"Telling it like it is"
1. The Gospel of Luke is the biography of Jesus Christ. But before Jesus stepped on
the public stage God sent John the Baptist to "warm-up the crowds" and prepare
the way for the Lord. Its a very hot warm-up! Listen and look at Luke 3:7-14.
2. Luke 3:7-14
John said to the crowds coming out to be baptized by him, "You brood of vipers!
Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce fruit in keeping with repentance.
And do not begin to say to yourselves, 'We have Abraham as our father.' For I tell you
that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. The ax is already at the
root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and
thrown into the fire."
"What should we do then?" the crowd asked.
John answered, "The man with two tunics should share with him who has none, and
the one who has food should do the same."
Tax collectors also came to be baptized. "Teacher," they asked, "what
should we do?"
"Don't collect any more than you are required to," he told them.
Then some soldiers asked him, "And what should we do?" He replied,
"Don't extort money and don't accuse people falsely--be content with your pay."
3. John was the kind of public speaker you couldnt miss. In todays
terms, think of surfing through sixty cable channels* Most channels dont
get two seconds of your attention.
John: Hey! (Pastor looks up, startled)
John: Boring! Nobody cares! Say whats really important!
(Ignoring John) Anyway, youre surfing the channels and you come
across this really interesting character who grabs your attention.
John: "You brood of snakes!) - - - - drama continues
according to script.
4. John the Baptist - - - a hard act to follow! Its hard for
me to know what to say next. But, I guess thats just the point. The only one who
could follow him and out do him was Jesus himself.
5. The prophet named "John the Baptist" spoke directly and
I. Attention-getter: Luke 3:7
"Youre a bunch of snakes!"
1. Every speech teacher will tell you that is good to begin with an attention-getter.
If you dont get your audience with the introduction, you may never have another
chance. First impressions are important.
2. John got the attention of most people just from the way he looked and talked, but he
also had a stunning introduction.
The crowd came to hear him. They wanted to be baptized.
John stood up and shouted his opening line: "You brood of vipers!"
(Wouldnt that be a great opening line for membership seminars at Wooddale
3. Vipers are snakes. The type John was talking about lived out in the desert, were
venomous and most people didnt like them. When fires swept through the brush of the
desert, snakes somehow sensed the dangers coming and came out from under the rocks in
large numbers and tried to escape.
4. John was a preacher against sin and for repentance. He warned against coming
judgment. He called them a brood of vipers because he likened them to snakes trying to
save their lives. In other words, the real reason people came to John was not because they
were truly repentant but because they were scared of divine judgment.
5. Lets put ourselves into the story.
Imagine that you found out tomorrow that you had an untreatable virus or bacteria
that will kill you before the end of the week. Do you think that you might be more
open to God and more repentant of sin than you would otherwise be?
Suppose a meteor is going to hit the earth, a nuclear warhead is on the way to where
you live, or an earthquake or tornado starts ripping your home apart. Would you fall
to your knees and be open to whatever God wants you to do?
6. John would probably look at us and say the same words: "You bunch of
Now, since I see myself as one of the snakes in this story, I would like to come to a
brief defense of snakehood.
It does not seem bad to me that we turn to God in our times of greatest desperation. I
think it is good that people want to repent before they die. But, it is certainly later
than it should be. I have to agree with John that we should repent before the desert fires
start burning up where we live.
7. John was the prophet of God saying that everyone who wants to quit sin and turn to
God should do so sooner not later, and with a desire for God that is greater than the fear
"You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath?"
8. Once John got their attention, he moved into his main point.
II. Main point: Luke 3:8
"Produce fruit in keeping with your repentance."
1. Good speeches often can be summarized in a single sentence. Its the
"one big idea" the speaker is trying to communicate. John was masterful and
clear. The main point was for his listeners to "produce fruit in keeping with your
2. In other words, if you say you want to quit sin and live for God, do something to
prove it. Words are important but words that are not backed-up with deeds usually
arent worth anything.
3. The same truth is taught later in the New Testament by Jesus brother who wrote
in James 2:26 that "faith without deeds is dead."
4. Neither John nor the rest of the Bible are saying that God accepts us on the basis
of what we do. The Bibles clear teaching is that nothing we could ever do is
good enough to win the favor of a righteous and holy God. God loves us and forgives us and
blesses us on the basis of his goodness, nor ours. God is merciful and gracious.
However, those who sincerely turn to God will prove their words by their behavior. Actions
will follow attitudes. Faith will produce deeds. Repentance of sin will mean that we quit
5. The comparison John uses is fruit from a tree. If its an apple tree it
will grow apples. If its a fig tree it will grow figs.
The same is true for people. Those who turn to God, confess and repent sin, claim
Gods righteousness, will do good things.
6. Everyone is supposed to get this main point and it should be enough. Except some of
us need to hear specifics before we really understand.
John was a prophet who wasnt afraid to be specific. He looked people in the eye,
called them by name, identified their sins, and told them if they mean business with God -
- this is what they should do.
III. Specifics: Luke 3:8-14
A. Save your excuses
1. John knew his audience well. There is an old communication axiom that says "an
amateur asks What should I say? but a professional asks Who is my
2. John knew his audience so well that he anticipated their first response to his main
point. He knew they would immediately offer an excuse.
3. Their excuse was that they were Jews, so they didnt have to prove their
repentance. They thought they were safe. John said: "do not begin to say to
yourselves, 'We have Abraham as our father." In other words, being born
Jewish is not enough - - a person must personally seek and know God. Repentance of sin and
right behavior is one-at-a-time, not a birth right.
