What shall I do?
by Richard Ettensohn
Most of us have asked that question. Most of us have asked God that question. Thankfully, our God is gracious to answer our most important question when we come to Him in humility.
The Lectionary readings for the second Sunday in Advent are Isaiah 11:1-10, Psalm 72 (selected verses), Romans 15:4-13 and Matthew 3:1-12.
I will concentrate on the passage from Matthew. It is the report of John the Baptist’s ministry of baptism.
John condemns the Pharisees and the Sadducees in exceedingly strong language. John calls the Pharisees and Sadducees a “brood of vipers.” (Matthew 3:7).
However, John did not condemn the tax collectors and the soldiers who came to him for baptism (Luke 3:10 – 15). The soldiers and the tax collectors were far less outwardly respectable than the Pharisees and Sadducees. However, John simply tells the tax collectors to not collect more than they are supposed to collect (Luke 3:13). John tells the soldiers only to not extort money from the people. (Luke 3:14).
Why is this? Maybe it is because the tax collectors and soldiers come to John in humility, asking John what they should do (Luke 3:12, 14).
The Pharisees and the Sadducees did not care enough to ask John this simple question. Instead, the Pharisees and Sadducees came with the goal of interrogating john (John 1:19-28). They even presume to question John’s right to baptize (John 1:19).
In fact, in Luke, John used similar language toward the crowds that he used toward the Pharisees and Sadducees (Luke 3:7-9).
He said therefore to the crowds that came out to be baptized by him, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruits in keeping with repentance. And do not begin 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.”
However, the peoples’ response is to ask John in humility, “What, then shall we do?” (Luke 3:10)
John gives the people a direct and gracious reply: whoever has two tunics is to share with him who has none and whoever has food is to do likewise (Luke 3:10)
It seems that whenever a person sincerely asks, “What shall I do,” that person receives a direct and gracious reply. Although it may not be the reply that the person wants to hear but it is the reply that the person needs to hear.
For example, the rich young ruler receives a gracious reply from Christ when he asks: “Good Teacher, what good thing shall I do that I may have eternal life?”(Matthew 19:16 – 22).
After Peter’s sermon at Pentecost, the people ask: “Brothers, what shall we do?”(Acts 2:37).
“And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 2:38).
The jailer of Philippi asks Paul and Silas “Sirs, what must I do to be saved.” (Acts 16:30).
“And they said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.” (Acts16:30).
Thank God that He will answer the most important question of all persons who come to him in humility. Let us ask him our questions in the way of the tax collectors, the soldiers, and the crowd after John’s rebuke; not in the way of the Pharisees and Sadducees.