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Matthew 3:1-12

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Review:

Last week we finished the first two chapters of Matthew’s Gospel. We saw how Matthew worked hard to demonstrate Jesus’ credentials as the long hoped for Messiah. We looked at his Jewish roots found as far back as Abraham, and his kingly lineage coming from David. We saw that Jesus was not just any man but one conceived by the Holy Spirit, that he was God in the flesh - a savior who would save his people from their sins.
This baby Jesus would fulfill many of the OT scriptures even at a very early age. He was born in Bethlehem, he would come out of Egypt symbolically demonstrating that he would lead his people out of exile - a new exodus of sorts. He would be a new Moses, one who would lead his people out of their bondage to sin.
Yet, as the prophets of the OT had said, he would be despised and even rejected by men. That he would be a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. Matthew described him as a Nazarene, not simply because he would grow up in Nazareth but because this was to be symbolic of Jesus’ life as one who would be held in contempt by his Jewish counterparts, to be labeled a Nazarene was something of a byword for those who were disliked by those of more noble birth.

John the Baptist

Now in chapter 3 Matthew takes us forward in history almost 30 years later to the time of John the Baptist just prior to Jesus’ public ministry. Let’s pickup the story in chapter 3 starting in verse 1,
3 In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, 2 “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” 3 For this is he who was spoken of by the prophet Isaiah when he said,
“The voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord; make his paths straight.’ ”
John the Baptist is last of the OT prophets and his primary purpose is to prepare the way for Jesus the Messiah. On the outset we see him preaching in the wilderness of Judea calling for repentance and declaring that the kingdom of heaven is at hand.
John comes preaching
Now preaching is a heralding of sorts, John was publicly declaring that something new was happening, in this case, the kingdom of heaven was at hand, it was near. In the Middle Ages trumpeters would blow their trumpets indicating that the king was about to appear. This was John’s role. He was announcing that the Kingdom of God was here and that its king was about to make his appearance.
His preaching was also calling the people of God to something, it was calling the people of Israel to repentance, and preaching today is very much the same, the preacher proclaims the word of God to the congregation and then calls them to obedience. It’s what I hope to do here today in Matthew’s Gospel.
John living in the wilderness
John the Baptist preached from the wilderness of Judea near the Jordan River. It was just as it sounds, a desolate place, like a desert, yet more similar to what we would call an arid climate, where rain certainly falls, but not often, and only during certain times of the year. John was not from the metropolis of Jerusalem but lived most of his life largely in isolation, and still even at this time, during his public ministry, the people came to him to be baptized. The wilderness was also a place of common origin for the prophets of the OT and John’s life and home was no different.
John was preaching some 30 miles outside of Jerusalem along the Jordan River calling the people to repentance. This was his job, to prepare the hearts and the minds of the people for the coming Messiah, this man born king of the Jews. This is why Matthew quotes from Isaiah chapter 40 verse 3,
A voice cries: “In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD; make straight in the desert a highway for our God.
John himself had been foretold by the prophets of the OT that he would come and prepare the way for the Messiah.
The apparel of a prophet
“5 Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the LORD comes. 6 And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the land with a decree of utter destruction.” ()
In the OT Elijah has an eschatological role, in other words he plays an important role in Scripture’s end time prophecies, so when Matthew connects John with Elijah he intends to point to the immediacy and nearness of the kingdom of heaven which the Jewish people have been looking forward to since Malachi. In fact, it appears that John comes from the same area where Elijah was carried up to heaven in a chariot of fire, as if indicating that this same Elijah had returned symbolically in the person of John the Baptist.
The apparel of a prophet
Continuing in verse 4 of chapter 3 we read,
4 Now John wore a garment of camel’s hair and a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey. 5 Then Jerusalem and all Judea and all the region about the Jordan were going out to him, 6 and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.
Now remember Matthew has the opportunity to mention anything he wants about John the Baptist in chapter 3 but he chooses only certain things, things that are of particular importance, and it’s up to us to see what it is he intends for us to see. This is no less true as he makes mention of what John is wearing and what he eats. He says that “John wore a garment of camel’s hair and a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey.” Matthew is making it clear that John fits the bill of an OT prophet, down to the clothes he wears and the food that he eats.
We read about the prophet Elijah in when king Ahaziah asks about a particular prophet’s identity his messenger answer him by saying, “He wore a garment of hair, with a belt of leather about his waist.” And he said, “It is Elijah the Tishbite.” ()
They answered him, “He wore a garment of hair, with a belt of leather about his waist.” And he said, “It is Elijah the Tishbite.” ()
We also read in about God’s judgement of false prophets, Zechariah says this, “On that day every prophet will be ashamed of his vision when he prophesies. He will not put on a hairy cloak in order to deceive, 5 but he will say, ‘I am no prophet, I am a worker of the soil, for a man sold me in my youth.’ ()
On that day every prophet will be ashamed of his vision when he prophesies. He will not put on a hairy cloak in order to deceive, 5 but he will say, ‘I am no prophet, I am a worker of the soil, for a man sold me in my youth.’ ()
Zechariah points to the fact that false prophets would dress themselves in such a way to give the people of Israel the impression that they were indeed genuine prophets, such apparel included a hairy cloak, and we see here John the Baptist wearing a garment of camel’s hair just as we would expect from a prophet come from God.
