is a rather consistent pattern: the prophets tended to be dwellers in the
wilderness. Perhaps it is so because they can hear God so much more clearly
there, away from the pressures and bustle of the city. Whatever the reason,
John was there.
Now in the fifteenth year of the reign of
Tiberius Caesar, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was
tetrarch of Galilee, and his brother Philip was tetrarch of the region of
Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias was tetrarch of Abilene, in the high
priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John, the son of
Zacharias, in the wilderness. And he came into all the district around the
Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins; as it is
written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet, "THE VOICE OF ONE
CRYING IN THE WILDERNESS, 'MAKE READY THE WAY OF THE LORD, MAKE HIS PATHS
STRAIGHT. 'EVERY RAVINE WILL BE FILLED, AND EVERY MOUNTAIN AND HILL WILL BE
BROUGHT LOW; THE CROOKED WILL BECOME STRAIGHT, AND THE ROUGH ROADS SMOOTH; AND
ALL FLESH WILL SEE THE SALVATION OF GOD.'" So he began saying to the crowds who were going out to
be baptized by him, "You brood of vipers, who warned you to flee from the
wrath to come? "Therefore bear fruits in keeping with repentance, and do
not begin to say to yourselves, 'We have Abraham for our father,' for I say to
you that from these stones God is able to raise up children to Abraham.
"Indeed the axe is already laid at the root of the trees; so every tree
that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire." And
the crowds were questioning him, saying, "Then what shall we do?" And
he would answer and say to them, "The man who has two tunics is to share
with him who has none; and he who has food is to do likewise." And some tax collectors also came to be baptized, and
they said to him, "Teacher, what shall we do?" And he said to them,
"Collect no more than what you have been ordered to." Some soldiers were questioning him, saying,
"And what about us, what shall we
do?" And he said to them, "Do not take money from anyone by force, or
accuse anyone falsely, and be content
with your wages."
(Luke 3:1-14 NASB)
word of the Lord came
is, of course, the last of the Old Testament (i.e., old covenant) prophets. It
is fitting therefore that he should be in the wilderness, as they were. But in
this we have some notes which may be heard today:
note – “the word.” There is no sense of ambiguity in this; God makes it
perfectly clear to him what must be done. As we shall see, this is in
keeping with his message of repentance.
note – “of the Lord.” This is not the wild imagining of John, nor the
latest consensus of political correctness. It is God’s message; the prophet
is there to deliver it.
note – “in the wilderness.” It’s where you look for prophets – usually
crying, one way or another. Do not expect the word of God to come to you
through the functions of this world.
not – he did not simply hear the word; he did it.
preaches a “baptism of repentance.” We can examine these two words to our
profit (pun intended) as well:
is a hybrid animal, an amphibian – both material and spiritual. These two
natures are not separate, so therefore that which happens in one realm affects
the other. Baptism is the material sign of repentance. It is the picture of
washing the filth off your body – getting rid of what is foul. But it has one
other meaning here which we might miss.
ceremony for accepting a Gentile as a Jewish proselyte used baptism as well.
The implications of this are radical; as Jesus said, you must be born again.
John is telling them they must do what a sincere proselyte would do. Can we
see through their eyes?
would be an act of humility – one which would place a life-long Jew on the
same level with a Gentile who had just converted to Judaism.
would be a new beginning – a welcome thought to the repentant sinner, but
repugnant to those sure of their position.
would also tell the people that God does not play favorites. The Gentile
proselyte is baptized; so are you.
spiritual parallel is repentance – the art of making a spiritual U-turn. What
is this thing, repentance?
is an admission of guilt. You don’t repent if you’re not guilty.
than that, it is the attempt to set matters right – you want to atone for
what you’ve done; you seek the forgiveness of those wronged.
is not merely ceasing to do evil; it is replacing evil with good.
please, it is not merely individual. We are responsible for our own actions –
we are also part of a society. There comes a time for repentance by a people,
we see what the man has to say?
brood of vipers”
has two very disturbing implications to the Jew of this time:
viper would immediately remind them of Satan. John is, in effect, calling
them children of the devil. (Christ will do likewise). It seems that he
is not complaining of just one particular sin, but their sinful lives.
yet, it seems to be hereditary (brood). How can a man change his
heredity? If I’m a hereditary sinner, how can I escape it?
warned them, it obviously wasn’t Satan, the head viper. But this warning shows
us other things:
warned them. In our era, this is the function of the Holy Spirit. God
sent the prophets of old and last His Son to turn us from our evil ways.
