7 He said therefore 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? 8 Bear fruits in keeping with repentance. And do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham. 9 Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.”Luke 3:7-14, ESV
10 And the crowds asked him, “What then shall we do?” 11 And he answered them, “Whoever has two tunics is to share with him who has none, and whoever has food is to do likewise.” 12 Tax collectors also came to be baptized and said to him, “Teacher, what shall we do?” 13 And he said to them, “Collect no more than you are authorized to do.” 14 Soldiers also asked him, “And we, what shall we do?” And he said to them, “Do not extort money from anyone by threats or by false accusation, and be content with your wages.”
The Hurt and the Healing
Vance Havner is credited with the famous quote, “The task of the preacher is to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.” It seems then that John was an exemplary preacher. However, I think the Baptizer was better in the afflicting part than the comforting. Of course, that was by God’s design too.
John’s message must have been highly offensive to the ears of orthodox Jews. “Do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham.” These were not the words of an angry prophet, but the words of God through His chosen mouthpiece. God’s message to His beloved nation was not a new phenomenon. Prophets of old like Jeremiah spoke this way too, “Thus says the Lord: “Cursed is the man who trusts in man and makes flesh his strength, whose heart turns away from the Lord.” Jehovah had been merciful to Israel again and sent this new prophet to prepare the way of the Lord. John’s people had fallen back into the old pattern of assuming their pedigree was the assurance of God’s affection toward them.
Don’t You Know Who I Am
Like every good advocate who makes their argument persuasive, John attempted to answer the obvious objections before they were raised. The perceived offense that would arise in his audience was an issue of identity. Those first-century orthodox Jews knew who they were, but the message of that Baptizer was challenging the sufficiency of their lineage. They were sons and daughters of Abraham. They were the rightful heirs of God’s promises, and worshippers of the Great I Am. They knew God made a covenant with their father and they estimated themselves to be secure because of their pure lineage.
That Jewish presumption of entitlement based on their identity, ancestorial lineage, was a cultural problem that continued for many years. Years later, Jesus did also oppose the assumed narrative of Divine affection based on Jewish identity. The apostle John recorded a confrontation between Jesus and proponents of that same error the Baptist warned against in the eighth chapter of “the Gospel of John”.
They answered him, “Abraham is our father.” Jesus said to them, “If you were Abraham’s children, you would be doing the works Abraham did, but now you seek to kill me, a man who has told you the truth that I heard from God. This is not what Abraham did.John 8:39-40, ESV
Jesus had been teaching the need for God’s grace and forgiveness, but the orthodox Jews were offended because they were children of Abraham and therefore accepted already by God in their own reckoning. “Abraham is our father.” was their appeal, but Jesus denied that Identity to them. Jesus argued that thier unbelief and unholy actions were evidence to the contrary of thier claim. Jesus’ most shocking words in this exchange were, “You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires.” The Son of God identified them not according to thier physical lineage but according to thier unholy will. Many years later after Jesus’ resurrection and ascention, the Apostle Paul was still engaged in this same ideological war when he wrote to the church in Rome. Paul wrote in the ninth chapter of Romans, “For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel, and not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring…”.
John the Baptist was not an antagonistic rebel, but a true man of God speaking the truth to a generation in danger of Divine wrath. His message was rough to the ear but grace to the soul. No one is safe from the judgment of God based upon ritualistic sign or a collective identify. John preached “repentance for the forgiveness of sins” based on the promise of God to provide atonement. The words of the prophets were upon the heart and mind of the Baptist who knew God would soon come to His threshingfloor and divide the wheat from the chaff in His beloved Judea.