Summary: A sermon for Advent
I find it interesting that at the beginning of this third chapter in Luke we find a long list of rulers; religious and political. We have an emperor, a few governors, a ruler, and two high priests. They lived in palaces, fancy houses, and a marvelous temple. They dressed in fine linen and ate the choicest foods and people served them.
And out of all these leaders the Word of God could have come to, it came instead to John. Unlike the religious and political elite John dressed in camel’s hair; not fine linens, he ate locusts; not the choicest of foods, he lived in the desert; not a nice house, palace or a temple, and he lived as a servant to God. Jesus said there was not another man born into the world that was greater than John, but Jesus also said the least in the kingdom of God would be greater than him (Mat. 11:11).
What was John doing out there as he traveled up and down the Jordan River? He was preaching. He was preaching “Turn away from your sins and be Baptized, and God will forgive you.”
Turning from sins, forgiveness, and Baptism was nothing new to the people that listened to John. Turning from sins and God forgiving people are prominent themes in the Old Testament. Baptism was nothing new, because the Jews baptized Gentiles who wanted to become a part of the people of Israel. It was meant as a cleansing ritual. John, however, baptizing Jews into a life dedicated to turning to God from sins for forgiveness was new.
In short we say John’s baptism in this way was meant to prepare people to receive the “One” who was to come; the “One” in whom John said would “baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire.” Christian Baptism practiced by the early church and today is different from John’s baptism. It outwardly represents the inward baptism of the “Holy Spirit and fire” of Christ Jesus, the “One” who came as John foretold. Christian Baptism not only outwardly represents a new life changed and directed in Christ, but outwardly witnesses to the fact that the individual is a member of God’s kingdom, is a part of God’s people. Remember Jesus said, “There was not another man born in the world that was greater than John, but the least (of us) in the kingdom would be greater than him.”
We read that crowds arrived before John and he would call some of them snakes, or a brood of vipers. He would ask who told them to escape God’s impending wrath. He would tell Jewish people that just because they were Jewish didn’t mean they were automatically in good standing with God. They had to repent of their sins and direct their life in God’s ways to be forgiven.
This is why when people asked “what should we do” John responded with instructions for them to live their life showing proof that they are actively turning from their sins by following the ways of God. John explained that for some this meant sharing with those who are in need. To the tax collectors he said don’t take more that what is legally acceptable, and to some soldiers he said don’t take from people by force or lie about people, but be content with what you get paid.
I wonder sometimes how John would have preached and instructed a woman to prepare for the “One” who was to come who had been secretly living in a home where her husband was abusive and utterly controlling. The kind of man who smiled and hugged his wife in public and in secret abused, scowled and tongue lashed her.
I wonder what instruction John would have given to the sexually abused child who lived in fear or the devasted woman or man whose spouse cheated on them and left them. I wonder if he would have began his message to them with the words you brood of vipers who told you to escape God’s impending wrath. I don’t think he would have and I will tell you why. I get this notion from Luke 3 in verse 18 where it says, “In many different ways John preached the good news to the people and urged them to change their ways, to prepare their lives to receive the Lord.”
In our scripture passage today we could find two types of people that came before John; the oppressors and the oppressed, those who were taking advantage of others, and those who were being taken advantage of; people who were hurting others and people who were being hurt. We don’t see this at first glance, but John refers to both these groups in our scripture.
It is true that both groups need repentance, baptism and forgiveness, in order to be prepared to receive Jesus who was to come, but I believe that John met people with the good news in many different ways so that they could hear and receive the gifts of God’s love, mercy, and grace found there.