Matthew 3:1-17; 4:17 | "Prepared through Repentance"
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1 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.’ ” 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. 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.” 13 Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to John, to be baptized by him. 14 John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” 15 But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented. 16 And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; 17 and behold, a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”
17 From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”
If you receive this word that has been read in your hearing, and accept it as the word of God and not the word of men, will you voice that acceptance in faith by saying together "Amen”?
The value or importance of something is often determined by the extent of the preparation that was made for it.
The fact that a pilot has a detailed checklist to work through in preparation for a flight, speaks to the value and importance of the cargo and the personnel on that plane for that flight.
That a doctor prepares for many years to learn medicine, speaks to the value of the human being that doctor cares for.
The value of retirement savings is directly proportional to the preparation that was made over years of investing in that savings. The more invested, the more preparation, the higher value of that portfolio.
A handcrafted piece of art is far more valuable than a machine-made reproduction because the handcrafted piece required more preparation and labor which translates into more value and importance.
The birth of a baby is the result of months of growth where that baby is developed and prepared to live outside of the womb. That life has value and importance, and that is shown because of the preparation process God has designed for that baby and for that mother.
Anything that is truly valuable necessitates some form of preparation, and the things of God are no different!
We must be prepared to encounter the living God!
God commands that a preparation be made by His people for His kingdom. That preparation is given to us in the word preached both by John and by Jesus - Repent!
The reason God’s people are commanded to repent, is because the kingdom of heaven is at hand. Meaning, the kingdom of heaven is no longer distant or beyond reach, but the kingdom of heaven has come near.
The kingdom of heaven is presented as something that is extremely valuable, and worthy of preparing for. Any time the kingdom of heaven, or the kingdom of God is spoken of, it is talking about the rule of God. The leadership of God over all things. The will of God being done.
As Jesus taught his disciples to pray: “They kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”
Preparation for God’s kingdom begins with repentance.
What is repentance?
What does it mean for someone to repent?
What is a person to repent from?
Is repentance optional?
Does repentance have anything to do with me and my life, even as a Christian?
These are questions that God answers in Matthew chapter three! God teaches about repentance because God wants all people everywhere to repent, and to be prepared for His coming kingdom.
Hear these words from Acts 17:30-31:
30 The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, 31 because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.”
The times of ignorance have passed. The Gospel of Jesus Christ calls for a preparation of repentance today.
I. John prepares the way for Jesus.
I. John prepares the way for Jesus.
1 In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea,
Matthew chapter three begins with a man named John, the Baptist. His name is John, and he is called “the Baptist” because he is a baptizer. He baptizes people in water.
That word “baptize” in the Greek language is [βαπτίζω]. It is a transliterated word (which means it sounds the same in English as it does in the Greek).
βαπτίζω was a very common word that literally means “to put or go under water,” even conveying the idea of “to soak.” (see BDAG). It was a plunging, or dipping into water. It was a washing, and for John’s ministry, it was a sign of preparation through repentance.
Now, John was a baptizer but he was also a preacher. Verse one tells us John came “preaching in the wilderness of Judea.”
Notice that the baptisms of John were connected to the preaching of John. The word informed his work.
To have word without works may lead to hypocrisy and dead faith.
To have works without word may represent a form of legalism, or being aimless and ungrounded.
John is neither of these. John’s words were connected with his works.
What was the word John preached?
2 “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”
This is a one-sentence sermon! Only one command is given (one point of application), [that is, to Repent!], and a reason for that command. “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”
The kingdom of heaven - something valuable, something that has been anticipated for a very long time, has come, and is coming near.
The weight of that statement is lost on us unless we consider that these are the first words preached to God’s people in over 400 years!
What is the last book in the English Old Testament, the book immediately preceeding Matthew? - Malachi.
Malachi was a prophet of God, meaning he spoke God’s word to the people. Malachi prophesied somewhere between the years 440-420 B.C. - that is, over 400 years before Christ!
When the page is turned from Malachi to Matthew, time is fast-forwarded over 400 years! And during those 400 years, there is no recorded word from God! There is nothing new recorded from heaven! Only silence! And waiting…!
Turn back a few pages to Malachi chapter four. The last words of Malachi are worth hearing:
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 word from God through Malachi for the people was that a prophet will come, before the Lord comes. (That means, a prophet will come to prepare the way of the Lord).
And that prophet will turn (that’s the Hebrews word שׁוב , the Old Testament word for “repent”) - Simply put, that prophet will call the people to prepare for the great and awesome day of the LORD by turning - by repenting - lest there be utter destruction. Lest there be judgment.
And that is the last word preached to the people of God in the Old Testament. Then, over 400 years later, the voice of John the Baptist is heard preaching: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”
John is a prophet who Jesus will say in Matthew 17:12 is the Elijah spoken of by Malachi (Matthew 17:12).
