8 Bear fruits worthy of repentance. Do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our ancestor’; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. 9 Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. (Luke 3:8-9, NRSV)
John’s warning testifies that he bears the same Spirit carried by Elijah and the prophets both of old and new. “Repent!” is a message much repeated throughout history and regrettably ignored just as often. As I have written before, I believe the word is misunderstood in its application. Screamed from a sweaty red face with pulpit-pounding fists under a tent or in a revival meeting, this word casts shame and judgment, but in the context of the loving grace from which it comes, is rendered more like the love song, “Return to me.” John’s urgency comes with the same as that of the prophets of old, and preceded the coming of the King of kings, Whose message would change the lives of those who would ready themselves to receive it. What was true then is true now: we cannot serve both God and selfish desires, and we sons and daughters of Adam spend most of our time serving the latter. Drastic changes are required to facilitate the absolute pivot from our primal programming and return to God. To even accept the word “return” is to acknowledge that we are not the physical bodies in which we reside, but the spiritual ones contained within, which originated in Heaven and will be collected to that, our home, when all is complete. If we go about serving the natural part of us, as is our natural tendency, we starve our spiritual selves to death and our bodies become its sarcophagus rather than its chariot.
John’s audience had been lulled to spiritual sleep by their overconfidence in their heritage. The sons of Abraham had forgotten that they were also sons of Adam and, as such, were dead in their sin. The dead are offered eternal life but for a short time. Those who refuse the Life are sealed in their death, for their condition is already met. All that is left for those pitiful masses is for their physical bodies to expire and the chaff of their existence to be thrown in with the kindling of Hell’s destruction. There is, therefore, good cause for the urgent plea of repentance. We also have been lulled to sleep, not so much by our overconfidence in our heritage, but in the surety that all of us are really okay and that sin doesn’t really matter. The siren song of sin is that it doesn’t really exist and we needn’t do anything about it. Just like John’s audience, we are convinced we aren’t really children of the fall. The wake-up call of repentance, then is an alarm bell, calling us home to our true Papa, Jehovah God, Who is Spirit.
I was recently reminded, by circumstances in my own life, of the brevity of this physical life, of its fragileness, and the pure vanity of expecting days more than the one I am living. I know of a man who fell from his garage roof while doing repairs and succumbed to a broken neck. During the subsequent autopsy, it was discovered that he had lung cancer in its final stages, and would likely have died in mere months had it not been for the accidental fall. We are guaranteed no tomorrows, no second chances, no time to think it over. There was a reason for John’s urgency: Jesus was coming. There is a reason for that urgency now too: whether by our death or by Jesus’ second coming, our meeting with Him is imminent and we will give an accounting for everything we have done and failed to do.
The people asked John, “What then should we do?” (v.10) His response was to live fairly, give up selfishness as a motivation, and be cleansed from evil practices. His followers were even baptized in water as a physical display of their spiritual washing.
Dear Father, today, I recall my own baptism and I recommit myself to live according to Your Spirit rather than my flesh. I surrender to Your will, and ask that you grow in me the fruits of Your Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23). I cry out in the words of David:
7 Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean;
wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.
8 Let me hear joy and gladness;
let the bones you have crushed rejoice.
9 Hide your face from my sins
and blot out all my iniquity.
10 Create in me a pure heart, O God,
and renew a steadfast spirit within me.
11 Do not cast me from your presence
or take your Holy Spirit from me.
12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation
and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.
13 Then I will teach transgressors your ways,
so that sinners will turn back to you.
(Psalm 51:7-13, NIV)