John said to the crowds that came out to be baptized by him, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruits worthy of repentance. Do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our ancestor’; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.”
And the crowds asked him, “What then should we do?” In reply he said to them, “Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise.” Even tax collectors came to be baptized, and they asked him, “Teacher, what should we do?” He said to them, “Collect no more than the amount prescribed for you.” Soldiers also asked him, “And we, what should we do?” He said to them, “Do not extort money from anyone by threats or false accusation, and be satisfied with your wages.”
As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah, John answered all of them by saying, “I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”
So, with many other exhortations, he proclaimed the good news to the people.
Two coats. It’s quite the call to repentance. I like coats. I must have a dozen coats, one for every possible climate I might face. There’s that Banana Republic warm-up coat, and the Barbour all-weather coat, and the Diesel pull-over coat, and the J. Crew barn coat, and the camo Mossy Oak hunting coat, and the L. L. Bean denim coat and . . . you get the picture. I like them all so much that when it comes time to give a coat away, I’ll go into the way, way back of the closet and pull out an old one I don’t wear anymore.
This year I’m finally going to do it. I’m going to take one of the coats I like, maybe even one of the new ones, and give it away to someone who doesn’t have a coat. It’s too bad John didn’t tell me how many to give away if I had twelve coats.
And you? Have you counted your coats lately? We so often think of repentance as an inner feeling of sorrow over bad behavior and a resolve not to do it again. John says it’s a lot bigger than this. When there are people without coats, and I have twelve . . . you get the point. Count those coats.
But wait . . . the greatest prophet who ever lived said to “bear fruits worthy of repentance.” Fruits worthy of repentance—it is a fascinating concept. Fruit comes at the end of a process, not the beginning. Maybe checking the box of a donated coat isn’t the ticket. Fruit begins with breaking up fallow ground, and sowing, and cultivating, and watering, and more cultivating, and waiting, and finally by God’s grace, fruit. Maybe repentance can’t be reduced to a transaction at Goodwill. Maybe repentance takes sustained attention and effort. By the power of his Word and Spirit, Jesus wants to reach deeper than mere behavior and into our dispositions, desires, and affections.
So, here’s the invitation. Since we are now into Advent, which is the Christian’s New Year, let’s ask God to identify not a resolution but a New Year’s repentance in our lives. Just one. It might be a symptom of something deeper, like twelve coats or a short temper or uncontrollable comfort eating or too much wine. Let’s delve beneath the surface of the behavior and ask the deeper questions about the brokenness beneath. Rather than battling the behavior, what if we sowed some new seeds into our souls—seeds that could grow into very different patterns? How might we water and cultivate this new planting of the Lord in our lives? What if we focused on this one repentance until this time next year? Might we then bear fruits worthy of repentance? I bet so.
Our Father in heaven, nearer than my breath, thank you for these days of Advent and this new year in Christ. Thank you for calling for more than behavior management. You offer the deep change. Break up my fallow ground and show me the new seeds to sow there. Come, Holy Spirit, and tend the garden of my heart until I bear fruit worthy of repentance. In the name of Jesus Messiah—the one who came, is here, and is coming again—for his glory and our good, amen.
What might the Lord be identifying in your life as the singular area of repentance for the next year? Think of the progress the Spirit might make in our lives through taking a longer view and going a slower pace.
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