Texts: Matthew 11:2-6; Psalm 146:1-10
The man we know as John the Baptist had a particularly appropriate name. His preaching about the hellfire and brimstone awaiting the unrepentant sinner placed him in good company with many a Baptist preacher. You know the sort I’m talking about. Some of you grew up hearing weekly sermons about the wages of sin and how terrible hell is. My father, who was a walking encyclopedia of squeaky clean, very corny jokes, told the story of one such country preacher. The man was so burdened by the thought that anyone within hearing distance might miss heaven and go to hell that one Sunday he determined to impress upon his congregation just how awful hell actually is. So he offered this description: “Imagine, my friends, cutting down all of the trees in the entire world and piling them together, drenching them with all of the gasoline in the world, lighting them with a match, and then letting the massive pile burn for days. Sounds pretty hot, don’t it? Well, folks, if you jumped from hell right into the middle of this blazing fire, you’d freeze to death.” John the Baptist would probably like that guy. I have to say, though, that I don’t think either John or this preacher would have approved of the Baptists who protested in Raleigh yesterday. Some hellfire and brimstone preachers do so out of love – and some do not.
So we have known him as John the Baptist. Today, however, John is more appropriately known in progressive circles as “John the Baptizer.” In our text from Matthew, he is in prison because his prophetic preaching offends the authorities. He knows his days are numbered. He has preached repentance, calling his listeners to a different kind of life which they can enter through baptism. He’s trying to get them to prepare for the Messiah, the Coming One for whom his people have waited for centuries. Earlier in his ministry, John recognized Jesus as that One. In fact, he baptized Jesus and inaugurated Jesus’ ministry. But since he left the wilderness and landed in jail it seems John has begun to have questions.