Get Ready for Jesus

Posted: July 3, 2011 in Matthew

Matthew 3:1-12, “Get Ready for Jesus”

Ever watch the State of the Union address?  Both houses of Congress are gathered together and there’s a ton of activity & people are buzzing around until the gavel is struck and the sergeant-at-arms calls out: “Ladies & Gentlemen, the President of the United States of America!”  Then (and only then) does the President enter the room – after his coming has been announced.

In a similar fashion, that’s what all 4 gospel writers describe of John the Baptist.  He serves in not only the role of a prophet, but of the King’s herald: announcing the way of the Messiah & preparing people to receive the King of kings.  Of course, there are different reactions to that message.  Some people respond willingly; others persisted in skepticism.  Yet none of that changes the fact that what John proclaimed was absolutely true…Jesus (the Christ – the King) was indeed coming.  The only real question was: were they ready?

The same scenario exists for every human being today.  Jesus is coming again, and His coming has been well announced for us.  Are we ready to receive Him?  And if we want to receive Him, how can we know we are prepared?  That’s exactly what John the Baptist taught the people of Judea, and the same principles apply today.

Matthew 3:1–12 (NKJV)
1 In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, 2 and saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!”

  • Who was John the Baptist?  Luke actually provides some background, whereas Matthew just jumped right to him.  Like Jesus’ mother Mary, John’s mother also had a miraculous pregnancy – though it wasn’t a virgin birth, but a senior citizen getting pregnant for the 1st time.  Like Abraham’s wife Sarah who gave birth long after her childbearing years had passed, Elizabeth gave birth to John.  His father Zacharias did not believe it would happen at 1st & thus he was struck mute for 9 months until it was time to give the baby boy his name.  (Luke 1)
  • His location is interesting in that he’s in the wilderness (not unlike much of Elijah’s ministry).  It’s likely that John was in the same region as the Essenes in Qumran, who we know today through the Dead Sea Scrolls.  All that aside, it’s the wilderness.  This isn’t an established scholar sent out by the rabbinical training schools in Jerusalem – John isn’t one of the cultural elite – he’s not part of the Sadducees or Pharisees – he’s a guy that lives in the backwater of Judea.  After 400 years of silence from the prophets, this isn’t exactly the most-likely scenario that the people expected.  Yet it’s exactly what God did…
  • What was his message?  Repentance!  What does it mean to repent?  (AT Robertson) “Broadus used to say that this is the worst translation in the New Testament. The trouble is that the English word “repent” means “to be sorry again” from the Latin repoenitet (impersonal). John did not call on the people to be sorry, but to change (think afterwards) their mental attitudes (μετανοειτε [metanoeite]) and conduct.”  Simply put, repentance is a change of mind – a turning.  If we were walking one direction & then “repented,” we’d turn around & walk the other way.
    • Note: if John called upon the people to repent, that directly implies that there was something that needed changing.  And there was: their sin.  Sometimes it seems funny that we would need to be told that our sin is indeed sinful & we need to turn away from it – but that’s exactly where the Jews were & where we are today.  People readily embrace sin today, thinking that it’s the normal thing to do & it’s not something God really cares about.  It’s SIN.  When we rebel against God, it matters to Him!  We’re called upon by Him to have a change of mind about the way we’ve been thinking about ourselves & to turn away from our sin & turn to God.
  • Why repentance?  Because “The kingdom of heaven [was] at hand.” The long-expected King of Israel was coming – the reign of God was approaching & the people needed to be ready when it came.  Repentance prepares our heart for the kingdom.
    • Considering we’re still waiting on the Millennial Kingdom of Christ, was John wrong?  No.  In Jesus’ 1st coming, He did indeed institute the kingdom of heaven.  Prior to His crucifixion, Jesus even acknowledged to Pilate that His kingdom was not of this world (Jn 18:36).  We need to remember that there is a “now & not yet” aspect to the kingdom.  Jesus is the King right now & we are to act as His citizens right now – living as kingly ambassadors all over the world.  That’s not something we put off until the Millennium; we do that now.  At the same time, we understand that the full literal aspect of the kingdom is not yet.  Jesus sits on the throne in heaven right now; He will sit on the throne of David in Jerusalem after His 2nd coming.
    • Is there a difference between the kingdom of heaven & the kingdom of God?  It depends on who you read.  Some scholars see the KoH as simply being born-again & the KoG as a reference to the millennial reign.  Other scholars see no difference whatsoever.  Jesus seems to use the terms interchangeably – it’s the various authors that seem to use different terms.  Matthew is the only gospel writer to use “kingdom of heaven,” whereas Mark & Luke use “kingdom of God” frequently, and Matthew only occasionally.  Either way, the point is that in order to see the kingdom, we must first be submitted to the King of kings, Jesus Christ!
  • The same message could be preached on every street corner today!  We DO need to repent because Jesus’ kingdom is near!  Are you a citizen?  Do you belong to the King?  Turn away from your sin & turn to Christ!

