John storms out of the desert, preaching the messianic deliverance to all mankind.
And how will Messiah do this, one might ask…..
Improve people’s self-esteem?
No – John calls them “a brood of vipers.”
Preach class struggle?
No – John was an equal-opportunity critic.
Tell people their nation is exceptional above all others?
No – John says big deal, out of these stones God could raise Americans (did I just say that?).
Tell people they are basically good and urge them to tweak their habits?
No – see “brood of vipers.”
Tell them it’s all society’s fault, and that society must save them?
No – the two key words he uses are “repentance” and “forgiveness.” Specifically, when individuals repent, God forgives. And then he gets down to the somewhat counterintuitive Plan for Improving Society, which is really just a natural result of God's radical, sacrificial plan for transforming his enemies into his friends…..
“Produce fruit in keeping with repentance.”
What kind of fruit are you talking about, John?
Well, for example…..
If you have two coats, give one to someone without any.
If you have food, give some to a starving person.
And if you work in the government, when you say “I’m Here To Help,” you should mean it. You shouldn’t collect more taxes than necessary. You shouldn’t use your nightclub to extort money out of the good citizens. Government employees, hear this: serve the people, don’t oppress them.
Wow, that’s asking a lot, John. That doesn’t come naturally. How are we supposed to do all that? “One who is more powerful than I will come, one whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.”
Oh, we get it. We repent, God forgives, and empowered by the Spirit we choose to love and serve our fellow man and woman. Sounds like a plan, John – bring it on.
I suppose to the Wise of this world, it sounds simplistic. But think - what if most of humanity said "yes" to John. What if the wealthy really helped the poor; what if the money handlers weren't greedy; what if there were no injust wars and police everywhere really did protect and serve. We would say that the Kingdom of God was among us. Even now, 20 difficult centuries later, we must admit that many people have done those things and the world is better for it. And finally we must conclude that the good that hasn't happened in this world’s Kingdom, we trust will happen in the Next. And with it, the "judgement to come."
So that's John's message for this viper: repent, and be forgiven. Then produce fruit in keeping with repentance.