John, the son of Zechariah “went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” (1) And so the crowds came—“priests and Levites from Jerusalem” (2) and “tax collectors who came to be baptized” (3) and “many of the Pharisees and Sadducees” (4) as well as “soldiers” (5) and just regular folks. Crowds of them. How exciting for John! He was fulfilling his calling in life: “crying out in the wilderness ‘Prepare the way of the Lord.” (6) So what did he cry out to the multitudes who came to hear him? “You brood of vipers!” (7) In other words, “You snakes!” 😮
Wait. What? 😦 That is not very encouraging! Aren’t we called to encourage others who are seeking God? Well 🤔 . . . yes. And no. Before reassuring others in their pursuits, we need to know what exactly they are pursuing and why. To be clear, John was probably specifically addressing the Pharisees and Sadducees with his metaphorical indictment. He was outraged at the hypocrisy of the religious leaders and refuted their claim that they had received God’s forgiveness based on their boast: “We have Abraham as our father.” (8) His point? Who your daddy is, is irrelevant! 😠 Everyone is a sinner—even the most religious Jew. Contrary to their antiquated (and our popular) belief, godly living is not how we receive God’s forgiveness! John’s message was not that we should be godly. It was not even that we should seek God! John’s message was “Repent! For the kingdom of heaven is at hand!”(9) In other words, “Change!” Change what? Our way of thinking—thinking that we are good enough for God. Or thinking that we are not good enough for God. Change that!
The fact is, those who seek God are usually good people. And we must not encourage people to believe that God is impressed by their goodness. Why? That’s exactly what the Pharisees and Sadducees believed! That they were good enough for God because they were seeking to live a godly life. And. And . . . we must not encourage everyone else (who is not good) that God is repulsed by their sinfulness! That they are not good enough to receive God’s forgiveness! The message John had for everyone was the same: “Repent!” Change your thinking about what God wants from you!
It is our nature to want to earn love from others—in every dimension of our lives—with our jobs, our friends, our spouses, and so, too, our God. The fact is, however, some people find it easier to be loved (to be good) than others do. Perhaps it is due to their upbringing or their genes or their culture or their education . . . who knows, really, why some people are “good” at being good! They proclaim, “I am good! Why is forgiveness necessary?” To which God says, “Because you cannot earn my love!” Others are really bad at being good! They proclaim, “I am bad! How is forgiveness possible?” To which God says, “Because you cannot earn my love!”
The conclusion of the matter is this: it does not matter to God—how good you are or how bad you are. The message is still the same: Change! Turn from your wicked or good ways and submit to God’s ways and then forgiveness is accessible, available, achievable and yours for the asking! And then—your life will change! For you will be changed—deep in your heart, where behaviors (good and bad) go to die!
And then John adds this little nugget: “Bear fruits in keeping with repentance!” (8) Wait. What? 😦 Isn’t that like doing good things? Well 🤔. . . yes. And no. Ponder on that one until next time. 😉
One thing at a time, people. 😏
1) Luke 3:3 2) John 1:19 3) Luke 3:12 4) Matthew 3:7 5) Luke 3:14 6) Luke 3:4 7) Luke 3:7 8) Luke 3:8 9) Matthew 3:2