3 For this is he who was spoken of by the prophet Isaiah, saying: “The voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the LORD; Make His paths straight.’ ”

  • John the Baptist may have been an unusual prophet, but he was not unexpected.  The prophets Isaiah & Malachi both wrote of his coming.  Isaiah specifically wrote of John’s mission: he was to be the herald of the King.  Just as ancient kings had heralds that announced their coming & called people to prepare the way for the king to enter, so John heralded the coming of the King of Israel: the Lord Jesus.  Quoting Isaiah 40:3, which was originally comforting God’s people in their Babylonian captivity, showing that God would bring a time of peace.  God Himself would come to them – obviously prophesying of the incarnation of Jesus Christ.  John was that voice that cried out to prepare the people for that coming.
  • Make His paths straight” – a reference to how a country would prepare to receive their king.  Many times the back roads were barely “roads” at all & not fit for a king to travel upon.  Thus the people would level out the roads & prepare them to receive the royal envoys.  That makes sense from a physical perspective, but what about a spiritual one?  How do we straighten the paths & roads for Christ?  Obviously He has to be the One to do the work in our lives, or we’ll fail every time.  How is it that we can respond to John’s call to make His path straight?  Again – through repentance.  Our hearts are prepared to receive Christ as King when we humble ourselves before Jesus, recognizing Him as the Lord God, forsaking our sin, and asking Him for His forgiveness.
    • Keep in mind that repentance doesn’t stop after you become a Christian. Are there any stumbling blocks in your life that would get in the way of Jesus truly being Lord?

4 Now John himself was clothed in camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist; and his food was locusts and wild honey.

  • If it seems an unusual mode of clothing, it was – but it was unusual for a purpose.  John’s manner of dress, his preaching, and his manner all pointed to the fact that he was the expected prophet to come in the role of Elijah.  Malachi 4:5–6, "(5) Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet Before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the LORD. (6) And he will turn The hearts of the fathers to the children, And the hearts of the children to their fathers, Lest I come and strike the earth with a curse." []  Objection: “Didn’t John specifically say he wasn’t Elijah? (Jn 1:20)”  Correct.  John was NOT the actual person of Elijah (which is what the scribes asked) – he was not in any way a “reincarnation” of Elijah.  (That would be anti-biblical.)  But he did fulfill the ROLE of Elijah – which Jesus Himself acknowledged (Mt 11:14)…
  • Why Elijah?  Think of Elijah’s ministry.  Elijah lived in Samaria (the northern kingdom) during the time of one of its most wicked kings & queens: Ahab & Jezebel.  Ahab was evil enough in himself & his queen exhibited enormous power & influence over him.  They were given over to idolatry & Jezebel went so far as to massacre as many true prophets of God that she could find (1 Kings 18).  People often remember Elijah for the miracles God did through him, but the miracles were all given for a reason: to call people to repentance in the midst of a nation given over to idolatry…to call people back to the one true God. [The test at Mt. Carmel – “let it be known that You are God in Israel,” 1 Kings 18:36]  It was no different with John’s ministry, only the people of Judea were no longer worshipping the Baals; the Jews of the day seemed to have been given over to their legalism & works-righteousness.  The law of God which had been given to bring people to faith in God’s promises through repentance was being used by the Jewish leaders & people as an idol in itself, as they sought to justify themselves through it & all the various traditions they added to it.
    • Our own culture isn’t much different.  We’ve got the more evident idols of Baalim: things like money, entertainment, ego, and pleasure.  Those are the things people give themselves to in a more obvious rejection of God.  Yet at the same time, we also have a tendency to participate in a more religious version of idolatry.  When people start putting more confidence in the religious trappings of “church” rather than faith in Christ, it’s no less idolatrous than what the Pharisees were doing in John’s day.  We can no less earn our salvation through our church membership, tithing records, mindless rituals, and potluck participations than we can through bowing down to a golden statue.  Thus we’re still in need of the same call to repentance!
  • Is there any significance to his diet of locusts & wild honey?  Only in the fact that it showed his poverty. Locusts (a kind of large grasshopper) were considered a “clean” food for the Jews to eat – many eastern cultures still eat certain insects today.  John was obviously adhering to the Law, but he wasn’t enriching himself off of the people.  His call for the people to repent was not done so he could charge people for the privilege of being baptized by him; it was done in purity & sincerity.

