by William J. Stewart
Behold, I send My messenger, and he will prepare the way before Me. … he will turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers… (Malachi 3:1; 4:6)
Approximately 400 years before the time of John the Baptist, his mission was foretold by Malachi. He would come to prepare the way for the Messiah by teaching the people to follow God’s way. He would encourage people to repent of their sins and get their lives in order.
In Luke 3:7, we’re told that multitudes came out to be baptized by him. Matthew reveals that among these were many Pharisees and Sadducees (Matthew 3:7). John commanded them, “…bear fruits worthy of repentance…” (Luke 3:8). In fact, he went even further, telling them that if they didn’t change their way, they would be “…cut down and thrown into the fire” (Luke 3:9).
After such an address to the religious leaders, I imagine the average hearer of John’s message was left wondering how they could meet the expectations of this messenger from God. John’s rebuke of their leaders would be akin to Jesus saying in the sermon on the mount, “Unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and the Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:20). And so they gingerly asked of John, “What shall we do then?” (Luke 3:10).
John’s answer was much less imposing than his response to the religious leaders. There was no talk of axes being laid at the roots and such. They were not false teachers, like the others, but sincere seekers. Thus, to the average individual, John said,
He who has two tunics, let him give to him who has none; and he who has food, let him do likewise. (Luke 3:11)
His message should call to mind admonitions in the Law and the Prophets such as:
“Love your neighbor as yourself” (Leviticus 19:18).
“Learn to do good; seek justice,, rebuke the oppressor; defend the fatherless, plead for the widow” (Isaiah 1:17)
The stranger who dwells among you shall be to you as one born among you, and you shall love him as yourself…” (Leviticus 19:34)
John expected them to do good and to love others; to share with those who were in need and to serve one another.
In Luke 3:12, the tax collectors who had come to be baptized also asked, “Teacher, what shall we do?”
John answered, “Collect no more than what is appointed for you” (Luke 3:13). Whether it be a modern day tax man working for CRA or a first century tax man working for the Roman government, no one likes the tax man. Some (at least in John’s time) were disliked for good reason, as they cheated the people. John commands them to be honest, to collect no more than what they are supposed to. Later in the book of Luke we meet Zacchaeus, who filled the position of tax man as honourably as a man could (Luke 19:8).
Finally, the soldiers came to John and asked him, “And what shall we do?” He commanded, “Do not intimidate anyone or accuse falsely, and be content with your wages” (Luke 3:14)
Don’t take advantage of your authority. Don’t use your position to abuse or misuse people. Have a focus for truth; don’t take bribes or pervert justice. Don’t covet what is not your’s, but be satisfied with what the Lord has given.
Well, what shall we do? What does God want of you and I? All of the above, and more. God expects us to love others; to serve; to do good; to share; to give; etc.. The Lord wants us to be honest people, to love justice and equity. He wants us to treat people fairly and with consideration. He wants us to know contentment rather than covetousness. He wants us to have a focus for eternal things rather than temporal things.
John was preparing these people for the coming of the Messiah. He has come. He has given the gospel. He has called us to be imitators of Him. What shall we do? Be diligent students and fervent keepers of the law of Christ, making sure we are ready to meet the Lord today!