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This is My Son

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Matthew: Christ The Promised King  •  Sermon  •  Submitted   •  Presented   •  27:52
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As Jesus comes to John for baptism, we see he is the true fulfilment of Israel, being everything it should have been, and he receives from God the accolade due true Israel: "this is My Son, whom I love; with Him I am well pleased." We can hope for this same declaration over us as God's people through our incorporation into Christ in baptism.

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prepare: the Lord is coming, salvation and judgement.
intro me
last week we reached the end of the opening act in Matthew’s gospel: Jesus’ arrival as God with us - and through Christmas and into this new year we’ve seen both the worship and the trouble he met as he enters into our broken world before the curtain went down on the first act.
Today, the curtain rises again and there’s almost a hushed expectation as act 2 is about to begin. It’s been about thirty years since the events of that very first Christmas - about thirty years of waiting where, so it seems, nothing much happens. And the truth is, for God’s ancient people, the Jews, it’s been a much, much longer wait - 400 years since the last of the prophets brought God’s message to them; 400 years of silence. Yes, a brief moment of angels and stars and a baby in Bethlehem which must have got tongues wagging - but it doesn’t seem to come to much, and I expect, was quickly forgotten. Back to business as usual: waiting.
Let’s pick up the story and hear what happens next:
Matthew 3:1–12 NIV
In those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the wilderness of Judea and saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” This is he who was spoken of through the prophet Isaiah: “A voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.’ ” John’s clothes were made of camel’s hair, and he had a leather belt around his waist. His food was locusts and wild honey. People went out to him from Jerusalem and all Judea and the whole region of the Jordan. Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River. But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to where he was baptizing, he said to them: “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not think you can say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire. “I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me comes one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor, gathering his wheat into the barn and burning up the chaff with unquenchable fire.”
The kingdom of heaven has come near
The people were waiting because God had promised his people that things were going to change. Perhaps that’s why this new guy in the wilderness with is getting so much attention. There’s his diet: who here’s eaten honey? mmm tasty. Locusts? nope. I don’t think that’s going to be the new diet craze. There’s his dress code: who has a leather belt on today? now who’s wearing any camel hair? Odd, right, but I doubt that was enough. It takes far more than just being weird to draw a crowd.
I think John gets attention most of all for the heart of his message: “the kingdom of heaven has come near.” That, that, is what people had been waiting for - but I don’t think this message is that clear for us to understand. What does he mean, that the kingdom of heaven has come near? Let’s unpack that a bit.
What is this “kingdom of heaven”? Is it a physical place, an area of land - like the Kingdom of Fife just over the water, with borders, boundaries? no - not a physical place. Is he talking about the nature, the substance of the kingdom - what it’s made out of? Like a kingdom of cheese? - ooh actually quite fancy that. But that’s not getting at it. If you were to look in the other gospels we have in our bible, the three other tellings of the story of Jesus, in the place of this phrase, where the different gospels overlap, you’d read about the “kingdom of God” instead.
That helps us understand the phrase here in Matthew. this kingdom is anywhere and everywhere that God is actively king, everywhere his rule is honoured; everywhere that moves to his command. When we pray in the Lord’s Prayer, up on the wall over here, “your kingdom come”, this is what we’re praying for: God’s active rule and his good design to break into our lives and our world, and to take over more and more.
Of course, there’s a sense that God is king over the whole universe - but he’s not enforcing his rule, his ways; not setting the agenda and enacting it everywhere. Yet.
Imagine a family home with some good family rules: No feet on the sofa. Some healthy veg with every meal. Do the washing up before bed. Now imagine the parents go away for a few days - a special wedding anniversary, maybe. On the first day, perhaps standards stay pretty high. But you can bet by day three the kitchen surface is covered in washing up. There are exactly the same number of vegetables in the fridge as there were on day one, and the sofa’s going to need to go in the washing machine whole. Imagine the whole house looking like a teenager’s bedroom!