5 Then Jerusalem, all Judea, and all the region around the Jordan went out to him 6 and were baptized by him in the Jordan, confessing their sins.

  • Notice that the people responded!  They came out to John, confessing their sins.  Why confession?  Because it was an expression of their repentance.  John called upon them to change their mind regarding their sin & once they realized their own sinfulness, they confessed it.  They agreed with God that their rebellion & idolatry & pridefulness, etc., was all indeed sin & they needed to turn away from it.  We tend to get the idea that confession is a formal act that’s done in certain churches under certain conditions, but that’s not the case.  Confession is for every believer, as we agree with God regarding what He considers to be sin.
  • They also came to be baptized.  The Jews had recently begun to baptize converts to Judaism, though most often it was done as ritual cleansing.  [Mikvahs]  John’s baptism was unusual in that there was nothing formal & ritualistic about it.  His baptism was done as a visible act of someone repenting from their sin & showing contrition before God.  His baptism wasn’t done for show (as perhaps even some people attempt to treat Christian baptism today); it was done in sincerity of heart – it was done in faith.  They understood they needed to change, and the baptism was the expression of that change – a starting over as they began to walk with God in faith.
  • Again, this same sort of response is needed today. Granted, our baptism is different than John’s, in that while John baptized in repentance in preparation for the Messiah, we are baptized because we are repentant & trust in the Messiah Who has come.  Yet confession is still an expression of our repentance & baptism is still the expression of our faith.
  • Of course, not everyone had faith.  See verse 7…

7 But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them, “Brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?

  • This is our 1st introduction to the Pharisees & Sadducees.  Who were they?  They were considered the leadership among the theocratic society of the Jews.  The Sadducees were a smaller group, though at the time they held many of the positions of power.  They generally did not believe in the miraculous & certainly did not believe in the resurrection – though the high priest was chosen from their ranks. (A bit of irony!)  The Pharisees were on the other end of the spectrum – they accepted all of the books of the OT, but added to them in immense ways through traditions & legalism.  In many ways, the modern version of Judaism is a remnant of the Pharisaic tradition.
    • Interestingly enough, they didn’t usually get along very well.  Yet when it came to the ministry of John the Baptist (and later, Jesus), they seem to walk in lock-step with one another.  They were united in their opposition to Christ.
  • Why did they go to John?  Evidentially, not because they were repentant & wanted to be baptized, but they went out of curiosity.  They may have shown up to the baptism service, but John saw through their lack of faith.
    • Many people think that it’s the act of baptism that makes them “right with God.” Not true!  Baptism without faith is merely the act of getting wet.  Faith in Christ’s work on the cross & the resurrection (what Jesus has already done for you) is how we are made right in the sight of God.  Baptism is simply the expression of that faith.  Should we be baptized?  By all means!  But the ONLY reason we should be baptized is because Jesus is already your Lord & Savior; not because you think it might be a good religious thing to do.
  • John didn’t mince words when seeing through their hypocrisy: “Brood of vipers!”  Jesus will later use the same phrase to describe the Pharisees in Matt 23.  Like a bunch of snakes fleeing a flooded nest, so it seemed that the Pharisees & Sadducees were coming to John.  Of course, their problem was that they didn’t understand that they were the one facing the judgment & wrath of God.  They knew that John was a prophet sent by God; they just didn’t want to acknowledge the fact.  They were looking for excuses NOT to believe his message.
    • BTW – apparently it wasn’t only the P&S that had their share of skepticism.  In Luke’s gospel, John’s message doesn’t seem to distinguish between the Jewish leaders & the Jewish people.  Apparently many people were caught up in the same self-righteous lie of the Pharisees.
    • Some people spend a lot of time looking for reasons NOT to believe the gospel message.  Don’t be one of them.
  • What does John say to them?  The same thing he’s been saying to everyone else: repent, have faith, and be prepared for the King.

8 Therefore bear fruits worthy of repentance, 9 and do not think to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I say to you that God is able to raise up children to Abraham from these stones.

