Sometimes this translation of the Bible I’m using (New Century Version) cracks me up. Take this verse, for instance: “And John continued to preach the Good News, saying many other things to encourage the people.” Luke 3:18.
So, here are some of the things John said to “encourage” the crowd:
You are all snakes! Who warned you to run away from God’s coming punishment? Do the things that show you really have changed your hearts and lives. Don’t begin to say to yourselves, ‘Abraham is our father.’ I tell you that God could make children for Abraham from these rocks.The ax is now ready to cut down the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire. 3: 7-9
Now, that’s encouraging!
To be fair, other translations use the word exhort instead of encourage. The word exhort means to entreat, admonish, to “urge one to pursue some course of conduct.” (Vine’s) John was entreating people to change their lives, to repent.
What I found fascinating is that the crowd didn’t respond with anger or fear to John’s threats (John’s encouragement continued, too. He went on to say that Jesus would separate the wheat and the chaff, then “burn the chaff with a fire that cannot be put out.” vs. 17)
No: the crowd wanted to know what they could do to “produce fruit in keeping with repentance” (as verse 8 is translated in NIV)!
The people, the tax collectors, and the soldiers all asked, “What shall we do?”
They didn’t want to repent with lip service, they wanted to show a change in their lives. And John’s response to each required a monetary sacrifice:
- To the people: Share the shirt off your back and your food with someone in need
- To the tax collectors: Don’t take a little extra for yourself when you’re collecting taxes for Caesar (what? no “tax tips?” groan)
- To the soldiers: Don’t shake down people for money – and don’t lie about the people – be satisfied with your pay
These people were willing to repent in order to find life, and to do so in costly ways. Is our repentance merely remorse or shame? Do we seek ways to show the fruit of our repentance? If repentance doesn’t cost us, have we really repented?
Some encouraging questions to ponder.
Today’s Readings: Deuteronomy 15:1-17:7, Psalm 37:30-36, Proverbs 12:17-19, Luke 3:1-38. See About for what I’m up to with these daily posts.