Brood of Vipers

Mosai004-large

John the Baptist Announcing the Messiah, Cappella Palatina di Palermo, Palermo, Italy (mid 12th century)

Luke 3:7-18
For Sunday, December 13, 2015
3rd Sunday of Advent

Crowds were willing to journey into the desert to hear  John the Baptist preach. Yet he must have missed the Seeker Sensitive Memo. He opens with, “You brood of vipers.” Now why would people traipse out into the dusty desert to hear that? It’s because we all thirst for the truth and want to be forgiven and transformed.

John’s point is that there is more to being a Christian than merely “avoiding the wrath to come” (v. 7).  We are called to “bear fruits worthy of repentance” (v. 8).  If I look at my life as a tree where is the fruit?  Is there actually any difference in the way I set priorities, spend money, treat my wife, love my family, and pursue my daily work?  Is there?

John says, “Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees” (v. 9).  See the axe at bottom left within the picture above?  We can pose as Christians all we want but if all we are is dead wood we will be cut down will all the rest of it!  And why not?!

The crowd says, “Ooh, that’s not good for us!  What should we do?” (v. 10).  John as a good pastor provides some great application.  Have an extra coat?  Share it with someone.  Are you a tax collector?  Then don’t over-collect to line your own pockets.  Soldier?  Then don’t use your power and authority to your own advantage.  May I pause at this point to ask the lawyers among us to pay particular attention to that last one?  Pastors, you too!  (Didn’t see that one coming, did you?)

John’s audience might have come out into the desert merely to avoid pain.  (I find I often do the same.  It’s ugly. )  Yet now John’s hearers are truly captivated by his message.  Note that it isn’t contemporary music, stage lighting, or even dry ice that captivates them.  It is his message.  They even start to ask themselves, “Wow, could this be Messiah himself?”

John quickly disabuses them.  “One who is more powerful than I is coming, and the throngs of his sandals I am not worthy to untie“.  Having just been utterly transfixed by the man in front of them can you imagine what it must have been like to anticipate the arrival of one infinitely greater?  Absolutely electric!

This was good news indeed (v. 18).  These people knew their world was broken.  They knew all too well the tremendous injustice, callousness, and selfishness that marked their culture.  And now here before them was a man announcing that the transformation they so deeply longed for was coming soon.

So what’s the bottom line?  For me it’s “Don’t settle for the status quo.  Don’t let your life be defined by mere pain avoidance.  Don’t play at being a Christian.  Lean into transforming faith in every moment and in every relationship.”  I think of my role as father of my family, as a member of my church, and as a business person.  Exciting stuff.

Your Turn
How about you?  Are you also tempted to settle for pain avoidance in place of authentic transformation?   What’s the next action this passage is calling for from you (whether giving away a coat or something else)?

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