Turn forward to Matthew 3:3, which further clarifies the person and the purpose of John the Baptist:
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.’ ”
This is a reference from Isaiah 40. Listen to all of Isaiah 40:3-5:
3 A voice cries: “In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord; make straight in the desert a highway for our God. 4 Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain. 5 And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”
This is what John the Baptist is doing. God is making a way through John for all people to come to Jesus, and to see the glory of the Lord in the face of Jesus Christ!
No valley, or mountain, or hill, or crooked path, or rough place will stand in the way of God fulfilling his promises in Jesus the Christ. The glory of the LORD shall be revealed through Him!
The way to Jesus is being prepared for! It is easy to travel.
And Jesus IS coming, and indeed John says — he is already here!
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.
This verse tells us that John’s clothes and diet were that of a man who lived in the desert- the wilderness.
This confirms Isaiah’s prophecy about the person of John.
I’ve had people come up to me and prophesy over me. They will say things like “The Lord says this and this....” I’ve learned to say “Thank you. May the Lord confirm His Word.” Because the Lord will confirm the Word He has spoken, if it is His Word! If it is from Him.
God confirms the prophecy of Isaiah about the person John. He is the “voice of one crying in the wilderness” and God confirms the purpose of John, who is preparing the way of the Lord Jesus.
For the Jewish people who saw John, they would have been reminded of the prophet Elijah. 2 Kings tells of a Samaritan king named Ahaziah who asked his messengers to describe a man they had met in the way (the man was Elijah).
8 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.”
John is described with the same appearance as Elijah. The people who heard John recognized John as a prophetic voice.
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.
They responded to his preaching, and his call to repentance, by being baptized in the Jordan river, confessing their sins.
John’s preaching of repentance, is now connected with his baptism, and confessing sins.
This washing in the river Jordan by John represents not just a physical cleansing, but a deeper cleansing, a cleansing from sin.
Just as we wash our hands in preparation for a meal, or just as we shower and clean up in preparation to go out for an evening, the preparation for the kingdom of heaven that John called for in his preaching involved the confession of sins.
And this was a public confession. People were watching and knew what was happening. They knew this action of baptism (this washing) was in response to the word that John preached - to repent.
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?
The Pharisees and Sadduccees were the religious leaders of the Jewish people. They were the elites. They knew the instruction of God, they were experts in interpreting the Scriptures, and they came too, to hear this voice in the wilderness, and to hear what he had to say.
Yet they are met with strong words from John.
“You brood of vipers!
Vipers are snakes. And John says to them: “Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?”
This coming wrath has the imagery of fire. When a fire burns through a field, the snakes in that field scatter to flee the flames!
John says to them — Who warned you, you snakes, that the wrath of God, the judgment of God, is coming? For so long, God has been patient. God has been gracious. You were to teach the people His ways, and yet now judgment is coming and the people are not prepared!
Then he says to them in verse 8.
8 Bear fruit in keeping with repentance.
The reason John calls the Pharisees and Sadducces out in such harsh words is because they are not doing what verse 8 commands. They are not bearing fruit in keeping with repentance.
Their works do not proceed out of what they teach and what they know. They are, as Jesus will call them later, hypocrites!
And yes, there are hypocrites, even among leaders of religion. There are hypocrites serving as pastors. There are hypocrites sitting in the pews of churches every week. This is why the message of repentance is so important.
In what way may a person be identified as a hypocrite?
By the fruit that person produces.
If a person says one thing and does another, that person is a hypocrite. And if they know better, as John says, they are a viper, a snake.
The Pharisees and Sadducees appeared to be good people. They affirmed a message of the worthiness of God and living for HIm. But their lives fell short of living out the repentance that they themselves preached.
The majority of my Christian life I thought repentance was a one time experience, at the moment of salvation. I repented of my sins, I put my faith in Jesus, I’ve been there - done that. I gave repentance little thought after that.
But God’s word doesn’t speak of repentance that way. For the Scriptures teach that when a person repents, that person’s life should continually produce fruit of that repentance.
This is why baptism is a public act. It is impossible to hide true repentance!
Trees bear fruit. Apple trees bear apple fruit. Pear trees produce Pear fruit.
An apple is itself proof that it came from an apple tree. Likewise, a tree is known by what kind of fruit it produces.
John is teaching simply, if a person claims to have experienced repentance, then that person’s life will continually produce fruit of repentance. You won’t have to question where that person stands.
It is not a half-way repentance. Repentance has two parts to it.
The first part is the turning. To repent means to turn, the word is [μετάνοια] it is a changing of the mind! That part is taught correctly!
But that is just part one! There is a second part of repentance —-
After the turning, after the changing of the mind - Then the second part is to KEEP GOING! Keep walking in that direction! Bear fruit!
Otherwise, repentance becomes a continual turning around and spinning in circles.
That is why people will ask if a person has come to Christ for the first time - because there has been a second, and third, and fourth time. . . that’s not true repentance.
Come to Jesus, then follow Jesus. That is what is means to repent, and bear fruit of repentance!
