidation. What gives here?
John the Baptist has a Question
Remember that John the Baptist is in jail. Matthew returns to John in chapter 11,
When John, who was in prison, heard about the deeds of the Messiah, he sent his disciples to ask him, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?”
Jesus replied, “Go back and report to John what you hear and see: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor. “
John the Baptist had already identified Jesus as the one who was to come; have you ever wondered why he questions him now? I really don’t know; I used to think John doubted because Jesus was not preaching a hard line on repentance from sin. But I misunderstood John; he was no more a hell-fire preacher than Jesus.
I am sure that Jesus’ answer satisfied John. Both preached the good news of the kindom—not judgment. Some will recall that Jesus does seem judgmental in some of his speeches, but it is clear that his chastisement is always for the religious leaders—not the common people, whom the religious leaders called sinners.
John also had stern words, but they were for those who felt they were the privileged children of Abraham. John’s instructions to his followers were simply to treat others fairly. He did not judge them.
How Should Believers Judge Today?
Jesus still welcomes us as we are without preconditions. Once we meet Jesus, we find that he will take care of our sin. However, Jesus’ warnings to religious leaders are still valid! Be careful not to judge the very ones who Jesus cares about so much.