John was indeed in a palace but his clothes were not fine, nor were his accommodations luxurious. He was conversant with a king, but not as a confidant. His food was not tempting, his sleeping arrangements most inconvenient, for John was confined in the dungeons beneath the palace: a mere hole gouged in the living stone. For a man whose life had been spent beneath wide open skies, breathing the fresh air of freedom, the clammy darkness and clanking chains of his confinement was mirrored by his aching heart and the doubt that began leeching into his soul. His only crime: being a prophet!
John was indeed a prophet. His primary message was, REPENT! Repentance required an admission of guilt. Guilt resulted from awareness of sin and its consequences. People don't like guilt because they like sin, and when sins are dragged into the light and exposed, the guilty rush to extinguish that light. Herod, enraged at having his adulteries adjudicated, reacted violently and the prophet was snatched from his pulpit and plunged into the silence of a veritable tomb.
The great prophets from Adam to John the Baptist; from Simeon to John the Beloved; down through and including our own generation, have warned loudly and with great conviction of the calamitous outcome of persistent sinning, and have, without exception been excoriated for their message. Parallel to and lauded loudly for their opposition to the “doomsayers,” have been the false prophets with their soothing deceptions and mollifying ointments of empathetic consolation. Today, secularists, who discount Scripture, will still quote from it to silence the voice of conscience: “Judge not, lest ye be judged.” They don't know where it's found exactly, but they fling it in the face of the prophet with yet another, out of context quote: “All have sinned.” The truth is, we are not the judges. But –God is and His judgment is sure.
Ancient popular prophecies included affirmation of great times ahead, peace and prosperity, and justification of any and all behaviors. Who wouldn't be comforted by such proclamations? And yet God's clarion call to the prophet has always been, “When I say to a wicked person, 'You will surely die,' and you do not warn them or speak out to dissuade them from their evil ways in order to save their life, that wicked person will die for their sin, and I will hold you accountable for their blood. But if you do warn the wicked person and they do not turn from their wickedness or from their evil ways, they will die for their sin; but you will have saved yourself” (Ezekiel 3:18-19).
John's message of repentance was but the preamble to his urgent and urgently proclaimed subtitle: Messiah is here. Prepare for His advent. Today the true prophet insists on announcing the return of that same Messiah and the preamble remains the same: Repent! When denouncing a country for their sins, (forget the gentler term “misdeeds”), the list can be summed up in God's decision to destroy the world by flood in which Noah prophesied: The Lord saw how great the wickedness of the human race had become on the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time. The Lord regretted that he had made human beings on the earth, and his heart was deeply troubled. So the Lord said, “I will wipe from the face of the earth the human race I have created--” (Genesis 6:5-7a). And, when considering the condition the world would be in when he pronounced His final judgment, Jesus said in Matthew 24:37, “As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man.”
In our rush to rid the world of sin we have often been guilty of creating our own lists from which we insisted converts should be absolved; but is there not enough sin for which the world must be judged, that our frail additions become moot?
Israel worshiped false gods she at first tolerated but later adopted. Israel burned her children on blazing altars in worship of those same gods. Israel set up worship centers in which she practiced the excesses of the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah before those same gods. Israel abandoned the worship of Jehovah, retaining only the facade, by maintaining a priesthood and offering empty sacrifices on God's altars. He hated it. Israel became sated with violence and God stood by as false prophets crept among them to coddle and sedate them in order to profit from them and whose heads were laid on soft scented pillows and who ate only the finest fare. Then, in his fury, God called down armies from the west and north, pulled more armies up from the east and south and in short order had scattered his chosen people around the world.
The twentieth century has been called the bloodiest in history as millions of people around the globe were and are being tortured and murdered for religious and political expediency. In our own backyard, in 41 short years, 54,000,000 and more babies were and are being sacrificed to the god of pleasure as a matter of convenience. Sodom's sins have tiptoed out of the closet and are being touted from the highest forums in our land as legitimate. God and Jesus have been relegated to history, assigned a place with other of the “superstitions” of the uneducated, and the church has been largely silent; tragically introverted. THE WORLD IS GOING TO HELL and simply protesting will not stem the tide of judgment that is most certainly about to break over America for her sins.
John had announced Messiah and though his message was welcome, he was (as prophets before him had been), harsh and condemning in his judgment. John was a hard man living in hard times and in a harsh environment. Under the best circumstances he would have found it difficult to be tender. But, he had announced Messiah and though Messiah came preaching the same message, REPENT, his manner and presentation were 180 degrees from John's. He said: “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you and persecute you; that ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven:” He practiced what He preached. While hanging on the cross of crucifixion He prayed: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”
The question remains to the prophet: Can we preach repentance and love our enemies at the same time? The answer must be: To preach repentance as a servant of Jesus, is to love.
Is the world in its sinful condition then our enemy? Unequivocally, yes! Will they hurt us if we expose their sins? Eventually, yes! But we have a choice to make. Will we, in love and compassion, obey the commission to preach the gospel (it starts with the message of repentance) and risk the consequences? Or do we prefer the comfort of soft, scented pillows? Remember, John's head rested on a platter in the hands of a dancing girl. He preached “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!”
You and I know Jesus is coming soon and we must prepare the way of the Lord. We must make His paths straight.