John baptizes and they confess their sins
We go on in verse 5 and read that, “Jerusalem and all Judea and all the region about the Jordan were going out to him, 6 and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.”
Matthew tells us that the common people of Israel are coming out in droves to see John in the wilderness, they are responding to his call to repent, and are being baptized in the river Jordan. We see in their practice of confessing their sin that their repentance is genuine. They are not fearful of coming to the light, rather they’re more concerned of whether their heart is right before God than whether their sin is being exposed before men. John baptizes them as as symbol of their need to be cleansed of their sin - it’s a baptism of repentance.
I think the question that arises here for us is whether we would have readily postured our hearts in similar fashion before God. Would we have been willing to confess our sins publically and be baptized by John? Would we have been willing to turn from our sin? Would we have been willing to acknowledge our sin before others? Would our love for God compelled us to do so?
The Pharisees and Sadducees unrepentant
Unfortunately, we see in verses 7-12 of chapter 3 that the religious leaders of Israel were not so eager to repent. We read starting in verse 7,
7 But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? 8 Bear fruit in keeping with repentance. 9 And do not presume 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. 10 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.
11 “I baptize you with water for repentance, but he who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 12 His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into the barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.” ( Matthew 3:7-12)
The Pharisees and Sadducees hadn’t come down to the Jordan River to repent and be baptized, they had come down to see what all of the commotion was about. You see, the confessing of sin naturally flows out of the act of repentance and the last thing these religious leaders were going to do was acknowledge their own sin, especially not publically. They were quite content to be esteemed by the people. They craved the praise of men and would do anything for it and anything maintain it. describes it this way, “for they loved the glory that comes from man more than the glory that comes from God.” They did not seek to please God, for if they had they would have received John. Jesus is later recorded in Luke chapter 7, starting in verse 24, as saying this about John the Baptist,
The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society. They did not seek to please God, for if they had they would have received John. Jesus is later recorded in Luke chapter 7, starting verse 24, as saying this about John the Baptist,
24 … Jesus began to speak to the crowds concerning John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken by the wind? 25 What then did you go out to see? A man dressed in soft clothing? Behold, those who are dressed in splendid clothing and live in luxury are in kings’ courts. 26 What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. 27 This is he of whom it is written,
“ ‘Behold, I send my messenger before your face, who will prepare your way before you.’
28 I tell you, among those born of women none is greater than John. Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he.” 29 (When all the people heard this, and the tax collectors too, they declared God just, having been baptized with the baptism of John, 30 but the Pharisees and the lawyers rejected the purpose of God for themselves, not having been baptized by him.) ()
They reject God’s call for repentance, and it’s the same reason they would eventually reject the Messiah as well. Jesus said it well when he said that they think that they’re in no need of a physician.
The Pharisees and Sadducees a brood of vipers
John’s mission was to prepare the hearts and minds of the people for the coming Messiah. To herald the arrival of God’s kingdom, and to call the people of Israel to repentance. But John knows that when these religious leaders arrive they haven’t come to repent, instead they’ve simply come to see for themselves the object of all the public commotion and to mock him. John is not unaware of this, and we see here that he holds nothing back when he calls them a “brood of vipers!” He even rhetorically asks them, “Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?”
John’s mission was to prepare the hearts and minds of the people for the coming Messiah. To herald the arrival of God’s kingdom, and to call the people of Israel to repentance. But John knows that when these religious leaders arrive they haven’t come to repent, instead they’ve simply come to see for themselves the object of all the public commotion and to mock him. John is not unaware of this, and we see here that he holds nothing back when he calls them a “brood of vipers!” He even rhetorically asks them, “Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?”
The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society. Their proud hearts were hard and unwilling to yield to God’s command to repent.
In their eyes they were children of Abraham - direct descendants. They were not pagan Gentiles in need of repentance, so they thought, instead they were God’s chosen people. Any kind public baptism of repentance was repugnant to them, they would never stoop so low so as to implicate themselves as fellow sinners amidst the common people. No, no, they were priests, scribes and well learned. They were above such things and in no need of them.
Descendants of Abraham
In their eyes they were direct descendants of Abraham - children of promise. They were not pagan Gentiles in need of repentance, so they thought, therefore any kind public baptism of repentance was repugnant to them, they would never stoop so low so as to implicate themselves as fellow sinners amidst the common people. No, no, they were priests, scribes and well learned. They were above such things and in no need of them.