Are the parents in charge? Do they have authority? Are they “king”? Yes - oh yes, children, that’s what he bible tells us - Colossians 3:20 children obey your parents! They have authority - but they’re not enforcing it, not enacting it right now.
And then… Then there’s a knock on the door… [knock] “the kingdom of heaven has come near” - that’s what it means. God’s back - He’s right at the door - and things are going to change. Big-time. That closing part, “the kingdom of heaven has come near” is more about nearness in time than location - it’s not close by, just a few miles away - it’s moments away, it’s about to happen, it’s imminent.
Let’s go back to our illustration for a moment. Let’s say - let’s say the parents have been away a long time - a really long time. And things have gotten wildly out of hand as the kids have spiralled away and away from the the straight and narrow. It’s quite possible the house is going to have be written and off and torn down completely.
And then, through the window, the kids see one of their friends shouting and waving at them from the street, gesticulating so wildly it’s like they are try to flap their wings fast enough to take off. The friend is pointing down the road, looking terrified. And then you make out what he’s saying: “they’re coming!” What are the kids going to do?
Well, it’s too far gone to fix it. There’s no way they could wash everything up in time if they tried. And the carpet will actually never be the same ever again. The place is trashed. So what hope is left for them? Back to our bible passage - this is why John starts his message with “repent”. That’s the only hope those kids have got: to repent.
Now “repent” is a bit of a christian-y word so let me unpack that for you. What does it mean to “repent”? It means to change direction. To turn around. But it’s not just any change of course, just any adjustment to your heading. Like, ok, that door’s closed, let me try this other one. More specifically, it’s turning away from a wrong direction, accepting, admitting that was the wrong direction to be going. Turning towards a new direction, one you accept is, in fact, the right direction you should have been going all along.
And I think the heart of our problem with this repentance stuff is just how painful, how deeply painful, it is for our human psyche to admit that we were in fact going the wrong way. We’re just allergic to admitting we were wrong.
Take something trivial like driving. There’s the sat nav saying “make a u-turn where possible” “make a u-turn where possible” “make a u-turn where possible” but me, I’m just going straight on because I know where I’m going, I know the right way, I know it’s over here. But then at the dead-end, it finally dawns on me that I actually don’t know where I’m going. I’m actually wrong.
Do you find it easy to admit you were wrong? Or can you identify with that sort of internal wiring? That’s my internal wiring. The huge block getting in the way of repentance is our pride, our massive pride, which makes it so hard for us to admit we were wrong. Here, as people respond to John’s message of God knocking at the door, the kingdom of heaving drawing near, we see two practical steps teaching us how we do this. Look at verse 6 with me. Matthew 3:6
Matthew 3:6 NIV
Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River.
Confession and Baptism.
Back to our picture of those kids home alone. They have a few choices when the parents show up at the door. They can pretend there’s nothing going on - but that won’t get them far: can’t help but see the smoking ruin of a home behind them. Reality is going to assert itself. They can reject their parents’ authority outright: “you can’t tell me what to do”. “I like my house like this”. But it’s not their house. And their parents can tell them what to do. Or they can confess: “I’m so sorry. We got out of control. It was wrong.”
Now turn the tables: the parents have a couple of options for how to respond too. They can stick it to those kids and lay it on thick: “you’re grounded literally forever.” “you are going to pay for everything you’ve broken”. “I will never trust you ever again.” Or they can accept the confession and the sorrow. Believe the repentance, the change of heart. And forgive them, wiping the slate clean with grace - or, rather, washing the slate clean.
That is, I think, the main thing that John’s baptism is picturing here: in verse 11 he tells us as much - Mt 3:11 "I baptise you with water for repentance”, the people calling on God in hope and faith for a fresh start with Him. Obviously the mucky waters of the Jordan don’t actually do that - they point to it, to what only God can really do - it’s only the parents who can forgive the wrong against them.
Matthew 3:11 (NIV)
“I baptize you with water for repentance.
