The Belt Around His Waist

“The Belt Around His Waist”

Isaiah 11:1-10             Matthew 3:1-12


In the olden days…when I had a little time to watch some television for entertainment…there was a sitcom entitled “One Day At a Time”.  It featured four characters…Ann Romano…a recently divorced mother…her two daughters Barbara and Julie…and the building superintendent Dwayne Schneider.  Schneider was responsible for maintenance and repairs in the apartment building in which the three females lived.  He wore a thick, heavy belt, loaded with all kinds of tools for making repairs.  In nearly every episode he referenced one of those tools as symbolic of the tool or method he recommended one of the females use to fix a life problem.  His analogies were pretty good…but they were also quite laughable.
Isaiah told us of another who would wear a belt…one equipped with only two tools.  Superintendent might be a name appropriate for the wearer of this belt.  And though he may laugh…his remedies are not laughable.  The tools are righteousness and faithfulness.

Isaiah means that Jesus is righteous and faithful just by being true to himself.  He never needs to fear himself or correct himself.  Unlike every other human leader, Jesus Christ is clothed not with the trappings of human ego.  We can trust him without being guarded.

What is our wound?  What is our hurt?  What is our loss?  What is our anxiety?  We can trust them all to Jesus Christ…without fear that he will use any tools other than righteousness and faithfulness to help us through the difficulty.
If we do hold back…we are saying that we are to be trusted more than Jesus is.  We’re saying that he is no better than a pompous Assyria that conquered Judah…or the wishy-washy Ahaz.  That is perhaps our greatest sin…to think and act as our own saviors…and by so doing to disrespect the savior of the world.

You and I might have good intentions.  But…Jesus has good judgment and all power.  When we start to trust him more than we trust ourselves…we’re beginning to understand what it means to trust him at all.

With righteousness and faithfulness the only tools on the belt around Jesus’ waist are you ready to let him use them?  Are they also tools on your belt?
Matthew didn’t reference any tools on John the Baptizer’s belt…though John clearly understood righteousness and faithfulness.  In his words and his actions John used those tools.  He also showed us how to use those tools.  Let’s look at John’s actions.  Are they on our tool belt?

John fearlessly denounced evil wherever he found it.  Wherever John saw evil…in the government, in the Church, in the crowd…he fearlessly rebuked it.  He was like a light that lit up the dark places.  The Greek philosopher Diogenes said, “The truth is like the light to sore eyes.  He who never offended anyone never did anyone good.”

There is still a vital place in the Christian message for truth even when offered as warning and denunciation.   In this day of post-truth politics and leadership it is even more crucial.  Are we ready to use that tool when it’s appropriate?
John urgently summoned people to righteousness.  John’s message was not a mere negative denunciation.  He positively told of the moral standards of God.  He not only denounced people for what they had done.  He called them to do what they ought to do.

John came from God.  He came out of the desert.  He came to people only after he had undergone years of lonely preparation.  Do we spend time with the Bible…in prayer…in Bible study…ready to come to the world…with knowledge from God…to use that knowledge in righteousness and faithfulness in service to God through service to his people.
John pointed beyond himself.  He was not only a light to shine on evil…a voice to rebuke sin.  He was also a signpost pointing to God.  It was not himself John wished others to see.  He was trying to prepare them for the one who was to come.  John was preparing the way for the king.  The effective preacher….teacher…ordinary Christian points not at himself…but on the majesty…power…grace…and love of God.

We’ve all heard and seen the Reverend Billy Graham.  He never pointed to himself…he always pointed to Jesus Christ and to God.
In John’s message…as it should be in ours…there is both a threat and a promise.  He warned the Pharisees and the Sadducees that it would do them no good to plead that Abraham is their father.  To the orthodox Jew of the day that was an incredible statement.  To those Jews Abraham was unique.  He was so unique in his goodness and his favor with God that his merits were believed to be good enough for all of his descendants, also.   So the Jews believed that a Jew… simply because he was a Jew… was safe in the life to come.
I spoke with a friend earlier this week about his brother-in-law…someone I hadn’t seen in a decade.  The man was the son of two pillars of their church and of the community.     I last saw him at his father’s funeral …a time when all were certain that his father would be judged worthy and righteous…and be in one of those many rooms that Jesus had waiting in heaven.  My friend told me that his brother-in-law had turned to drinking heavily…had lost his wife…been disowned by his children…and only saw his elderly mother when he needed money.

John was warning that you and I…like my friend’s  brother-in-law… cannot live on the righteousness of those who preceded us.  An evil child cannot hope to plead the merits of a saintly parent.
John’s threat came with a promise…but it also had a threat within it.  John said that the one to come would baptize with the Holy Spirit and with fire…not the water of the Jordan River.

Now, fire has three characteristics…and John might have meant all three.  Fire illuminates.  Jesus is the beacon…the light…that leads people to the truth and guides them home to God.  Fire is warm.  When Jesus comes into a person’s life he kindles the heart with the warmth of love towards God and towards all other humans.  Fire purifies.  The purifying flames burn away the false and leave the true.  When Christ comes into a person’s heart the evil is purged away.   Christ brings illumination, warmth and purification into the heart.

But there is the threat of the threshing room floor spoken by John.  When Christ comes a person must either accept or reject him.  People are separated…like the wheat from the chaff…by their response to the call of Jesus Christ.

In all of John’s preaching there was one basic demand…and that demand was “repent”.  That was also the basic demand of Jesus himself.  That is the message we should heed…and share with others. Repentance then…and today…means to turn from evil…and instead turn to God…to turn from reliance on self or others…to reliance on God…to let the tools of righteousness and faithfulness…save us and guide us.  John demanded that his people bring forth fruit that shows their repentance.  Jesus does the same.          There is comfort…not just challenge…in the message of repentance.

Repentance is always available.  Repentance is like the sea…a person can bathe in it at any hour. The gates of repentance are never closed.
Repentance is completely essential.  The world cannot continue to exist without God’s mercy and the gateway of repentance.  If there was nothing but the justice of God it would be the end of all people and all things.  The threat of the destruction of the sinner is cancelled by the acceptance of repentance for the sinner’s sins.      Repentance lasts as long as life.  So long as life remains…there remains the possibility of repentance.  God’s hand is stretched out to each of us.

No situation is hopeless…and no person is beyond repentance.

Repentance is available to each of us…who recognize that on Christ’s belt there are the tools of righteousness and faithfulness…and know that he expects us to have those same tools on our belt…and to use them daily.