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 ax 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?” 11In 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.
As you can well see, John is having a good ole rant! Delicately, let’s call it a “prophetic message!” Think of this—any sermon starting out calling its listeners a “brood of vipers” is in a special category.
John isn’t being seeker-friendly, or even church-goer friendly. It’s not nuanced for any known target audience. But the thing is, the crowd appears to hang on every word. They actually lean in closer and ask: “What should we do?”
John takes the challenge and says: “You should know, feeling bad about your sins in a private sort of way isn’t repentance. There are gains from repentance that are evident in the real world. If you have two coats (for those affluent) repentance means sharing what you have. If you deal with other people’s money, repentance is being honest and fair. If you are a soldier working for peace or a public leader, use your work for the good of others. That’s what’s right!
The most surprising result of this hard-hitting conversation is that people are filled with expectation! Rather than dismissing John as a hick from a past era, they are “moved.” What they hear resonates with so much truth they start to wonder if John is the Messiah. John corrects them, but continues in his powerful image (paraphrased): “The One who is coming is way beyond my powers! He’ll show you things you always hoped would be true but couldn’t let yourself expect!”
God, we’re close to the end of these dark days we’ve had. Call us home from the exile of selfish oppression so we find the freedom of justice, the balm of healing, and the joy of sharing. Show us how to gather those we love in our heart and offer them John’s picture of how it can be. Help us to get our hopes high.