Sunday

‘Bear fruits worthy of repentance.’ (v. 8)

Luke 3:7-18 Sunday 12 December 2021

Psalm 126

Background

John the Baptist was a prophetic figure in the tradition of Elijah. Semi-naked, barefoot and clothed in camel hair, he lived and taught near the River Jordan not far from Jerusalem, in an area of wilderness. According to the Jewish historian Josephus, John was a popular preacher and many were baptised by him.

At this time, the Jews had lived under Roman rule for about 100 years, but only since AD6 had there been a Roman governor resident in the area. The Romans propped up the regimes of two of Herod the Great’s sons. Popular movements of resistance had come and gone, and people were looking to God for a rescue plan and hoped for a Messiah to deliver them from this slavery.

It was through the waters of the Red Sea that the Israelites had been delivered from slavery in Egypt. Through the waters of John’s baptism in the Jordan, the Jews hoped to align themselves with the coming Messianic era.

In this passage, John challenges those being baptised to live out fruits of their change of heart, in transformed actions and attitudes. Baptism was not to be just an outward show. He said people should not have a complacent sense of claiming Abraham as an ancestor and calls them "a brood of vipers" (v. 7) which was a colloquial expression meaning filled with malice and deceit.

When the crowd asked what sort of actions might be taken as evidence for this change of heart – this repentance – John directed them to live generously in their relationships: sharing clothes and food. He told the tax collectors, who were notoriously hated for collaborating with the Romans,  to take no more than their due and he said soldiers should not terrorise the local population.

John clearly had wide appeal and people wondered if he might be the actual Messiah. John deflected attention away from himself to the one coming, who would be more powerful. It was the role of a servant to tie shoes and John felt unworthy even of this lowly role. The Messiah would baptise with the Holy Spirit and fire and bring judgment on those not bearing fruit.

Herod had John locked up in prison because he had criticised Herod for divorcing in order to marry his brother’s wife. Herod did not find John’s preaching comfortable.

To Ponder:

  •  Recall a time when you had a change of heart about something. What prompted it and how did it affect your actions? Have you had a change of heart that fizzled into nothing and how did that happen?
  • In what way is preparation important for spiritual renewal in your experience? Can you share a story?
  • If you had been in the crowd listening to John the Baptist, how would you have responded to him?
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