Chapter # 3 Paragraph # 2 Study # 4
February 26, 2006
8 Bring forth therefore fruits worthy of repentance, and begin not to say within yourselves, We have Abraham to our father: for I say unto you, That God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham.
9 And now also the axe is laid unto the root of the trees: every tree therefore which bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire.
1901 ASV Translation:
8 Bring forth therefore fruits worthy of repentance, and begin not to say within yourselves, We have Abraham to our father: for I say unto you, that God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham.
9 And even now the axe also lieth at the root of the trees: every tree therefore that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire.
- I. The Declaration of God's "Ability".
- A. John's task was enormous: he was supposed to "prepare a people for the Lord" who were immersed in a very long standing "misunderstanding" of the Promise of God.
- 1. When the words of God have been "in place" for centuries, they have also been subject to the "interpretations of men" who have many reasons for trying to "explain" what God "meant".
- 2. Perhaps the greatest single issue for all "interpretation" is the one which grapples with the "why" of the words. Why did God say what He said? The closer this "why" question gets to the roots of God's purposes, the more critical is the "interpretation". [Purposes are layered with methodological "purposes" stacked upon one another to accomplish certain ends, but beneath the entire stack there exists one ultimate purpose. For instance, a person's "purpose" for sending another to the store to buy a carton of milk is invariably multi-layered. He may be seeking to replace a carton of spoiled milk, or he may be seeking to get something he does not have. In either case, he does not send for milk only to have it sitting in his refrigerator. He sends for milk to have it to use for "drink", or, perhaps, because he has a recipe that calls for it in some "food". But even that "purpose" is not at the root: the root is more involved with providing the body with nourishment. But, even "nourishment" is not the most fundamental "root"; there is a more fundamental issue than that: "life" itself. Thus, I claim that "purposes" are layered. And, to throw the entire issue of sending another to the store for milk into another realm altogether is the fact that the "purpose" may have nothing to do with having milk in the refrigerator: it may be to get the person being "sent to the store" out of the house for a season for some reason. Thus, purposes are often hidden and almost always layered.]
- 3. When we look into the New Testament theology of Paul regarding the purpose of the words of God in the Law, we find one startling fact: he did not believe for an instant that the Law had been given by God to regulate human behavior so that men could be "justified by works of the Law" (Romans 3:20 and Galatians 2:16). But, this was the majority view in the days of John the Baptizer.
- 4. John came on the scene by the working of God to be a "forerunner" to His Christ. He was divinely named "John" because an "introduction to Grace" was absolutely essential to "prepare a people for the coming Lord". Therefore, his message had to be a double challenge to his audience. On the one hand, it had to challenge the "old, entrenched, mindset" of humanity's ability to achieve the righteousness of God in the daily affairs of living. On the other hand, it had to set forth a "new, better, understanding of God's methods of addressing sin's inroads into humanity".
- B. John's approach to his task.
- 1. On the one hand, he established the inability of man to live righteously by declaring that "man" had been turned into a "viper"...one whose most fundamental methodology of life is to take life from other creatures.
- 2. On the other hand, he re-introduced the surpassing ability of God to provide life for man so that he might be a conduit of life rather than an instrument of death.
- C. John's message regarding God's "abilities".
- 1. First, there was the message about the dangerous reality of Justice: the wrath is coming upon all snakes.
- a. Coupled to this reality is a second reality: no "snake" will find a safe haven in "theology".
- 1) There is an "absolute" necessity for regeneration. Jesus emphatically declared that no one would see or enter the Kingdom of God without it (John 3), and there is no "point" to the doctrine of regeneration if it is not really necessary.
- 2) There is no safety in any theological haven that does not bring a person to God for regeneration.
- 3) There is no safety even in a theological haven that "rests" upon the promises of God to another: God means what He says; both to "others" as well as to "His primary audience" (the individual who is hearing His words), but what He says to "others" is said to "others" and does not "automatically apply" to any particular "individual" who is hearing from Him.
- a) What God promised to Abraham, He will fulfill -- even if He has to turn stones into "children". John posited this possibility, not as even a remote reality, but as a statement of two things: God's absolute integrity to those who embrace His promise; and His absolute refusal to permit the Snake to gain a foothold in His Kingdom (by the introduction of "snakes" through any means).
- b) But what God promised to Abraham, He will not fulfill through the use of men who resist the necessity for regeneration. Those "snakes" who refuse to accept their "snakiness" will find the wrath coming upon them to the uttermost.
- c) On the current scene, John very likely would have said, "Do not begin to say to yourselves that 'I have Jesus as my Savior'." It is not that Jesus does not save those who come to Him, but it is that Jesus does not save those whose coming to Him is not for regeneration, but only for fire insurance. There is a very great deal of difference between coming to Jesus for fire insurance (escape from the wrath to come) and coming to Jesus to be changed from a "snake" into a "man". No one will be "forgiven" who seeks only to escape the consequences of his sins and not the cause of his sins.
- b. In tandem with this reality is its "proximity": the axe is already laid at the root of the trees.
- 2. Second, there was the message of God's enormous willingness and ability to transform snakes into men.
- a. Those who come to God by way of repentance find Him willing to "forgive".
- b. Those who come to God by way of repentance find Him willing to "transform".
- c. These are a complete package; they cannot be "split off from one another".
- 1) Forgiveness without transformation is permission for snakes to enter into the Kingdom--and, thus, to give the Snake a foothold in the Eternal Realm.
- 2) Transformation without forgiveness is impossible. God only transforms those with whom He can regularly "relate" in peace. Forgiveness stops the enmity and the warfare and allows the inter-personal, peaceful, interaction of transformation.