What Shall We Do Then?

by Kent Heaton

John the Baptist was a fire and brimstone preacher. His appearance alone would strike fear into most hearts. "Now John himself had a garment of camel's hair and a leather belt around his waist; and his food was locusts and wild honey" (Matthew 3:4). His sermons were direct and not very commending to the religious order of the Jewish nation. "But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism, he said to them, 'You brood of vipers, who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Therefore bear fruit in keeping with repentance'" (Matthew 3:7-8). He would warn them not to trust in their lineage for God did not approve of their hypocrisy.

When John was preaching to the people he would rebuke their pretense but then follow up with great words of encouragement. The historian Luke records such a sermon in Luke 3. After warning the multitudes to "bear fruits worthy of repentance," John was asked by the people, "What shall we do then?"" (Luke 3:10). John outlined five things they needed to do.

First, they needed to give to the needy. "The man who has two tunics is to share with him who has none; and he who has food is to do likewise" (Luke 3:11). Albert Barnes said of this passage: "In other words, aid the poor according to your ability; be benevolent, and you will thus show that your repentance is genuine." John did not want to make the people think that repentance required only hardship but the attitude of heart that would reach out to other people. A changed heart toward God is a changed heart toward one another.

"And some tax collectors also came to be baptized, and they said to him, 'Teacher, what shall we do?' And he said to them, 'Collect no more than what you have been ordered to'" (Luke 3:12,13). Honesty is a characteristic of the people of God. Tax collectors were hated by the Jews because of their propensity to take more taxes than required by the Romans and pocket the rest for themselves. Zaccheus acknowledged if he had defrauded anyone he would return four times as much (Luke 19:1-10). The author Matthew was a tax collector. John exhorts the people to be honest before all men.

Remarkably, some soldiers came and questioned John the Baptist about what they must do. "'And what about us, what shall we do?' And he said to them, 'Do not take money from anyone by force, or accuse anyone falsely, and be content with your wages'" (Luke 3:11-14). The final three admonitions are found in response to questions by soldiers. Soldiers had a powerful role in John's world; whether as Romans soldiers or those who served Herod or Philip. Regardless of their place of responsibility, John admonishes them to be kind, be truthful and be content. What a powerful example the soldiers would make for the teaching of John the Baptist to fulfill those roles.

These lessons should not be lost on the people of God today. Our lives must be filled with benevolence (Matthew 25:31-46) for we will be judged by such. Honesty is the golden crown of a Christians life (Ephesians 4:15, 25-32). Kindness and truth should be our garments of grace to others (Colossians 3:12-17). Being content is the admonition of the apostle Paul in Philippians 4:11 and I Timothy 6:8. The Hebrew writer also exhorts the Christians to "Make sure that your character is free from the love of money, being content with what you have; for He Himself has said, 'I will never desert you, nor will I ever forsake you'" (Hebrews 13:5). John the Baptist had a good sermon.