Matthew 3:8-10 Produce fruit in keeping with repentance.  And do not think you can say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’  I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham.  The axe 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.

These words were spoken by John the Baptist as he preached in the deserts of Judea, preparing God’s chosen people for the arrival of their promised Messiah.  John knew their hearts.  He knew how practised they were at the outward performance of what they defined as ‘righteous’ behaviour: ‘keeping up appearances’ while inside they had proud, arrogant, self-serving hearts that rejected God’s rightful place and rule.  It was because of these hearts that they failed to recognise Jesus as the Messiah when he came.  It was because of these hard, stubborn hearts that Jesus told them: “You must be born again” (John 3:3, 7) – nothing short of a whole new start with a brand NEW heart could rescue them from their bondage to sin.

It is not surprising that John’s words enraged them, as we see throughout the gospels with what Jesus said.  They were Abraham’s descendants; they bore the permanent, outward sign of circumcision in their flesh; God had chosen them particularly to be the recipients of his special blessing and the channel of his blessing to the uncircumcised gentiles!  How dare anyone suggest they needed something more!  So God had graciously sent John to warn them in advance that their pedigree and all its trappings and ceremonies and rituals counted for nothing if their hearts were not right.

It’s not as if they had not already been warned.  They had heard the same message from Moses (Leviticus 26:42, Deuteronomy 10:16) and the prophets (Jeremiah 4:4; 9:26).  Paul had been one of them, and when he was ‘born again’ on the road to Damascus (Acts 9) he discovered exactly what all this meant (cf Romans 2:28-29; Philippians 3).

And, further, this ‘repentance’ required of them was not just to be an ‘outward’ pretence, it was the sort of ‘inner’ transformation that would, without exception, lead to a thorough chnge of lifestyle.  The lack of ‘good fruit’ that would attract the ‘axe’ does not indicate that ‘good fruit’ somehow earns being spared from such a fate, but, rather, only shows that the ‘repentance’ was never genuine.

This is a timely warning to those of us who, by God’s grace, have had the privilege of a ‘Christian’ upbringing.  Such a privilege becomes a fatal handicap if our hearts have not been broken at the foot of the cross.
– Bruce Christian