Luke 3:7-9 “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.’”

     John the Baptist was not a crowd pleaser!  He didn’t welcome the ‘crowd’  with open arms and a loving smile.  He nailed them!  He called them out for their nasty ways.  He told them their pedigree wouldn’t protect them from the consequences of their sin.  John told them that God was bigger than their crowd and was capable of making something new out of dead rocks without them! The ‘axe’ was ready to strike and they would feel its bite.  Would you listen to ‘crazy talk’ like that?  Does it apply to you?  Do you catch yourself condemning or judging – even if its only people that clearly deserve it?

   Matthew Henry takes John’s words to heart; “If we are not really holy, both in heart and life, our profession of religion and relation to God and his church, will stand us in no stead at all; the sorer will our destruction be, if we do not bring forth fruits meet for repentance.”  Religious pride hardens the heart, dulls the hearing brings unanticipated destruction.  Religious pride reaps a terrible ‘reward’ for those who wallow in it.  The fires of hell are the hottest for those who make a profession of condemning others to it.

     The crowds back in John the Baptist’s day did listen to his rebuke and call for repentance.  They asked him; “What should we do then?” (Luke 3:10)  John told them; “Anyone who has two shirts should share with the one who has none, and anyone who has food should do the same.” (v. 11) Others approached;  “Even tax collectors came to be baptized. ‘Teacher,’ they asked, ‘what should we do?'” (v 12)  To the tax collectors, John said; “Don’t collect any more than you are required to,” (v 13)  To the soldiers; “Don’t extort money and don’t accuse people falsely—be content with your pay.” (v 14)

     What John said was an echo of what Jesus was later to sum up as the essence of the Law and the Prophets;  God is first and foremost – love him enough to change by loving your neighbor as yourself!  Some listened, many did not.  Those that did listen changed their lifestyle.  Notice John wasn’t calling for a change of doctrine he was calling for a change of heart.  Jesus made the same call to Matthew (a tax collector). And to those self-righteous ones who wouldn’t listen to Him, He said; “It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick. But go and learn what this means: ‘I DESIRE COMPASSION, AND NOT SACRIFICE,’ for I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Matthew 9:12,13)

   Do we listen today?  How much religious  ‘wax’ plugs our ears?  How much doctrinal dirt crusts our eyes?  How much hate hardens our heart? Righteous acts proceed out of a repentant heart.   The fruit of which are mercy and compassion.  Try to look at the world through Jesus’ eyes.  It’s hard and thankfully, we have many examples of how He treated sinners in the Gospel.  Did He condemn the woman caught in adultery to hell? (John 8:1-11)  Then, why in God’s name would we condemn?

     How about the person who condemns – do we condemn the condemner?  Now the infamous, Fred Phelps is in very poor health.  Some say he is near death.  Some think he is going to the very place he condemned others to. Some condemn Fred Phelps because of his actions towards them and others. Keith Brekhus when contemplating Phelps’ approaching death wrote; “As Fred Phelps approaches his final days, the temptation to attend his funeral, once he passes, with a ‘God hates Fred’ sign, might be tough to resist. However, a stronger message would be to avoid his funeral altogether rather than answering hate with hate.”

     God never hated Fred Phelps (John 3:16).  Jesus died for Fred Phelps (Romans 5:8).  It is never God’s intention that any should perish; “The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.” (2 Peter 3:9)  Right now I hope Phelps repents at the 11th hour like the thief on the cross beside Jesus (Luke 23:39-43)  I don’t know if he will.  It’s not likely given Phelps’ habits of hate but I know it’s not my place or competence to  make that particular judgement. Jesus loved the rich young ruler even though the fellow loved his own riches more: “And Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, ‘You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.’ Disheartened by the saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.” (Mark 10:21,22)

     Never  having felt the cruel bite of Phelps’ hatred it is easy for me not to condemn him.Nor will I judge those who have to struggle with their own hatred for Phelps.  There are people who hurt my family and hurt me that, in hot anger, I condemned to hell.  This was wrong and sinful.  I struggle with my sin and I repent.   Jesus tells us; “Whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father who is in heaven will also forgive you your transgressions. But if you do not forgive, neither will your Father who is in heaven forgive your transgressions.” (Mark 11:25,26)  This is so very hard for me to do.  And as a Christian I MUST DO IT.  Only by the Strength and Grace of Jesus Christ am I able to forgive my enemies.

     Lord, help us all to stop our religious pride parades!

     Lord, give us the strength to forgive and to openly repent of our sins.

     Help us Jesus,  to forgive so that we will be forgiven.

     Praise the Lord!