Are we Jews and better off? No, not at all.
What’s important for us to see here is that this is the heart of every single unregenerate person. And it’s the very same callused heart that we all had at one time. Our natural man is utterly hardened to things of God. Yet the Jewish religious leaders here are inclined to think that they’re somehow exempt from this reality here in chapter 3, but listen to what Paul says in his letter to church in Rome,
9 What then? Are we Jews any better off? No, not at all. For we have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under sin, 10 as it is written: “None is righteous, no, not one; 11  no one understands; no one seeks for God. 12  All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.” 13  “Their throat is an open grave; they use their tongues to deceive.” “The venom of asps is under their lips.” 14  “Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness.” 15  “Their feet are swift to shed blood; 16  in their paths are ruin and misery, 17  and the way of peace they have not known.” 18  “There is no fear of God before their eyes.”
()
Beloved we are so prone to harden our hearts toward God, even as Christians, and this is the warning we should see here in the text here today.
Bearing fruit in keeping with repentance
I think as Christians here in the West we are particularly susceptible to hardening our hearts toward God and his word because we have this sort of Christian heritage by which we draw from and rely own for our own salvation and right standing with God, but in reality it isn’t any of these things that count for salvation. Salvation is of the Lord and it requires a heart that bears fruit in keeping with repentance. It’s not a one off thing where we feel sorry for our sin and then live like the World. No, it’s repentance that’s regular, and consistent, that ultimately bears good fruit in our lives. It’s this that’s evidence of a genuine and saving faith.
Repentance the changing of the mind
Repentance is a changing of the mind, it’s not being merely sorrowful for our sin but it’s also being motivated by our love for God in such a way that we turn away from our sin, and it’s then, and only then, that “[God] is faithful and just to forgive us [of] our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness,” but “if we say,” like the Pharisees, that “we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” () I pray that we would be like the common people of Israel who were not afraid to confess their sin and so be cleansed by the waters of God’s redeeming grace.
The reality of Hell and sweetness of the Gospel
And John isn’t afraid to warn us of the consequences of our rebellion if we refuse to repent. He says in verse 10, “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.” This is the warning that most preachers in our day and age are almost embarrassed to speak, but woe to him who is unwilling to preach the whole counsel of God. The wrath of God is terrible for those who remain in their sin and rebellion against God, and it’s why we must not shy away from the Scriptures teaching on Hell.
The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.
Urgency to share the Gospel
In fact, the reality of Hell should give us a sense of urgency and compel us to share the Gospel with those within our spheres of influence. The reality of Hell is also one of the reasons the Gospel is so sweet. It’s the proclamation that those who confess with their mouth that Jesus is Lord, and genuinely repent of their sin can be made right with God - they can have everlasting life at the expense of Jesus’ death on the cross. Jesus’s righteous can become our righteousness by trusting in him and his work at the cross. This is good news, and it’s news that we desperately need, because without it we will perish and so will our neighbor. Let us not be subtly deceived and think that this same Jesus who came to atone for sins of his people will not also come again with “his winnowing fork in his hand, … clear his threshing floor, … gather his wheat into the barn,” and burn the remaining chaff with an “unquenchable fire.”
In fact, the last words of the OT, spoken by the prophet Malachi, are this,
“1 For behold, the day is coming, burning like an oven, when all the arrogant and all evildoers will be stubble. The day that is coming shall set them ablaze, says the LORD of hosts, so that it will leave them neither root nor branch. 2 But for you who fear my name, the sun of righteousness shall rise with healing in its wings. You shall go out leaping like calves from the stall.” … “5 Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the LORD comes. 6 And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the land with a decree of utter destruction.” (, )
The book of Malachi
In the OT Elijah has an eschatological role, in other words he plays an important role in Scripture’s end time prophecies, so when Matthew connects John with Elijah he intends to point to the immediacy and nearness of the kingdom of heaven which the Jewish people have been looking forward to since Malachi. In fact, it appears that John comes from the same area where Elijah was carried up to heaven in a chariot of fire, as if indicating that this same Elijah had returned symbolically in the person of John the Baptist.
The Pharisees and Sadducees a brood vipers
The Pharisees and Sadducees hadn’t come down to the Jordan River to repent and be baptized, they had come down to see what all of the commotion was about. You see the confessing of sin naturally flows out of the act of repentance and the last thing these religious leaders were going to do was acknowledge their own sin publically. They were quite content to simply be held in high esteem by the people. The craved the praise of men and would do anything for it. They did not seek to please God, for if they had they would have received John.
