John the Baptist came on the scene declaring that the Kingdom of God was near. He preached a message of repentance and baptized those who confessed their sins. However, he had a different towards the Pharisees and Sadducees. He called them brood of vipers! He saw them as individuals who had false security in their state of spirituality! They should have been showing evidence of repentance by the fruit they produced rather than relying on their status or family history. It is easy to develop false security based on external factors but not have a close relationship with the Lord.
But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them, “Brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Therefore bear fruits worthy of repentance, and do not think to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I say to you that God is able to raise up children to Abraham from these stones. And even now the ax is laid to the root of the trees. Therefore every tree which does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Matthew 3:7-11
There are a couple of points that are worth pointing out in the above passage:
1. John the Baptist did not have a seeker-friendly message. He was not looking to add to the number of his followers nor did he desire to be impressive. He saw a group of religious people who were out of touch with the reality of their spiritual condition, and he called them out on it. This was important for two reasons. First of all, the religious leaders needed to know their true condition before a holy God and not be self-deceived by external factors or their religious titles. Secondly, others who observed this exchange needed to know that their spiritual leaders did not live a life worthy of their professed faith.
2. John told them that if they were truly repentant they would bear fruit worthy of repentance. Repentance should bring about a change in the life of those who claim to have repented. A repentant life will produce the good fruit of godliness. Furthermore, John’s statement is a reminder of how Jesus cursed a fig tree that did not bear fruit (See Matthew 21:18-19). A fig tree is created to bear figs. Similarly, the Pharisees and Sadducees were supposed to bear good fruit by living according to God’s precepts and leading others to the Lord. However, their lives did not reflect a changed heart or changed priority. They did not follow the rules they established for others. Instead, they wanted to look impressive with their prestige and influence and have others look up to them.
Many will consider themselves Christian because they prayed a prayer years ago. Or they think they are Christian because they belong to a particular denomination or church. However, Jesus and John the Baptist declared that change would be evident in the lives of those who have truly repented.
We all need to have a growing relationship with Jesus instead of becoming a cultural Christian. Evaluating people’s fruit is not judgmental, but the Lord gives us instructions to use fruitfulness as a tool to discern His true followers. We may take someone’s word for it initially, but, given enough time, we will recognize whether the person has a heart and desire to follow Jesus. This is also true in our lives. Others will evaluate the fruit of our lives to determine if we are who we profess to be.
I will continue with this subject in the next devotional.