So he began saying to the crowds who were going out to be baptized by him, “You brood of vipers, who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Therefore bear fruits in keeping with repentance… Indeed the axe is already laid at the root of the trees; so every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. (Luke 3:7-8a, 9 NASB)
Trail quality matters. This came home to me with special force last week as Kent and I explored three new areas.
First, we visited a marshy lowland frequented by pheasant hunters tucked between WA 203 and the West Snoqualmie Valley Road. No traffic noise could be heard, just the quiet swishing of tall, brown grasses. Trails consisted of slippery mud edged by wet grass. Coming up out of a hollow, I lost my footing. Splat! No damage, but mud coated my pants, jacket, and gloves.
The next day, we walked the end of the Puget Power Trail in Redmond, passing the Willows substation on a paved path and climbing a long staircase up the eastern edge of Rose Hill. We found a rough path criss-crossed with Himalayan blackberries leading to a spectacular view of the Cascade Mountains that ended abruptly in a steep ravine. As we retraced our steps to a better trail, I helpfully warned Kent, “Be careful, these vines could trip you.” Within a few seconds: Thud. I hit the ground. Thorns clutched my socks, pants, and shirt.
The third day, we parked by the Novelty Hill substation and crossed into the web of trails at Redmond Ridge. Hoping for a loop, we took a less-traveled path. All went fine until the trail crossed a substantial pond with a makeshift bridge of broken pallets, bunched branches, and a large log. Halfway across, the branches sank beneath me. Brrr. Cold water filled my shoes and soaked my pants to the ankle.
After these eventful walks, I read Luke 3 about John the Baptist’s mission with new eyes.
The voice of one calling out in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, Make His paths straight! Every ravine will be filled, And every mountain and hill will be lowered; The crooked will become straight, And the rough roads smooth; And all flesh will see the salvation of God!’ (Luke 3:4b-6 NASB)
The wetland mud, the thorny brambles, and the unreliable bridge seem to be metaphors for sin. John came “preaching a baptism for repentance and forgiveness of sins” (Luke 3:3b). This seems a trail-clearing and bridge-building kind of work for the human heart to open up to the approach of the Lord Jesus. Then worship and belief and obedience are possible.
John the Baptist gave explicit directions for how to repent. “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). In other words, stop thinking only of yourself and love your poor neighbor with your possessions.
John told tax collectors: “Collect no more than you’ve been ordered to,” and soldiers were told: “Do not take money from anyone by force or accuse anyone falsely, and be content with your wages” (Luke 3:12-13). Stop harming people to fill your own pocket or make yourself look good.
Getting right with other people in order to get right with God might sound backwards, but Jesus also used this logic in the Sermon on the Mount.
Therefore if you are presenting your offering at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your offering there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and present your offering. (Matthew 5:23-24).
And the Lord’s Prayer covers the reverse case: “Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors” (Matthew 6:12).
Just in case we don’t grasp this equivalency, Jesus spells it out:
For if you forgive others for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions. (Matthew 6:14-15)
From John the Baptist, I’m hearing a call to fill up the ravines of bitterness, to firm up the slippery slopes of holding grudges, and chop away the thorns of self-centeredness so that I can abide in the Lord Jesus. Although Jesus walked a pathway to my heart decades ago, the pathway gets obscured by sin and has to be cleared again on a daily basis. Then Jesus can rule my heart, and I can bear the fruit He desires.