John's Preaching of Repentance: Gospel Analysis
ADVENT 3B Luke 3:7-18
The following Bible study is from a larger course entitled, THE LIFE OF CHRIST: A Study in the Four Gospels. This 54 week course for the laity will be available for congregations in 2006.
Basic text for the course: SYNOPSIS OF THE FOUR GOSPELS, Kurt Aland, English Edition, P. 12-13.
#14. John's Preaching of Repentance
Matthew 3:7-10, Luke 3:7-9
Notice the contrast of Matthew’s “Pharisees and Sadducees” and Luke’s “multitudes.” This is another indication that Matthew was writing to a Jewish audience which understood Jewish names such as Pharisees and Sadduceees and Luke was writing to a Gentile audience, a world wide audience, and so he used the word, “multitudes.”
Notice that the parallels are nearly and almost perfectly identical. This means that the original source was Q or Quella. It seems that the authors Matthew and Luke are copying from the same source, and that source is often called Q for the German word, “quella” which simply means source. We will find this process occurring several times in the two Gospels. There are 200 Bible verses that are common to Matthew and Luke but not found in John or Mark. It is possible to assemble these 200 Bible verses and study them closely.
If you do that, you discover that there are many teachings of Jesus in these sayings. There are more Aramaic colloquialisms located in Q than in the other places of the New Testament. Some scholars suggest this document was originally written in Aramaic, the daily language of Jesus. (Aramaic is a derivative of Hebrew.) Some scholars would suggest that this theoretical Q document is the oldest strata of the New Testament.
In our detailed study of the texts of the four Gospels, we will be looking carefully at those Bible verses that are nearly identical in Matthew and Luke.
Some of the specific contents of this theoretical Q are: The Baptist, temptation, sermon on the mount and plain, journey to Jerusalem, mission of the seventy, mustard seed, warning to disciples, divorce, causing others to stumble, and parable of the pounds.
This particular text is from Q.
-You brood of vipers. John is not positive to his audience who are coming out for baptism. “Brood” is associated with children such as “you are children of snakes.” Not very positive at all.
-Who warned you to flee the wrath that is to come? John is clear that God’s wrath is part of God and that punishment is coming from God in the future. This message is consistent with the rest of the New Testament. We will discover many parables of Jesus about the coming wrath and punishment of God.
Unfortunately, we Christians are forever using the Bible to clobber people we don’t like. When we are self righteous, we often know the people whom God is to punish. We ourselves are often not part of the list of the condemned but “they” are.
John the Baptist is simply stating a fundamental belief: wrath is part of God. God’s wrath and punishment will work itself out in the daily lives of people, and God’s wrath will be part of the final judgment.
-Bear the fruits that befit repentance. Produce the fruits that demonstrate repentance. Let your lives prove that there have been inner changes in you.
In other words, don’t talk a good game of change. Don’t learn the language of inner change and repentance as a cover up for not changing. Rather, show evidence of the inner changes by your behavior changes. Produce actions.
After the Word of the Lord has penetrated into us, we ask often ask such questions. “Lord. Your Word has spoken to me. What do I need to do now? I want to live a better life? What can I do?”
At any AA meeting, people will say, “Stop your drinking.” At a NA meeting, people will say “Stop your use of drugs.” At other meetings, people will say: “Stop your over-consuming food.” “Stop your nasty and persistent criticism of your spouse and kids.” “Stop your….”
One facet of repentance is to stop certain negative behaviors which are hurting others and yourself. We ALL have negative facets of our personalities that need to be outgrown
When the energies of Christ are flowing into our lives, we begin to discard bad habits and also begin to grow good and healthy patterns of loving.
The analogy of growing fruit is helpful. Fruit grows; so do people grow in our loving attitudes and actions. Within human beings, there can be growth, maturation and positive change over time.
We recall Luke 6:43-45 that a good tree bears good fruit. Jesus wants us to be attached to him and grow from him so that our lives will produce good fruit of love, joy, peace, etc. Good changes are produced in our lives when we are connected to Christ as a branch is connected to a vine. The love of Christ flows into our lives whereby we start changing some of our bad habits and sinful ways and also grow in goodness, gentleness and kindness.
