More Than A Quick Visit to a Watering Hole

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He was a novelty, a curiosity. People were tempted to keep their distance, just as they would today if they saw a scruffy man carrying a sign announcing the end of the world. At the same time, the little “bump” that insists on knowing what is going on would drive them to linger near enough to hear what he had to say.

He was John the Baptist, the desert prophet and way-paver for Christ, the Messiah.

His message? “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near” (Matthew 3:2). And if, and when, any of his listeners were willing to repent, “Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River” (3:6). Public confession of sins is something we seldom see today, but it was the prerequisite for baptism—and still should be.

But there was also a post-requisite that was to follow baptism. When the religious leaders came to John, he turned on them with this accusation: “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce fruit in keeping with repentance” (3:7, 8). Baptism was not new. It was even practiced by pagan religions for various reasons. In the Old Testament washing with water was part of a ritual of purification. Just at the beginning of the Christian era baptism was practiced when those converting to the Judaism were circumcised, interviewed, and then baptized into their new community.

But John did what is often forgotten in today’s sometimes hurried and thoughtless practice. He warned his audience that what they were publicly committing to now had to be followed up with the changed life it was meant to portray—that resurrection, that passing from the sin that brought death and eternal condemnation to the new life which demonstrated the work of the indwelling Spirit of God.

Luke gives us some examples of what producing “…fruit in keeping with repentance” looked like to some of those baptized by John.

‘What should we do then?’ the crowd asked. John answered, ‘The man with two tunics should share with him who has none, and the one who has food should do the same.’ Tax collectors also came to be baptized. ‘Teacher,’ they asked, ‘what should we do?’ ‘Don’t collect any more than you are required to,’ he told them. Then some soldiers asked him, ‘And what should we do?’ He replied, ‘Don’t extort money and don’t accuse people falsely—be content with your pay’” (Luke 3:10-14).

Notice that John’s answer to the crowd’s query did not involve some lofty long-term plan of spiritual growth—as important as that was—and still is. His answer had to do with changes that could be made immediately and that involved the personal lives and issues of the people he was addressing.

If you steal—stop!

If you are addicted—get help and stop!

If you beat your wife—stop!

If you cheat your customers—stop!

If you have more than you need—share!

If you have a foul mouth—shut it!

The formula is simple and the package needs to be complete (though the execution might have its challenges):

Confess your sins.
Demonstrate your commitment to your new life in Christ through baptism.
Produce fruit in keeping with your confession and your commitment.

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