In the 1967 war, Israel wrestled control of the West Bank known as Qasr al-Yahud from Jordon. It was thought to be the traditional site where John the Baptist baptized Jesus in the Jordan River. But Israel mined the entire site on the banks of the Jordon River to ward off attacks from across the border. In 1994 Israel signed a peace treaty with Jordan and their border has been relatively quiet for more than 20 years. Israel cleared part of the site in 2011, making the site a popular attraction for Christian pilgrims. Now Israel and the Palestinians are clearing the rest of the site – about 135 acres littered with more than 3,000 antipersonnel and antitank mines and an unknown number of improvised explosive devices. Present day pilgrims, “must pass through a ghost town of churches fenced off by menacing signs that read ‘Danger! Mines!”
I thought about the minefields in the call of John, the Baptist to submit to a baptism of repentance, which for the Christian implies death to self and resurrection life in Jesus. John was a prophet warning folks coming to be baptized about their insincere intentions. “Prove by the way you live that you have repented of your sins and turned to God. Don’t just say to each other, ‘ We’re safe, for we are descendants of Abraham.’ That means nothing, for I tell you, God can create children of Abraham from these very stones. Even now the ax of God’s judgment is poised, ready to sever the roots of the trees. Yes, every tree that does not produce good fruit will be chopped down and thrown into the fire” (Luke 3:8-9).
One of the common minefields in the contemporary church is the practice of half-hearted repentance, involving incremental, self inducted attempts at change. The fruit is not life producing. There could be a sign outside churches saying, “Danger! Mines!” It is easy for men to fall into the trap of “performance orientation” where we work hard at change, but never getting to the root of our sin nature. We try the latest spiritual program or learn more biblical truths, but never get to the roots.
I spend years practicing “shallow” repentance. It was a matter of admitting I was wrong and then trying to be better. I was into my spiritual self improvement mode. I finally had to come to the point of “tasting” my sinful nature. I could not change myself. I had to repent even of my trying to change. I continue to have to come to the end of myself, and let the Spirit of God change me. Death to myself is not easy. But it is the only way to resurrection life.
It is very dangerous, that is, it is a minefield to say “we’re safe” because we are following Jesus. “Even now the ax of God’s judgment is poised, ready to sever the roots of the trees.” Could it be that God is calling the followers of Jesus to deeper repentance in our day. Men, in the days to come we will be tested regarding our walk with Jesus. It will bring out of each of us, things that we have buried not wanting to bring to repentance. But when the ax comes to the roots, don’t take it to mean you are unfit to be his witness. Rather, see it as the grace of God calling you to deal with those things that go deep into your soul life.