43 "No good tree bears bad fruit, nor again does a bad tree bear good fruit; 44 for each tree is known by its own fruit. Figs are not gathered from thorns, nor are grapes picked from a bramble bush. 45 The good person out of the good treasure of the heart produces good, and the evil person out of evil treasure produces evil; for it is out of the abundance of the heart that the mouth speaks.”
-Do not say to yourselves that we have Abraham as our father. People, then and now, use religious beliefs and traditions as an excuse not to change and be changed. People can say, “We are Christians. God is a God of forgiveness. He died on the cross for my sins. I don’t need to amend my life. I am already forgiven for the sins that I have done and will do. That is what grace is all about.”
Like an alcoholic, we can become very slippery with the truth and use the truth in order to escape the changes needed within us.
We all need to grow in wholeness and holiness.
Some people forever foolishly say, “I am a good church person and I have arrived! I don’t need to grow past my bad characteristics and I don’t really need to grow in goodness. I am pretty good just the way I am. After all, I have been a church person all my life.”
In this way of thinking, there is an erroneous assumption that in being “a good church person,” a person does not need to grow past basic flaws of personality and also needs to grow new and healthier patterns of love.
-The axe is laid to the roots of the trees that do not bear good fruit. John is pressing for genuine repentance and amendment of life. He is interested not merely in having people get rid of negative attitudes and actions; he is looking for positive growth in people’s lives where their lives produce positive results. The Apostle Paul, writing at about the same time as Q, says in Galatians 5:22 that the “fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control.” We look for good fruit in our lives and the lives of others.
The bottom line in this text: Jesus wants us to produce good fruit and good/righteous lives. The big question is: How do we become more fruitful in the way we live? How do we becoming more loving, caring and generous? How do we become better and wholesome human beings?
We do that when we are “in Christ,” when the love of Christ flows from the heart of Christ into us. Into our heads, into hearts, into our habits, into our attitudes and actions.
- The tree (that does not bear good fruit) is cut down and thrown into the fire. Throughout the gospels, Jesus is persistently clear that if a person does not produce the fruit of love, joy, peace, patience, etc., that person is not part of the kingdom of God. Such lives will be judged and punished.
We all know that. When a person’s life is not full of love, kindness and goodness, there is misery. One’s heart is miserable inside when there is no love, no kindness, no goodness. Life becomes “hell on earth” when hate, anger and bitterness live within one’s attitudes and actions. The judgments and wrath of God work themselves out within the human misery of little love, little justice, little peace, little kindness, little goodness. People with little love and little justice and little peace are miserable. Such people live in human hells.
“Thrown into the fire,” “unquenchable fire” and “the fires of hell.” In this section, the parallels in Matthew and Luke tell us that the chaff will be “burned with unquenchable fire.” We find phrases about the “fire of hell” in Matthew 5:22 “whoever calls a person a fool shall be liable to the fire of hell;” and again in Matthew 18:9, “If your eyes sins, it would be better to enter life with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into the hell of fire.”
Do we take these teachings literally? Are these concepts of “unquenchable fire” to be found primarily in Q? Or primarily in the Gospel of Matthew? What is hell? Is hell being thrown into an unquenchable fire? Hold onto these concepts and we will face these questions about “the fires of hell” momentarily.
#15. John Replies to Questioners
This passage is uniquely Luke. We read about the generic category of “the multitudes” or “crowds.”
-And the crowds asked him, "What then should we do?" John the Baptist could be interpreted as being harsh with the crowds, but he was not laying on them an impossible ideal.
When we are convicted by the Spirit in our hearts, we often ask what we can do to be more like Christ.
The question is a sign that the Word of God has penetrated their souls and therefore they ask, “What should we do?” The Word of God has gotten through their stony hearts. Whenever the Word of God cracks open our hearts made of stone, we finally and genuinely ask, “God, what do you want me to do?”
Sometimes in a fractured marriage which is coming to a moment of truth, a husband or wife may ask, “What can I do to demonstrate to you that I have changed?”
-In reply he said to them, "Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise." Jesus asked the crowds then (and now) to share our clothing and food with those who have none. This action is basic and fundamental for Christians.
