When the crowds came to John for baptism, he said, “You brood of snakes! Who warned you to flee God’s coming wrath? Prove by the way you live that you have repented of your sins and turned to God. Don’t just say to each other, ‘We’re safe, for we are descendants of Abraham.’ That means nothing, for I tell you, God can create children of Abraham from these very stones. Even now the ax of God’s judgment is poised, ready to sever the roots of the trees. Yes, every tree that does not produce good fruit will be chopped down and thrown into the fire.”Luke 3:7-9
The crowds asked, “What should we do?”
John replied, “If you have two shirts, give one to the poor. If you have food, share it with those who are hungry.” Even corrupt tax collectors came to be baptized and asked, “Teacher, what should we do?” He replied, “Collect no more taxes than the government requires.”
“What should we do?” asked some soldiers.
John replied, “Don’t extort money or make false accusations. And be content with your pay.”Luke 3:10-14
Well now that I have got your attention . . . You are probably thinking “what on earth is Ian on about?” “I always knew he was a little crazy but now he has really lost it. Echidnas don’t figure prominently in Israel’s context. In fact you won’t find the word “echidna” in the English text of the Bible. So why do you refer to echidnas, Ian?”
Because they are in the text of the Bible. You Aussies didn’t realize that did you; one of your cherished creatures is in the text of the Bible.
Ok I will quit playing with you. It is the Greek text which refers to ἔχιδνα [echidna] which actually means a viper or an adder. (Luke 3:7) So I couldn’t resist playing with you on this one. John is not referring to echidnas at all. But [echidna] is the word used in Greek for viper / snake. In other words watch out for the false or harmful. Watch out for those things and those people that will lead you away from God. It can happen within us and it happens around us. John is doing his work with these words. Preparing the ground for the coming Messiah. You don’t want to be caught unawares when the Messiah comes. John is clearly talking about what the people must do before the Messiah comes – the first time. But the same advice applies to us related to Messiah’s second coming. We are prone to be surprised by the unexpected. The Jews were looking for and waiting for the Messiah to come. But when He did come they missed Him because he didn’t come the way and in the form they expected. That is what set me off thinking about vipers and echidnas and so I thought I would shock you by switching the word and use it straight from Greek as though it was an English word. Naughty of me, right?
That is what John is doing with the people of Israel. Shocking them out of their complacency. These are Jews and he is telling them they need cleansing, the washing of baptism. These are religious Jews and he is telling them they are nothing but “snakes in grass”. The Jews were all sitting content in the fact that they were descendants of Abraham. Privileged with nothing to worry about. Wrong they had everything to worry about. They could be so close and yet so far from the things of God. God wanted honesty in their dealings with Him. God wanted John to address the things that were in their way spiritually, their assumption, their unquestioned cultural habits they had got into which were not spiritual truth at all but merely the contrivances of men. They need to find the reality and not just the form. Not just the right religious words but the reality in action. Are we any different from the Jews of John and Jesus day? I don’t think so. From where I stand there are many Christians who are doing exactly what John’s Jews were doing? Sitting complacently thinking they were doing fine playing their religious games when in fact they were in grave danger of losing their souls. This was a judgement message on the thoughts and practices of God’s people of the day. Such a wake up call is needed for God’s people in every generation.
God’s message through John was hard hitting. It had to be. They needed to be shaken out of their complacency and their indolence. Their willingness to perpetuate a false reality rather than get real with God. I see it and hear of it all around me. I find it interesting whenever I am led to preach something more hard hitting there are always reactions. Whenever preachers are led by the Holy Spirit to shake the people out of their comfort zone, the people react. They did in John’s day, they did for me in Matamata days and they are doing the same in Jakarta. When we dare to touch on reality then we stir up the reaction. Paul told Timothy his young protégé, to be firm and preach the word in season and out of season. Willing to bear the reaction of the people for their own good. Some one who loves you will dare to tell you the reality. To speak out about the things they see in what “you” are doing. John is doing exactly that. And he does it in such a way that the people don’t miss the point. He is talking to religious people about religious things. Yet he says “You brood of vipers!” You people filled with poison. You are poisoning yourselves and those around you with your false practices. John called them on it and this time the people came out of the woodwork to be cleansed in preparation for Messiah coming because they knew they needed it. He made it especially hard hitting to get through to them. And this time it worked. In verse 10 we are told the people asked “What should we do?” I.e, tell us the truth of our condition. So John does. But later on telling someone the truth of their condition will get John killed. Still John will not compromise the truth.
This is partly why John is preaching in the wilderness and not in the city. Too convenient to just pop down and hear him, this overnight sensation. But then to lose the reality in the busyness of life. God sets him in the wilderness where the people have to leave behind the trappings of life to get a touch of reality.
What a great reaction for a preacher to get to his sermon. The crowd says “What should we do?”. The corrupt tax collectors asked “What should we do?” Even the soldiers looking on asked “What should we do?” Three different strata of society respond in the way John hopes they will. But notice the groups who are missing. Notice the way the text here emphasizes what is important by repeating it three times. WHAT SHOULD WE DO? Some will get it, some won’t. Some will respond favourably and some will react angrily. So be it, that is the nature of being human.
Is it time for a reality check in your world? Does someone need to ask you the hard questions?
Oh don’t just ask the questions that John responded to with what he gave them as examples:
- “If you have two shirts, give one to the poor.”
- “If you have food, share it with those who are hungry.”
- “Collect no more taxes than the government requires.”
- “Don’t extort money or make false accusations.”
- “Be content with your pay.”
What would John say to you? Each situation was tailor made to each inquirer. More importantly, what is Jesus saying to you?
They say, “You can’t please all of the people all of the time” but sometimes you can’t please any of the people any time.Anon
A friend is a person who can step on your toes without messing up your shine.Anon
Most people’s idea of a good sermon is one that goes over their head and hits their neighbour right between the eyes.Bob Gass
Watch out for the echidnas you hide, they will come back to bite you.Ian Vail
The antidote for echidna bites is Bible truth bytes.Ian Vail