Today’s passage can be read online here.
‘What should we do then?’ is a good question. We saw yesterday that God commands all of us to repent, to have a change of heart, so the question is appropriate. If we are to be changed, what does that change look like? The good news of the Kingdom is about a change in our relationship to God but it also has an effect on all our relationships. Since God is just, if we have a relationship with him we too should care about social justice. The crowd were instructed to care about the welfare of those with nothing. The tax collectors, a group despised more than any other on account of their corruption, greed and willingness to collaborate with the Romans, are instructed to act justly (John did not call for political revolution, he called for justice). For the soldiers, probably Jewish soldiers apparently, with plenty of opportunity to extort money, the instruction is to be content with their pay.
Jesus would later say; “I tell you, among those born of women there is no one greater than John”. It’s hardly surprising then that people started to ask if John was the Messiah. His answer could not have been clearer; “But one more powerful than I will come, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie”. John was saying; ‘the Messiah is so amazing, I’m not even good enough to untie his shoelaces’. David Guzik writes in Enduring Word Media; “The rabbis of Jesus’ day taught that a teacher might require just about anything of his followers except to have them take off his sandals. That was considered too humiliating to demand. Yet John said that he was not even worthy to do this for Jesus.” It’s a good picture for us, anyone serving in the Lord’s work should keep pointing towards Jesus, it’s all about him.
Was John ever tempted to avoid the tricky subject of Herod’s dodgy marriage to his sister in law? It would have been easy to rationalise being silent on the issue. ‘I’m doing an important job here, why stir up trouble?’ If he was tempted, he didn’t give in to it, he spoke out with great courage and integrity, he told the truth, even when it was an uncomfortable truth, even when it cost him his freedom and ultimately his life.
The Bible is a fascinating book; even people with no faith in God acknowledge it as interesting and something that has had a huge effect on society. The challenge for the believer is not whether or not we are fascinated but whether we are changed. It’s easy to read of John’s life and teaching and see it as appropriate for first century Israel. It is considerably more difficult to take the words to heart and be changed.
Lord we thank you that you have revealed to us the way we should live. Help us Lord to be changed by your word so that we act justly and speak out your truth courageously.