But when he [John the Baptist] saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father,’ for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham. Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. (Matthew 3:7-10 ESV)
John the Baptist was preaching in the wilderness of Judea. Many from Jerusalem and Judea went out to the Jordan to hear him, confess their sins and be baptized by him. And then he saw them–the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to be baptized by him as well. John was no fool; he knew their repentance was not genuine and he didn’t waste any time calling them out about it. But, what he said should draw our attention.
John saw this bunch making a grand entrance into a scene where people were genuinely repentant and confessing their sins–he called them a brood of vipers. Imagine, if you will, a pile of snakes (vipers) slithering over one another trying to be noticed or attempting to get to the top of the pile. The term refers to those who are sly and deceptive, deceitful and manipulative, lacking humility and genuine sincerity. The mind picture it forms is chilling, in fact, especially if you’re not fond of snakes.
But, John didn’t stop there. After he asked a question about why they had come he spoke directly to them saying: Bear fruit in keeping with repentance.
These men apparently were seeking out John the Baptist so they could be spared from the wrath to come by being baptized. However, John quickly recognized them as lacking a repentant heart. Their motive was wrong. They were deceptive, deceitful and lacking genuine sincerity. They wanted to be seen by all while, at the same time, they wanted to keep an eye on what John was doing. In other words, there was an subversive motive to their appearance on the scene.
False fruit and genuine fruit — by their fruit you shall know them (ch. 7:16). The Sadducees and Pharisees were fruit-bearing Jews, but their fruit was not in keeping with repentance. In other words, it was false fruit. Genuine fruit is born of a repentant heart.
How many times have we run across church-goers or people who say they are Christians but who don’t bear genuine fruit in keeping with repentance. They may say the right things and even at times do the right thing, but their lifestyle in general is not in keeping with that of a disciple of Christ. Perhaps they’re Sunday Christians. Or, maybe they talk the talk but don’t walk the walk. I’m sure we all know people like this. They would, in fact, be akin to the Sadducees and Pharisees who came strolling down to the river’s edge to check on John as he was baptizing those who were truly repentant for their sins.
What kind of fruit are you bearing? Is your life in keeping with that of a disciple of Christ. Is your testimony not only audible but visible as well? Peel off the layers of your heart and look deep within to be sure there are no hidden motives. Look deep within to be sure your heart is truly–genuinely–repentant and the fruit you bear is pure.
Father, help me to bear fruit in keeping with repentance. If there is any false fruit in my life, show me and help me submit it to You with a truly repentant heart. Amen.
For godly sorrow worketh repentance to salvation not to be repented of: but the sorrow of the world worketh death. (2 Corinthians 7:10)
© Jan Ross
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