“Change your life. God’s kingdom is here.” John and his message were authorized by Isaiah’s prophecy: “Thunder in the desert! Prepare for God’s arrival! Make the road smooth and straight!” Matthew 3:2-3; The Message Bible
John the Baptist indeed had a powerful ministry. As we read, it wasn’t from the amount of people the prophet drew, or the clothing he wore, or even the meals the man ate—though maybe a little strikingly unconventional. One could even conclude his demonstrative fervency of passion with which how he spoke was not the foundation for the effectiveness in which he garnered his massive attention. What drew the crowds was John’s message, the impassioned prospect of societal transformation—“Change your life, God’s kingdom is here!”
In the harsh Roman controlled culture and environment of ancient Palestine, the hope of a new kingdom resonated in the ears of every oppressed believing soul. As John spoke of an alternative dominion, “God’s kingdom is here,” he arrested the interest of every individual crying out for true hope and change. His voice was the “thunder in the desert,” a true rumbling for spiritual revolution. And in coming to him the crowds found confidence and solace from the drudgery of their everyday despotic existence.
As John spoke of this unconventional objective, he also drew the attention of those supposing the present conditions were more than suitable and just fine. The Message Bible continues:
… John realized that a lot of Pharisees and Sadducees were showing up…
Why were these so-called spiritual leaders coming? In their thinking their perfect universe needed no transformation or alterations. What a deception these religious soothsayers had perpetrated upon themselves! Who warned them to flee the wrath to come—no one! To these higher thinkers, the pristine cosmos cautioned of no impending doom or wrath. They arrived to prevent a spiritual revolution from happening. These came to the desert to identify the conflict, and eventual do their best to destroy it—silence the cacophony.
So, there are two types of people responding to John’s thundering message: those needing hope and change, and those worried about hope and change. The prophet came as the rumbling voice of reason to the insanity round about. His refrain was a choice for conversion, which in turn challenged every ear that came to hear the chorus—“Change your life. God’s kingdom is here.” Isn’t that the true influence of a heaven-produced ministry? In our 21st century society, we hear people speaking much of hope and change, but is that their real desire? The English Standard Version presents verse two a little different than The Message Bible. It reads:
“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”
John’s message was, change—true change—comes through repentance. The serious marchers of hope and change begin with commitment to amending personal moral behaviors. Transformation finds its way into society though the individual hearts of people; everyday people like you and I. When the rich, famous and leaders of a culture transform, that’s all well and good. But true societal transformation happens when common people are tired of the way things are and begin with their own hearts to make a difference. John later asks these religious soothsayers, “What counts is your life. Is it green and blossoming?” He then answers, “…If it’s deadwood, it goes on the fire.¹” In simpler words, get rid of everything that is sucking the life out of you, those things, as noted in the great movie, Casablanca, that don’t amount to a hill-of-beans in this crazy world. The thunder in the desert says, make a choice for change—inward change.
J. Robert Hanson
¹ The Message Bible