Undoubtly, we cannot live without the Lord’s grace and loving kindness for life is indeed a struggle. Some of our friends and family have passed away because of COVID-19 virus. I believe their struggle in following the Lord were blessed by Him but He determined that they returned to the bosom of the heavenly Father.
What should we do while we are still given the opportunity to live by God? John the Baptist went throughout the Jordan exclaiming, “as it is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet, saying: The voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord; Make His paths straight. Every valley shall be filled. And every mountain and hill brought low; the crooked places shall be made straight. And the rough ways smooth; and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.’…Therefore bear fruits worthy of repentance,…And even now the axe 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. His winnowing fan is in His hand, and He will thoroughly clean out His threshing floor, and gather the wheat into His barn; but the chaff He will burn with unquenchable fire.” (Luke 3: 4-6, 8a, 9, 17).
The verses above conclude that we are faced with two different paths:
- Eternal death
If a tree does not bear fruit, it is ready to be cut down and thrown into the fire like chaff burnt in fire à eternal death is awaiting them.
- Eternal life
If a tree bears good fruit, the fruit is like wheat gathered in His barn à eternal salvation is provided.
What should we do to receive eternal salvation? John the Baptist emphasized the importance of repentance (metanoia = change of mind). For example: You were once a corruptor but if you now realize that corruption is wrong, you need to repent (change your mind) and then make a commitment not to do it anymore. So, it is not enough only to change your mind (repent) but also to be followed by an action (fruit of repentance). Likewise, when listening to the Word of God, faith will grow in our mind and heart, but it must be followed by acts of faith. When you are rebuked by the Word of God, don’t just cry and say sorry then leave the church to commit the same sin again.
When do mostly people realize that repentance is related to salvation? It is, sadly, when they know they are about to die. The proof is, being in a near-death situation due to accidents or natural disasters or grievous illness on the hospital’s bed, everyone, including God's children, is afraid to die especially when there is still an unresolved problem (bitterness, hatred, etc.).
How do most people deal with death? Pay attention to the lyric of a song often played on TV when a calamitiy or natural disaster strikes: If I knew when my end came, I would beg, “God please extend my life.” If I knew when my time came, I would ask, “God, don't take my life.” If I knew Your angel were picking me up, I would ask You to let me repent first. I’m scared of all my sins. I’m scared of the sins that haunt me. Forgive all my sins, forgive me. I cry and come to You to repent. I'm a man who is afraid of hell but don't deserve Heaven either.
Does this song’s lyric also apply to God's children in facing death? Are you ready to face death? There are some characters in the Bible who were ready to embrace death:
- Simeon who was filled with the Holy Spirit and had the fruit of repentance: righteous and devout (Luke 2:25). Wasn't John the Baptist sent to preach the news of repentance and Jesus who baptized with the Holy Spirit (Luke 3:16)?
What was Simeon's response when (baby) Jesus was taken to the Temple? He took Him up in his arms and blessed God and said, “Lord, now You are letting Your servant depart in peace, according to Your word; For my eyes have seen Your salvation…” (Luke 2: 28-30).
We can see that Simeon was not afraid to welcome death because he believed he had seen the salvation.
- The Apostle Paul firmly said,"For I know that this will turn out for my deliverance through your prayer and the supply of the Spirit of Jesus Christ,. For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is " (Philippians 1: 19,21)
Obviously, we don't need to know when we will die. What is important is that as long as we live, we should live for Christ. That’s why we need to repent and bear the fruit of repentance.
- Stephen was not afraid of being stoned to death; instead, he said, “Look! I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God! … Lord, do not charge them with this sin.” (Acts 7: 56,60)
John the Baptist said, “and do not begin 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.” (Luke 3: 8b)
It turns out that the Jews were incredibly arrogant. They thought they were the descendants of Abraham who had never been slaves to anyone. In fact, they had been freed from the slaves of sin (John 8:32-34). In other words, the bloodline of Abraham which they were proud of did not automatically guarantee salvation because God could make "stones" to be the descendants of Abraham.
Application: We must not boast of our high status, position, seniority in a church organization, and mock inexperienced servants of God. Remember, pride cannot guarantee salvation!
From the statement of John the Baptist, it can be concluded that the fruit of repentance are:
- Caring in giving (v. 11).
"He answered and said to them, “He who has two tunics, let him give to him who has none; and he who has food, let him do likewise."
Don't be a stingy person who only focuses on our own interests!
- Using authority in a fair manner (vv. 12-13).
"Then tax collectors also came to be baptized, and said to him, “Teacher, what shall we do? And he said to them, “Collect no more than what is appointed for you.”
When we have the authority, we must use it fairly wherever we are – at home, work, ministry etc. It applies to any relationships: husband-wife, parents-children, master-servant, leader-follower and so on. Let’s give respect to others’ respective positions.
- Giving thanks for the blessings God gives (v. 14).
"Likewise the soldiers asked him, saying, “And what shall we do?” So he said to them, “Do not intimidate anyone or accuse falsely, and be content with your wages.”
We must learn to be grateful for whatever blessings we receive. Never extort money from anyone just to be rich and get people’s acknowledgment. Honestly speaking, men naturally tend to seek praises and adoration forgetting the fact that the world’s wealth is never enough to satisfy us. Only in Jesus we find true contentment.
- Not abusing one’s power by doing evil to those who rebuke him (vv. 19-20).
"But Herod the tetrarch, being rebuked by him concerning Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, and for all the evils which Herod had done, also added this, above all, that he shut John up in prison."
When someone is narrow-minded and refuses to repent, he will continue committing evil even after being reprimanded. As a proof, being rebuked over his adultery, Herod instructed that John had to be beheaded (Mark 6: 17-18,27).
Even though we are in power, we must have courage to admit our mistakes when rebuked by God’s Word, and then repent! Let’s contemplate: while we are diligently ministering the Lord at church, do we in fact, behave like King Herod? Think carefully about our salvation!
Introspection: What are our shortcomings and weaknesses? We should humbly receive warnings and repent; do not give excuses to keep them.
Let us bear the fruit of repentance so that we can enter the salvation of eternal life. For that, our mindset must be renewed and followed by action as the fruit of repentance. When His Word works in us and make our faith grow then we do the work of faith, we will surely long for the New Jerusalem. But if we do not have such desire, ask the Holy Spirit to help us bear tangible fruit of repentance. Thus, whenever God determines to call us back to Him, we are ready and confident that eternal life in the New Jerusalem is awaiting us. Amen.