Monday, September 19, 2022

John the Baptist #2 The Preparer and His Work - Matthew 3

John the Baptist 2 The Preparer and His Work Matthew 3

We are continuing our series on the John The Baptist, someone who we often overlook, but John was a towering figure, a powerful man of God in his day. The writers of the Gospels realized this for all of them give accounts of John’s ministry and Mark, the most concise writer of the Gospel accounts, begins the New Testament not with the birth of Jesus but with John The Baptist.

Mark 1:1-4  The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God; As it is written in the prophets, Behold, I send my messenger before thy face, which shall prepare thy way before thee. The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. John did baptize in the wilderness, and preach the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins.

John’s birth was one of only three announced by an angel, even his name which means Jehovah gives gracious gifts was pronounced by the angel as was the name of his cousin Jesus.
John’s ministry was foretold in the Old Testament and fulfilled in the New Testament. Isaiah 40:3 The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the LORD, make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Malachi 3:1 Behold, I will send my messenger, and he shall prepare the way before me: and the Lord, whom ye seek, shall suddenly come to his temple, even the messenger of the covenant, whom ye delight in: behold, he shall come, saith the LORD of hosts. Malachi 4:5 Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the LORD:

Johns’ way of dressing in camel’s hair with a leather girdle was in keeping with this office of the last Old Testament Prophet, it is similar to Elijah’s clothing and was often the dress of the prophets. His food, locusts and wild honey marks him as a man of the wilderness, an outsider come into the nation of Israel to call for repentance for the Kingdom of Heaven was at coming soon.

 John The Preacher - Matthew 3:1– 6

1 In those days came John the Baptist, preaching in the wilderness of Judaea, 2 And saying, Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand. 3 For this is he that was spoken of by the prophet Esaias, saying, The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. 4 And the same John had his raiment of camel’s hair, and a leathern girdle about his loins; and his meat was locusts and wild honey. 5 Then went out to him Jerusalem, and all Judaea, and all the region round about Jordan, 6 And were baptized of him in Jordan, confessing their sins.

John’s Work

John’s work was to preach and not exactly what would be called the Gospel or the Good News. John’s work of preaching centered around his prophetic office, like the Old Testament prophets, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Jonah and all the others that were sent by God to warn His people. The gift of prophecy is first a ministry of warning of God’s judgement against sin. It sometimes foretells events but most times it forth tells punishment.

The words of Ezekiel could have been preached by John, Ezekiel 18:30 Therefore I will judge you, O house of Israel, every one according to his ways, saith the Lord GOD. Repent, and turn yourselves from all your transgressions; so iniquity shall not be your ruin.

Or Isaiah in Isaiah 55:7 Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the LORD, and he will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.

John’s message, “Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” has an added power in it because it is being preached just before the coming of the Messiah, the King of Israel. And Israel though no longer worshipping idols, is still a sinful nation full of pride and iniquity and John is calling out to them, Repent, your king is coming and your judgment as a nation and as people is coming with Him.

Imagine you live in the area around Jerusalem or travel the main road for commerce that runs from Jerusalem to the Jordan valley and into your camp, or village one day walks this rough looking man and he calls out in a loud voice, because prophets always have the gift of volume, “Repent for the Kingdom of Heaven is at Hand.” It was a short message but the people of Israel knew what it meant.

To repent literally means “to change the mind,” but it carries much more weight and responsibility in this context, just as it does today. We are not talking about repent in the sense of seeing you were wrong about who won the 1998 World Series, or who was the 10th president of the United States. No this is you being wrong in your relationship to your creator, in relationship to your God and your judge. Repent here means a complete change of mind and heart when it comes to sin and to God. That change is emotional as well as intellectual. It should be accompanied by sorrow for my sin and a desire to change.

They needed repentance in order to be ready for the coming Kingdom and they needed baptism to show their willingness to repent and their commitment to the coming King. For they also knew that there could be no coming Kingdom unless the King was also coming.

And John was the forerunner, he was the catalyst that was starting the spiritual chain reaction that would explode when Jesus declared himself as Messiah.

The Message Updated

It must have been exciting times to hear and see John preach. To hear that powerful message, to feel the call to repent and then to watch every day with expectation because your King was coming.

When you think about it, that same message is still the message we preach and hear. It has been updated with the full revelation of Jesus as the Messiah, our King, but the elements of that simple message still should have their effect in our hearts today as they did in the hearts of the Israelites listening to John at the dawn of the New Testament.

Our entrance into the Kingdom of Heaven hasn’t changed but the aspect or application of the Kingdom has. When Jesus come and presented himself as Messiah to Israel, the rightful heir of the throne of David, the nation was presented with a choice. Accept Jesus as King on His terms or reject Him. We all know what happened there were many individuals who believed but the nation and its leaders called out, “We have no King but Caesar!” And they crucified the Lord and just as John had warned them judgment fell and in 70 AD the Temple was destroyed by the Roman Army and the people were killed, captured and made slaves, They were a people without a nation until 1948.