He does not leave us to figure it out on our own.
of course, means that we needed the warning, right? That carries two
implications: first, we deserve it (we’re sinners). Second, if we don’t
repent, we’re going to get it.
what are we going to get?
wrath to come”
preacher of my acquaintance was always fond of saying, “God is angry with the
wicked all day long.” None of us would deny that justice has not found full
fruit in this world. There are many who owe Saddam Hussein much. But even
with the worst of sinners, God desires repentance, which brings a man close to
God desires justice; he is patient and waiting – but not forever. The day
will come when he will judge the living and the dead – the Day of Wrath. The
day in which the evil get what they’ve been asking for.
we are accused of something, we have essentially three choices – defend our
innocence, admit our guilt, or render our excuses. John anticipates such a
defense, or excuse. Their defense is simple: we are the chosen people of God.
to our ears, this sounds like no defense at all. But let’s put it in more
modern terms: the unknowing hypocrite. Here, for your use, is my personal
test for same. Consider the worship service on Sunday morning:
you walk out praising the sermon (“Great job, rev! Right on!”) knowing
well that it will have no effect on your life? Glad that the preacher
knows the difference between preaching and meddling?
you love the music we have – and its effect on your heart lasts no longer
than the last note?
you willing to put something in the offering – but resent the word “tithe”
as a reminder? Heaven forbid that someone should bring up the concept of
we feel that way, John points out some simple facts. Adam, we are told, was
created from the dust of the ground. The elements that make up our bodies are
the same ones used in horses. God created Adam; if he wants to, he can raise
up his children from stones. Therefore, our church heritage, our holy heredity,
is God’s gift to us. God does not “owe” us anything.
of us, however, feel we have God in a box. He can’t discipline us; he can’t
condemn us – look at how much work we’ve done for him. We forget that he will
have mercy on those he will have mercy on. It is grace; his choice, not
at the root”
and again God warns his people: if you will not turn from sin, I will destroy
you and raise up those who will honor my commandments. This phrase is awesome
in its warning:
that the axe is at the root – the sign that the tree is destined to be
completely eradicated. One prunes with a pruning hook, not an axe. This
is destruction, not discipline.
test of the tree is simple: Produce good fruit – or die.
fruit of repentance
now describes the good fruit the tree of repentance should produce.
sometimes skip this part. But may I point out a few little items about this
that the man who has two is to share – John is not talking to the
rich who have a closet full of clothes. This example extends down to the
least of us.
might ask, then, what happens then? Suppose I do? Foolishness! Consider
the lilies of the field; he will provide for you, too.
please, note the word: share. We are not to give with condescension, but
with the warm heart of a friend sharing with a friend.
of us are willing to be honest – until it costs. We are very good at
justifying our petty frauds (the government will never know what I really gave
to Goodwill). But do you not see the hypocrisy in this? We condemn our
politicians (think of Gray Davis) for financial improprieties; little things
that skirt the edge of the law. But we think ourselves clever for doing the
same. Tell me, what kind of businessman do you like to deal with? The one who
is just this side of fraud, or the one who is scrupulous about his honesty? Go
thou, and do likewise.
use of authority
is a sad, but common, sight: the petty authority abusing his position.
Sometimes it is for personal gain – those who have dealings in non-Christian
societies often take for granted the bribe needed to get things through
customs. Sometimes it is for self satisfaction – John here chastises those who
would make false accusations (“He’s probably guilty of something.”) The issue
is not the guilt of others; it’s ours. When we abuse the authority given us,
it rots us out from the inside.
cure is all too simple: contentment. These things are done because we tell
ourselves that this civil service job doesn’t pay well enough, the rules of
evidence are too strict – in short, something’s wrong, it’s depriving me and
I’m going to fix it. You may fix it by breaking you.
may have noticed that we have skipped over Luke’s quotation from Isaiah.
John’s lesson is for repentance you can see; Isaiah taught a deeper lesson.
His words are here so that you might know the spiritual side of repentance.
repentance – what we must do
stated quite clearly: we must make ready a place for the Lord. That place is
in our hearts. Christ is the perfect gentleman. Note that when he tells us
that he stands at the door and knocks, he’s not talking to non-Christians but
to the church. He will not break in. He will wait for you to prepare a place
for him within.
than that is required: do not ask the Christ to come to you by the devious and
twisted paths of the sinner. Don’t try to bargain with him, saying, “I need to
hang on to this sin – but I’ll go to church every Sunday…” Make the path
straight, for the Sinless One will not walk a crooked path.
repentance – what He will do
will eliminate the valleys – the downs and despair that come from the
hopelessness of life without him. He fills our valleys with hope.
will cut down the mountains – the mountains of our pride and self
will make the crooked straight – turning you from one who is devious and
knows every crooked way to one who is a “straight arrow.”
will make the rough spots smooth – taking the froth of your rebellion and
recalcitrance and turning it into the flow of still water, running deep.
a place for him; make straight the path to your heart.