“…the word of God came to John the son of Zechariah in the wilderness. He went into all the region around the Jordan River, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins…So John said to the crowds that came out to be baptized by him, ‘You offspring of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Therefore produce fruit that proves your repentance, and don’t begin to say to yourselves, “We have Abraham as our father.” For I tell you that God can raise up children for Abraham from these stones! Even now the ax is laid at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.’” (Luke 3:1-9 NET)
John caused quite a stir when he began preaching and baptising. Can you imagine what that would have been like? For the past 400 years there had not been a prophet in Israel. The country had been invaded many times but no word from God. And then this ‘wild’ man began to preach what might have been considered a ‘harsh’ message. Can you imagine being called the “offspring of vipers”?
His no-nonsense preaching attracted crowds. He sounded just like one of the prophets of old: they needed to repent, to turn from their sinful ways. And not just say it, but to “produce fruit that proves your repentance”. It wouldn’t do any good to say, “You can’t talk to us like that! We are children of Abraham, after all!” John quickly took care of that type of reasoning – judgement from God was coming; if they didn’t produce fruit they would be cut down and burned.
The people believed his message. What did they need to do? John’s response: share what they had with those who didn’t have. Be content with their pay. Don’t take advantage of people. Don’t be violent or falsely accuse people (see Luke 3:10-14). In other words, they needed to change the way they were living.
All of this caused the people to wonder: was John the Messiah? Luke tells us that they were in a “state of expectation” (Luke 3:15 NASB). They knew their scriptures. They knew what the prophets had written about the coming Messiah. They knew Daniel’s prophesy. It is of interest that Luke opened this chapter detailing the exact time all of this took place.
“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 Iturea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias was tetrarch of Abilene, during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John the son of Zechariah in the wilderness.” (Luke 3:1-2 NET)
It was the time of the fourth kingdom which Daniel had seen in Nebuchadnezzar’s dream (see Daniel 2). And here was John, preaching the need to change just like the prophets of old.
John quickly denied it. While John was baptising with water there was “one more powerful” coming who would “baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire” (Luke 3:16-17). John wasn’t the Messiah, but the Messiah was coming. John was there to prepare his way as “the voice of one shouting in the wilderness” (Luke 3:4-6).
In many ways, John’s message is our message. We continue to tell people the good news of the Messiah. That message contains the call for people to change their lives and be baptized – to be immersed in water to have their sins forgiven. And then to live that changed life.
It was a radical message in John’s day. It is still a radical message. May we have the courage to continue proclaiming the good news of Jesus.
Readings for next week:
4 March – Mark 16
5 March – Luke 1
6 March – Luke 2
7 March – Luke 3
8 March – Luke 4