24 When John’s messengers had gone, Jesus began to speak to the crowds concerning John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken by the wind? 25 What then did you go out to see? A man dressed in soft clothing? Behold, those who are dressed in splendid clothing and live in luxury are in kings’ courts. 26 What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. 27 This is he of whom it is written,
Prayer
“ ‘Behold, I send my messenger before your face, who will prepare your way before you.’
28 I tell you, among those born of women none is greater than John. Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he.” 29 (When all the people heard this, and the tax collectors too, they declared God just, having been baptized with the baptism of John, 30 but the Pharisees and the lawyers rejected the purpose of God for themselves, not having been baptized by him.) ()
They reject God’s call for repentance, and it’s the same reason they would eventually reject the Messiah as well. They think they’re in no need of a physician.
Preparing the hearts and minds of the people for the coming Messiah
John’s mission was to prepare the hearts and minds of the people for the coming Messiah. To herald the arrival of God’s kingdom, and to call the people of Israel to repentance. But John knows that when the religious leaders arrive they haven’t come to repent, instead they’ve come to simply see for themselves the object of all the commotion and to mockingly disparage him. John is not unaware of this and he holds nothing back when calling them on it. Their proud hearts were hard and unwilling to yield to God’s command to repent.
In their eyes they were children of Abraham - direct descendants. They were not pagan Gentiles in need of repentance, so they thought, instead they were God’s chosen people. Any kind public baptism of repentance was repugnant to them, they would never stoop so low so as to implicate themselves as fellow sinners amidst the common people. No, no, they were priests, scribes and well learned. They were above such things and in no need of them.
None greater than John the Baptist
John the Baptist is the most fitting individual in the OT to prepare the hearts and minds of the people for the Messiah, in facts, Jesus tells us that “among those born of women none is greater than John.”
28 I tell you, among those born of women none is greater than John. Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he.” ()
The Pharisees and Sadducees hadn’t come down to the Jordan River to repent and be baptized, they had come down to see what all of the commotion was about. You see the confessing of sin naturally flows out of the act of repentance and the last thing these religious leaders were going to do was acknowledge their own sin publically. They were quite content to simply be held in high esteem by the people. The craved the praise of men and would do anything for it. They did not seek to please God, for if they had they would have received John.
24 When John’s messengers had gone, Jesus began to speak to the crowds concerning John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken by the wind? 25 What then did you go out to see? A man dressed in soft clothing? Behold, those who are dressed in splendid clothing and live in luxury are in kings’ courts. 26 What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. 27 This is he of whom it is written,
The Pharisees and Sadducees hadn’t come down to the Jordan to repent and be baptized, they had come down to reject and condemn John.
“ ‘Behold, I send my messenger before your face, who will prepare your way before you.’
28 I tell you, among those born of women none is greater than John. Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he.” 29 (When all the people heard this, and the tax collectors too, they declared God just, having been baptized with the baptism of John, 30 but the Pharisees and the lawyers rejected the purpose of God for themselves, not having been baptized by him.) ()
28 I tell you, among those born of women none is greater than John. Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he.” 29 (When all the people heard this, and the tax collectors too, they declared God just, having been baptized with the baptism of John, 30 but the Pharisees and the lawyers rejected the purpose of God for themselves, not having been baptized by him.) ()
They reject God’s call for repentance, and it’s the same reason they would eventually reject the Messiah as well. They think they’re in no need of a physician.
29 (When all the people heard this, and the tax collectors too, they declared God just, having been baptized with the baptism of John, 30 but the Pharisees and the lawyers rejected the purpose of God for themselves, not having been baptized by him.) ()
Preparing the hearts and minds of the people for the coming Messiah
John’s mission was to prepare the hearts and minds of the people for the coming Messiah. To herald the arrival of God’s kingdom, and to call the people of Israel to repentance. But John knows that when the religious leaders arrive they haven’t come to repent, instead they’ve come to simply see for themselves the object of all the commotion and to mockingly disparage him. John is not unaware of this and he holds nothing back when calling them on it. Their proud hearts were hard and unwilling to yield to God’s command to repent.
In their eyes they were children of Abraham - direct descendants. They were not pagan Gentiles in need of repentance, so they thought, instead they were God’s chosen people. Any kind public baptism of repentance was repugnant to them, they would never stoop so low so as to implicate themselves as fellow sinners amidst the common people. No, no, they were priests, scribes and well learned. They were above such things and in no need of them.
Heavenly Father, we tremble at your Word, and I pray that you would give us the grace to heed it in all that it says and commands. I pray that you would give us hearts that are quick to repent and quick to confess - quick to turn away from sin. Give us hearts to hear and to trust. Give us a sense of urgency and boldness to share this Gospel, this good news, to our colleagues at work, at school, with our friends and at home with our families. Let us be like John, heralds of of this Gospel to a world that is perishing. May we seek the praise that comes from God only. Would you be our passion and our chief reward. We ask all of these things in Jesus’ name. Amen.
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