The Axe is Ready
Luke 3:8 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.
Luke 3:9 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.”
John the Baptist was a popular preach of his day and people by the thousands would come out to hear him preach and be baptized. There was much excitement surrounding his ministry but some of his sermons did not tickle the ears of his listeners. He was calling the people to repentance and there were many who were responding. Of course the religious folks of the day did not want to miss out on anything so they came out to join the popular gatherings. It was there, however, that they began to hear things that did not make them comfortable. They were pleased with their place in life. They had traced their own roots and their own genealogies and knew to which family they belonged. They were very proud children of Abraham. They knew that they had it "in" with God because they were a part of the right family.
Now the preaching of John begins to get to them. He tells them that it's not good enough to simply have Abraham as your ancestor, but instead you had to personally repent. You mean these guys who had been raised in the Jewish faith and who had followed all the rules had to repent as well?
Yes -- because the axe was ready. What did that mean? That those who were clinging to the fact that their family tree took them back to some kind of religious roots were going to discover that this meant nothing. The axe was ready to cut down that tree because the trees were not bearing fruit. Trees are not valued because of their roots -- but because of their fruit. No fruit, and the tree will be chopped down. The axe is ready….
I think there is something corporate and singular about this statement from John which can be applied to us today. First of all -- corporately -- what might God be saying to the Church. There are parts of the world in which the Church continues to bear fruit but North America is certainly not one of those places. Some parts of the country are worse than others but on a whole, there isn't a lot of fruit spiritually. Even with the rise of the mega-churches there is not a single county in the US today that has more church goes than twenty years ago. All that's happening is a shift in WHERE people go to church -- not in the number of people attending church. And why is this? I know that there are numerous reasons but I wonder if we go back to what John the Baptist is saying -- whether there is a spiritual reason at the "root?" John said to bear fruit worthy of repentance! We have moved away from the idea of repentance and instead are "doing" church. Isn't that exactly what had happened to the Jewish leaders? They were busy protecting the "system" but somewhere lost what it meant to be spiritually alive themselves. May God help us to corporately look at ourselves and ask whether we are alive spiritually -- and if not -- then why? Maybe we are being called to repentance.
And that brings us to the singular nature of the preaching of John. The call for individual repentance. What may be blocking my spiritual life? Am I bearing fruit? What might God be asking me to do to bear fruit for him? The call to repentance is for all of God's children and results in a life of fruit bearing. Beware if this is not the case for the axe truly is ready and we may discover that we have been chopped down and cut off. We cannot simply stand on the shoulders of those who have gone before.
Lord, search my heart and remove any barriers which may keep me from bearing fruit for you. Amen.