  • Repent!  “Bear fruits worthy of repentance.”  It’s not about words; it’s about reality.  John specifically closes the legalistic loophole of being able to mutter a few words of pseudo-confession in prayer & let that be the end of it (be it a ritualistic phrase someone is told to repeat over & over, or even an evangelical ‘sinner’s prayer’).  Walking to the front of the room & repeating words we don’t truly mean is NOT repentance.  That’s not to say it can’t be the sincere state of our heart & the start of repentance, but the words in themselves are not repentance.  It’s not words – it’s not ritual – it’s got to be real.  How do we know it’s real?  By the fruit.  When it’s not just the phrase, “Lord, I know I’m a sinner – please forgive me & give me new life,” but when it’s the true cry of our heart as we forever surrender our lives to the Lord Jesus.  When it’s not just a “I’m sorry,” when we’ve slandered our brother & sister, but truly gone to them in humility & done what we’ve can to make it right.  When it goes beyond going through the motions & we actually act upon what we’re saying, THAT’s showing the fruit worthy of repentance.
    • Keep in mind that although repentance is a change of mind, it includes more than just our mind…it includes our actions.  It’s a change of mind & a change of direction.  Think of it: if our mind is truly changed, then our actions will naturally follow.  If our actions stay the same as they always did, then obviously we didn’t change the way we thought about those things in the 1st place.
  • Have faith!  The P&S (and the Jews, in general) trusted in their physical lineage from Abraham – but John called them to more than that.  It’s not about heritage; it’s about faith.  Raising up children of Abraham is not exactly a problem for Almighty God.  God created the 1st man from dust; He can surely create descendants of Abraham from the stones.  A true child of Abraham wouldn’t trust in Abraham, but in the GOD of Abraham.  A true child of Abraham would follow the faith of his/her father.  True Jews are Jews in the heart; not just in the letter (Rom 2:29) – true followers of God do so by faith because we are only justified by faith in Christ.  True for Jews AND Gentiles – we who are of faith are blessed with Abraham was we are justified by faith (Gal 3:7-9).
  • What happens if we don’t have true repentance & sincere faith?  Judgment. Keep in mind, God knows the difference between what’s fake & what’s true.  Just as the P&S couldn’t pull a fast one on John, neither can we pull a fast one on God.  See vs. 10…

10 And even now the ax is laid to the root of the trees. Therefore every tree which does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.

  • Why did the P&S need to examine themselves to see if their repentance & faith were sincere?  Because the question is urgent!  There wasn’t any time to waste – “the ax is laid to the root of the trees.”  God was ready to judge them & they weren’t ready – but they needed to be!  God knows what trees bear real fruits of repentance, and which trees don’t bear anything.  Like a good gardener, He will prune back what doesn’t produce to make room for that which bears fruit – and the P&S were in danger of getting cut down & thrown aside.
  • Question: can we make ourselves into a good tree?  Can we turn ourselves from a tumbleweed into an apple tree?  No – that’s a work of God.  A person cannot wake up & decide to make themselves into a man/woman of faith who does works that pleases God.  It simply isn’t possible.  We’ve got to be changed by God in order to do anything that pleases Him…otherwise even the best that we can do (our righteousnesses) are like filthy rags in His sight.  We can’t do it on our own; we must respond to the work and the call of God.  You may not be able to turn yourself into an apple tree or a fruitful vine (or whatever the illustration), but GOD can.  That’s exactly what He offers to do through Jesus Christ for every man, woman, and child on the planet.  YOU can’t make yourself into a fruitful tree; but Jesus can.  Respond to the work & call of Christ.

