Luke 3:7 – 20
John said to the crowds that came out to be baptized by him, ‘You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruits worthy of repentance. Do not begin to say to yourselves, “We have Abraham as our ancestor”; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. Even now the axe is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.’
And the crowds asked him, ‘What then should we do?’ In reply he said to them, ‘Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise.’ Even tax-collectors came to be baptized, and they asked him, ‘Teacher, what should we do?’ He said to them, ‘Collect no more than the amount prescribed for you.’ Soldiers also asked him, ‘And we, what should we do?’ He said to them, ‘Do not extort money from anyone by threats or false accusation, and be satisfied with your wages.’
As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah, John answered all of them by saying, ‘I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing-fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing-floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.’
So, with many other exhortations, he proclaimed the good news to the people. But Herod the ruler, who had been rebuked by him because of Herodias, his brother’s wife, and because of all the evil things that Herod had done, added to them all by shutting up John in prison.
John was the prophet, preaching in the wilderness, preparing the way for the Lord. His message is that of a prophet, revealing truth, attacking social ills, challenging the people. He calls them all a “brood of vipers” – a nest of snakes – the image being one of snakes fleeing from a fire. Not even being descendants of Abraham, the special status of a chosen people, will save them. He tells them they must repent – but that repentance is not enough; they must live in a way that bears fruit of repentance. A tree that does not bear fruit is cut down, or pruned – Jesus would later use that same image. But what does “fruit of repentance” look like? This is the question the people ask, “What then should we do?”
John answers the question with references to issues of justice, social and moral. “If you have two coats, share one with someone who has none.” He goes on to say that they should share food as well. And then specific groups ask that question: to the tax-collectors he says collect only what you have to; to the soldiers (these would have been Romans, not Jews) he said not to falsely accuse or persecute people, to be satisfied with their wages.
The people begin to wonder if John is the Messiah – he responds by saying that he is not worthy to tie the shoes of the one who will come; that he will baptize not just with water, as John does, but also with the Spirit; and finally, he will be the true judge. John’s message is a warning, a message of danger in the coming of the Messiah, if the people do not repent and turn to God. But when Jesus does come, his message is one of redemption and salvation – of hope, love, joy, and grace! As we come into the season of Advent, we move through the teachings of John – prepare your hearts for the coming of the Lord! But we move through this time of preparation, into the time of Christ, of the babe in a manger, of the hope of the world, of the gloria sung by angels and the worship of the poor shepherds.