9Do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our ancestor’; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham.
From these stones. Not from the primeval clay, when God made the first human form and breathed into it the breath of life. Not from the rib with which God formed a second living being, equal to the first. Not from the miraculous union of DNA strands unwinding and joining. From stones. Hard, lifeless, omnipresent rock. From these stones.
Everything in the ancient world went back to your genealogy. You were the child of your parents. And your parents were the children of their parents. Whatever reputation they had, you had. Whatever occupation they had, you had. Whatever place in society, whatever respect and honor, whatever shame they had, you had. “All Cretans are liars,” declares the author of Titus. You are from Crete? Enough said. “Can anything good come from Nazareth?” asks Nathaniel (John 1:46). No, obviously not. It’s Nazareth.
It was the same in this country, too, not so long ago – as it may still be. You are defined by the color of your skin, or the headscarf you wear, or the accent of your English. Your status is measured by the neighborhood in which you live, or the university you attended, or the title of the job you carry.
Everything is about genealogy. And, at the time of Jesus, it marked whether or not you were one of God’s people, whether you had a right to inherit the kingdom of God.
In our text, John the Baptist says what Jesus will also say: It’s not about genealogy; it’s about bearing fruit. It’s about those who do the Father’s will, not those who claim his name.
I don’t get to say that I am on the football team at Stanford if I don’t wear the uniform and practice the plays. I might say, easily enough, that “We beat Cal,” (our arch rival) but we didn’t do anything. We watched, while the Stanford football players beat Cal’s players.
John’s message is pretty simple: You have to get out of the stands and come down on the field. “Bear fruit worthy of repentance.”
Repentance meant switching teams. Changing allegiance. The word in both Hebrew and Greek means to turn, to change direction. Its frame of reference isn’t morality; but travel – literal turning – and allegiance. If you are going to turn and show allegiance to the kingdom of God, then there must be fruit.
And now we come back to stones. There is a word of hope in this message that God can raise up children of Abraham from stones. The prophet Ezekiel announced that God would change our hearts of stone into hearts of flesh. God will transform calcified hearts into hearts of compassion. God will take these children of nobody and make them children of God. He makes us citizens of heaven, children of the age to come. No longer are we defined by the towns and families of our birth; we are identified by the city which lies ahead. The Spirit of God is poured upon us, dry bones brought to life. I am raised to be a true child of Abraham, nourished by living bread and the water of life. Attached to the true vine, he will bear fruit through me. If I will come down from the stands, he will make a player of me.
Amen. Come, Lord Jesus. Come and work your work in me.