“What then shall we do?”

Vaclav's picture

And he went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins...He [John the baptizer] 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?”" (Luke 3:3, 7-10)

People were getting baptized. It is very good when people get baptized for a good reason. But here people were coming to John the baptizer because everyone was doing it. They had no intention of changing their lives. So John doubted their motives because a heart prepared for the Lord is a heart that is repentant - in feeling sorrow for their own sins and turning from them to God for forgiveness and grace and faith to obey him.

John tells the people to "bear fruits in keeping with repentance" because as an Israelite, he knew that they were most likely deceiving themselves, thinking that they're fine to continue in sin because they're connected to Abraham by genealogy - "After all, God called Abraham "my friend", right? So I must be God's friend too". Or we may think to ourselves, "after all, I go to church, I was baptized, I do good things, I give to charities, I am a good person, etc."

By pointing their attention to their fruitlessness, John brings to their minds Isaiah 5:1-11, where God calls Israel his vineyard. But it's a vineyard that bears bad fruit which is really fruitless - and about to be judged by God with destruction.

The best kind of response from those hearing John's preaching followed as we read in Luke 3:10: "And the crowds asked him, “What then shall we do?”" The people's deep conviction led them to ask how they could respond to God's warning of judgment on their fruitlessness. And John gives ideas of what true fruitfulness looks like for each individual group of people.

Though John gives the people specific ways in which they can "bear fruits in keeping with repentance", it is simply an expression of genuine love for others by serving their needs. And that is what the law tells us in all the commandments - to love God and your neighbor as yourself. John, in line with the Old Testament prophets, reminds people of what the unbending law says, which is what the Spirit of God uses to bring to us the conviction of sin and a longing for the Messiah to come and save us from our sin. Even as Romans 3:19-20 says, "Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin."

So John diverts them from himself to the Messiah saying in Luke 3:16-17, "I baptize you with water, but he who is mightier than I is coming, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”

With his baptism, John was to prepare the people for the Messiah. And that's what the law does. But the Messiah, who is Jesus, will baptize them first with the Holy Spirit, and gather his wheat - the Holy Spirit giving the grace and faith to those elected to be the true and fruitful believers. And secondly, Jesus will baptize the rest with unquenchable fire, burning the chaff - the false and fruitless believers who reject the Messiah because they think they're good enough for God as they are.

Dear friend, have you ever asked yourself the question "what then am I to do?" after you heard the preaching of God's word? Or after you read a godly book? Or even after reading this short reflection on God's word?

How will you respond to Jesus today? Which baptism do you want to go through? The baptism with the Holy Spirit - being joined to the people of God by being justified by faith in Jesus, which results in fruitful obedience to God? Or the only other choice by being baptized with unquenchable fire as faithless and fruitless chaff?