face ripping

[John] 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.”
And the crowds asked him, “What then shall we do?” And he answered them, “Whoever has two tunics is to share with him who has none, and whoever has food is to do likewise.” Tax collectors also came to be baptized and said to him, “Teacher, what shall we do?” And he said to them, “Collect no more than you are authorized to do.” Soldiers also asked him, “And we, what shall we do?” And he said to them, “Do not extort money from anyone by threats or by false accusation, and be content with your wages.”
As the people were in expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Christ, John answered them all, saying, “I baptize you with water, but he who is mightier than I is coming, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”
So with many other exhortations he preached good news to the people. (Luke 3:7-18, ESV)

John's message may not immediately seem like good news. 
  • calling people vipers
  • calling for repentance
  • dismissing their heritage
  • warning of God's wrath
  • instructing lifestyle changes
  • talking about judgement
In the verses following the passage above, Herod throws John in prison, so he certainly didn't think John's message was good. So how can it be described as good news in v18? 

It is not good news in itself. It is good news because it is preparing the way and pointing to Jesus. Conviction of sin and repentance is only good news if Jesus is involved to bring forgiveness and transformation. Otherwise we are left with guilt and either own own efforts to improve or despair at our inability to improve. 

I sometimes describe sermons that "ripped my face off", by which I mean they were extremely convicting. Why would getting your face ripped off be a good thing? Well, it's not, in itself. I love the face ripping conviction only because it brings a deeper appreciation of the good news of the gospel. 

Till sin be bitter, Christ will not be sweet
The more bitterness we taste in sin, the more sweetness we shall taste in Christ
Thomas Watson