Does anyone have two coats in their closets? Enough food in their pantries?
We hear Luke’s invitation and insistence that Christians are to be involved in generous sharing. Luke is laying the ground work for the rest of his Gospel and for his Book of Acts, where we are going to encounter many stories about the people of God being challenged to be generously sharing people. Luke is not suggesting that we give our leftovers, that we give our excesses that we don’t need. In Acts 2:43-47, we encounter a New Testament community who shared material possessions in common, and sold their goods in order to share with others who had material needs
-Even tax collectors came to be baptized, and they asked him, "Teacher, what should we do?" He said to them, "Collect no more than the amount prescribed for you." Tax collectors and soldiers. Both of these people would have been rejected and despised by the culture of their day, but we will discover that Jesus welcomes such “cultural rejects” into his community. Each group is advised specifically what to do. Tax collectors: be fair. Soldiers: rob no one by violence or by false accusation. Those words sound very contemporary. Luke does not give these people an impossible moral ideal that they cannot live up to. Luke is “down to earth” and practical about what Jesus asks these groups of people to do.
That is also true for us. If you asked Jesus what could you do, what would Jesus say specifically to your life?
-Soldiers also asked him, "And we, what should we do?" He said to them, "Do not extort money from anyone by threats or false accusation, and be satisfied with your wages."
#16. John's Messianic Preaching
Matthew 3:11-12, Mark 1:7-8, Luke 3:15-18, John 1:24-28
-As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah, These Jewish people were perplexed by the true identity of John the Baptist. They asked questions among themselves and of John: “Are you the Messiah? Are you the prophet who is to come? Are you Elijah?”
-John answered all of them by saying, "I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; John the Baptist baptized only with water but he knew that in the near future, another more powerful person than he was coming, a person who would baptize with the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of the Living God.
-I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. Untying some one’s sandals was the most menial gesture that a person could do in that society. People wore sandals for everyday footware in those days. Sandals were part of everyday life. Sandals consisted of a leather sole, and a thong to wrap around the ankle to keep the sandal on. Tying sandals was a daily part of life. Tying sandals was a menial task. John was saying about himself that he wasn’t even worthy to untie Jesus’ sandals. Jesus was so great and John the Baptist was so small.
-He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. Previously, we have talked about being filled with the Holy Spirit. Being filled with the Holy Spirit is the same as being baptized with the Holy Spirit.
For a Christian, the most important part of discipleship is being energized by the Spirit of the Living God who permeates one’s heart, mind and spirit. The Spirit of the Living God, the Holy Spirit, energizes faith in God and love for others.
And fire. Matthew and Luke add the concept of fire and the teaching about the winnowing fork, the separation of the wheat from the chaff, and the burning with the unquenchable fire. Fire is a symbol for judgment. That is, we will discover many parables in which there is a separation between the wheat and the chaff, the good and the bad fish, the sheep and the goats, etc. We will discover that Jesus will be the Judge at the final day of history and will separate those who do the will of God from those who don’t do the will of God. Christ, the Judge, will separate those who believe and those don’t. Christ, the Judge, will separate those who say they believe but their lives do not show it when compared with those who believe and their lives show it. Fire means judgment.
Fire is also a symbol of purification. As a family, we often have hot dog roasts and for dessert, we cook marsh mellows on the open fire in order to make “samores.” Then we burn off the “marsh mellow junk” off the hot dog sticks. We purify them; we burn off the crud; so we can use them again.
In the Bible, fire is often a symbol of purification, burning off the “crud” from our lives. It is similar to repentance.
-His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire." Unquenchable fire refers to hell.
This sermon should not focus on hell but on other themes in the text.
We can pause, stop and think about “burning with unquenchable fire in hell.” We need to think carefully about what the Bible teaches about hell and how we interpret the Bible’s teachings about hell.
“Hell of fire. Hell.” Highlight. Page 52-53. Matthew 5:23, 29, 30; Mark 9: 43, 44, 47. In these passages, we are confronted with the primary teachings in the New Testament about a burning hell. Read carefully read all of these passages.
