John the Baptist, one of the last prophets to come on the scene before Jesus’ arrival, proclaimed and encouraged a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. Yet, when the crowds came he shamed them. Why? Our clue is in his reference to Abraham. Apparently, the crowds he scolded were relying on their blood, their ancestry, and their inheritance through Abraham to receive God’s blessings. But John knew it was not enough to do nothing and hope for everything. When Jesus was baptized, the heavens opened and the Holy Spirit descended like a dove. The rending of the heavens was a symbol of the rending of the barrier that separated humanity from God. It was the beginning of God’s kingdom here on earth. And the bringing about of God’s kingdom on earth depends on the lives, words, thoughts, and actions of people.
People can spend far too much time worrying about what they must do to inherit eternal life. Salvation is already ours. Our time might be better spent figuring out how to bring God’s kingdom to life here on earth. Every time we feed a hungry soul, visit one who is isolated, celebrate a widower’s birthday, give money to charity, reduce, reuse, and recycle, we are bringing about God’s kingdom on earth. God’s kingdom is not an otherworldly, unreachable place. This is God’s kingdom. Right here. Right now. John’s reprimand was for those seeking a quick fix to the world’s problems, a Messiah who would magically make everything right. John knew, as did Jesus, that the world is made well slowly, one right move at a time.
In the fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was ruler of Galilee, and his brother Philip ruler of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias ruler of Abilene, during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness. He went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, as it is written in the book of the words of the prophet Isaiah, “The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth; and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.’” 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 ax 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 unquenchable fire.” So, with many other exhortations, he proclaimed the good news to the people. But Herod the ruler, who had been rebuked by him because of Herodias, his brother’s wife, and because of all the evil things that Herod had done, added to them all by shutting up John in prison.
Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”