A Brief Update
For those of you who are unable to gather corporately with us this Sunday, you are loved and missed! If this is you, we are providing the songs we are singing together this morning and a devotional based on the sermon being preached.
Songs We are Singing Together
Devotional on Matthew 3:1-12
Who is this man John the Baptist? Luke in his gospel gives us some details. His dad is Zechariah a priest; his mom is Elizabeth, Mary’s cousin; he is born six months before Jesus; he will live his life like a Nazarite—no wine or strong drink; he will be filled with the Holy Spirit even before his birth; and he will go forth in the Spirit and power of Elijah to prepare the way for the Lord. In Matthew, John the Baptist just simply bursts on to the scene in a swirl of activity and controversy.
In those days Tiberias is reigning as Caesar and Rome is ruling the world with an iron fist. The Jewish nation lives under his oppressive military regime, and yet with stunning boldness John loudly declares that another kingdom has come. It has a new king, and his rule stands above all other rulers.
Who is this man who is stirring up such trouble? He is a prophet and herald sent by God for one purpose: to prepare the way of the Lord. It has been four hundred years since the people have heard the voice of God in the voice of a prophet, but now he speaks through John who stands in the wilderness of Judea declaring with a thunderous voice the message that God is now bringing to fulfillment his covenant promise.
The wilderness John is in represents so much more than a geographic location. It is often the place where God meets his people. It was in the wilderness after their escape from Egypt that Israel began its existence as the people of God, and it is here where all people will meet God in a new way through the incarnate Son of God. In Hosea 2:14-15 God calls his people to the wilderness where he will extend his tender mercy and deliverance if they respond to him.
Now, through John the Baptist God again calls his people to come to him that they might again receive his mercy and deliverance. It is a message of hope that the deliverer has come, and John is the one who points them to him.
This is what the apostle John describes in John 1:8, “There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness, to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him. He was not the light, but came to bear witness about the light.”
First, we see that John’s coming is the beginning of God’s promise being fulfilled.
[Read Matthew 3:1-6]
Matthew continues to affirm his message that God’s covenant promise is being fulfilled by once again quoting an Old Testament prophecy from Isaiah 40:3. The context of Isaiah 40:3 was a prophecy of hope. Israel was in captivity in Babylon having spent seventy years there under God’s judgment for their sin, but Isaiah prophecies hope to them. He writes that they are on the brink of God’s deliverance, and their seventy-year exile is about to end. John the Baptist’s coming is the same. He is preparing the way for the coming of Jesus Christ who will deliver and save people from their sin.
In ancient near eastern culture when a king came to survey his kingdom, he would send a herald before him to let the people know he was on the way. They would prepare for his coming by repairing the rutted dirt roads, removing large rocks in the way, and making the road as smooth as possible. Mathew tells us that John’s coming is doing the very same thing by preparing the way for Jesus.
Matthew also sees John as the one Malachi prophesied about in Malachi 4:5. He writes, “Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the Lord comes.” John the Baptist is that prophet who has come in the Spirit and power of Elijah. He proclaims that there is a way back to God. He is not the way, but there is someone coming soon who is the way, who is the true king, and whose kingdom is true and eternal, and that kingdom has now come!
Like Elijah in 1 Kings 17, John suddenly appeared on the scene, and like Elijah in 2 Kings 1 he had very similar clothing, and they ate similar food: locusts and wild honey. Locusts were the only insects allowed to be eaten based on Mosaic law, and you could prepare them any way you wanted: marinated in vinegar, made into a pancake, powdered into a smoothie, boiled or roasted.
Elijah if you remember is the prophet who confronted the prophets of Baal on Mt. Carmel. He declared, “How long will you go limping between two different opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him, but if Baal, then follow him.” This is precisely John the Baptist’s ministry. Who will you follow? The king who is coming or the kingdoms and false gods of this world?
The Jews would easily make the connection between John and Elijah, and later in Matthew 11 Jesus will tell his followers that John is the fulfillment of this prophecy from Isaiah 40.
In response to John’s message many have now turned back to the Lord, repenting of their sins and being baptized in the River Jordan. But not everyone is so enamored with John.
Second, we see that John’s message is a warning of God’s judgment that is that is to be feared.
[Read Matthew 3:7-12]
Whether out of curiosity, fear, or to ridicule John, the Pharisees and Sadducees came to see what John was up to. They didn’t come to be baptized but to spy on John and figure out what was going on. This is the very same group in Matthew 16 that confronts Jesus and tests him to try and trip him up. John knows their hearts, and in language that is shocking he calls them out: you brood of vipers (just like the snake in the garden). This language would have stunned them, but John is not through with them yet.
John’s baptism is one that stuns them with three realities:
- Being a descendant of Abraham is not a passport to heaven just like growing up in the church is not a passport to heaven. He emphatically declares that their Jewish heritage will not bring them salvation.
- They need to be cleansed – like a Gentile convert—he is telling them they are filthy.
- They are under the judgment of God’s coming wrath.
John saw the hypocrisy in these men. What was their real motive for coming? To check him out? To dismiss him? To cover their bases just in case? There was no fruit of repentance in their lives. They simply believed that if someone were a descendant of Abraham, they were a true child of God. Not so says John. In fact, God doesn’t care about anyone’s ancestry because he can make children from stones. It’s what’s in the heart that matters.
What they’ve been trusting in will condemn them, and the axe is already laid to the root of the tree that does not bear good fruit. What is their fruit he asks? It’s their self-righteous works and boasting in their heritage that they believe makes them godly. But this means nothing, and like a dead tree they will be cut down and thrown into the fire.
Next, John turns to address everyone, particularly those who desire baptism, explaining to them what this baptism actually means. It is a baptism that clears the way for the real baptizer, Jesus, who will baptize them with the Holy Spirit and fire.
As a bold but humble man, John sees himself as even less than a slave compared to the one who was soon to come. The coming one will determine your future, either of salvation or of judgment.
After speaking of snakes escaping the fire, and trees cut down and burned John warns them that they are going to be separated as either wheat or chaff. This will be the final judgment of the coming king. Those who are his (the wheat) will be gathered into his barn, but those who are chaff will suffer unquenchable fire.
This is the essence of John’s message. Bad trees will have their roots severed by the axe and thrown into the fire. The wheat and the chaff will be separated, and the chaff will burn in unquenchable fire. Men and women, he says will be divided into two groups: for Christ and against Christ.
This passage is both a warning to us and a comfort for us. The warning asks, “Where does your hope lie? Being raised in a Christian home? Attending a Bible-believing church? Being a good person? Praying a prayer? James 2:17 tells us that faith without works is dead. We don’t just profess the Christian life, we must live the Christian life because we are united to Christ.
John the Baptist’s message is relevant to all of us. Do we bear fruit in keeping with our repentance?
John’s message is also a comfort to us. It’s not just about sin, judgment, wrath, fire, and hell. It’s in his message that we see the gospel no longer hidden, but wonderfully revealed in the mercy of God with the coming of the incarnate Christ who has come to bear the sins of the world on the cross, taking on himself God’s furious wrath, and dying in our place, that we might rise from the dead as he rose.
Jesus’s coming is not just a message about sin, and judgment, but one of salvation and eternal hope. Yes, the chaff will be burned up but the wheat will be gathered into his barn—his heaven—his eternal dwelling where all who have trusted in the coming King will live securely for all eternity.
Song of Response
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