*Commentary by Walter Albritton

                                   December 28, 2008


John Tells Us How to Bear Fruit Worthy of Repentance


Luke 3:1-20

Key Verse: Bear fruit worthy of repentance. – Luke 3:8a


Had John the Baptist been a Methodist preacher, he would have been run out of town by every church he served. You don’t call good Methodist folks a “brood of vipers” and get away with it. But John had no church nor was he a pastor.  He was a prophet whose thundering voice attracted large crowds to his wilderness pulpit.  And he wasted no time mollycoddling people in the hope that they would learn to trust him.  He “shelled the corn” by telling people the truth.

John was on a mission. His mission was to warn the Jews that the wrath of God would soon fall on them. Their only hope of escaping God’s fierce judgment was to repent of their sins, be baptized in the Jordan, and begin showing love for people in need.

Luke tells us that the crowds of people were impressed by John’s preaching. Instead of condemning John, the people urged others to come and hear him. The Holy Spirit moved mightily as John proclaimed the Word of the Lord. Many were convicted of their sins and waded into the Jordan to be baptized.

The eagerness of the people to hear John should not surprise us. For centuries there had been no prophetic messages from God but the Jews still had hope that the Messiah would one day come. The sudden appearance of John fanned the flames of their hopes. Perhaps John is the Messiah. If so they were ready to follow him into Jerusalem and cheer as he delivered them from their Roman rulers. This was the kind of Messiah they expected, one who would overthrow their oppressors with military power.

John refused to allow the compliments of the people to inflate his ego. He understood the purpose of his life. His role was to point people to Jesus. The Scriptures give us many examples of John’s humility. Sometimes he would say of Jesus, “Behold the Lamb of God.” Sometimes he would say, “He must increase and I must decrease.” Here in Luke’s story he says, “One more powerful than I is coming.” And to emphasize his point, John says, “I am not worthy to until his sandals”!  Imagine that. Untying sandals was the work of slaves.

To explain further the difference between himself and the Messiah, John said, “I baptize you with water,” but “he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.” Thus did John “prepare the way” for the Christ whose disciples were indeed filled with the Holy Spirit and a fire that enabled them to spread the good news of the kingdom across the world.

John’s strong message helps us understand that ritual and religion are not enough to please God. John would not allow his converts to be satisfied with baptism. He insisted that they “bear fruits worthy of repentance.” When they asked John what this meant, he explained that they must love the poor by sharing their food and clothes with them.

Tax collectors were known for their extortion. To them John said, “You must begin treating people fairly; collect no more than the amount prescribed for you.” In other words, stop stealing from people.

Soldiers received similar advice from John. They used threats and false accusations to “shake down” the weak and powerless. John said to the soldiers, “Show you are right with God by being satisfied with your wages.”

Many in our own day need to be warned not to be satisfied with ritual and religion. God is not interested in religion. He sent His Son to deliver us from religion. It is not enough to repent, be baptized, accept Christ, and join the church. Ritual and religion, even church membership, will not save us nor give us peace with God.

God wants us to fall in love with His Son Jesus. He knows that when we fall in love with Jesus, we will begin living a righteous life for the right reasons. Then we will care for the poor for the right reason. Then we will be fair to people and learn to be content with what we have. Then our lifestyle will be living evidence that our repentance is genuine.

Genuine discipleship involves a delicate balance between faith and works. Our works will not save us. But our faith is phony if it produces no deeds of love and mercy – and especially deeds for the benefit of the poor.  God is pleased only when Christlike deeds begin to match the words we profess. Being “charitable” is not enough. Frequently we use our charity to point to ourselves, hoping that people will recognize that we are generous. True deeds of love and mercy are those to point to Jesus. John allowed his whole life to point to Jesus. We should aim to do that too.  And we must if our lives are to bear fruit worthy of true repentance!

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* Good friends: With the submission of this lesson, I am retiring from the ministry of these lesson commentaries. For more than 20 years God has blessed me with the privilege of preparing and sharing these commentaries with countless teachers, pastors, and friends. As I conclude this chapter of my life, I do so with affection and gratitude for the honor of doing what I could to inspire those of you who teach God’s Word. As you continue to teach others the sacred, biblical truth, do so with passion and with the confidence that the Holy Spirit can use your teaching to help others fall in love with Jesus, the Word made flesh!


In conclusion, Walter Albritton, sjc