People went out to him from Jerusalem and all Judea and the whole region of the Jordan. Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River.
But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to where he was baptizing, he said to them: “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not think you can say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown in the fire.
“I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me comes one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor, gathering his wheat into the barn and burning up the chaff with unquenchable fire.” – Matthew 3: 5-12
hen John the Baptist started his ministry, he did not go into the streets of Jerusalem to preach. Instead, he stayed in the desert area, near the Jordan river. Even though he remained out in the wilderness, a difficult place to get to, the people went out to hear him. He reached repentance.
As he preached to the people, John did not soften his words. He knew that some people would be offended while others would be made to feel uneasy.
Upon seeing the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he called them a brood of vipers. These people wanted to escape the final judgement without reopening. They relied upon their heritage, being children of Abraham. For this they were already condemned.
Many went out to hear John thinking that he was God’s Messiah. However, he knew his purpose and informed the people that he was not the Messiah.
In fact, when he said that God’s kingdom is at hand, he was warning them that the promised Messiah was about to make his appearance. Like the Prophet Isaiah had prophesied, he was only a voice crying in the wilderness, preparing the way of the Lord.
He warned the people to bear fruits keeping with repentance. Many in our churches today think that Christianity is all about showing up to church on Sunday. They feel that once they meet the attendance record, their place in heaven is secured.
Christianity is about doing something, telling others about the love of Jesus. It’s about building the kingdom of God here on Earth. We do not live out our baptismal faith by just showing up on Sunday.
When John tells the people to bear fruit, he tells them that things are different. The Messiah is interested in trees that bear fruit. Those who are not productive will be cut down and thrown into the fire. This new life in Christ is about living so others would see us as children of God and want to share in the peace which we enjoy.
In preaching to the people, John acknowledged that there was something different about the baptism he offered. His baptism was preparation for that which was to come. The Messiah, when he made his appearance on the scene, would baptize with the Holy Spirit and with fire.
John’s warning was not only for the people at the river. It is for us today because we should be concerned about the people in our lives, both family, friends, and associates. Like John, we should be telling and pointing people toward the light of Christ.
It is our Christian duty to prepare those with whom we come into contact for our Lord’s second Advent. Remember, we should be concerned about the people we know, and love being cast into hell.
John warns that the wrath of God is coming. It does not matter about our family tree. He warns that the ax is out and ready. The blade is against the tree and the chopping is about to begin. Those trees that do not produce fruits will be chopped down.
As we wait for this Christmas season, and the second Advent of our Lord, let us stay busy doing God’s work, building His kingdom here on Earth. John’s cry of repentance is a call for us to turn away from our sinful ways and to embrace the new life in Christ. Amen.
• Reverend Samuel M. Boodle, pastor at the Lutheran Church of Nassau, 119 John F. Kennedy Dr can be reached at P.O. Box N 4794, Nassau, Bahamas; or telephone 426-9084; website: www.nassaulutheranchurch.org.