Read Luke 3:7-18
Some of us are disposed to philosophy over practicality.
Others just want to know what to do.
Some need to know “the what” and “the how.”
We are all a little different, blessed with different gifts, challenged with different needs, and so it is no surprise that some parts of the Bible speak to us more than others.
James talked a lot about faith and works. How can I see your faith? Let’s look at what we actually do?
Paul was sometimes a little long winded getting around to saying that we all fall short. Only the grace of God can help us.
Isaiah provided John the Baptist with words to say.
Prepare the way. Make straight the path.
Straighten out the road where it winds too much.
Get ready for the coming of the Lord for his coming reveals the salvation of the entire world.
Some of us can just rest in those words of assurance. Some of us must ask, “What exactly am I supposed to do with this tidbit of information?”
Prepare the way for the Lord. What does that mean to me? What road is he coming on? What exactly am I supposed to do?
Let’s look at what was happening. John was baptizing and people were coming to be baptized, and for some just getting their hair wet was all that they needed. After all, they were children of Abraham. They were in the family and now they had checked the baptism block on their right living scorecard.
These people received a baptism of repentance but chances were that only a few of them were going to do anything differently once they got home. They heard the sermon, went home, and resumed living the same way they had always lived.
Baptism was nothing new. As those who were not born as Abraham’s children desired to come to the Jewish way of life, baptism symbolized this acceptance. It was a ritualistic hoop to jump through, at least until now.
The Greek word is baptizō and it means: To dip repeatedly, to immerse, to submerge, to cleanse by dipping or submerging, to wash, to make clean with water, to wash one' s self, bathe, or to overwhelm.
While water was the instrument of John’s baptism, being overwhelmed by a changed heart was the objective. The baptism symbolized a turning point in a person’s life.
They would turn around and live God’s way. They would turn away from evil and seek God. They would repent.
To make straight the way for the coming of the Lord took place not on the highways and byways of Jerusalem or Judea but in the individual heart.
But for some, it was just water on the head and then back to business as usual. John seemed to know this.
“You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father. ‘For I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.”
Balaam might have listened to his mule. Moses heard God in a burning bush, but rocks don’t talk and can’t be children. Rocks are rocks.
How absurd a statement to say that God can make children of Abraham from rocks. And this sort of extreme absurdity was just what John wanted to convey, except the absurdity rested in the hearts of the people that said, “I’m a child of Abraham; therefore, I am good with God. My DNA makes me OK.”
John said, “Not unless you repent.”
Both judgment and salvation are just around the corner. The axe is at the base of the trees and every tree that is not producing fruit is firewood.
John said, “Your repentance must be evidenced in your fruit.”
And the people respond asking, “What exactly are we supposed to do?”
John told the people that he not only baptized but he could preach a 20th century sermon with three examples. I think deep down he wanted to be known as John the Presbyterian but you can’t always get what you want. John said, consider these three examples.
If you have two coats, then give one of them to somebody who doesn’t have even one.
Some say that one coat was more of an undergarment and the other was the actual coat. We might take this as you have a coat that you wear and another in the closet. Regardless, John says if you have two and somebody else has none, be generous and help your brother.
If you are a tax collector, then collect only the tax required by the law. Do not use your position to squeeze someone for more money.
If you are a soldier, then be content with a soldier’s pay. Do not use your position to extort money, goods, or services from those whom are obliged to comply with your orders.
We in the United States have trouble comprehending this instruction. We have a Constitution that keeps troops from being quartered in our houses and the thought of a military force compelling civilians to work as servants to the soldiers is repugnant.
Twenty centuries ago, or even three centuries ago, this was just a way of life.
John is not giving rules or formulae for living right. He is telling the people to do what they already know to be right.
Is this not the basic law that every Jew knew—love your neighbor as yourself.
John is telling those who came to be baptized that the water has no value in itself. Repentance must produce fruit.
He couples this with a stern warning. You guys know how you love to talk about the coming of the Messiah. Well guess what? That time has come. “The axe is at the root of the trees.”
And just to make sure the people did not mistake him as the Messiah, he tells them despite the reverence that some have come before John with, he is not the Messiah. He is not even close to the stature of the One who is coming.
He says that he is not even counted worthy enough to serve the Messiah as his lowest servant. John reminds people that he has baptized them with water but the One who comes will baptize them with God’s own Spirit.
And the time is near.
That time offers both judgment and salvation and John’s charge to the people is to repent. Jesus would come and take people beyond repentance into true and eternal life, but the call to salvation began with John’s words to truly repent. Salvation and life begin with repentance.
He said, “Let’s see some fruit—some evidence—that you have turned around and now seek God and his Kingdom and his righteousness.”
Why the urgency? Why the intensity?
Jesus was coming.
We know that Jesus did come and his earthly ministry begins to be recorded around the time that he comes to be baptized by John.
