"Then the people of Jerusalem and all Judea were going to out him, and all the region along the Jordan, confessing their sins. But when he saw many Pharisees & Sadducees coming for baptism, he said to them, 'You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruit worthy of repentance.'"
I wonder if it was different back then? Were they as impressed (infatuated?) with numbers in Jesus' day as much as we are today? How many fans filled the stadium for the big game? How much money did the new movie make in its opening weekend? What do the polls say about this politician's approval ratings? How many came to worship last Sunday, in all services combined? More = better. At least, that's how we've come to equate things, hasn't it?
I started reading Matthew again today. Early on we get the story of John the Baptist. He's the forerunner to Jesus. The set-up man. His job is to get people ready for the Savior. So he's baptizing folks, and they're coming out to him in the wilderness in droves. AND they're confessing their sins.
But among the "many" who were coming were "many Pharisees and Sadducees," religious leaders of Israel. The established church folk. Taken at face value, I might have expected John to have been excited! Even the religious leaders are coming to prepare themselves (this baptism ministry has gone mainstream)! EVERYONE'S COMING!!! But John doesn't seem to be impressed with numbers. He blasts the leaders and calls them a bunch of poisonous snakes! "Bear fruit worthy of repentance" he adds.
Of course John knew the reputations of the Pharisees & Sadducees. Couldn't they have been sincere here? Maybe. Then again, maybe they were simply "looking into" what was getting the people all excited. And while the people came (for the most part) with honesty & sincerity, willing to earnestly repent of their sins, the leaders evidently didn't. BEAR FRUIT WORTHY OF REPENTANCE. In other words, "Walk the talk, don't just talk the talk."
I think there's a tendency for those of us who are pastors to get too focused on numbers (maybe it's the same for other professions?). More is supposedly better, right? Maybe. Maybe not. Maybe we should be more focused on helping those who do come to "bear fruit worthy of repentance"? Maybe how we live out our faith is far more important that how many fill our seats on any given Sunday morning. Go figure!?!