John the Baptist prepares the way for Jesus
Here is a sample of John’s preaching to the crowds that came for baptism: “You brood of snakes! You are trying to escape hell without truly turning to God! That is why you want to be baptized! First go and prove by the way you live that you really have repented. And don’t think you are safe because you are descendants of Abraham. That isn’t enough. God can produce children of Abraham from these desert stones! The ax of his judgment is poised over you, ready to sever your roots and cut you down. Yes, every tree that does not produce good fruit will be chopped down and thrown into the fire.”
The crowd replied, “What do you want us to do?”
“If you have two coats,” he replied, “give one to the poor. If you have extra food, give it away to those who are hungry.”
Even tax collectors—notorious for their corruption—came to be baptized and asked, “How shall we prove to you that we have abandoned our sins?”
“By your honesty,” he replied. “Make sure you collect no more taxes than the Roman government requires you to.”
“And us,” asked some soldiers, “what about us?”
John replied, “Don’t extort money by threats and violence; don’t accuse anyone of what you know he didn’t do; and be content with your pay!”
Many of John’s hearers were shocked when he said that being Abraham’s descendants was not enough for God. The religious leaders relied more on their family lines than on their faith for their standing with God. For them, religion was inherited. But a personal relationship with God is not handed down from parents to children. Everyone has to commit to it on his or her own.
John’s message demanded at least three specific responses: (1) Share what you have with those who need it; (2) whatever your job is, do it well and with fairness; and (3) be content with what you’re earning. John had no time to address comforting messages to those who lived careless or selfish lives—he was calling the people to right living. Just as a fruit tree is expected to bear fruit, God’s people should produce a crop of good works. God has no use for people who call themselves Christians but do nothing about it. Like many people in John’s day who were God’s people in name only, we are of no value if we are Christians in name only. If others can’t see our faith in the way we treat them, we may not be God’s people at all.