The Kingdom of Heaven for us though is not a physical Kingdom in this world today. We as children of God in the New Testament are not promised the physical promises of Israel or granted the blessing of their Covenants with God. But we still can enter the Kingdom because before it can one day be entered physically, it must be entered spiritually.

This is what the Sermon on the Mount was all about Matthew 5:3 Blessed are the poor in spirit (the repentant) for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

This is what Jesus had to make Nicodemus understand, John 3:3 Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.
And that Kingdom for us today is not of this world but in our heart and of the world to come. John 18:36 Jesus answered, My kingdom is not of this world …. In Luke 17:20-21, Jesus said, The kingdom of God cometh not with observation: Neither shall they say, Lo here! or, lo there! for, behold, the kingdom of God is within you.

Today we are citizens of a yet still coming Kingdom and a returning King, coming to claim His rightful place on the throne of David as he has claimed his rightful place on the throne of our heart. He is our King and until He returns, we must live, believe and work as citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven. I was born an American, but I was reborn a Heavenan. (Yes I just made up that word. How about Heavener, or Heavenite? No, those sound even worse. It doesn’t matter how you say it, what matters is that you know it and proclaim it.

My Grandma Eli Hue Minefee loved a song about heaven and I played it on my harmonica at her funeral, because her Dad had played harmonica.

1 This world is not my home, I'm just a passing through
My treasures are laid up somewhere beyond the blue;
The angels beckon me from heaven's open door,
And I can't feel at home in this world anymore.

Chorus: O Lord, you know I have no friend like you,
If heaven's not my home, then Lord what will I do?
The angels beckon me from heaven's open door,
And I can't feel at home in this world anymore.

John the preacher preached the coming Kingdom, but he was especially known as a fiery prophet who would not keep silent when it come to the sin that was all around him and he called it what it was, and he told those involved in it that judgment was coming. Look at vss 7-12

John The Prophet - Matthew 3:7– 12

7 But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees come to his baptism, he said unto them, O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come? 8 Bring forth therefore fruits meet for repentance: 9 And think not to say within yourselves, We have Abraham to our father: for I say unto you, that God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham. 10 And now also the axe is laid unto the root of the trees: therefore every tree which bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire. 11 I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance: but he that cometh after me is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear: he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost, and with fire: 12 Whose fan is in his hand, and he will throughly purge his floor, and gather his wheat into the garner; but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.

John’s Warning

Matthew next introduces the Pharisees and the Sadducees, two groups of religious and political power that had appointed themselves as the moral watchdogs of the nation.

The Pharisees name means “to separate.” They began during the Maccabean Wars for freedom and stood against all types of idolatry. They called each other neighbor and though they came from the common people, they prided themselves on being separated from the common people by their strict adherence to God’s Law and also the thousands of additional laws they added to make God’s law better.

The Sadducees were not from the common people but were wealthy, elites drawn from the caste of the priests. They take their name from a high priest named Zadok, but the name Zadokees was too hard to pronounce, so they went with Sadducees. (Not really) According to the Gospels, the Sadducees denied the resurrection of the body, and did not believe in angels or spirits

Both groups were political and felt it was their duty as the moral overseers of the nation to check out any new political or religious movements and so they both show up at John’s sermons. After this message they probably wished they had not. These were the most respected, powerful groups during John and Jesus time and yet, listen to what John calls them.

A generation of vipers that are fleeing an approaching fire, like a bush that has been set ablaze and the snakes all come pouring out the bottom to escape the flames. Well, that’s not very respectful. Nor is he done. He tells them their ancestry to Abraham is worthless, no better than a rock. Again, not very respectful. Then John says the most offensive and derogatory thing he could say to these moralistic, legalistic, guardians of the people. He says they are like dead trees with no fruit and an axe has been laid to the base of the tree. Not hard to figure out the imagery here. John says you are dead trees and God is swinging the axe and once he cuts you down, you  will be thrown into the fires of judgment.

He tells these moralists, these law upholders, to repent and then to show that repentance. Not just a change of mind but a change of their life. Repentance means to turn your eyes, turn your heart and turn your feet.

Baptism of the Spirit and of Fire

And since he is the forerunner, John the Baptist, he uses baptism to tell of the coming Messiah. Matthew 3:11-12 I indeed baptize you with water unto (because of, showing) repentance: but he that cometh after me is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear: he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost, and with fire: Whose fan is in his hand, and he will throughly purge his floor, and gather his wheat into the garner; but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.

