Like prophets in the Old Testament, John the Baptist didn’t just teach his God-given message, he lived it. He’s famously known for his wild-man behavior, living in the desert wilderness, wearing camel’s hair for clothes, and eating locusts and honey. To the Romans and even the “normal” Jews, this guy was a wild man. Crazy behavior with an even crazier message. But John the Baptist wasn’t some guy missing from the local circus. He was living and teaching the message that God had given him. John the Baptist was called to bring the message of repentance through Jesus, and he illustrated that life by literally turning away and departing from the “normal” life of his wicked generation.
In verse 3, we see that John began preaching that people should be baptized to show that they had repented of their sins and turned to God to be forgiven. John’s call to repentance and baptism gave people an outward expression of internal spiritual cleansing. Notice John never taught that the baptism itself is what made them spiritually clean. It was meant as an action taken in response to what God had already done in their lives.
I want to take just a moment and encourage you – if you haven’t taken that step of faith yet, to be baptized. That same message that John preached to those in his day, is the same for us today. We’re called to be baptized in response to our repentant heart and God’s forgiveness. The internal spiritual cleansing that God has done in your life, presents you with the opportunity to declare that publicly.
John the Baptist gives this stern warning to the crowds coming to be baptized by him when he says, “You brood of snakes! Who warned you to flee the coming wrath? Prove by the way you live that you have repented of your sins and turned to God” in Luke 3 verses 7-8. You see the large crowd of people had come to be baptized because they believed they were saved through their ancestry. John addresses this thought process when he says, “Don’t just say to each other, ‘we’re safe, for we are descendants of Abraham.’” Others came to be baptized thinking that the act itself would save them. There was no repentance for their sins. The crowds had come, ignoring his message of repentance, and turning to God, in hopes of an act earning them their salvation.
The people in the crowd were shocked at this statement and asked what they should do in response to his message. John begins by addressing the crowd saying to give to the poor and to share food with those who are hungry. At first, it seems that John the Baptist is teaching them that works are what you must have to prove repentance, but he was challenging the people to prove a devotion to God. This type of devotion goes beyond just the internal, and is expressed through practical acts of kindness, consideration, and sacrifice, all motivated by a changed heart. The good works couldn’t save them but were a response to God’s salvation and evidence they were truly following God. John’s call to repentance came with a command to bear fruit with a truly repentant heart.
Today you and I are left with the same challenge that John preached to the crowd that day – to be baptized with a repentant heart and to live a life that lives it out practically. So how do we do it? How do we produce fruit from the heart change that we’ve experienced? Jesus says at the end of Matthew 22 that "the first and greatest commandment is to Love the Lord our God, and a second is like it – to love your neighbor as yourself."
If we’re going to live out the challenge that John the Baptist gave – to truly live a repentant life, we must love our neighbors as ourselves. We do that by making our own 'self-seeking' the measure of our 'self-giving'. We naturally are self-seeking in our motives. Without even thinking, we are constantly looking to advance ourselves in the eyes of others. But the challenge we’re left with today is to allow God to transform our internal desires. The same natural intentions we have to be self-seeking are to be used for self-giving.
We can’t do it alone. We need a helper, and that’s why I’m thankful for John’s words in verse 16, “I baptize you with water, but someone is coming soon who is greater than I am…He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire”. You and I have been given the help of the Holy Spirit to look beyond ourselves. The same Spirit that raised Christ from the dead is empowering us to love others the same way we love ourselves. So today, find ways that you can love your neighbor as you love yourself. Whether that’s at work, school, or home. You’ve been called to prove your heart of repentance through the practical love that you show.