If you know your bible stories, it’s worth thinking about the last time the Jewish people went through the Jordan river: at the end of the exodus, after 40 years in the wilderness for their disobedience, entering into God’s promises to them. They’re back at that same river again, having lived in disobedience again. Perhaps there’s something of that entering into God’s promises here, too.
Who warned you?
Now it’s at this point that the religious bigwig leaders from Jerusalem show up, the Pharisees and Sadducees. And the way the passage reads, it really doesn’t seem like they are coming to confess and be baptised. Mt 3:7 See in v7 they’re just described as “coming to where he was baptising” - coming to check him out, see what all the fuss is about. He’s none too friendly with them - calls them a “brood of vipers” - or children of snakes - which is never going to get you invited to many parties. They’re not getting off to a good start.
Matthew 3:7 NIV
But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to where he was baptizing, he said to them: “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath?
What I want us to think about here is his repeated challenge to them: Mt 3:8 in v8 “produce fruit in keeping with repentance,” he says. What does he mean there? Repentance, the sort of repentance we’ve talked about - admitting the way we were going was wrong, choosing to go the right way instead - unavoidably changes our lives, or, to use the language of this passage “produces fruit”. You can’t truly repent and have nothing come of it - that would mean no change of direction actually happened. True repentance has to bear fruit - there must be a difference between the way you were going, which you now agree was wrong, and the way you are now trying to go, a way you agree that is right. They can’t be the same. Change, or fruit, is inherent to repentance.
Matthew 3:8 NIV
Produce fruit in keeping with repentance.
I think John’s problem with these Pharisees and Sadducees was that, while they might make claims and go through the motions - perhaps some of them did make some sort of confession and maybe even receive John’s baptism, there was no true repentance, no actual change of direction, and so no fruit. These people never truly admitted that they had been going the wrong way in the first place. Sorry-not-sorry. No gap between the way I was going and the way I’m going now. There’s no cleansing from God for that. All there is ahead for people like that is “coming wrath” as John puts it in 7. And that wrath is tied up in the very same thing John started with, the “kingdom of heaven” drawing near.
Coming wrath
Let me bring it back to that picture of the kids in a house again. If you’re here today and you wouldn’t call yourself a follower of Jesus, if you couldn’t say you’ve agreed you were going the wrong way and you’re trying to change direction, the big question for you is whether there really are these parents who are going to return. Whether there really is someone in authority, someone who gets the final say, someone who could rightly finish their sentences with “because I say so.” That’s what you are gambling on just now. I’m the friend standing outside your window pointing and gesturing and trying to tell you they are coming. Trying to tell you that you have to prepare to face the music.
Now you might not like the idea that someone else gets to make the rules, not you. Like a kid disagreeing with their parents over whether they really have to brush their teeth ‘cause you don’t like the taste of toothpaste and your young brain doesn’t understand the chemistry of tooth decay. Maybe you don’t like washing up and you’d prefer to live with paper plates - but if there really are grown ups, it doesn’t matter what you prefer or whether you like it or not - they’re the boss.
So let me give you the bottom line: if there really is a God, He really might disagree with you, and it’s not like there will be a debate and then a twitter poll to decide things: you would be the one who had to change, to come around. If you’re only open to a god who always agree with you on everything - if you could only believe in a god who never challenges you, never goes a different way to your default, the truth is you’re making yourself god. And the true God is not ok with that. And he’s coming back.
Repent and be baptised
I have to say to you today, with John, with Jesus, with his disciples: Mt 3:2
Matthew 3:2 (NIV)
“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”
How would you do that practically? It’s set out for us right here: Mt 3:6 - repent and be baptised. Admit you were wrong. Call on God for forgiveness. Choose to change direction. You can do that first part right now. Just speak to God inside your head - he is listening. He will hear you. And that second part? We’ll baptise you next week. Just come and talk to me or any of the other leaders here. We’ll get the pool ready for next Sunday and we can finish this. If you’re on the live stream, we’ll put up a button you can click to get in touch - look in the chat panel - we can figure something out for you.