John says that the Messiah is coming, and he, John, is not even good enough to carry his shoes. When Messiah comes, he will bring a baptism not in water like John’s but in the Holy Spirit and in fire. Now, there are two ways of seeing this prophecy.

One way sees Jesus who by His coming, death and resurrection would establish the New Covenant, and that covenant would be seen and sealed by the baptism of the Holy Spirit and by a baptism of judgment fire.

The other interpretation, sees Jesus instituting the New Covenant, showing its reality by the baptism of the Holy Spirit but baptize not sinners in the fire of judgment, but His church in the Shekinah Glory, divine fire of God.

The same fire of God seen by Abraham when God made His covenant, by Moses at the burning bush, by Solomon when the Temple was finished and on the day of Pentecost by the Lord’s new house of witness, the church. Sometimes I lean one way on these two options and some days on the other, but I think the best interpretation is that this is the baptism of fire seen on the day of Pentecost because the next phrase introduces the fire of judgment, in Matthew 3:12 Whose fan is in his hand, and he will throughly purge his floor, and gather his wheat into the garner; but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.
This section of Matthew 3 shows John in his work as the Prophet of God. Warning against sin, preaching against self-righteousness, proclaim the justice  of God on the unjust and the wrath of God on the unrepentant.

The Warning Unchanged

I won’t spend much time interpreting and applying this point to us today because it doesn’t need any deep study or fancy words to make it hit home. The warning is the same, “Repent, turn your eyes, turn your heart and turn your feet.” Turn your eyes from desiring this world, turn your heart from loving this world and turn your feet away from following the paths of sin.
Nor is that enough, not in John’s day and not in ours, “Repent, turn your eyes, turn your heart and turn your feet.” Turn your eyes to the cross where the price was paid for our sin, turn your heart to Jesus who loved us and gave His life for us and turn your feet to the way of God’s Word.

True faith is always accompanied by true repentance. They are the two sides of the same coin called salvation. God’s word tells us we must believe and repent.

Acts 17:30 And the times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commandeth all men every where to repent:

Romans 2:4 Or despisest thou the riches of his goodness and forbearance and longsuffering; not knowing that the goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance?

You can’t enter the Kingdom of Heaven, unless you are willing to bow in repentance before its King, Jesus Christ. That part of the message, that warning will never change. John preached it, Jesus preached it, I’m preaching it and if anyone who stands behind a pulpit doesn’t preach it then they better begin to pray and practice it, because God’s axe is still swinging.

Now in vss. 13-17 we come to John doing the very thing that gave him his name, he is baptizing. It is the same thing that gave us our name as Baptists. We don’t come from John, we come from Jesus but both we and John have the same commission from the same source, Go, make disciples and baptize.

John The Baptizer - Matthew 3:13– 17

13 Then cometh Jesus from Galilee to Jordan unto John, to be baptized of him. 14 But John forbad him, saying, I have need to be baptized of thee, and comest thou to me? 15 And Jesus answering said unto him, Suffer it to be so now: for thus it becometh us to fulfil all righteousness. Then he suffered him. 16 And Jesus, when he was baptized, went up straightway out of the water: and, lo, the heavens were opened unto him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and lighting upon him: 17 And lo a voice from heaven, saying, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.

John’s Wonder

This event is also recorded in John’s Gospel and some details are added from John’s viewpoint. Perhaps because John, the future apostle,  was also a disciple of John the Baptist.

John 1:29–34 29 The next day John seeth Jesus coming unto him, and saith, Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world. 30 This is he of whom I said, After me cometh a man which is preferred before me: for he was before me. 31 And I knew him not: but that he should be made manifest to Israel, therefore am I come baptizing with water. 32 And John bare record, saying, I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it abode upon him. 33 And I knew him not: but he that sent me to baptize with water, the same said unto me, Upon whom thou shalt see the Spirit descending, and remaining on him, the same is he which baptizeth with the Holy Ghost. 34 And I saw, and bare record that this is the Son of God.
Jesus, who was the cousin of John, comes to the Jordon River, but unlike the Pharisees or Sadducees, who come to judge and criticize, Jesus comes to submit and be baptized at the hand of John. If that seems strange to you, that the Messiah, the King, the Son of God should submit to John, the camel hair clad, loud, locust eater, then you can understand why John said, “I should be baptized by you not you baptized by me”

And listen to the gracious words of Jesus, “Let it be this way now, for it is right for us to fulfill all righteousness.” The same Jesus that submitted to the will of the father and come to earth, the same Jesus that submitted himself to wash the disciple’s feet is the same Jesus who submits to John, God’s prophet and forerunner of Himself. It was the right thing to do. John knew this and baptizes His Lord and Messiah.

