As I opened my eSword to research for this series I was slightly shocked by what I found. See, my plan is to chronologically catalog the teachings of Jesus in short, bite-sized portions, and so you can imagine my surprise when I opened to what I mistakenly assumed were His first recorded words as an adult and found that they addressed the very class of religious people which started the original discussion in the first place!
Unfortunately, I had mistaken the words of John the Baptist for Jesus' words (I guess I wasn't looking for the red!) What I thought was the very first address from Jesus, as He began His short earthly ministry, was directed at religious hypocrisy; specifically the Sadducees and Pharisees, who were quite good at living pristine, pious lives outwardly while completely missing the point inwardly.
I'm not going to attempt a full commentary here or even quote the passages, but please read them on your own for a better understanding of my write-up. The events of what I though was Jesus' first public address can be found in Matthew 3:7-10 and Luke 3:7-14 (just click them). I just want to briefly boil down the situation in question and present the essence of what John meant to teach through the encounter. That goes for all future entries addressing the teachings of Jesus as well. But first a quick observation.
The first thing I think anyone will notice when reading this passage is the perceived harshness and severity of John's message to the religious masses. In contrast to the lovable, cuddly "Buddy Christ" found in modern pop-culture who just wants to hug everyone and doesn't want anyone to be offended, the guy who seems to be everyone's "homeboy", the real Jesus wasn't afraid to offend, which we will explore in a future installment. But as we see here, neither was John. PC was not in his vocabulary. It's almost as if John meant to alienate some...
So, the emphasis here is that of warning. John brought to the attention of the religious folk that there is a coming judgment, and that unless there was a serious change that they would be facing it in the not-too-distant future. The change wasn't necessarily an outward one, although it would show on the outside. John told them to "produce fruit consistent with repentance". This fruit would later be elaborated on by Paul. It is called LOVE.
These religious people were counting on their Jewish heritage, their blood relation to the patriarch, Abraham. Like a sledgehammer applied to a watermelon (thank you, Ghallagher, for the imagery), John demolished that dependence and brought to light the brutal truth that their relation to Abraham meant absolutely nothing, in terms of securing a right standing before God and escaping His wrath. That and 30 pieces of silver could buy you a slave, a potter's field, or the life of a Messiah...
John went on to say that the ax was already laid at the root. We're going to skip the national and eschatological ramifications of this for the moment and simply tackle the personal application:
Religious people, beware.
The fruit of the Spirit, which is consistent with repentance, is love. Love manifests itself in the form of joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. If these are not apparent in your life, though you attend church 7 days a week, hand out Gospel tracts everywhere you go, tithe 80%, support missionaries in the 3rd World, or even organize children's theater productions, you are not in that place of right-standing before God that you think you are.
In closing, it is important to clarify that right-standing with God does not come from having love and patience and joy and peace. According to the Bible love, which shows itself in all of the aforementioned ways, emanates from the Spirit within. That is not to say that someone without the Spirit cannot love, or even have all of its manifestations in spades... I guess the bottom line is best summed up by John, from His 1st epistle:
If you do not love you do not know God, because God is Love.