Summary: What drove the man who wore rags rather than “Botany 500” was being true to God’s calling on his life – making certain his generation understood genuine faith and power. There have always been a lot of mistaken ideas about that.
John 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 worthy of repentance. Do not begin to say to yourselves, ’We have Abraham as our ancestor’; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire."
And the crowds asked him, "What then should we do?" In reply he said to them, "Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise." Even tax collectors came to be baptized, and they asked him, "Teacher, what should we do?" He said to them, "Collect no more than the amount prescribed for you." Soldiers also asked him, "And we, what should we do?" He said to them, "Do not extort money from anyone by threats or false accusation, and be satisfied with your wages."
As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah, John answered all of them by saying, "I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire." So, with many other exhortations, he proclaimed the good news to the people.
This day is traditionally called "Gaudette Sunday." It means "rejoicing Sunday," from the Latin word, gaudere, to rejoice. The text doesn’t start out that way – rejoicing. It starts with John calling his congregation a bunch of slithering vipers. He says that in coming out to him for baptism they remind him of what happens when there is a grass fire in the wilderness; the snakes take-off in all directions, hoping to avoid becoming serpent-barbeque.
Now, had I been there I could have told John that’s not the recommended opening for a sermon about good news! And, if you want to keep your job as pastor to the First Wilderness Jerusalem Church, you need to let up on the leadership just a little!
However, keeping his job held little interest for John. What drove the man who wore rags rather than “Botany 500” was being true to God’s calling on his life – making certain his generation understood genuine faith and power. There have always been a lot of mistaken ideas about that.
What constitutes genuine faith and power?
For John the answer to what produces genuine faith and power was without question the fruit of personal repentance, not in a person’s pedigree or position!
John knew that the average person standing in the crowd awaiting baptism had been misled to believe that because they were born into Abraham’s lineage, born a Jew, they were “chosen” and, because of that heritage, they had their ticket punched for the heavenly train. He said they were wrong.
John said (v.8), don’t even begin to tell me that…don’t even go there…that you’re alright with God because your great, great, great Grandfather was Abraham. John was trying to help the crowd understand that they were staking their eternity on the dusty records of who begat whom. The Baptist told them that if they depended on their family tree to get them to heaven, they’d missed the point – the sharp axe that would make that tree a non-issue was already chopping up a cross for Golgotha.
What constitutes genuine faith and power? Don’t trust in your pedigree. Faith and power are not found in the records of your family tree. People say proudly, well, OUR family…. You may have a nice family; they may have settled here eight billion years ago and run the whole county, been president of the world and grand Poohbah of the ladies’ auxiliary to the governor’s cleaning crew – it’s a nice fact of history, it has no power of faith in heaven; absolutely zero! Your family tree cannot put you in right-standing with God!
NEITHER CAN POSITION
John also pointed to positions of power (the rich, elected officials and military leaders), and he said: humble yourselves! He said, stop hoarding, stop oppressing and stop your extortion!
Now, you may be thinking…hey, I’m not a player like that. I’m one of the “little guys” here. I’m not rich, elected, and I don’t even look good in a uniform. Friend, it is all relative here – everyone is in a position to hoard, oppress or extort someone. Your ability to do those things may be relatively small, compared to Donald Trump, George Bush or Osama bin Laden, but we are all both capable and likely tempted to “play the position card” if we have opportunity.