Reader: “Prove by the way you live”
Response: “that you have repented of your sins and turned to God.”
Scripture: Luke 3:7-18
When the crowds came to John for baptism, he said, “You brood of snakes! Who warned you to flee the coming wrath? 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.”
The crowds asked, “What should we do?”
John replied, “If you have two shirts, give one to the poor. If you have food, share it with those who are hungry.”
Even corrupt tax collectors came to be baptized and asked, “Teacher, what should we do?”
He replied, “Collect no more taxes than the government requires.”
“What should we do?” asked some soldiers.
John replied, “Don’t extort money or make false accusations. And be content with your pay.”
Everyone was expecting the Messiah to come soon, and they were eager to know whether John might be the Messiah. John answered their questions by saying, “I baptize you with water; but someone is coming soon who is greater than I am—so much greater that I’m not even worthy to be his slave and untie the straps of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. He is ready to separate the chaff from the wheat with his winnowing fork. Then he will clean up the threshing area, gathering the wheat into his barn but burning the chaff with never-ending fire.” John used many such warnings as he announced the Good News to the people.
Yesterday our attention was focused on the birth of John and some of the social and theological dynamics surrounding that great event. We follow up this third Sunday in Advent focused squarely on his adult ministry. For many years John had been alone in the desert. Remember he is six months older than Jesus so he’s about thirty years old at this point. He comes out of the wilderness to the Jordan River baptizing converts unto repentance, warning of the coming day of God’s wrath. Some forty years later his words proved true with the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans in 70 AD.
In that first century, after 400 years of waiting, there was great expectation among the Jewish people that the Messiah would come and overthrow Roman rule and set up his kingdom. The Messiah was in the lineage of King David. According to God’s promise to him a thousand years earlier, one of his own descendants would be on the throne forever (2 Samuel 7:16). Israel had reached its zenith during the reign of King David and now the Jews were looking and hoping for the coming Messiah to set up his reign and reestablish the glory days as when the people enjoyed peace and prosperity under King David.
With this in mind, out of the desert comes this raving strange prophet saying the coming of the Messiah is near and to repent in preparation. However, the people believed that since they were descendants of Abraham that was all that was needed. As another prophet put it, they may have been circumcised physically, but not in their hearts which was the essential point. Their faith should have resulted in godly living. Instead, their living was far from godly. They needed to repent and be baptized, an outward sign of inner repentance and that they had turned to God to be forgiven.
The crowd of people understood John’s message as they responded with, “What shall we do?” The Jewish tax collectors asked the same question. (They were despised by all the people for betraying their own people and working for the Romans for personal profit.) Finally, The soldiers also repeated the question. (They were often military people assigned to protect the tax collectors from the people.) John told them to share with the poor, be honest, be content with what you have and tell the truth. Bottom line, repent of your sin.
Think of the characters of Matthew and Gaius in The Chosen series. If you are not familiar with Season One and Two, you should be! It is an outstanding series on Jesus’ ministry and interaction with the calling and training of his disciples. Go to The Chosen app, it’s all free. Also on Youtube.)
Given John’s unexpected and startling arrival on the scene, the people wondered if he, in fact, might be the Messiah. In giving answer to their question, he pointed to the greater One who would baptize with the Holy Spirit and with fire. John’s words were fulfilled with the baptism of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost when tongues of fire settled on each of those gathered. Further, while John’s baptism was with water, the Messiah’s would be with the Holy Spirit (John 7:39). Note the same fire that baptizes with the Holy Spirit is the one that burns the chaff with never ending fire at judgment (Jesus’ parable of the Rich man and Lazarus in the bosom of Abraham Luke 16:24). The writer of Hebrews reminds us that “Our God is a devouring fire.” (Heb.12:29)
What else is contained in John’s message? We should live as a reflection of a repentant life, a life lived in close relation to God. How often do we actually repent to God of our sins against him? Are we even aware of the sin in our lives? Now, a really blunt question. When was the last time you repented on your own? Confessing sin in a worship service is part of true worship, but I’m asking about you personally. Do we hear that voice of the Holy Spirit that says, “Dan, you just got off the path. Turn around. Repent.”
Music: “It Came Upon A Midnight Clear” The Singers, arr.Matthew Culloton
Lord God, to whom all hearts are open, all desires known, from whom no secrets are hidden, enlighten our minds by the pouring of the Holy Spirit; give us grace to know our sins, to love you perfectly, and to praise you worthily, through Christ our Lord. Amen. ―Raccolta, from In the Presence of My Father,p.138