Apologies and Appreciation
Sorry to you faithful readers – Monday and Tuesday were busy days and I just could not find the time to write. But I do want to express my appreciation to everyone who reads my blog because last week we had a record number of views. So thank you very much for stopping by and reading and I hope I can continue to contribute to your walk with God with my endeavour.
For those of you who are curious, the lock-in was great: nothing like staying up all night and then trying to get your body to recoop all day following. But seriously it was fun and we enjoyed ourselves very much. And to continue the thoughts of last Friday, John himself is locked into his mission. He more or less picks up right where the Old Testament prophets left off with his preaching. He demands repentance from the people and not only that but he applies to everyone’s particular situation in life.
Although Luke does not explicitly state who “the crowds” (OXLOS in the Greek, a mixed crowd) are, Matthew tells us that the crowds were made up of Pharisees and Sadduccees (see Matt 3.7). And by the language used by John here in verse 7, it is clear he is probably addressing the same group of Pharisees and Sadduccees. Coincidently, reptilian language was also used by the prophets of old (cf. Isa 59.5). One may see this response of John and think it is a bit harsh considering Matthew tells us that “they were coming to baptized of him,” but it should be noted that though they thought baptism was the right thing, the problem with them lay within. Hence, John is addressing their hearts; yes, they come to be baptized by John, but what is their intent and motivation. I believe John, with his announcement that these are a “brood of vipers,” tells us exactly where these men’s hearts are.
John coommands these people to produce fruit in keeping with repentance. On the heals of this statement, John paints very vivid pictures of God’s judgment: the first is of a tree that is barren or is a bad tree. Truly, Jerusalem and the Jews had become a barren, fruitless tree by the time of John and Jesus. Jesus would clear the temple on two separate occasions and in Mark’s account of the second cleansing, there is a short story about a barren fig tree that Jesus withers, no doubt prophetic of the coming of the Lord to wither the barren tree of Israel. Hence, the ax is at the root of the tree, indicating the imminence of the coming. The final fulfillment of this prophecy would be in AD 70 when the Lord came and cleared the temple for good through the Roman armies.
The second picture is that of the stones. Knowing the tendency of these religious elitists, John jumps the gun on them and tells them of the true nature of sonship. God’s children are those who produce fruit in keeping with repentance, not those of the elitist category. And in case they missed the point, he was sure to point out that God could raise up true children of Abraham from the stones of the ground. This is true prophetic preaching given by the Spirit of God through the man of God and this kind of preaching naturally produced a reaction in the crowds.
The cry comes to John for practical application. And he gives it to them straight. If only God’s people today would ask for it straight! If only true prophetic preaching could be heard by God’s people! What an abundant harvest of fruit God’s people could produce in keeping with true repentance. John does not pull any punches and tells the “brood of vipers” to show love. The command of “love thy neighbor” appears to have been lost in the religious jumble and John demands a return to this kind of love. Share. It is that simple. A lesson we teach our children today. This is not a call for communal living (Essenes notwithstanding), but a plea to share what you have.
The Tax Collectors
Truly a bunch of despised people, the tax collectors appear to part of the mixed crowd that had gathered at the river Jordan where John appears to be and as the “teacher” (a term that will be applied to Jesus during his ministry) what they must do to produce the fruit of repentance God requires. And again, John preaches truth.
A strong temptation of exacting more tax than one should was always before the tax collector. Rome would levy heavy taxes anyway, so why not tax even more and pocket a little on the side? Well, John aware of what these men were doing, commanded that stop doing that. John may have been endowed with the Spirit to know each of these situations, but I would like to think he was among the people, aware of their concerns, hurts, and practices and that is why he was so in tune with what they needed to do. To address the people where they are, the man of God must be among them, aware of their situation.
A rough and ragged bunch of men, these were perhaps Jewish soldiers though we need not think that Roman soldiers could not have been able to hear the baptist at some time. Some say these soldiers could have been escorts of the tax collectors, providing the necessary muscle so they could exact their taxes. Nevertheless, they too cry out for application and John explains what they must do.
John does not call anyone to leave their jobs; he merely requires of them that they act uprightly in them. Be content with what you have and treat people right. Indeed, the fruit that a Christian can produce today is the fruit of a good example for the world. We are the salt and light and without a good example, those who seek to slander the Lord can. But instead, act uprightly is the call from Scripture. Live upright lives in this present age (cf. Titus 2.12).
The message is simple: produce the fruit of the kingdom. Repent but also show your repentance by your deeds and actions. To be sure, the faith God requires is a faith that prompts right living and without it, your faith is useless and dead. That is what John is getting across. These people may have faith in God, but there needs to be a connection with that faith to their lifestyle. Fruitful repentance is repentance that shows up in a persons life.