7 But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers, who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? 8 “Therefore bear fruit in keeping with repentance; 9 and do not suppose that you can say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham for our father ‘; for I say to you that from these stones God is able to raise up children to Abraham. 10 “The axe is already laid at the root of the trees; therefore every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.
John got a bit defensive when he saw the society’s religious elite coming forth to be baptized. As we saw in the beginning of Matthew 3, baptism isn’t about a ritual or religious exercise; it is a covenant you are making with God. We can see John’s skepticism about the arrival of these men. His initial thought is that somehow they think that in order to remain holy and righteous they must be baptized, but he saw through their self-righteous motives, calling them a brood of vipers. John’s baptism was one of repentance and the way they generally behaved, was as if they didn’t need to repent from anything because they thought they were perfect. Yet, John does not turn them away; he reveals the purpose behind this baptism of which they are about to partake.
He said, “Ok, well if you truthfully are here for this baptism the way it is intended, then live a life of repentance.” Growing up in a generally Christian culture, we think that we are Christian because our family claims to be Christian. The Pharisees and Sadducees took great advantage of being an Israelite, thinking they have it made just because of the bloodline they are in. But John proposes not to take their heritage for granted and understand that their holy lineage does not come from Abraham, but how they live as sons of God. So then, John declares that God will be the judge of who is holy and righteous, not us. He will separate those who are His and those who are not. Jesus proclaims this very thing at the end of His Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 7 when He says:
17 “So every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. 18 “A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, nor can a bad tree produce good fruit. 19 “Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 “So then, you will know them by their fruits. 21 “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. 22 “Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ 23 “And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; DEPART FROM ME, YOU WHO PRACTICE LAWLESSNESS.’
We must be careful, especially with respect to baptism, that we do not think more highly of ourselves just because someone dunked us in water and prayed over us. John’s seriousness reveals to us the importance of understanding why we get baptized and what its purpose is. It isn’t something that gets us into heaven. It isn’t something that we “must” do because we think we are Christians. It is an outward symbol of our repentance and receiving of God’s grace. All are welcome to it, but it is pointless if we don’t understand it.