Summary: Repentance and Baptism are not religous motions through which we much pass in order to escape judgment. They are life changing events.
Luke 3:1-18 “Discover the Christ Who Changes Lives”
Some people remember a mere six years ago, when the world faced the prospect of entering the new millennium. It was a fearful and stressful time. We didn’t know what would happen. People were making dire predictions, like the computers around the world would crash turning off power and water, and denying access to bank accounts and other important records. In response to these forecasts people purchased generators, stocked up on water, and liquidated their assets. Thankfully, none of those predictions proved true.
In the troubled and turbulent times two thousand years ago, John’s message of the coming judgment resonated with the people. They flocked to him to hear his message, to repent, and to be baptized by him in the Jordan River. When they came, John cautioned them, though. Repentance and baptism is serious business. They change lives. John’s caution is one that we need to heed today, also.
THE GOSPEL BRINGS CHANGE
The crowds who came to John to be baptized wanted to go through the motions involved in repentance and baptism without having it affect their lives in any way. They were like children who were forced to say, “I’m sorry” by their parents but never really meant it, and people who are baptized because everyone else is doing it or the family expects it. Viewed in this manner repentance and baptism become mere shells of what they really are.
We struggle with the same issues that John’s audience did. We are tempted to simply go through the motions of religion—attend worship somewhat regularly, pray occasionally, and try to be nice to people (unless they really bug us). We shoot for the lowest common denominator of what we need to be saved, and be on speaking terms with God. Such a faith doesn’t cost us much, but it doesn’t do much, either. A religion like this never feels quite right. It is like a shirt that is too small, or a pair of shoes that just isn’t our style.
God continuously invites us to allow change to take place in our lives. Repentance, which literally means a change of heart or a change of direction, demands change. Baptism is the first step in a new life with Christ that is full of changes. Though change is scary, it can work a powerful work in our lives and mold us into the people God wants us to be.
The people ask John for specific changes, in response to his caution. John’s reply may surprise us at its practicality and what does not contain.
At first thought, we might think that the changes brought about by baptism and repentance might include more worship, Bible study, prayer, and service at work. John doesn’t mention these at all, and by the way, neither does Jesus.
John tells the people to share. If they have something and someone else needs it, then they were to share it. A basic change of repentance and baptism is to move us away from a focus on ourselves to a focus on other people.
To the tax collectors and soldiers, John challenges them to use their power justly. We are often tempted to use our power selfishly, or to use it to harm rather than help others. John challenges all of us to use the power that we have for the betterment of others.