11 I indeed baptize you with water unto 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.

  • Notice John didn’t make his message about himself; it was all about Jesus.
  • Jesus is greater.  Was John the Baptist a prophet?  Yes – the last of all the OT prophets.  Was he a man greatly privileged by God?  Absolutely – what better role could there be than to be the one who announces the coming of God’s Chosen Messiah?  Jesus Himself affirmed that of men who had been born throughout the ages, none had arisen that was greater than John (Lk 7:28).  Yet there is One who is far greater than him.  Infinitely greater than him!  Jesus Christ.  John was the herald of the King; Jesus is the King Himself!  And more than just any king, Jesus is the King of all kings – He is the Sovereign God of all the universe.  No wonder John said that he wasn’t even worthy to carry Jesus’ sandals.  Culturally speaking, this was one of the lowest of all tasks – to carry someone’s sandals was greatly humiliating.  Yet John wasn’t even worthy to do that with the Lord Jesus.
    • John had a proper perspective when it came to the Lord Jesus.  There are times we treat Him far too casually.  Yes, we are His co-heirs.  Yes, we are His friends.  Yes, He’s given us the right to be called the children of God.  All of those thing are absolutely true.  BUT – He’s still GOD.  When the apostle John saw the Lord Jesus prior to the Revelation, he didn’t run up to Jesus & give Him a high-five; John fell to His feet as a dead man (Rev 1:17).  By no means do we want to let formalism keep us from an intimate relationship with Christ – He invited us to far much more than that!  At the same time, may we never take our relationship with Christ for granted – may we never forget who He is.  He is God in the flesh, worthy of all our worship, love, reverence, and fear.
  • Jesus’ baptism is greater.  Again, John’s baptism was done in preparation for the coming King; Jesus’ baptism carries far more weight.  Whereas John baptized with water, Jesus baptizes with the Holy Spirit & fire.
    • The Holy Spirit.  Obviously there are many differences between Bible-believing Christians on the issue of the baptism of the Holy Spirit.  Yet there’s no doubt that Jesus does indeed baptize people with the Spirit!  The work that John seems to be referring to here is our initial baptism into Christ – the act that happens by faith the moment we become a believer (the moment we’re “born-again” – born of the Spirit).  Ephesians 4:4–6, "(4) There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called in one hope of your calling; (5) one Lord, one faith, one baptism; (6) one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all." []  When we repent from our sin & place our faith/trust in Christ Jesus as Lord, He gives us a new birth – the birth of the Holy Spirit.  This act (which is a work of God) baptizes us into Christ.  At that instant, we are indwelt by the Spirit of God & given new life.
      • There is also a work of the Holy Spirit that endues the believer with power which many people call the “Baptism of the Holy Spirit.”  Other people call it the filling of the Holy Spirit.  Whatever we call it, the work of the Spirit is obviously needed in the life of every believer.
    • Fire.  Although Christians also differ on this point, it seems that John isn’t necessarily referring to the tongues of fire that appeared at Pentecost over the heads of the apostles.  More likely, this seems to be a reference to Jesus’ judgment…which seems apparent from the context.  Vs. 10 speaks of unfruitful trees thrown into the fire – vs. 12 goes on to talk about the chaff burned up.  If the baptism of the Holy Spirit happens because of Jesus’ 1st coming, the baptism of fire seems to be looking forward to the events of Jesus’ 2nd coming.  He IS coming back, and when He comes, Jesus will judge.  At the Great White Throne judgment, all those whose names are not found written in the Book of Life will be cast into the lake of fire.  That’s not a “baptism” in which anyone will want to participate!

12 His winnowing fan is in His hand, and He will thoroughly clean out His threshing floor, and gather His wheat into the barn; but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.”

  • John reiterates the picture of judgment.  Just as the orchard gardener would through unfruitful trees into the fire, so would the wheat farmer burn up the chaff when separating it from the grain.  It’s a reference to ancient farming methods.  The wheat would be harvested & obviously the grain is enclosed in the kernel casing.  All of the kernels would be crushed (many times by oxen walking on it) & the way farmers would separate the wheat & the chaff (the casings & other trash left over) would be to toss it all in the air & allow the wind to blow out the chaff.  All that would be left would be the wheat itself.
  • The difference between the farmer & God?  Whereas the farmer might burn the chaff to get rid of it, the burning only lasts for a moment – chaff didn’t last long.  The fire of God’s judgment however, is “unquenchable.”  John is warning the P&S (and all of us) that unless we’re seen by God as the wheat (those who belong to Him through the work of Jesus Christ), we will endure His everlasting righteous judgment.  Jesus spoke of Hell as being a place of weeping & gnashing of teeth where the worm never dies & the fire is never quenched.
  • Note that although it may be easy to fool people, it’s impossible to fool God.  The Pharisees & Sadducees looked just the same as everyone else around them.  In fact, they likely looked better – as if they were “holier” than the rest of the people.  Yet in the sight of God, they were as obviously different from one another as the grain of wheat from the chaff of kernel casing.  The Lord Jesus knows the difference between those who put on a show & those who actually come in repentance & faith.  He’s going to be the One to judge every human being…we need to be prepared to be seen as one of His in HIS sight; not anyone else’s.

Conclusion:
After 400 years of silence from the prophets, seemingly out of nowhere comes the prophetic blast of John the Baptist – heralding the coming of King Jesus & proclaiming the need to be ready for His coming.  Whether to the faithful or the skeptic, John’s message was the same.

  • Prepare through repentance: Our minds & actions need to change.  Turn away from sin – forsaking it.  Turn to Jesus Christ, humbling yourself before Him in surrender.
  • Prepare through faith: More than lip-service of words – more than religiosity & heritage – we must have sincere faith when coming to God through Jesus Christ.  We can’t fake it.
  • Why?  Jesus is coming to judge!  Jesus knows the difference between those who put on a show of religion & those who truly trust Him by faith.  And He’ll make that difference known at the judgment.

 

None of that changes for today.  Whether you’re a sincere seeker like those coming from the Judean countryside – or a skeptic like the Sadducees – or trusting in legalism like the Pharisees – our need to trust in the work of Christ is absolutely the same. 

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