When crowds of people came out for baptism because it was the popular thing to do, John exploded: "Brood of snakes! What do you think you're doing slithering down here to the river? Do you think a little water on your snakeskins is going to deflect God's judgment? It is your life that must change, not your skin. And don't think you can pull rank by claiming Abraham as 'father.' Being a child of Abraham is neither here nor there -- children of Abraham are a dime a dozen. God can make children form stones if he wants. What counts is your life. Is it green and blossoming? Because if it's deadwood, it goes on the fire."
The crowd asked him, "Then what are we supposed to do?"
"If you have two coats, give one away," he said. "Do the same with your food."
Tax me also came to be baptized and said, "Teacher, what should we do?"
He told them, "No more extortion -- collect only what is required by law."
Soldiers asked him, "And what should we do?"
He told them, "No shakedowns, no blackmail -- and be content with your rations."
The interest of the people by now was building. They were all beginning to wonder, "Could this John be the Messiah?"
But John intervened: "I'm baptizing you here in the river. The main character in this drama, to whom I'm a mere stagehand, will ignite the kingdom life, a fire, the Holy Spirit within you, changing you from the inside out. He's going to clean house -- make a clean sweep of your lives. He'll place everything true in its proper place before God; everything false he'll put out with the trash to be burned."
There was a lot more of this -- words that gave strength to the people, words that put heart in them. The Message!
1. What counts is your life. Is it green and blossoming? Even Jesus warns that not everyone who cries out, "Lord, Lord" will be saved. There is more than simply right doctrine or ritual going on here. A question might be raised among Christians of the current day, "are you claiming that saying 'Jesus as Lord' will save your skin?"
2. Though only prelude, our words and deeds are a measuring rod of the message of good news about GOD's presence and love. No wonder people thought John was the Messiah. Here was something quite concrete and hopeful. Their sights had been raised and they wondered about the messenger being the message.
3. When was the last time someone wondered if you were the Messiah? Would following John's instructions (by extending them into your particular realm of influence) help get you mistaken for the bringing of the realm of love from heaven to earth? If so, do follow.
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