“I have decided, to follow Jesus, I have decided to follow Jesus, I have decided to follow Jesus - no turning back, no turning back!”
Imagine these Pharisees and Sadducees shocked by what they have heard. And before they can retaliate with an objection John comes at them again, knowing their thoughts.
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.
They want to justify themselves! They think they get a pass!
“You can’t be talking about me that way, John! I’m a descendant of Abraham. I’m covered!”
Abraham was the father of the Hebrew people. He received a covenant promise from God, that he would have so many descendants that it would be impossible to count them all, and that in him all of the families of the earth will be blessed.
Some rabbi’s even taught that Abraham was such a good man that he built up extra merit that would cover all of his descendants.
“So don’t talk to me that way John, I’m a descendant of Abraham.”
John says —
for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham.
Repentance is not an inheritance.
The fruit that you produce has to be your own. You cannot produce fruit from your father or mother’s tree, or from your children's’ tree, but only your tree.
Every one of us will have to give an account to God (Rom 14:12). An account for every word we have spoken, and for every deed we have done. And we have to answer for ourselves.
But there is one exception — We don’t have to answer for ourselves if we are able to claim the rightful inheritance of our Heavenly Father. We don’t have to answer for ourselves if we become born again, born anew. We don’t have to answer for ourselves if we are grafted in to the vine, who is Jesus Christ.
Only then, will we be able to say, as the song says:
“Before the throne of God above
I have a strong and perfect plea
A great High Priest whose name is love
Who ever lives and pleads for me
My name is graven on His hands
My name is written on His heart
I know that while in heav’n He stands
No tongue can bid me thence depart
When Satan tempts me to despair
And tells me of the guilt within
Upward I look and see Him there
Who made an end of all my sin
Because the sinless Savior died
My sinful soul is counted free
For God the Just is satisfied
To look on Him and pardon me
Behold Him there, the risen Lamb
My perfect spotless Righteousness
The great unchangeable I AM
The King of glory and of grace
One with Himself, I cannot die
My soul is purchased by His blood
My life is hid with Christ on high
With Christ my Savior and my God!
This is what John is preparing the people for! But John goes on:
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 axe is laid at the roots, the underground part! It’s a way of saying, that the axe will take out the whole tree. It will not leave a stump. If there is no true repentance, the end will be total destruction by fire.
There is coming a time where repentance will no longer be an option. It will be too late! And that time is very near! So be prepared!
7 Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap.
Examine your heart! Examine the fruit your life is producing! Are you producing fruit in keeping with the repentance you once claimed?
17 So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. 18 A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit.
John finishes his teaching with these last words of preparation:
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.”
John is dealing with water. But Jesus, the Lord, is coming. For those who are prepared, he is coming with the Holy Spirit. For those who are not prepared, he is coming with unquenchable fire. And he will do his separating work, and he will usher in the judgment of God.
This is the message of John the Baptist. His person and his purpose to prepare the way for the Lord.
II. Jesus prepares the way for you!
II. Jesus prepares the way for you!
And then verse thirteen begins with three wonderful, hopeful, and perhaps even frightening words:
13 Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to John, to be baptized by him.
Jesus came as God promised he would. Jesus came just as John prepared the people for his coming.
13 Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to John, to be baptized by him. 14 John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” 15 But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented. 16 And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; 17 and behold, a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”
Jesus had nothing to repent of! Jesus had no sins to confess. But he comes to John to be baptized by him to fulfill all righteousness. To begin a work that God’s people for thousands of years had failed to accomplish, and Jesus will complete.
He is portraying the work of total obedience and submission to the will of His Heavenly Father. He will have no reason to need repentance, because he will never disobey His Heavenly Father.
And he who knew no sin will, in the words of 2 Corinthians 5:21, become sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
21 For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
Jesus is going to follow Israel’s journey and he begins it here, but he is going to do it in the way they should have but never could. He will always do that which pleases his Father in obedience and submission to His Father’s will.
Jesus is also portraying his death, burial, and resurrection by entering into the water being buried underneath it, and be raised up out of it again. He is giving to us a way in which we may unite with Him in his death, in his burial, and in his life. As we are baptized, we remember that He was baptized, and we remember the new life we may now live as co-heirs with Christ.
The value and importance of something is often determined by the extent of the preparation that was made for it.
The call of John and Jesus to repentance still stands, for we must be prepared to encounter the kingdom of the living God!
Just as Jesus came to earth the first time, to complete a work by which we may be reconciled to God, Jesus is coming back again — one final time. And at that time he will separate the wheat and the chaff.
Are you ready, are you prepared, to meet Jesus at His coming?
The value and importance of something is often determined by the extent of the preparation that was made for it.
No only is the kingdom of God of great value and importance, but notice what lengths of preparation God undertook to prepare a way for you for salvation! You are valuable and important to God!
God loves you, and God desires in this moment that all people repent, and trust the Savior, Jesus.