The first chapter of Luke told us about the origins and birth of John the Baptist. As his father, Zechariah said in Luke 1:76, John would prepare the way for the Lord. Whatever else we might say about John the Baptist, we learn in Luke 3 that John came to shake things up. John was a fiery desert preacher who called people to repent of their sins and to take actions that showed they truly wanted to be righteous. Wearing the clothes of the Prophet Elijah (Mark 1:6 and 2 Kings 1:8), John came to baptize and to tell those who would listen that the Messiah was coming. What would the Messiah (Jesus) do in John's estimation?
According to John, the Messiah was bringing judgment. He says, 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 into the fire. - Luke 3:9 NIV He goes on to say, His winnowing fork is in his hand to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire. - Luke 3:17 This doesn't sound much like "good news" does it?
David Flusser, now deceased, was a professor of early Christianity at Hebrew University in Jerusalem. Flusser contends that John the Baptist was confused about God's timeline. Flusser writes in his book The Sage from Galilee that John the Baptist thought the end of human history was at hand with the coming of Jesus. Jesus, on the other hand, understood His purpose differently. Instead of imminent judgment, Jesus was coming to bring salvation. Flusser points to Jesus' teaching in Matthew 13:24-30 as proof of Jesus' alternative point of view. The harvest was yet to come at a future date. The judgment was not imminent as John the Baptist taught.
Whether Flusser is right about John the Baptist or not, we have much to learn from John the Baptist's ministry and preaching.
1) John was clear that our salvation is not related to our ancestry. In verse 8 he says, And do not begin to say to yourselves, 'We have Abraham as our father.' For I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. We need to heed this teaching. Our salvation is a matter of our own faith in Christ and not our parent's or our favorite preacher's. We are each called to repent of our sin and to turn to Christ in faithful relationship.
2) John taught us how to "produce fruit" in Luke 3:10-14 which is a passage totally unique to the Gospel of Luke. In summary, John is saying we need to love our neighbor. I hear the words of Micah 6:8 echoed here...what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God.
As you read this week's passage, remember that Jesus, like John the Baptist, called for us to bear fruit - fruit that will last (John 15:16). Remember also that we are not to live in fear of judgment, but rather, we are to live by faith in Jesus Christ who rescues us from the wrath that is coming. (1 Thessalonians 1:10) A Jesus-shaped faith is marked by repentance and fruit.