Ps. 66:1-12; Mal. 3:1-7b; Phil. 1:2-11; Luke 3:1-20
Fruits, [JB] 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 that befit repentance, and do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’” (vv. 7-8a).
JB, by St. Luke, confronted “the crowds” coming to his baptism, calling them in effect, “spawn of Satan” (Lk. 3:7). From St. Matthew’s Gospel, JB hurled the same epithet at the Pharisees and Sadducees (Mt. 3:7).
The difference: most Sanhedrin and temple authorities categorically rejected John’s baptism in preparation for Messiah’s coming (Lk. 3:4-6). “The crowds” (ochlois, v. 7), not “the people” (laon, v. 18), on the other hand, were ambivalent or undecided about John’s message; but like the Pharisees and Sadducees came to see this curious man along with “Jerusalem and all Judea and all the region about the Jordan” (Mt. 3:5)
The effect of rejection, ambivalence, or mere curiosity toward Jesus, then as today, is the same; one is either God’s child seeking Christ’s coming ,or “vipers”; fence sitting is not viable!
JB’s preaching of repentance unto forgiveness injected crisis into Israel that would peak with Jesus’ Baptism in the Jordan and conclude in fire on the cross. Since Jesus’ resurrection and ascension, we live in critical times in which wrong choices or indecision is fatal.
OT priests, Sadducees, scribes, and Pharisees sat in Moses’ seat, dismissive of JB for preparing God’s new thing of Christ’s coming. The populous, “the people” however acknowledged John a prophet arriving after 400 years of divine silence; anxious to receive his baptism and teaching.
John’s call to repentance opposed the old religion’s status quo. The Pharisaical notion of “repentance”, was becoming “better and better every day in every way”, programmatic of works righteousness to induce God to send Messiah.
Pharisees considered themselves “Righteous Ones” believing themselves sinlessness grounded in obedience to Law, obviating John’s call to “turn back” to God’s justice and mercy (Mal. 3:7); not so “the people”, aware of daily sin and need of forgiveness apart from works of the law (cf. Rom. 3:21).
Through John, between old religion and new, crisis had come to “the children of Jacob”. JB addressed feckless and curious “crowds”, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?” The implied question was; would “the crowds”, merely keep their options open, or accept the Baptist’s word to repentantly prepare for the Lord’s coming; the same question Advent poses for us in advance of the Nativity.
At some point sitting on the fence is de facto rejection worthy of judgment. Judgment came with Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem, his cleansing the temple and crucifixion where judgment fell on Jesus for the sin of the world.
Jesus crucified is either David’s son, King, Christ, saving Son of God and Son of Man, or he is not. Faith decides, inevitably coming to all; faith expects a response, as with JB’s teaching, redirecting lives to “fruits worthy of repentance”.
The crux of all history is Jesus crucified; all of us rise or fall on one side or the other of his cross; either we rise with the thief on Jesus’ right, seeking his kingdom of grace; or we mock his death through ambivalence to everlasting torment; thus, the church enters Advent in preparation for coming.
The Baptist’s question, “Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?” still pertains to Christian Baptism; do we hold the apostolic witness, “I acknowledge one Baptism for the remission of sins” (Nicene Creed, 3rd article); or with “the crowds” optionally select what we choose about the church’s universal confession?
Do not confuse talk of “choice” with Protestantism’s so called, “decision theology”, a different thing, akin to Pharisaical “righteousness”. God by the HS acting independently calls his elect by grace. We, conceived in sin (Ps. 51:5) always choose self as our chief “god”. Absent God’s killing and making alive (Dt. 32:39; 1 Sam. 2:6) by the Spirit’s gift of faith, our “decision for Jesus” is impossibile.
Sinful man is without free will; God confronts us by the power of his law disclosing our total depravity; nevertheless extending gracious mercy in Jesus’ once for all sacrifice.
Either we “kick against the goads” (Acts 9:5c), insisting on self-worth “to make a decision for Jesus”; or we wilt before him in repentance, bereft of all options believing that Jesus has chosen all who will receive him. “Today if you hear his Voice, harden not your hearts … ” (Ps. 95:7, 8).
Faith confronts worldly circumstances that require “fruits in the Way”. When we fail lovelessness toward God and others, we are compelled to look to God’s promise of forgiveness for Christ’s sake.
The crisis Jesus brings into our lives requires response; do we join with the disciples entering Jerusalem proclaiming, “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord!” and behold his elevation on the cross as God’s own glory; or do we hold God’s Gift at naught for our indecision?
Christian Baptism is God’s means for on-going relation with human death and life in Christ. JB did not baptize to leave his flock to walk alone; rather he directed them to Jesus to a better Baptism in the Spirit’s fire, and Jesus’ water and blood. Neither will the Church abandon you, if Jesus is not rejected as God’s place of presence.
Jerusalem religious and temple leaders with “the crowds” confronted Jesus as he descended Olivet in triumphal entry. The crux of history was at hand; tenders of Israel’s old religion, discerning Jesus come to alter “their” religion and office decided to be rid of God’s meddlesome Messiah.
Jesus’ disciples followed into Jerusalem with shouts, “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord!”; still the crowds remained undecided and unprepared for coming judgment.
Finally, the crux, an exchange: Abraham’s bloodline for the blood of God’s Son in whom is Life. On the cross JB’s prophesy, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” (Jn. 1:29, 36) had come, a new Passover; fence sitting ended.
JB’s ministry prepared for a religious sea-change of unconditional grace in Christ; in this, “fruits worthy of repentance” are expected through faith, teaching, baptismal washing, and Eucharistic feeding for amended lives.
JB taught “the crowds” of an amended life; sharing food and clothing with the needy; tax collectors only that owed; and soldiers not extort the public they protected. None of these directives are gospel; rather they instruct of the Way in Jesus’ NT blood.
No one baptized into Jesus’ death and resurrection fends in his or her own way. The Way beholds an “abominable” sight, the death of God’s Son through the church’ preaching, sacraments, and teaching. Only the power of God’s word and his holy things amends lives (Lk. 1:37; Mt. 19:26). Amen.