So the crowds were asking him, “What then should we do?”
John answered them, “The person who has two tunics must share with the person who has none, and the person who has food must do likewise” (Luke 3:10-11).
Isaiah and Malachi had told Israel to look for the one who would come and prepare the way of YHWH, the Elijah who would tell Israel how to be reconciled to God and to one another before He would return. He had finally come (Isaiah 40:2-4, Malachi 3:1-5, Luke 3:4-6). And he came with a warning and an exhortation.
John lived in the desert wastes of the Jordan River valley around the year 27 CE (Luke 3:1-2). He preached a baptism of repentance, exhorting Israelites to be ritually immersed in water to demonstrate how they were no longer going to walk in the ways of their ancestors but would change their hearts and minds to dedicate themselves to YHWH and His purposes in light of the coming Messiah (Luke 3:3).
When the crowds went out to be baptized by him, John did not mince words. He called them all a brood of vipers and asked who warned them to flee from the wrath that was coming (Luke 3:7)! He was less concerned about ingratiating himself with his audience than with the sincerity of their repentance. They should not assume their standing before God was assured by their genealogical relationship with Abraham (Luke 3:8). John solemnly warned the Israelites: if YHWH was coming, that meant the day of YHWH, or a time of judgment, was at hand, which John explained by stating the ax was laid at the root of the tree, and every tree that did not produce good fruit would become firewood (Luke 3:9). The Israelites should repent and bear good fruit if they would be preserved; otherwise they would be cut down like so many of their ancestors!
The crowds heard John and accepted his warning; they wanted to know what they should do (Luke 3:10). How were they supposed to bear the good fruit of repentance? What would be John’s primary message for the Israelites so they would escape YHWH’s condemnation and be prepared to welcome Him when He came?
John told Israel to share. A person who had two tunics must share with the one who has none, and the person who had food must share with those who did not have food (Luke 3:11).
Yes, John would go on to give specific exhortations to specific groups who asked. Tax collectors should collect nothing beyond what was required; soldiers should not take money by violence or false testimony and should be content with their pay (Luke 3:12-14). Such would well demonstrate the repentance of members of those groups.
Luke would go on to speak about John’s confession he was not the Christ, but the Christ was coming and would be the Judge; Jesus was baptized by John; John was imprisoned, and at a later time, would be executed, by Herod Antipas (Luke 3:13-23, 9:7-9). Luke 3:7-14, therefore, represents what we know of the preaching of John the Baptist as he prophesied and exhorted Israel to repentance before the great and terrible day of YHWH would arrive.
And John the Baptist, whom Jesus confessed as the Elijah to come, the greatest among those who had been born of human parentage at the time, and literally the ultimate messenger of the Law and the Prophets (cf. Matthew 11:11-14), told Israel to share.
The people of God throughout time have been tempted to complicate the faith and the relationship with God and with one another they ought to have. It is tempting to make religion all about various ideas and perspectives divorced from real life experience. It is tempting to focus on defining who has standing before God and who does not. It is tempting to try to answer all the possible questions and objections and dig deeply into various scenarios and possibilities.
Yet John’s message to the people of his time was simple: YHWH was coming. That meant judgment was coming. Those who did not change would be condemned. Thus, God’s people needed to change. They couldn’t trust in their ancestry for their standing. They needed to act as if God was coming soon. And to do that they needed to share what they had.
When they shared what they had, they demonstrated they trusted in God to provide for their necessities. They demonstrated their obedience to His command and directive. They displayed love for one another in providing for what they needed. In sharing they confessed their light hold on the things of this world and the higher priority of one another than in material comfort.
Jesus also confessed, however, that the least in the Kingdom of God was greater than John (Matthew 11:11). All John had promised came to pass: YHWH came to His people as Jesus, dwelt among them, prophetically declared judgment, died, was raised in power, ascended to heaven, was made Lord and Christ, and rendered judgment against Judah and Jerusalem.
But John’s prophetic message endures. Jesus will return again soon (Acts 17:30-31). We must live in repentance lest we find ourselves condemned on that day, for God will not show partiality (Romans 2:5-11, 2 Thessalonians 1:6-11). And how can we display the fruit of repentance? By sharing what we have with our fellow people with God and with everyone. Jesus framed the whole judgment scene according to whether or not we do so in Matthew 25:31-46. James asked how a Christian could tell someone in need to be warmed and filled without giving what was necessary and then think their faith without works could save them (James 2:14-26). John wondered how Christians could really say they loved one another and would even die for one another if they did not prove willing to provide material goods to one another in need (1 John 3:16-18, 4:7-21). Paul continually exhorted Christians to give to those in need, especially to those of the household of faith; the Hebrews author affirmed the same (Galatians 2:10, 6:10, Hebrews 13:16).
As then, so now: it is not just about the act of sharing. We share because we trust that God provides our necessities and we confess our light hold on the possessions and material wealth we have, recognizing all of it comes from God, it cannot be taken with us, and it is always better used to assist others in the present than in the vain hope of future yield. When we share, we prioritize people over comfort.
Our faith in Christ, therefore, ought to be manifest in sharing. Let us consider well John’s prophetic message of sharing and embody it fully to the glory of God in Christ!
Ethan R. Longhenry