Matthew 3:6 NIV
Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River.
And I need to say this too: if you’d call yourself a Christian, but you’ve never taken that one-time step of baptism, you should get baptised. Because Jesus says so - it’s part of how he defined making disciples at the end of Matthew’s gospel. Mt 28:19-20 And he’s God so don’t argue with him. We’ll baptise you next week. Again, just come and talk to me or any of the other leaders here - or click that button in chat. Feeling awkward about something is not an acceptable reason to disobey Jesus. If you believe Jesus and his words, there is no good reason to wait or hold back. It’s time to obey them and get on with it.
Matthew 28:19–20 NIV
Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
He will baptise you with the Holy Spirit and fire
There’s so much more in this passage but there’s only time for me to draw out one last thing this morning. Perhaps you feel like you’ve tried to repent, tried to change direction, but it just didn’t work. Perhaps you’ve tried to say “no” to the way you were going, and “yes” to a new way - but after a while - maybe months, maybe just hours, you find you’re just right back on the same path as before, still going the wrong way. I want you to know that I have been there. You need the baptism of Jesus - and you need to trust the baptism of Jesus.
Let me explain. John has some words about the one coming after him which can sound pretty mysterious: Mt 3:11
Matthew 3:11 NIV
“I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me comes one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.
The one coming after John is much more powerful, much greater - and as we’ll see next Sunday: it’s Jesus, of course. John is busy baptising with water in the Jordan river but he says the one coming after him, Jesus, is planning on baptising with something very different. But it’s a bit confusing because it sounds like he’ll actually be baptising with two things. “He will baptise you with the Holy Spirit and fire.” Is this a new, improved baptism - like an upgrade at the carwash? wash and wax?
No, Jesus is coming bringing two things - and each person is going to get one or the other. You are going to get one or the other: either Jesus will baptise you with fire - that is, judgement. “the coming wrath.” The knock on the door calling time on our childish disobedience to God and our life ignoring him. Look one verse either side and you can see this fire is destructive.
Or he will baptise you with the Holy Spirit. One of the three persons in the godhead; God, the life-giving Spirit, the active power. What would it mean for Jesus to baptise - to wash you with, to immerse you in God himself? It means the sort of fundamental transformation which actually enables true repentance, a real change of direction, producing good fruit. These things don’t come from us or we’d deserve some credit. They come from God as his act of grace towards us. We’ve trashed the house but he hasn’t just come to the door saying “try harder and do better next time” - instead he’s at the door saying “I am ready to transform you so you will never be the same.”
If you’re struggling with repentance, struggling to change, you either need this baptism of Jesus, the transforming power of the Holy Spirit within you, or you need to trust this baptism of Jesus which has placed the transforming power of the Holy Spirit within you. I’ve been in both places, on both sides. Do you need to take that fundamental first step of repentance and faith, and ask Jesus for his transforming baptism. Is that why you can’t change? Or do you just need to take another step of repentance and faith, trusting the reality of Jesus’ transforming baptism within you? Talk to someone you trust today. Ask them to pray with you. If you’ve not been baptised, we will do that for you next Sunday.
And if you know this two-sided baptism of Jesus, you have a duty to sound the alarm: for those who don’t. That’s why seeking to share the hope that we have in Jesus is such a priority here at Hope City: “the kingdom of heaven has drawn near”. The message John brings here is also Jesus’ message Mt 4:17 and the one he gave to his first disciples. And it is meant to be our message too: Mt 10:7
Matthew 10:7 NIV
As you go, proclaim this message: ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’
Supporting verses
Spirit poured out as OT prophecy NT fulfilment: Is 44:3 / Ezk 39:29 / Joel 2:28
Fire as judgement: Mt 3:10, 12; Mal 4:1
John’s baptism not sufficient Acts 19:1-7
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