Then the heaven’s open and the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove descends and settles on Jesus and the Father’s voice calls out in full confirmation, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.”

We read in John’s Gospel that when God had commission the Baptist as the forerunner, he would be given a sign, that could not be misunderstood nor denied. That sign was what John saw and heard when Jesus rose from under the waters of Jordan. John had known Jesus as his cousin. I’m sure he had heard his parents talk of Mary’s miracle, he knew the Angel’s prophecy but now He had seen God’s fulfillment, His confirmation of that prophecy of the identity of the Messiah. And he would need that miraculous sign from God because he would not see Jesus’ miracles, or his triumphal entry or his resurrection. Their paths diverge and John would even give up his ministry and his disciples to the Lord. He needed to see God’s hand now, for it was the confirmation and also the culmination of his work.

The Wonder Until

Wouldn’t it have been truly wonderful, in the literal sense of that word, to be there that day and see John baptize Jesus? Wouldn’t it have been a day full of wonder? Hearing John’s fiery message to repent, then watching as those who believe walk down by their hundreds to the river and watch as John immerses them in the river. That would be wonderful, but then you hear the whispers start, someone out of the ordinary has stepped out of the crowd, John’s face shows it, he was not expecting this person to come to the banks of the Jordan along with all the others.

Perhaps we can hear as John and Jesus talk, perhaps not but we can tell something is different, finally John lowers Jesus under the water and when he comes up, water still running from his hair and beard, the heaven’s are opened, not just heaven, but the heavens. The skey we can see sky above us and a door opened to the throne room of God. A dove descends from that heaven and it lands on Jesus and we hear a voice that says, “This is my beloved Son.” Some say that only John saw and heard, maybe so, maybe not, but we can see it now though God’s written Word. And it is still wonderful, isn’t it.

Through the Gospels I can see the wonder in John’s eyes that day, I can see the amazement in the faces of the disciples when Jesus walked on the water, or the joy in the smiles of Martha and Mary when Lazarus walked out of that grave. And wonder of all wonders, I can sit in that locked dark room with those frightened apostles and see the glory of the resurrected Lord, when he appears and drives the shadows from the room and the doubts from their hearts.

Isn’t that full of wonder? This is book contains all the wonder I need until that day that I will no longer need to walk by faith, but my eyes shall behold the greatest wonder of all, the glory of God in heaven. The same apostle John, that recorded the glory of God at baptism of Jesus, as a very young man perhaps not even 30 years old, also saw the great glory of God’s eternal city as a very old man, and it was filled him with even more wonder.

Revelation 21:1-4 And I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away; and there was no more sea. And I John saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God. And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away.

Revelation 21:10-11 And he carried me away in the spirit to a great and high mountain, and shewed me that great city, the holy Jerusalem, descending out of heaven from God, Having the glory of God: and her light was like unto a stone most precious, even like a jasper stone, clear as crystal;

Revelation 21:22-23 And I saw no temple therein: for the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are the temple of it. And the city had no need of the sun, neither of the moon, to shine in it: for the glory of God did lighten it, and the Lamb is the light thereof.

I have the wonder of God’s word telling me what happened that day at the Jordan river, but I didn’t see it with these eyes. But one day I won’t have to read about it, one day I won’t have to turn to a page in scripture, one day as a child of God I will seen the wonder of wonders with my own eyes, the holy city, New Jerusalem. I will live there for all eternity, I will see the glory of God and light of the lamb, Jesus my Lord. And won’t it be wonderful there never a tear will ever fall again. No more death, no more sorrow, no more crying, no more pain. I can’t wait, for it will be the wonder that I will see with my own eyes.

When With The Saviour We Enter The Glory Land,
Won’t It Be Wonderful There?
Ended The Troubles And Cares Of The Storyland,
Won’t It Be Wonderful There?

Won’t It Be Wonderful There?
Having No Burdens To Bear?
Joyously Singing With Heart-Bells All Ringing,
O Won’t It Be Wonderful There?

Walking And Talking With Christ, The Supernal One,
Won’t It Be Wonderful There?
Praising Adoring The Matchless Eternal One,
Won’t It Be Wonderful There?

There Where The Tempest Will Never Be Sweeping Us,
Won’t It Be Wonderful There?
Sure That Forever The Lord Will Be Keeping Us,
Won’t It Be Wonderful There?

Our Work Until Then

We have been sanctified with a commission, sent on a calling, and issued a command.

We are to preach the Kingdom, knowing that Jesus the retuning king. We are to make disciples, warn sinners, be faithful, tell the wonder of the Word and we are to live in the sure hope or heaven.

Isn’t that a wonderful work? And wouldn’t it be the most terrible of losses to miss it and to miss the glory of God because we did not heed the message, nor hear the warning. Listen, once more and act, “Repent for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.”

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