John the Baptist, Good News is Difficult to Hear
Luke 3:1 -23 (The appearance of John the Baptist and his message)
We ended our story of John with his father Zechariah prophesying over him and then we are told he spent the rest of his days growing up in the wilderness. By Luke 3 we are reintroduced to John as he prepares the way for Jesus’ public ministry. What is the message that John had for everyone:
“He went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the for the forgiveness of sins, as it is written in the book of the words of the prophet Isaiah, ‘The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth; and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.’
“And the crowds asked him, ‘What then should we do?’ In reply he said to them, ‘Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever ahs food must do likewise.’ Even tax collectors came to be baptized, and they asked him, ‘And we, what should we do?’ He said to them, ‘Do not exhort money from anyone by threats or false accusation, and be satisfied with your wages.’ As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John whether he might be the Messiah, John answered all of them by saying, “I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.”
John’s message isn’t exactly what we think of when we talk about Christmas and the Christmas message. Our culture has romanticised the meaning of the Christmas story. It has been watered down and commercialized in such a way that makes the birth of Christ seem like a fairy tale. John’s harsh re-entry into the story of Jesus is not one that at the onset releases warm holiday feelings. In this chapter of Luke the prophecy that was fulfilled at John and Jesus’ birth springs into action and it doesn’t look pretty right now. Despite John’s blunt and direct preaching style, people still repented of their sins and changed their ways. They marked their repentance with baptism, the symbolic act of cleansing.
So what have we learned about the actions of those who received the good news of forgiveness of sins and salvation? Well let’s take a look at what they did, they:
John Said: If you have, share with those who don’t have
Action: Give someone your extra tunic
John Said: Stop cheating people financially
Action: The tax collector’s collected no more than correct amount
John Said: No more extortion, threats or false accusations. Be happy with what you earn
Action: The Soldier’s stopped extorting, threatening and telling lies against people
These were examples of the Good News in action. It required sharing of goods, financial integrity and not abusing one’s power over others. The Good News that John and Jesus came to proclaim required hard work. It required confession of sin to each other, repentance to God of one’s sins and making an active change. The Good News was Jesus coming to earth and showing people how they can participate in changing the world by making themselves right with God. The Good News was not new news. In the Hebrew scriptures (Old Testament) God asks of His people to do the exact same things, but somewhere along the line people stopped following the light and became attracted to the darkness and weren’t making any efforts to make their way back onto the right path. This is where Joy comes in.
God sent Jesus to be among humanity on earth as a human, yet he still remained a divine being, and showed us the way back to the light. These individuals had reason to rejoice. The oppressed could rejoice because now there was proof that God was a champion for justice and righteousness. The Messiah was now here to tell them how much God loved them despite their circumstances. The oppressors and the wrong do-ers could now rejoice because someone was here to tell them and show them how to change their ways and make things right with God once again.
-Will you rejoice with the oppressors and wrong do-ers by repenting and making things right with God and those around you or will you be like Herod Antipas and shut John up silencing the Good News?
-Will you be like those in the crowds and ask God, “What then should I do?”
(Credit: Baptism image is from Holy Trinity Anglican Church)