O LORD Jesus Christ, who at thy first coming didst send thy messenger to prepare thy way before thee; Grant that the ministers and stewards of thy mysteries may likewise so prepare and make ready thy way, by turning the hearts of the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, that at thy second coming to judge the world we may be found an acceptable people in thy sight, who livest and reignest with the Father and the Holy Spirit ever, one God, world without end. Amen.
1 Corinthians iv. 1.
LET a man so account of us, as of the ministers of Christ, and stewards of the mysteries of God. Moreover it is required in stewards, that a man be found faithful. But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged of you, or of man’s judgment: yea, I judge not mine own self. For I know nothing against myself; yet am I not hereby justified: but he that judgeth me is the Lord. Therefore judge nothing before the time, until the Lord come, who both will bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and will make manifest the counsels of the hearts: and then shall every man have praise of God.
St. Matthew xi. 2.
NOW when John had heard in the prison the works of Christ, he sent two of his disciples, and said unto him, Art thou he that should come, or do we look for another? Jesus answered and said unto them, Go and shew John again those things which ye do hear and see: the blind receive their sight, and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, and the poor have the gospel preached to them. And blessed is he, whosoever shall not be offended in me. And as they departed, Jesus began to say unto the multitudes concerning John, What went ye out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken with the wind? But what went ye out for to see? A man clothed in soft raiment? behold, they that wear soft clothing are in kings’ houses. But what went ye out for to see? A prophet? yea, I say unto you, and more than a prophet. For this is he, of whom it is written, Behold, I send my messenger before thy face, which shall prepare thy way before thee.
(1928 Book of Common Prayer)
John the Baptist had a mighty ministry as the forerunner of the Lord. John was an interesting character coming out of the wilderness wearing camel hair garments, subsisting on locusts and wild honey, and preaching the baptism of repentance and remission of sins. Many who were awaiting the Messiah submitted to his baptism, confessing their sins, and bringing forth fruits meet for repentance. (Matt. 3)
The Pharisees and Sadducees came out to the wilderness to witness the goings-on, and received a massive rebuke from John. “O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bring forth therefore fruits meet for repentance.” In a way, the Pharisees were like our modern “churchians”, religious leaders who had a form of godliness, but denied the power thereof, men for whom tradition and their interpretations thereof superseded the Word of God. The Sadducees were the equivalent of secular materialists, men who rejected angels, miracles, and the resurrection, i.e., the supernatural. Since God is supernatural, and his workings in history and with men are supernatural, they rejected God himself and his revelation in a sense. John refused to baptize these men who had hearts full of pride and sin, who in the end would rather see their Messiah crucified rather than give up their positions in society. John would not affirm them in their wickedness, but rebuked them for it and demanded fruits meet for repentance.
As the Collect and the Epistle both say, a minister must be faithful to preach the truth and to feed and guard the flock of Christ. Like John, a minister turns the hearts of the wicked to righteousness, from darkness to light, from self to Christ. A true minister does not affirm people in their sin and rebellion, but rebukes and preaches the Gospel which transforms, renews, and brings forth fruits worthy of repentance. John prepared the Israelites of his time for the first coming of the Messiah; true ministers today prepare people for Christ’s second coming.
As we enjoy this third Sunday of Advent, let us remember that all we men who name the name of Christ are his ministers, whether we pastor our families, or a church. We cannot affirm or enable sin, but must rebuke it and demand repentance and faith in Christ which brings forth fruits meet for repentance. This begins with us individually. Only then will we be an acceptable people in his sight, and be prepared for his second coming.