While I love the Christmas Story in Luke’s gospel; I prefer John the Apostle’s description of his coming to be baptized by John in the Jordan.
Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.
John the Baptist baptized with water much as we do today, but we know that our real baptism is of the Holy Spirit.
Whether we are dunked, dipped, poured, sprinkled, bathed, washed, or taken out in the rain as we profess our faith in Jesus is less important than the fact that we have been baptized by God’s own Spirit.
But much like John, we must ask ourselves, “Where is the fruit of our baptism?”
Where is the evidence that the ways of this world have been washed away and we are living in God’s Kingdom?
Where are the works that proclaim our baptism and our faith? What about our lives today says that we died with Christ and we now live with Christ?
What is different?
It is sort of like the illustration of the carrot, the egg, and the coffee bean. Put each in boiling water for several minutes and see what you get.
The water makes the carrots soft and the eggs hard. But the coffee bean is different. The coffee bean permeates the surrounding water and makes coffee.
The first two reacted to their environment by becoming soft or hard. The last one overwhelmed its environment.
Our baptism should overwhelm us. Our baptism should be like a white cloth dipped in purple dye. When it comes out, we know it’s different.
Some are scratching their heads and saying, “Shouldn’t it be the other way around? Shouldn’t you put a purple cloth in some strong bleach and pull it out white?
That might be a good example for John’s baptism, for a baptism of repentance; but for the baptism of the Holy Spirit, it must overwhelm us.
We use water symbolically, but the Spirit’s baptism is not symbolic. The Sprit brings the new creation into and throughout this old body.
The Spirit prompts us to live fully in the face of the coming judgment of the world but in the blessed assurance of our salvation that we know in Christ Jesus.
And 2000 years after John proclaimed repentance and salvation in the desert, some of us can just rest in those words of assurance. Some of us must ask, “What exactly am I supposed to do with this tidbit of information?”
Listen to how James explains this.
But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.”
Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds. You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder.
You foolish person, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless? Was not our father Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did.
There is no denying that our salvation came from God alone. The blood of Jesus wiped our slate clean. Jesus paid it all. All to him I owe.
Paul said that the only debt we should have is the debt to love one another.
But there should be evidence of our salvation, our baptism, our love for each other, and of our preparation for the coming of the Lord.
In the desert, John cried out, “Show some proof—some evidence—some fruit—that says you really did repent when you were baptized.”
Today, we should look for the proof—evidence—fruit—of our baptism that is of the Holy Spirit. We are not looking so much for this proof in others as we are in ourselves.
How were we baptized? With the Spirit.
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.
But John’s examples of repentance also seem to apply to the baptism of the Spirit.
If you have abundance, share it with someone who has little.
If you have been entrusted with a position of responsibility, fulfill the responsibility without lining your pockets.
If you have been entrusted with authority, accept the provision of that authority that enlisted you and do not abuse your position for personal gain.
You might think, “I could have figured that our without the baptism of the Holy Spirit.”
The question is, could you have lived it without being overwhelmed by the Spirit.
Pick up a paper. Read the online headlines. Look around.
How many people do you see that you think should have known better that didn’t seem to know better?
Theft, embezzlement, misuse of public and private funds, drugs, drugs, and more drugs, bounced checks, abandon children, debt beyond reason, and self-gratification galore seems to be the order of the day.
But the baptism of the Spirit is evidenced in us, not in headlines but in the bylines authored by God’s own Spirit.
We love each other as much as we love ourselves, sometimes more.
Our joy is in the Lord, not in our circumstances.
We have a peace that the world cannot understand. Sometimes we can’t understand it, but it guards our hearts and our minds.
We have patience. We can wait for the good things that God has promised us.
And we are kind. We somehow manage to treat people with dignity even when they malign us.
We desire to do good things to bring glory to God, and we desire to know and live in the way that God said is good.
And we are faithful. We believe in things we cannot see. We live in blessed assurance in the middle of a chaotic world.
And we are gentle. We speak the truth but we do it in love. We hold firm to our beliefs but we are gentle when we deal with the lost of this world, always inviting and always welcoming those who do not know God through Christ Jesus.
And we live by self-control. We have responded to love—grace—forgiveness—redemption—salvation that we did not deserve by loving God, mostly by loving each other. But we do respond by setting out on the path God has given us. We respond by trusting God over our own understanding.
Here is the evidence of our baptism: love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.
The fruit of our baptism is the fruit of the Spirit, and it is evidenced in our lives.
We have repented of the ways of this world and have received the baptism—the overwhelming—of God’s own Spirit.
Thanks be to God.
The axe is at the root of the trees, but our Master will see our fruit.
Thanks be to God.
We have prepared the way for the coming of the Lord by the baptism of the Spirit.
Thanks be to God.