John the Baptist was a strange fellow. When a crowd came out to him wanting to be baptized (every pastor’s dream), he strangely insulted and convicted them, saying, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruits in keeping with repentance.”
More than ever today, we want the quick fix. We spend money however we can to speed up our lives and we subscribe to methods that say we can fix this or that in three easy steps. Perhaps John began to feel that the crowds that came to him were starting to perceive his own ministry in such a way. “You, too, can be cleansed of your sins for the low, low cost of repenting and being submerged underwater by a prophet!”
But as is sometimes pointed out in the Charismatic side of the church, “It’s not being slain in the Spirit that matters—it’s what the person is like when they get back up.” This, too, I think John wanted to apply in his own ministry. And so when these “brood of vipers” began to ask him what they should do to escape wrath and bear repentant fruit, he gave them some practical ideas beyond baptism: “If you have extra essentials like food and clothing, give it away to help someone in need. And if your particular line of work or your place in society gives you the space to steal from people, don’t.”
Repentance is not a one-and-done submersion and then we go back to getting on with our sinful lives. John expected changes to come in the heart, mind and soul in the form of fruit—something that takes time to grow and should be evident. In fact, the Bible is very harsh on us when we come to Christ and then just continue on in sin and don’t grow fruit. So if you’ve been told that you’ll always be a sinner and never come out of your habits, compulsions, personality defects, and sins, then now’s the time to take note that the gospel is good news on that front too: You can be liberated from all that, as the Holy Spirit will help you follow up on your baptism if you let Him.
I’ve seen John’s baptism miss the point before. Once, after preaching a message, I asked if anyone wanted to get baptized right then. A new person felt the conviction and came forward. We baptized them, we celebrated, and then they left and never came back. They wanted the quick fix for being washed of sin, but as far as I know, there is no fruit to follow it up. May we lean into our baptisms today and repent and grow fruit.
*This devotional was created out of the themes of Luke 3:1-14 found in today’s reading at CommonPrayer.net.