There is a sermon in the Gospel’s that is often overlooked because it’s not red letter. The sermon begins. “You brood of vipers, who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? “Therefore bear fruits in keeping with repentance, and do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham for our father,’ for I say to you that from these stones God is able to raise up children to Abraham. “Indeed the axe is already laid at the root of the trees; so every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.” (Luke 3:7–9, NASB95) Now the last time I checked the manual on excellent speech making insulting your audience right out the gate is a no-no. Calling someone a brood of vipers and minimizing their specialness is certainly no way to win friends and influence people. But you have to wonder if the folks coming out to hear this preacher wasn’t simply looking to cover a base just in case this guy turned out to be the long-awaited Messiah. No one does that, right? No one goes to church simply to be able to place a religious marker with God, do they?
Instead of relying on our church membership this preacher calls for “fruits in keeping with repentance.” Even the crowd on that day wasn’t sure what that looked like so they asked and the preacher responded. “The man who has two tunics is to share with him who has none; and he who has food is to do likewise.” And some tax collectors also came to be baptized, and they said to him, “Teacher, what shall we do?” And he said to them, “Collect no more than what you have been ordered to.” Some soldiers were questioning him, saying, “And what about us, what shall we do?” And he said to them, “Do not take money from anyone by force, or accuse anyone falsely, and be content with your wages.”” (Luke 3:10–14, NASB95) I can almost hear their response – Now the preacher is meddling! How dare he preach that I should share my hard earned nest-egg, He must be some kind of liberal-progressive! To which the tax-collectors respond – No, he’s a hard line conservative. How are we going to grow our bank accounts, scratch that, the government, if we can’t collect more than we need?
I’m sure that you’ve figured out that the preacher was John the Baptist of whom Jesus said, “Truly I say to you, among those born of women there has not arisen anyone greater than John the Baptist! ” (Matthew 11:11, NASB95) Here’s the important point. While John was preaching a baptism of forgiveness he was also expecting fruits of repentance to follow. I think that that truth remains. We do receive great forgiveness through Christ but often we treat it like a “get out of jail free” card instead of the beginning of a new way of life. Bonhoeffer called that “cheap grace.” We all want to experience the fruit of the Spirit; love, joy, peace, etc. Often, however, we settle for free samples instead of truly walking away from our sin and allowing repentance to change our heart and our behavior. Jesus said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. “He who loves his life loses it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it to life eternal. “If anyone serves Me, he must follow Me; and where I am, there My servant will be also; if anyone serves Me, the Father will honor him.” (John 12:24–26, NASB95) If we want to experience the fruit of the Spirit we must die to ourselves just like John the Baptist preached beside the Jordan.