John said to the crowds coming out to be baptized by him, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. – Luke 3:7-8 NIV
You brood of vipers! Clearly John was not too worried about offending people as he called on them to repent. He was blunt and forceful in his call to repentance. He did not sugarcoat the people’s sin, or their need to turn from that sin. And he made clear to them that they could not depend on their heritage, instead needing to make a personal commitment to produce fruit in keeping with repentance. Nor did he provide a comfortable or convenient venue for them to hear his message. Instead, he was preaching on the bank of a river out in the wilderness. And yet the crowds came out to him and were baptized, responding to his message.
I wonder if we could learn a lesson from John. It seems sometimes like we are so afraid of offending people that we offer them a version of the gospel that is watered down and stripped of all that would offend. To often, instead of a call to repentance, we preach an easy gospel. A gospel that calls for little personal change or commitment.
The gospel is indeed good news, that God loves us and wants to be in a relationship with us. But the gospel is also a call to self surrender, to submission to God’s authority in our lives. And it involves deliverance from a terrible fate, punishment and eternal destruction. Much of that is not a popular message today. Yet it is the message we are called to deliver to a lost world who desperately needs to hear it.