“But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them, “Brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Therefore, bear fruits worthy of repentance, and do not think 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. And even now the ax 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. I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance, but He who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fan is in His hand, and He will thoroughly clean out His threshing floor, and gather His wheat into the barn; but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.” (Matthew 3:7-12)
The Love for Power Versus The Love For God and People
“Brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?” According to John it was fear which motivated Pharisees and Sadducees to come to John. Fear of what? You see this fear made them flee from God. Of course, fear makes us all flee. We all flee from danger.
But what kind of danger are we talking about here? It seems that the kind of fear John had in mind was the kind of fear Adam experienced when He ate of the forbidden tree. It was the kind of fear which made him flee from God rather than to God. Suddenly, loving God was perceived as dangerous. You see true repentance draws us to God and consequently causes within us both sorrow for sin which separated us from Him as well as inward change powered by God’s love and grace. We either we flee away from God seeing Him as a vengeful, wrathful ready to strike and destroy us because we sinned, or we flee to God. John’s message to people was flee to God and repent. “Repent FOR the kingdom of God is near.” God in Jesus came to us to receive us in love and grace. Change or repentance is possible. It is possible because it comes as a result of coming to the One against whom we sinned, yet He loves us in spite of it. In fact, for this reason Jesus came.
However, our coming does not precede His coming to us. In fact, He comes first to us as sinners. Jesus came to embrace us, to love us and in the process to take our sins upon Himself.
Pharisees and Sadducees were fleeing from God. Why? What’s happening here? John’s assessment of Pharisees and Sadducees and their relationship with God is quite sad and damning. They claimed that they served God, yet they were fearful of Him.
You see the fear of God in Adam and Eve was the consequence of sin or cherished idol within them, which they were not prepared to part from or abandon. What could have been the Pharisees’ and Sadducees’ cherished idol which made them flee from God? It seems that the cherished idol was similar to that of Adam and Eve. ‘The brooding viper’ Satan told Adam and Eve “You will become like God…”. It was the idol of power which they suddenly started to cherish in their hearts. Satan was the original brooding viper hungry for power who wanted to alure Adam and Eve into love for power and he succeeded. As love for power was lodged in their heart, it automatically replaced love for God in their hearts. This in turn made them flee from God. It’s interesting that God still pursued them in love.
Pharisees and Sadducees were called by John the broods of vipers. This seems to be an allusion to what happened in the Garden of Eden and how their cherished idol was identical to that of Adam and Eve. However, interesting question is why is it that Pharisees came to John at all when at the same time they were fleeing from God? Pharisees were possessed by the love for power which they exercised over people. However, people were ‘fleeing’ from them and flocking to John. Soon, people will be fleeing from them and flocking to Jesus. John, however was quite happy about that and he was encouriging them to follow Jesus. Pharisees, however, were not happy about it and could not accept it.
They came to John because people were there, and they wanted to reclaim their power over them. However, why were the people fleeing from Pharisees and Sadducees? You see once the love for cherished idols takes hold of our lives the love for God and others disapears. Also, equally important, once the love in our hearts for God and others is gone people are no longer attracted to us. You see, even though John was straight talker with people and was not sugar-coating their cherished idols and he called them by their right name, they still flocked to Him. Why? It seems that John’ love for God and people must have been manifestly present. For this reason, people were attracted to John.
People will always be attracted to someone who loves them and speaks the truth to them. It is very important to recognise that the love for power has an allurement which the viper Satan projects onto us and that we can easily fall for it.
How do you feel when your influence over your friends, colleagues and people who are important to you gets diminished? Why did it diminish? There are potentially two reasons. One is that you could be a victim of a slander. However, it could be that you enjoy exercising power over others at the expense of love and humility? John calls us all to repentance. ‘Repent, for the kingdom of God is near’. Jesus, God in human body did not come to exercise His power over us but to love us and die for us. We willingly and joyfully recognise His greatness and surrender to His power because of His amazing love and grace. Only his love can draw us to Him and change our stony heart and make us like Him.