Summary: What does it mean to repent?
The Axe is Laid to the Roots
As we come to the third Sunday of Advent, we continue in the third chapter of Luke. Last week, we saw who John the Baptist was, what God had called Him to do, and where he performed his mission. This week we will look at how this mission was carried out.
John is shown in Luke to be the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy in the 40th chapter of the book. John himself in other places states this of himself. Jesus also shows John the Baptist to have been the return of Elijah prophesied in the book of Malachi, and his general appearance was similar to the description of Elijah. John the Baptist was no man of culture. He had a wild appearance, lived in the wild, and his message was likewise wild.
John’s message was blunt and to the point. When news had gotten out about him, large crowds came out from Jerusalem, Judaea, and other places as well. His first address of these crowds was to call them a generation of vipers. There was no politeness in this kind of greeting. To be called a child of a serpent is to liken them to the serpent who deceived Eve in the Garden of Eden and caused Adam to disobey the commandment of God. The result of this disobedience is that a curse was placed on humanity, and indeed upon all creation. There is, of course the promise given to Eve in Genesis 3:15 that the curse would be reversed, but at this point, all people, whether respectable or deplorable, were equally under the curse of God. The remedy to this curse was coming, but Jesus had not yet come upon the scene to begin His public ministry.
The first thing that needs to be addressed was to show people who they really were and where they currently stood in the face of a Holy God. There was no message of affirmation of brokenness or such like we hear today. They stood under the wrath of God who was coming to execute it on a wicked and adulterous generation. Their heart was offensive, and so were there practices. But yet there were words of hope in John’s man, as harshly as he spoke. These people who had come had somehow been warned of this beforehand. God was already at work, preparing them to receive John’s message of repentance. I am, of course, talking of those who would accept his message and not the skeptics and spectators who wanted to be entertained by this madman. This is the first part of any gospel message preached in our time as well. People need to know what the problem really is, that it is severe, and it is without ordinary human remedy. People are under the wrath of God. They are in danger of eternal judgment. Their works are an offense in the nostrils of God. They must repent.
John preached a gospel of repentance. This is the second part of this message. The only hope people have is to change their ways to ways that pleased God. But repentance is more than being sorry for one’s sin. It involves both the Greek idea of rethinking where they stood. They had been given their current true status, now they needed to think this over and choose a different road they were on. The Hebrew idea of repentance was to return to solid ground and choose a different road than the one they were on.
They now were told that they could not depend upon their relationship with Abraham to save them. John says that God is able to raise up stones to be children of Abraham. By saying this, we can anticipate these stones to be Gentiles. So people were not children of Abraham by their self-identification with Abraham or even genetic descent from him. The axe was laid to the roots. This means that those who falsely trusted in their pedigree would be cut off from the people of God. They are not the children of Abraham any longer. Those who were not the children of Abraham would become the children of Abraham. Since everyone is guilty of sin and had broken the covenant of God, whether in Adam or Moses, or both does not matter. All who heard the voice of John knew they had been reduced to unbelievers. They were cut off from God. In the thinking of that day, most held that Gentiles who were converted were baptized as well as circumcised into the covenant. But Jews did not require baptism or circumcision as the males had been so from the 8th day circumcised and therefore a chid of the covenant. But this was a false hope. John’s message had reduced all to tax collectors and heathens. They had to be baptized. Their circumcision had become uncircumcision.