Advent Readings Day 15
Reading: Luke 3:7-18
“‘What should we do then?’ the crowd asked. John answered, ‘Anyone who has two shirts should share with the one who has none, and anyone who has food should do the same.’ Even tax collectors 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.’” Luke 3:10 – 14
“So, what can we do to help?” That is a question that I get a lot. People hear about what we are doing and they are looking for a practical way to live out their faith in action. I love that question and seeing the things that God is doing in the hearts of people as they ask it.
People in Jesus’ day were wondering the same thing. They heard John teaching about repentance and baptism and the need to not rely on their father’s faith and heritage, but rather to come to true faith in God personally. So, they ask, “What does a repentant life look like in action?”
If we keep in mind that repentance literally means to turn 180 degrees, we see the power in the answers that John gives. John is not talking about ways to earn salvation, but rather he is talking about the basic fruit of repentance. If we turn 180 degrees from the direction we are going as we turn to Jesus, then we should expect that there will be radical changes in life. That became a message of Jesus over and over. It is John’s message. And it is a message for you and I to consider.
Notice that John’s answers point immediately toward the oppressed and the poor. He makes repentance very practical towards those in need.
First, if you have more than you need, give it away. A mark of a repentant person is that they have turned away from comfort and greed and turned towards Jesus’ provision and generosity. There no longer was a need to hold on to everything I had, because there now was a new Master. An open hand rather than a closed fist was the new order of the day.
One year we made this very practical when we did a coat drive during Christmas. We said to people, “We know you have more than one winter coat in your closet, yet there are people living on the street or in very poor settings who don’t have one. Give it away.” So, we collected a large heap of coats and took them to the local Rescue Mission. Truth is we all felt jazzed as we were pushing back against a hidden force in our lives to accumulate more and more while saying yes to Jesus.
Second, “Don’t collect more than you are required to.” John cut to the chase with the Tax Collectors. They were required to collect a certain amount by the Roman government, however tax collectors were notorious for collecting more than was needed to put in their own pockets. They took their commissions as they saw fit and many times it was at the expense of the poor. Now, I don’t think that the message of repentance here is to do away with commissioned salespeople, but rather there is a deeper message that applies to all of us. Most of us take much more than we need. If I turn 180 degrees away from my “need to need” and turn toward Jesus, there will be a generosity that springs up. The way of Jesus will instruct me to not gauge life by what I can get, but rather by how I treat others fairly, honestly and generously. As I do so, The Kingdom moves forward.
And third was to the soldiers, “Don’t extort and accuse. Be content with your pay.” A soldier was in a position where they could use their power to get what they wanted. They were not well paid, but instead could use their power and bribes and accusation to make sure they got the money they wanted or felt they needed. Most of us are not in a position of power like these soldiers, yet this message of repentance speaks to us. Be content. When we are not content in simply what Jesus has given us, we begin to look for other ways to provide. We cut corners. We cheat. We lie. We become greedy. We do so at the expense of others. And we insult Jesus in the process.
In no way do we earn our way of salvation through activity like this. Rather, we come to faith through repentance and then we continue to walk in Jesus way, 180 degrees turned from the way we are used to going. It is a lifetime of walking and feeling compelled to turn back to the old way and then redirecting back to Jesus. Yet, the fruit of repentance is rich and sweet fruit that points the way to Jesus and who He is.
As we look towards Jesus coming, may we be active repenters. Turning toward Jesus and allowing Him to bring radical transformation in us that has practical implications. Maybe you’ll even feel compelled to give your second coat away.