Was your church history was like mine? The primary message from all preaching and teaching was a self-improvement homework assignment to be started at the end of class, and continued after hours until you came back the next time the doors were open so you could find out what you missed. The examination job on your own life was never over. My church rationalized this approach implicitly referring to the founding mission as “evangelical,” i.e. “We are to simply preach the (salvation) Gospel.” It may have affected you differently but I could never get my homework finished.
For those who did finish their assignment and graduated, it was easy for some to assume an entitled mindset. “NOT ALL” (I want to shout that) but too many of us can start thinking this level of achievement was hard fought and won and “by God” we deserve some respect for that. By the way, if you think someone owes you veneration for your spiritual accomplishments, it probably wasn’t “by God.”
John the baptizer wasn’t one to make nice to the religious elite.
When the crowds came to John for baptism, he said, “You brood of snakes! Who warned you to flee God’s coming wrath? Prove by the way you live that you have repented of your sins and turned to God. Don’t just say to each other, ‘We’re safe, for we are descendants of Abraham.’ That means nothing, for I tell you, God can create children of Abraham from these very stones.
The crowds asked, “What should we do?” John replied, “If you have two shirts, give one to the poor. If you have food, share it with those who are hungry.” Even corrupt tax collectors came to be baptized and asked, “Teacher, what should we do?” He replied, “Collect no more taxes than the government requires.” “What should we do?” asked some soldiers. John replied, “Don’t extort money or make false accusations. And be content with your pay.” (Luke 3:7-8, 10-14 NLT)
John came preaching repentance. That means change your mind. Change your mind about how you think and how you live your life. Baptism is a ritual, or activity, that shows others you have decided to change your life in some way from before; a life transition.
It is interesting how John asks the locals to prove their commitment of repentance. While thinking this new ritual was the expected activity for the well-thought-of religious adherent, John is looking for a more concrete, community improving activity. The Kingdom of God is not to be found solely in religious ritual but in gracious living.
Ok, so what about the “corrupt tax collectors” that came wanting to be baptized? For them, repentance (change the way you think) wasn’t about having a religious experience but about changing the way they thought about their job. Being an entitled class allowed them to collect whatever they could get away with and keep whatever was above the amount due Caesar.
John tells them that to be baptized (symbolize this new life transition), there needs to be a mind and activity change preceding it.
This, folks, is the key. Salvation, as we call it, is not simplistically a negative action. Like, sin gets blasted, my name is erased off God’s bad list and is dually pasted onto His good list. All the enslaving, addictive behavioral chains smashed. All good, but . . . not . . . quite enough.
If, then; before and after; wash and wear and many other 2 part wholes you may be able to think of illustrate my point. In all of the social groups John engaged here he lays out how they can write their own new life story; a story that clears a road for the Kingdom of God in their own neighborhood.
His Kingdom is coming and we are invited to help cater the party. Or we can watch it happen from the side of the road in the role of religious rocks.