There are thirteen references to hell in the New Testament; seven of these are in Matthew and three in Mark. There is one reference to hell in Luke, in James and in II Peter. There are several references to hell in the Book of Revelation, chapter 20:14, about the lake of fire e.g. “Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire; and anyone whose name was not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire.”
Other Biblical authors do not use the concept of hell. That is, the Gospel of John talks about darkness and the Apostle Paul speaks of judgment. Neither one of them speaks about hell. John’s darkness is equivalent to Matthew’s hell, just as John’s life is equivalent to Matthew’s kingdom of heaven.
There are two references to the concept of hell and fire in the Gospel of Luke. Luke 16:19ff: ‘There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. And at his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, who longed to satisfy his hunger with what fell from the rich man’s table; even the dogs would come and lick his sores. The poor man died and was carried away by the angels to be with Abraham.The rich man also died and was buried. In Hades, where he was being tormented, he looked up and saw Abraham far away with Lazarus by his side.* He called out, “Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am in agony in these flames.” … Lazarus said, “Then, father, I beg you to send him to my father’s house— for I have five brothers—that he may warn them, so that they will not also come into this place of torment.”
The second reference to hell as fire in the Gospel of Luke is from a quotation from Q: Matthew 3:11-12/Luke 3:9/Q “He (Jesus) will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and will gather his wheat into the granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.’ (Luke: “cut down and thrown into the fire.”
Notice that the concept of hell as burning fire is part of these teachings of Jesus in which there are Aramaic hyperbole. A question is: Are “the fires of hell” also part of Aramaic hyperbole or overstatement in order to make a point? Like the teachings about anger which use Aramaic hyperbole, (if you call a brother a fool you are liable to the fires of hell), is the very concept of hell an Aramaic exaggeration of the truth which, if taken literally, would not be true?
Also, notice that the Gospel of Matthew often uses the expression, “weeping and gnashing of teeth” which is an Aramaic expression for hell. Six of the seven uses of the phrase, “weeping and gnashing of teeth” occur in Matthew.
12 But the subjects of the kingdom will be thrown outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth."
(from New International Version)
42 They will throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. (from New International Version)
50 and throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
(from New International Version)
13 "Then the king told the attendants, 'Tie him hand and foot, and throw him outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.'
(from New International Version)
51 He will cut him to pieces and assign him a place with the hypocrites, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
(from New International Version)
30 And throw that worthless servant outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.'
(from New International Version)
28 "There will be weeping there, and gnashing of teeth, when you see Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, but you yourselves thrown out. (from New International Version)
In the Gospel of Matthew, seven of the thirteen references to the word, “hell,” are located in this gospel. Six of the seven references to “weeping and gnashing of teeth” come from Matthew. If you add the words, “hell,” and “weeping and gnashing of teeth,” there are thirteen references (out of twenty in the whole New Testament) to hell in the Gospel of Matthew.
The New Testament Scriptures consistently teach about the final judgment. Perhaps the “fires of hell” is an Aramaic expression that points to the final judgment.
For many people, the last judgment is separation from God. For them, hell is separation from God, rather than a firey eternal torture in the lake of fire. For them, the firey eternal torture in a lake of fire is picturesque language that is not to be taken literally, any more than we take literally the “pearly gates” and “streets paved with gold” found in heaven. (Revelation 21:21). “Firey hell” and “pearly gates” are both picturesque language.
The concept of fire and hell comes from images of the valley of Gehenna/Hinnom. Wicked King Ahaz burned his children in the valley of Hinnom (2 Chronicles 28:3) The Greek word for hell is “gehenna” and it means the Valley of Hinnom. This valley was and is located southwest of Jerusalem and near to the city.
From my point of view, Advent 2 is NOT the Sunday to focus about how to interpret the Bible’s teaching about “burning in the fires of hell.”
-So, with many other exhortations, he proclaimed the good news to the people.We often chuckle to ourselves when we read these words, because these words don’t feel like good news, from our point of view. But judgment is good news. Separation of the good from the bad is good news. Meanwhile, we remember that we as human beings are never the judges. It is Christ who is the judge and not we human beings. We forget this fact of faith so quickly. God is the judge; we are not.
Please read the sermon:
What Shall We Do? Luke 3:7-18
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