Mark 1:2-8; Luke 3:3-18
“The crowds asked, ‘What should we do?’” – Luke 3:10 NLT
John came onto the scene preaching a message of repentance. He was calling the people to change their minds about God and their mindset about what it means to be in a right relationship with God. But his was a call to life transformation via behavior modification. While at this early stage of the game John is preaching the Good News, it is as of yet incomplete. His job is to prepare the way for the Messiah. He is getting the hearts of the people ready to receive the Message of salvation through faith alone in Christ alone. To do so, he must call them to repentance. He must make them aware of their need and their inability to live the life God demands of them. To date, they have been saddled with attempting to keep the Law in an effort to please God and have a right relationship with Him. They have been counting on their Jewishness – their standing as descendants of Abraham – to qualify them as children of God. Now when John breaks the bad news to them that “God can create children of Abraham from these very stones” (Luke 3:8 NLT), and “every tree that does not produce good fruit will be chopped down and thrown in to the fire” (Luke 3:9 NLT), they are blown away. They ask him, “What should we do?” Look closely to the answer he gives them. “If you have two shirts, give one to the poor. If you have food, share it with those who are hungry” (Luke 3:11 NLT). He is calling them to a different lifestyle. He is calling them to reconsider how it is they live their life and what they will consider as their priorities for living holy lives. He talks of sharing and sacrifice. He tells the corrupt tax collectors to “collect no more taxes than the government requires” (Luke 3: 13 NLT). In other words, change your behavior. Stop doing what you are doing and act differently. He tells some soldiers, “Don’t extort money or make false accusations. And be content with your pay” (Luke 3:14 NLT).
Do you see what John is doing? He is raising the bar. He is making this about life change, not political revolution or religious renewal. After 400 years of silence on God’s part, He is picking up His message right where He left off. Listen to the words of God against the people of Israel, given through Malachi the prophet some 400 years earlier. “You have said, ‘What’s the use of serving God? What have we gained by obeying his commands or by trying to show the Lord of Heaven’s Armies that we are sorry for our sins? From now on we will call the arrogant blessed. For those who do evil get rich, and those who dare God to punish them suffer no harm.'” (Milachi 3:14-15 NLT). God goes on to warn them, “Look I am sending you the prophet Elijah before the great and dreadful day of the Lord arrives. His preaching will turn the hearts of fathers to their children, and the hearts of children to their fathers. Otherwise I will come and strike the land with a curse” (Malachi 4:5-6 NLT).
That same passage is used by the angel when he tells Zechariah that he and his wife Elizabeth will have a son. Speaking of John the Baptist, the angel says, “He will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and he will cause those who are rebellious to accept the wisdom of the godly” (Luke 1:17 NLT). John’s job, like that of any prophet of God, was to call the people to repentance, to convince them to turn back to God. That required them to acknowledge their sin and to come to grips with their shortcomings. They had failed to measure up to God’s revealed standard as expressed in the Law. Now he tells them that God was going to require them to live completely different lives than they were currently living. John tells them, “Prove by the way you live that you have repented of your sins and turned to God” (Luke 3:8 NLT). God expected not only repentance, but life change. And this call by John was meant to leave the people feeling inadequate and incapable of pulling off what God was calling them to do. And what better way to prepare their hearts for the coming of the Savior. A recognition of our own sinfulness and helplessness must always proceed our acceptance of God’s gift of salvation. Our inability to measure up is what drives us to turn to Christ as the solution to our problem. The reality of the judgment of God hovering over all those who fail to live in complete obedience to God should cause us to gratefully and eagerly accept His mercy and grace as expressed through His Son’s own death in our place.
I find it interesting how verse 18 explains what John was doing. “And in this way, with many other exhortations, John proclaimed good news to the people” (Luke 3:18 NET). This was all part of the Good News, the Gospel of Jesus Christ. John was explaining the problem. He was opening their eyes to the dilemma they faced. After 400 years, God’s expectations had not changed. His holy requirements were the same. And the people’s ability to meet them remained unchanged as well. Which is why He was sending His Son.
Father, how hard it is to admit our need. Even after experiencing Your gracious gift of salvation, we can easily tend to think we can live this life in our own strength and according to our own set of criteria. But like the Israelites in John’s day, we have to come to grips with our need for You and Your Son’s sanctifying power. We do not have the capacity to live the lives You’ve called us to on our own, but thanks for the finished work of Christ and the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit, we can and should be living transformed lives. Amen.
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men