4. It is interesting how common a similar excuse is today. There are many people
who assume they are safe from Gods judgment because of some denominational
background into which they are born. 90% of Minnesotans when asked about their religion
name a specific denomination in unprompted responses. There are a lot of people who assume
they are okay with God and going to heaven because they were born into some particular
church group. John said that is nonsense. Its an excuse.
5. In typical prophetic style he said: "For I tell you that out of these
stones God can raise up children for Abraham. The ax is already at the root of the trees,
and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the
Being very blunt, he was saying that anyone who didnt produce fruit consistent
with their claimed repentance and relationship to God would be chopped down like a tree
that didnt bear fruit.
Needless to say, John didnt like excuses.
6. By then he had everyones attention. His listeners were starting to take
this personally, which was exactly what he wanted.
One by one and all together they asked John "What should we do then?"
John didnt generalize. He picked people out of the crowd and told them what to
B. Share your possessions
1. His first answer went to a rich person. It was the person with two sets of
clothes and plenty to eat. John said, ""The man with two tunics should share
with him who has none, and the one who has food should do the same."
2. Very direct. Very blunt. Very specific. Dont be content with too much when
others have too little.
3. The story doesnt report what the person with extra clothes and food said, but
its not hard to guess. He probably said things like "I need two sets of
clothes. I need extra food. I earned what Ive got. Other people need to take care of
themselves - - if you provide for the poor theyll never learn to take care of
4. John doesnt even bother to listen to the arguments or excuses. He has no
tolerance for excuses. He figures that if this person is sincere and repents of sin,
hell share his possessions. If hes not sincere, theres no reason to
waste any more time on him. So, John moves on to the next people in the crowd.
C. Dont rip off others
1. There was a cluster of tax collectors. Almost everyone hated tax collectors.
They worked for the oppressive Roman government and they consistently over charged and
kept the excess for themselves. They had a reputation for being ruthless. If a poor person
owed $10 the tax collectors would charge $30 and pocket $20 for themselves - - - even if
it meant the poor people didnt have enough to feed their children.
2. John told them "Dont rip off other people. Stop over charging."
This cut right to profitability of tax collecting. He was asking something really
difficult for them to do. Yet, if they were sincere about quitting sin and doing right,
this was what was expected of them.
3. What would you do? If you are making a big profit by overcharging, would you be
willing to stop to prove you mean business with God? What if it cost you $100,000 a year
in profits? What if all your business colleagues think you were crazy for doing this? What
if a prophet of God said you are an insincere hypocrite if you dont stop ripping
4. John said: "Don't collect any more than you are required to."
D. Quit lying
1. Next John turned to a group of soldiers and said youre next!
The soldiers asked
"And what should we do?"
2. Soldiers were men with great power over the lives of others. It would be tough
for them to change. John didnt seem to care how hard the changes would be. He told
them to quit extorting money from people - - - which was pretty much the same advice he
gave to the tax collectors. And, he told them to quit lying about people.
3. Apparently the soldiers abused their power by accusing people of bad things they
didnt do. This way the soldiers could get bribes, put others down and build
themselves up. Lying was a control mechanism.
4. If they were sincere about getting rid of sin and right with God, they had to tell
the truth and treat other people right.
5. The same goes today. If John were here this morning he would tell us that if we
are going to claim we are Christians we need to treat the lives and reputations of others
with respect and truth. Dont gossip. Dont lie. Dont control other people
with false statements and half truths.
E. Be content with your pay
1. Then John really got personal. He said: "be content with your pay."
I guess the soldiers wanted more. They grumbled about their wages. They were unhappy
people because they didnt get more money.
2. I doubt they were well paid. Most Roman soldiers were drafted into the army.
They were forced to serve and were usually underpaid and overworked. In many ways they had
a legitimate gripe. John said, quit complaining, choose to be content with what you have.
3. These were not easy expectations. John did not preach an easy message nor an
easy religion. While he never said that changed behavior could or would win the favor of
God, he taught that sincere repentance and turning toward God will always bring changed
behavior in a persons life.
1. What is in this Bible story for us? What is the message for today? What would John
say if he showed up to speak to our crowd this morning?
2. Johns main point would not change: Produce fruit in keeping with your
3. Ill tell you honestly that I dont feel very comfortable with Johns
style. I dont like people in my face and I dont like getting into the face
of others. I am more comfortable with a less direct and softer approach. I prefer
However, I think we all need to honestly listen to what he had to say. After all, John
was a prophet speaking for God.
4. The message for us is that we need to admit and repent of sin if we really want
Jesus Christ in our lives. The message is that if we are sincere, our behavior will
5. Now listen carefully. The changes in our lives that prove we are sincere with
God are still mostly about avoiding excuses, money and the way we treat other people.
6. I dont think Im capable of being as direct and blunt as John, but
Ill give it my best try. Do you want to get rid of sin? Will you choose to
change the way you handle possessions and money to ways that please God? Will you truly
reflect Gods standards in the way you treat people who are poor, people who have
needs, people who have less than you have?
7. Personally, I dont identify with John the prophet in this story. I
identify with the people he was talking to.
My response is that I want to hear what God has to say to me. I want to admit
when Im wrong. I truly want to do what is right.
8. Prayer: "Lord, speak to my heart. Forgive my sins. Give me your help to do
what is right. Lord speak to us all. Hear our confessions. Accept our repentance. Help us
all to know and do what you want us to do. In Jesus name. Amen."
3/8/98 Wooddale Church. ©Copyright, Leith Anderson, 1998.