Chapter # 3 Paragraph # 2 Study # 3
Thesis: There is a huge danger in a "fall back theological position" that allows one enough wiggle room to enable a rejection of the necessity of coming to God, seeking redemption as a "snake".
Introduction: In our studies of Luke's presentation of John as the forerunner of the Christ, we have seen one issue that stands out above all others: the issue of how God can offer forgiveness without being guilty of stripping Justice of its essence. In the larger historical setting, we have seen that a pattern has emerged: the "summons to life" precedes the explanation of how it will be achieved. Promise was first given to Abraham. However, the method of Promise was so poorly understood that the Law was brought in alongside to bring a very key truth into play as a part of the methodology of Promise: the truth of man's absolute incapacity to obtain the fruits of Promise apart from God's Grace. Then, once Law had produced its intended impact, Jesus was introduced as the method of Grace: Justice was not to be stripped of its essence; it was to be fulfilled to the uttermost so that forgiveness could be extended without destroying the foundations of Righteousness.
John, as the forerunner to Jesus, was uniquely positioned in history. He was both a preacher of the real meaning of the Law -- he identified man as essentially a snake who lives each day by means of his fangs (looking backwards from his historical vantage point) -- and a preacher of the truth of God's Grace -- he identified Jesus as the complete solution to the "snakiness" of man (looking forward from his historical vantage point). In the Law there is no hope for snakes, but in Jesus there is no reason for despair.
However, "preaching" is always problematical. The hearers are often so caught up in their own historical setting that getting them to see Truth with clarity is a very great difficulty. John was not free from this "problem". The people who went out to be baptized by him were people who had all kinds of built-in resistance to his double-reference preaching. When he would proclaim the necessity of allowing the Law to create the proper understanding for men to be able to be redeemed, he would run smack into resistance (men accept their "snakiness" with great reluctance). And, when he would proclaim the coming of an Effective Redeemer, he would run smack into the "baggage" of a theological system that rejected "forgiveness on the basis of repentance" in favor of a doctrine of "forgiveness on the basis of human self-qualification".
Thus, it is into this difficulty that we wade this morning. We are going to see how John addressed his audience when they were willing to cling to their "theology of self-help" in order to escape John's scenario of "wrath to come upon the offspring of snakes".
February 19, 2006
- I. The People John Addressed.
- A. On the one hand, they are identified as "coming to be baptized by him."
- B. On the other hand, they are identified as being willing to "claim Abraham as 'father'."
- II. The "Contradiction" in the Hearts of John's Audience.
- A. On the one hand, in the face of John's charge that they were essentially snakes, they wanted to argue that they were "safe" as the seed, not of a snake, but of Abraham.
- B. On the other hand, in the face of the coming wrath, they were fleeing to a messenger whom they hoped had hope for them.
- C. The contradiction is obvious: they claimed to be "safe" while in head-long flight from "danger".
- III. The Message John Delivered to His "Conflicted" Audience.
- A. He demanded "fruit worthy of repentance."
- 1. This demand is immediately problematical: it seems to require of snakes a kind performance that is impossible to snakes.
- 2. But the "problem" is immediately resolved if we keep one thing in mind: fruit comes out of the lives of the repentant without compulsion.
- a. The "fruit" of repentance is produced by the repentant, but it is not of the repentant.
- 1) In the Isaiah text quoted in verses 4-6 there is a clear separation of the participants involved in repentance.
- a) On the human side, coming to God as a snake is the issue.
- i. This is no small matter.
- ii. It requires that the "snake" cease its frantic wriggling to escape from the God of wrath, and turn toward this God in appeal for "not-wrath".
- b) On the divine side, the transformation of the inner character is a charge which God has laid upon Himself by promise.
- i. This is no small matter either.
- ii. The promises of God involve four major "problem areas" that are presented as deeply embedded challenges to the activity of God (ravines, mountains, crooked ways, and rough places) that He only promises to address incrementally over time.
- 2) It is absolutely impossible for a person to come to God as a snake seeking forgiveness and go away without the capacity to bear the fruit of God's active, inner, activity.
- b. Thus, the "demand" that men bear the fruit of repentance is nothing more, or less, than the "demand" that they lay aside their "lip service mentality" and truly come to God as a snake seeking forgiveness.
- B. He warned that there was no safety in using God's promises to Abraham to avoid repentance.
- 1. This warning is also immediately problematical: everywhere in the Bible (even in the Gospel Paul preached -- see Romans 4 and Galatians 3:29) we are told that if Abraham is our father, we are as safe from the wrath of God as it is possible to be.
- 2. But, this problem also disappears as soon as we understand that John was not denying the safety that belongs to the seed of Abraham; he was merely denying that the "claim" of Abraham as 'father' would not be sufficient to save anyone who used it to attempt to bypass "repentance for the forgiveness of sins."
- a. His warning was "do not begin to claim in yourselves that you have Abraham as 'father' as a way to reject my message."
- b. His reasoning was two-fold.
- 1) On the one hand, no one who really had Abraham as a 'father' would still be a "snake" or be wriggling as fast as possible to escape the wrath that is inevitably coming.
- a) John was saying to them: You would not have come out here to hear me if you really had peace with the God of Wrath, so do not attempt to by-pass my Spirit-generated message that you are "snakes" in need of both "redemption" and "overhaul".
- b) No "former snake" (as Simeon, Anna, Zacharias, Mary, etc.) would have any problem whatsoever with John's message that men are "snakes", so the only people who would object were those who are "snakes" but do not wish to acknowledge that awful fact.
- 2) On the other hand, he was faced with the Isaiah 29:13 reality, which is the larger context of the Isaiah 40 message.
- a) John knew how deeply embedded is the tendency of man to give "lip-service" to truths that are not genuinely embraced. [Man is very much like a wet bar of soap: as soon as God seeks to take him in hand, he squirts out of that hand in order to escape by whatever means he can find ... and lip-service is the easiest method of self-deception that has ever been devised.]
- b) John warned his audience to forsake the "lip-service mentality" because there is no escape from the God of wrath in that practice.