John said to the crowds that came out to be baptized by him, 'You brood of vipers! Who warned
you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruits worthy of repentance. Do not begin to say to
yourselves, "We have Abraham as our ancestor"; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to
raise up children to Abraham. Even now the axe is lying at the root of the trees; every tree
therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.'
And the crowds asked him, 'What then should we do?' In reply he said to them, 'Whoever has two
coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise.' 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.' 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.'
As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning
John, whether he might be the Messiah, John answered all of them by saying, 'I baptize you with
water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his
sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 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
So, with many other exhortations, he proclaimed the good news to the people.
Encountering John the Baptist must have been an uncomfortable experience – his warning of the
need for repentance and of the dire consequences of not repenting. It was not sufficient to feel
sadness for what they had done in the past, they must show that they were following a different
path by the way they lived. In reply to questions from the crowd they are told important things
about a life pleasing to God. They must be compassionate, sharing what they have with those in
need. They must act fairly and if they have power, they must not exploit others. John had become famous by his preaching. He might well have become proud, but he did not.
He pointed away from himself and encouraged people to look out for the coming of the special
one whom God would send. The emphasis in preaching at the present time is inclusiveness – everyone is welcome in our churches. But that must not obscure the necessity for high standards among Christians. We do not by our actions earn our status in God's sight, but we do our best to live in ways pleasing to God because we are accepted by God. The values of compassion and justice are important for us too. We show our compassion when we try to meet the needs of the disadvantaged and we do what we can to promote justice in this country and around the world. John's humility reminds us that we should acknowledge what others have done for us by their teaching and example; and what God has done for us by the guidance and strength of his Spirit.
May the mind of Christ my Saviour Live in me from day to day, By his love and power controlling All I do and say.
May the Word of God dwell richly In my heart from hour to hour, So that all may see I triumph Only through His power. Hymns and psalms 739 v.1and 2