Does it seem strange to you that some of the first words in Luke 3:7-18 are harsh and critical, especially during this season of Advent? Do they seem harsh and critical during a time when we are preparing to celebrate the birth of Jesus? Well, they are harsh and critical, because John the Baptist had a strong message for his audience, and he has the same message for us. During the season of Advent, we don’t just welcome to our world a prophet who tells us the truth about ourselves and baptizes us with water as a representation of our repentance. We welcome a baby grown to a man, a crucified and resurrected Saviour who comes with mercy, but also with judgment. He comes with the Holy Spirit’s burning power.
John’s words to the crowd were scathing. They came to hear and be baptized, but John didn’t welcome them. They didn’t come because they wanted to change but because they were afraid that John might be speaking the truth. They had no intention of repenting, and John knew that.
John told the peopl how they could prepare for the coming Messiah. We are not saved by our works, but by grace. When the thief on the cross repented, Jesus told him that he would be with Jesus in Paradise. If we repent and believe in our last hour of life we don’t need fruits. If we are living the life of faith we are bearing fruit. Any genuine love of God moves a person to real acts of love toward others. In other words, we are bearing fruit. Our faith must bear fruit, but if we rely on these fruits on Judgment Day, we will be disappointed. There is only one way to be assured of our salvation-belief in Jesus.
Faith is not inherited. It doesn’t matter how faithful and devout our parents or grandparents were. What does matter is how faithful and devout we are. If we trust that the faith of our parents will get us into heaven, we shift the focus of faith away from God. That will spiritually fatal.
A converted heart produces new works. Doing good works doesn’t make us repentant, but true repentance produces the proper, good fruit. Repentance is a way out of our sinful lives. The way things are isn’t how they have to be. We can be different. We can heal ourselves and the world. John challenges us to put true repentance into action. It’s a good example of the old proverb that “actions speak louder than words.”
When we repent, we have to do something. We have to change our way of living. There has to be evidence that we’ve had a change of heart and turned back to God. That’s why John tells us to donate an extra coat to someone who needs one. That’s why John tells us to be fair in our dealings with other people. When greed and self-interest influence our dealings with other people, we do nothing but perpetuate injustice and suffering.
The key is how we use our power. We can use it to control things and events in our own self-interest, or we can use it to promote the common good and fight injustice. Jesus’ coming affects every area of our lives, including how we regard each other and our ethical obligations to each other.
God’s forgiveness does not depend on our doing. Our doing depends on God’s forgiving. True repentance anticipates absolution from our sins. The freedom of forgiveness cleans out the closet and gives away the extra coat. The good news of John’s exhortation is the end of our comfortable relationship with dishonest ways and vain striving after wealth and power. All of this is made possible by the “more powerful One” who follows John.
True repentance always manifests itself in changed behaviour, as the apostle Paul would later note in Acts 26:20. Truly repentant people share what they have with the less fortunate, treat people fairly, and refuse to use positions of power to enrich themselves at others’ expense. How does the coming of the Messiah compel us to live? If we have more, we share with those who have less. If we are in positions of power, we do not exploit the powerless.
John came to prepare the way for God’s mighty Son. He calls us to recognize our faults and failings and humble ourselves before God. The Messiah’s baptism is not an empty, meaningless ceremony. It is God’s antidote to the deadly poison of sin. It washes away our sins and delivers us from death and hell. It saves us from God’s destructive wrath.
John was able to reject the notion that he might be the Christ on several counts. The Messiah would be more powerful, worthy of far more reverence, and have a broader ministry. Also, the Holy Spirit would work differently in the Messiah’s ministry, supplying it with a purifying, judging, and saving aspect that John’s did not have.
God wants to take the time to sort out and sift through what is good and what is not so good in us. No one is beyond God’s reach. He keeps sorting out what is worth keeping in us and tosses aside all the rest. Our God is a God who separates. Injustice is separated from justice. Righteousness is separated from unrighteousness. Holiness is separated from evil. Light is separated from darkness. How can we avoid separation? How can we avoid being cut down and burned? How can we end up being on the better side?
God’s wrath is part of God and punishment is coming from God in the future. God’s wrath and punishment will work themselves out in our daily lives. God’s wrath will be part of the final judgment. Jesus will return to be our judge on the final day of history. He will separate believers from non-believers.
The Messiah’s baptism is a cleansing ritual, but it is also a fire that purifies. It transforms people and deals with their sins. It also empowers us and strengthens us to do what we are called to do. The burning Spirit of fire not only burns away all injustice and evil we may commit or suffer at the hands of others. It also starts a fire in our hearts with a passionate desire for God’s justice and mercy-not just for ourselves but for the world around us. It’s our duty to serve God wherever He places us. Nowhere can a person better serve God than in their daily work. We are to “bloom where we are planted.”
What if we determined to seek out opportunities to be honest, kind and hard-working? What if we determined to seek out such opportunities because we’ve heard that extraordinary acts of grace are within reach of ordinary people? What if we believed-and acted on the belief-that being honest, kind and hardworking in a culture that is impatient, immature and fearful really makes a difference?
Are we turned back to God, or are we only going through the motions? Will our lives be destroyed by the fire of judgment, or will we be purified by the fire of the Holy Spirit? Repentance means reconsidering the biases we bring to life and the presuppositions that shape us. It means embracing God’s way of looking at the world. It means calling into question everything we have ever believed. It means giving ourselves up to the changes God wants us to make.
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15. Rev. Bryan P. Stoffregen, “Luke 3:7-18.” Retrieved from http://www.crossmarks.com.brian/luke3x7.htm