"The crowd asked him, 'Then what are we supposed to do?'
"'If you have two coats, give one away.' he said.’Do the same with your food,' Tax men also came to be baptised and said, 'Teacher, what should we do?'
"He told them, 'No more extortion -- collect only what is required by law.' "Soldiers asked him, 'And what should we do?' He told them, 'No shakedowns, no blackmail -- and be content with your rations.'" Luke 3:10-14 (The Message).
So what was new about John's message? Why all the excitement? Why did they come from far and near to hear him when everything he told them was written in their Law anyway? Had they slipped so far from the everyday requirements for living the best kind of life that they needed a revival campaign out in the wilderness to bring them back?
It doesn't say much for their teachers either, does it? They were so busy preening themselves and devising new laws to "protect" their laws that the Law of God was obscured by rules so ridiculous that many of the ordinary people gave up trying. Like all the prophets before him, John's message was no different, but the reason for his message was far more compelling.
"Repent!" he thundered, "for the kingdom of God is near." What did that mean? Not the current "turn or burn" message! Not the "Be sorry for your sins and turn to God" insistence. That's our interpretation of "repent". "Teshuvah" meant "return" -- come back to what you were -- before Adam's crazy, foolish choice -- to what God made you to be in the beginning. What was that? Man made in His image to be one with Him.
"The Kingdom of God is near"? How can that be good news? I thought that the good news was that Jesus died for our sins that we can go to heaven when we die. How pathetic if that is the sum total of the good news! The really good news is that God is fixing everything that is broken and restoring everything to what it was before Adam blew it so that He can complete what He began.
Now that's really good news! That means that we can play a part in restoring what Adam messed up. And Jesus got rid of all the obstacles that prevented us from taking part in the restoration process by paying our debt for us, releasing us from slavery to the destroyer so that we don't have to be a part of the messing up side, ever again. We've changed allegiance and are now on God's side, His restoration crew, doing things God's way and in the process bringing heaven to earth like Jesus said.
John was showing them how that would be done. Give, share, be kind, be content, stop being greedy, selfish and self-centred. That would make Messiah's task much easier if He came to people who were already prepared to receive Him by realising what He had come to do.
The trouble was that they misunderstood His real purpose. Restoration did not mean getting rid of the Romans so that He could rule over David's kingdom. His plan went much farther back than that. Not get rid of the rule of the Romans -- that was slavery on the outside, but get rid of the rule of sin -- that was the core of the matter. Change the ruler on the inside. Get self off the throne and re-install God's king, Jesus, as rightful ruler of every heart.
When the old selfish, greedy disposition is changed from within, people will change, mothers and fathers will change, children will change, homes will change, families will change, communities will change, society will change, one life at a time. When Jesus returns to take His rightful place on the throne of earth, He will come to an earth where pockets of heaven are already here, practising what He came to complete.
That's what it's all about, really!
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