In the fifteenth year of the rule of Caesar Tiberius—it was while Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea; Herod, ruler of Galilee; his brother Philip, ruler of Iturea and Trachonitis; Lysanias, ruler of Abilene; during the Chief-Priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas—John, Zachariah's son, out in the desert at the time, received a message from God. He went all through the country around the Jordan River preaching a baptism of life-change leading to forgiveness of sins, as described in the words of Isaiah the prophet:
Thunder in the desert!
"Prepare God's arrival!
Make the road smooth and straight!
Every ditch will be filled in,
Every bump smoothed out,
The detours straightened out,
All the ruts paved over.
Everyone will be there to see
The parade of God's salvation."
When crowds of people came out for baptism because it was the popular thing to do, John exploded: "Brood of snakes! What do you think you're doing slithering down here to the river? Do you think a little water on your snakeskins is going to deflect God's judgment? It's your life that must change, not your skin. And don't think you can pull rank by claiming Abraham as 'father.' Being a child of Abraham is neither here nor there—children of Abraham are a dime a dozen. God can make children from stones if he wants. What counts is your life. Is it green and blossoming? Because if it's deadwood, it goes on the fire."
The crowd asked him, "Then what are we supposed to do?"
"If you have two coats, give one away," he said. "Do the same with your food."
Tax men also came to be baptized and said, "Teacher, what should we do?"
He told them, "No more extortion—collect only what is required by law."
Soldiers asked him, "And what should we do?"
He told them, "No shakedowns, no blackmail—and be content with your rations."
I love the line, “Do you think a little water on your snakeskins is going to deflect God’s judgment?” That’s just a good and fun turn of phrase. This is another reason why I so enjoy doing my devotional reading in The Message. These little phrases where Peterson brings out the humor or the edge of what is happening in the text. Too often it gets lost in our more literal translations.
But, the heart of this passage is significant.
My good friend Todd is always saying, “Acta Non Verba,” which means, “actions not words.”
We live in a weird age where people use words and make claims about all kinds of things. Our words are ever present. So many post all their words on social media.
All the words. None of the words matter. What you say has little value. How you live has great value.
For the follower of Jesus this has even more significance. Why? Because we bear the name of Jesus, when people look at us they expect to see some glimpse of Jesus.
How we live matters.
Professions of faith mean little to me. We can say that we have prayed the “sinner’s prayer” and if our lives are not changed then what does that mean?
In a conversation today I was reminded of how everything is tied so tightly together. Evangelism, discipleship, service, outreach, it’s all together. We do all these things at the same time as we follow Jesus. When Ethan was born our pastor and close friend told us that we now had the responsibility to preach the gospel to our son everyday for the rest of our lives. We must never stop. Even upon “profession of faith.” Why? Because all of who are is to be the proclamation of excellencies of Jesus.
John, here is inviting people to live life differently. He is inviting them into a life of faith that is centered on love of God through a love of neighbor. This kind of life demands much faith. For us to set aside our egos long enough to stop thinking about ourselves requires a divine intervention. It demands the Spirit of God to do what the Spirit of God does.
How much of my faith is words? How much of my faith is lived life? I’m praying this afternoon for more of the lived life and less of the empty words. I’m praying that God will continue this work in me to shape me into one who lives the gospel in word and deed, trusting not myself but trusting in the faithfulness that is Christ’s.