by James Tissot

The year is AD 28. Jerusalem is a powder keg.  It’s about to blow.   Jewish resentment and anger over their political situation is overflowing.  It’s time to stop bitching and start a revolution.  They’re fed up.  Fed up with Rome, fed up with their priests.  Rome had invaded one hundred  years earlier, but they had only recently begun to directly rule Judea.  Instead of allowing Jewish governors, they began to send their own people, men like Pontus Pilate, and the Jews are fed up.  They’re fed up with King Herod and his corruption, he’s only half Jewish anyway.  They’re fed up with the corrupt Hasmonean dynasty of the high priestly order of Annas and Caiaphas, priests who buy their position, with bribes, from Caesar.  They’re fed up with priests more interested in their positions of power than the Kingdom of God.

tiberius caesar

Luke sets the scene very dramatically, tells us who’s in charge politically, In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, Pontius Pilate being governor of Judea, and Herod being tetrarch of Galilee, and his brother Philip tetrarch of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene.   He tells us who’s in the religious positions of power, during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas.  But – the word of God came to John the son of Zechariah in the wilderness.   The word of god comes not to the king or Rome or to the high priestly order, but to John, this prophetic, ascetic man in the wilderness eating locusts and wild honey.  When the word of the Lord comes upon him, he stays in wilderness but relocates himself about 15 miles outside Jerusalem by Jericho at the Jordan River.

baptism2

Here John begins to preach.  And he went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.   The Lord is about to come, He’s about to send Messiah, the Messiah we’ve been waiting for, you need to get ready, come get baptized for the forgiveness of sins.  By the way – Jews weren’t waiting for messiah to come so they could be forgiven. They already knew how to be forgiven.  They knew about the temple, they knew about temple sacrifices, they knew the prayers, even John is baptizing with a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. They’re not waiting for  messiah to forgive them, they are waiting for messiah to come rescue Israel, rebuild the temple,  restore righteousness, rule the nations, and reveal god to the Gentiles.

brood-of-vipers-300x225

But John says you guys aren’t ready!!   He said therefore to the crowds that came out to be baptized by him, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruits in keeping with repentance. And do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham.  So John engages in prophetic theater with his baptism.  Jews had their ritual mikvahs in the temple for their ritual cleansings and purification.  It was very formal, very official, carried on at the temple.  But John says they need a full baptism just like Gentiles who are being converted.  Basically John is telling the Jews that they are not really Jews, they’re not being faithful to the covenant.  They need to be reconverted to become Jews again.  That’s the point John is making baptizing in the Jordan River.  He is not converting Gentiles to follow Yahweh, he’s reinitiating practicing, life long Jews into their own faith.

promnised land

He’s baptizing in the Jordan out by Jericho at the same spot the Jews had come into promised land under Joshua thirteen centuries earlier.  They needed to be reconverted, they needed have a new Exodus, a new entry into promised land.  They were going out into the wilderness to really become the people of God, to get serious, to reenact their entry into the promised land.  What John is doing is very creative, very dangerous, it’s going to upset the powers that be.  This is why he wound up in prison and finally executed, because he’s challenging the powers that be.

justice and righteousnesss

He said therefore to the crowds that came out to be baptized by him, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?   And if you fill out this little card i can email you, make you feel welcome, show you how nice I am…John knows Jerusalem is a powder keg and it’s about to blow up.  That’s what he calls the wrath to come.  He knows the only hope they have is for Israel to receive their messiah.  Bear fruits in keeping with repentance. And do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham.  I don’t want to hear about your national identity or your religious identity, I don’t care about your pedigree.  Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.  Like the rest of the prophets, John is not interested in identity, but fruit.  The fruit of justice and righteousness, covenant faithfulness and treating your neighbor as yourself.  That’s what John is interested in, that’s how they will prepare to receive their Messiah.  They will repent, rethink their lives, and begin to bear the fruits of righteousness and justice.  If not they will end up in the explosive powder keg of revolution, war and destruction to come.

extortion 2

So all those coming out to John ask him what do we do?   We are serious, we want to repent to be the real people of God, but what do we do?  And the crowds asked him, “What then shall we do?” And he answered them, “Whoever has two tunics is to share with him who has none, and whoever has food is to do likewise.” Tax collectors also came to be baptized and said to him, “Teacher, what shall we do?” And he said to them, “Collect no more than you are authorized to do.” Soldiers also asked him, “And we, what shall we do?” And he said to them, “Do not extort money from anyone by threats or by false accusation, and be content with your wages.   John is calling Israel to repent and rethink everything.  So, what do we do?   It’s very interesting here, every response John gives those who ask him is economic in nature.  If you have two tunics, give to one who has none.  If you have leftovers from dinner, share with one who had no dinner.  If you’re a tax collector, collect no more than you are authorized to do.  Tax collectors are Jews who are collaborating with Romans who are viewed as traitors, moral outcasts.  They are hated by the rest of Jewish society because they are collecting taxes for the Romans and almost always did it dishonestly, overcharging and padding their own pockets.   But it’s also very interesting here – John does NOT tell them not to be tax collectors.  Just collect no more than you are authorized to do.  And soldiers  – do not use the power of your weaponry or rank to extort money.  Don’t justify it by saying Herod doesn’t pay us enough.  Be content with your wages.  

extortion

In every example John gives, he stresses economic repentance.  Everything  has to do with money.  Why does John stress economic repentance?  There are plenty of other sins but John doesn’t mention any of them.   I’m sure if you’re an adulterer, a drunkard, a sabbath breaker, a thief, a cheat,  John wants you to repent, but he doesn’t mention any other sin.  The only thing he mentions is personal economics.  Why?

camel eye needle2

John wants to prepare a people who will receive a new Kingdom, a new government, a new king.  The greatest obstacle to entering the kingdom of god is the tyranny of economic self interest.  John taught this, Jesus would pick it up and say exactly the same thing in his own way over and over.  The greatest obstacle to entering the kingdom of god, the government of god, the reign of Christ in our life, the alternative society of the kingdom of heaven, is the tyranny of our own economic self interest.  “For it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” Luke 18:25 ESV

woe to the rich

I’m writing to myself right now.  That’s how it was then, the way it is now, it’s how it is for me, probably how it is for you.  Unless, of course, you’re very poor.  Then it’s not as hard, cause you have nothing.  When you have  nothing there is nothing to lose.  “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.” Luke 6:20 ESV.   To be clear, if you are reading this, then you are not poor. “”But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation.” Luke 6:24 ESV

sell all that you have

And yes, it was the tyranny of economic self interest led to the fiery wrath of war foretold by John and Jesus in AD 70.   So many just could not give up all that they had.   “When Jesus heard this, he said to him, “One thing you still lack. Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” But when he heard these things, he became very sad, for he was extremely rich.” Luke 18:22-23 ESV

“He said therefore to the crowds that came out to be baptized by him, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruits in keeping with repentance. And do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham. Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.” And the crowds asked him, “What then shall we do?” And he answered them, “Whoever has two tunics is to share with him who has none, and whoever has food is to do likewise.” Tax collectors also came to be baptized and said to him, “Teacher, what shall we do?” And he said to them, “Collect no more than you are authorized to do.” Soldiers also asked him, “And we, what shall we do?” And he said to them, “Do not extort money from anyone by threats or by false accusation, and be content with your wages.””

Luke 3:7-14 ESV

http://bible.com/59/luk.3.7-14.esv

John Lewis

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