Today’s passage: Luke 3:7-18
Welcome to Luke. The first mention of the gospel comes as the coda to a passage of John the Baptist’s preaching: “So with many other exhortations he preached the gospel to the people” (18). His preaching, however, is hardly a message of comfort and consolation. He calls his audience a “brood of vipers,” (7) tells them that the axe is at the root of the trees (9), ready to cut down those that don’t bear fruit, and warns that the coming Messiah will separate the wheat from the chaff and burn up the chaff (17). Good news, judgment is at hand! I come away from the passage wondering where there is room for grace in John’s message, which appears to be that you’d better measure up or face God’s wrath.
John lays out the criteria for “bearing good fruit” in vv.10-14: share your surplus (e.g. food, clothing) with others who need it, don’t take more than your duties require you to, and be content with what you have. I could see how this would be good news to those in his audience who’ve been exploited or suffer in poverty. They’re about to see equity, mercy, generosity! You know, because God is going to pour out his wrath by the gallons on those who don’t show some kindness to the impoverished.
Verse 3, though, suggests to me a hint of where the “good news” in John’s harsh message might be. It says that he preached “a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” Here is the good news: by all rights you deserve to be judged for your evil, when all you offer to God’s universe is snake venom and nasty fruit and worthless chaff. But if you repent and turn away from your past sins, God in his generosity will forgive you for them! God has given you a chance to be pardoned: not because you can earn your forgiveness, but because he offers it freely to those who bear the fruits of contrition. There’s at least a hint that John’s message may be compatible with grace.
And with that it’s time for some very special chocolate:
Today’s chocolate comes as a contribution from my friend Jenny in Portland. It’s from a local chocolatier, Moonstruck, and it is gluten-free, non-GMO, and tasty. Thanks, Jenny! Your delicious gift has saved me from another day of sea salt chocolate
From Moonstruck’s website:
Q: Do you use fair trade chocolate?
A: Moonstruck Chocolatier strongly condemns slavery and abusive child labor and, as a matter of policy, does not utilize cocoa farmed by such means. We support international efforts to eliminate such labor practices and work only with vendors that confirm no slavery and/or abusive child labor was utilized for the harvesting of cocoa. While we, and our vendors, support fair trade initiatives, our chocolate is not certified as “fair trade.” However, we remain committed to ensuring the chocolate our customers enjoy in no way results from abusive labor practices.