But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them, “Brood of vipers. Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Therefore bear fruits worthy of repentance,and do not think to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I say to you that God is able to raise up children to Abraham from these stones. And even now the ax is laid to the root of the trees. Therefore every tree which does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Matthew 3:7–10
Stones are associated with many references in the Bible, both positive and negative. In this passage, we ponder these three questions: Who is your Father? What is your Faith based on? Is your faith bringing forth Fruit?
Who were the Pharisees and Sadducees? They were two main sects emerging after the Babylonian captivity. The Pharisees were made up mostly of middle-class businessmen, who considered themselves to be holier than the common man due to their commitments to keeping the Mosaic laws and oral traditions from the elders. The Sadducees, on the other hand, was a small party with priestly connections with the upper class aristocrats and men of position and wealth. Unlike the Pharisees, the Sadducees had limited rapport with the common man, and hence mostly concurred with the decisions of the Pharisees, who were viewed to be more “in touch with the ground”. In general, The Sadducees were worldly minded and politically motivated with superficial interest in religion.
There are main doctrinal differences between the Pharisees and Sadducees.
|Written Law and Oral Law.||Accepted only teachings of Moses. Denial of authority of oral law.|
|They believed that God controlled all things, yet decisions made by individuals also contributed to the course of a person’s life.||They were extremely self-sufficient to the point of denying God’s involvement in everyday life.|
|They believed in the resurrection of the dead (Acts 23:6).||They denied any resurrection of the dead (Matthew 22:23; Mark 12:18-27; Acts 23:8).|
|They believed in an afterlife, with appropriate reward and punishment on an individual basis.||They denied any afterlife, holding that the soul perished at death, and therefore denying any penalty or reward after the earthly life.|
|They believed in the existence of angels and demons (Acts 23:8).||They denied the existence of a spiritual world, i.e., angels and demons (Acts 23:8).|
Do they not sound like two extremes? The Pharisees held close to the law in order to earn themselves righteousness and right standing with God. They considered others to be lesser or more sinful. The Sadducees, however, were liberals on the other hand. They believed that there is no afterlife, and hence they should just live for the present. However, despite fundamental differences in their doctrines, John addressed the Pharisees and Sadducees collectively as “brood of vipers”. These same words were used again by Jesus in Matthews 23:33 (“Serpents, brood of vipers. How can you escape the condemnation of hell?”). This was because the Pharisees and Sadducees rested their security in having Abraham as their father. They may have started with good intentions to follow the Word of God initially, but religious institutionalisation had turned them into stones that were hardened, cold, rigid and even stumbling upon others. Have we been institutionalised without realising it?
Who is Your FATHER?
John the Baptist knew what was in the minds of the Pharisees and Sadducees. They prided themselves as descendants of Abraham, and relied greatly on their heritage, religion and physical lineage. It is easy for us to make the same mistakes today. We may have tithed in church, been born into a Christian family and actively participated in church. Many continue to hold on to denominational traditions, styles of worship and expressions and certain doctrines and teachings today. We become enslaved to our own heritage, tradition and religion. Like the Pharisees and Sadducees, we are hardened and deadened to what God wants for us. We presume that we are grounded, convicted and immovable as rocks; when in reality, we are hard, rigid and lifeless like stones. It is one thing to declare God as our Father, but another to live as the Father’s children.
What is your FAITH based on?
The Jews based their faith on being “sons of Abraham”. In Galatians 3:16, Paul wrote “Now to Abraham and his Seed were the promises made. Paul did not refer to many seeds, “but as of one… who is Christ.” Because of the transgression of the Jews, the Mosaic Covenant served as a temporary tutor until the arrival of the Seed, Christ the Messiah. Jesus came to mediate the New Covenant, so that all who believe in Him are given the promise and blessings of Abraham. Just like how Abraham “believed God and it was accounted to him for righteousness” (Romans 4:3), only those who are of faith are sons of Abraham. May we base our faith not in teachings, doctrines or anything else other than the faith in Christ.
As such, faith in Christ turns Stones to Sons. We no longer struggle to earn righteousness, but righteousness is placed upon us when we believe in Christ. Sins no longer hold upon us, but with the guidance of the Holy Spirit, we are called to be living stones, to obey and live out to the works and fruitfulness of God. God is not constrained by dead stones, and He can raise up living stones for His purposes. We need to work out the salvation of our faith.
Is Your Faith Bringing Forth Fruit?
By now, you should have been convinced that to be faithful is to be fruitful. Just like the vineyard in Isaiah 5:1-7, God expects us, who are in His kingdom, to bear fruits worthy of our King. The seed planted in each and every one of us is the choicest seed. God has provided everything for us to bear good fruits.
So what are the fruits we should be bearing?
Fruit of Truth (Colossians 1:6), the Truth of the Gospel had come to the Colossians and this gospel bore fruits in them.
Fruit of Holiness (Romans 6:22), we have become slaves of God, we have our fruit to holiness and the end, everlasting. Are we holier today then before? Are we sanctified in the Lord?
Fruit of Righteousness (Hebrews 12:11), God wants us to yield the fruit of righteousness. May we be joyful when in pain and tribulations. Will we stand firm and live by God’s way regardless of the challenges that come along? We need to live our lives in expectation of the fruit of righteousness.
Fruit of Good Works (Colossians 1:10), we need to walk worthy to please the Lord by being fruitful in every good work.
Fruit of our Lips (Hebrews 13:15), what comes out of our lips all the time? Are we praising and giving thanks, or complaining and swearing? Are we pleasant to listen to?
Fruit of Wisdom (James 3:17), we need to be careful what kind of wisdom we are drawing from in our daily needs. Our wisdom should come from above, and not of earthly origins.
Fruit of Generosity (Philippians 4:17), we are willing to give out our gifts in service to others.
Fruit of Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23), the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.
We need to differentiate between the gift and the fruit of the Spirit. The gift of the Spirit is instant, but the fruit of the Spirit will take time to develop.
When we have these fruits, the rewards are present now and even till eternity. However, we need to remind ourselves that the fruits are not for us. They begin with faith and the promises of the Lord. It is the Spirit who has changed us from the inside out. If water can be turned into wine by Jesus, stones can bear fruit by the Holy Spirit. Therefore, the challenge is not about how to bear fruits but to keep diligent in front of God.
What kind of stones are we? Have we been institutionalized? Become cold, hard, proud, stumbling? Are we implements of death? We were once dead in our sins, but now alive to God. Through faith in Christ, we are made to be recipients of the promise and blessings and called to be sons and daughters of God, co-heirs of Jesus Christ. Now, we are living stones with Jesus as the Cornerstone, a holy temple built together for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit. We are empowered and enabled by the Holy Spirit to bear fruit that are lasting and bring glory to the