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Bible Commentaries

Expositor's Dictionary of Texts

Matthew 3

Verses 1-17

The Preaching of the Baptist

Matthew 3:1

And what did he preach? This chapter in St. Matthew's Gospel tells us pretty plainly what was the burden of his message.

I. He Spoke Plainly About Sin. He taught the absolute necessity of 'repentance' before anyone can be saved; he preached that repentance must be proved by its 'fruits'; he warned men not to rest on outward privileges, or outward union with the Church. This is just the teaching that we all need.

II. He Spoke Plainly About our Lord Jesus Christ. He taught people that One 'mightier than himself' was coming among them. He was nothing more than a servant: the Coming One was the King. He himself could only 'baptize with water'; the Coming One could 'baptize with the Holy Ghost,' take away sins, and would one day judge the world. This, again, is the very teaching that human nature requires. We need to be sent direct to Christ. We need to be told the absolute necessity of union with Christ Himself by faith: He is the appointed fountain of mercy, grace, life, and peace; we must each have personal dealings with Him about our souls.

III. He Spoke Plainly About the Holy Ghost He preached that there was such a thing as the baptism of the Holy Ghost. He taught that it was the special office of the Lord Jesus to give this baptism to men. This, again, is a teaching which we greatly require. We need to be told that forgiveness of sin is not the only thing necessary to salvation. There is another thing yet, and that is the baptizing of our hearts by the Holy Ghost. There must not only be the work of Christ for us, but the work of the Holy Ghost in us; there must not only be a title to heaven purchased for us by the blood of Christ, but a preparedness for heaven wrought in us by the Spirit of Christ. Let us never rest till we know something by experience of the baptism of the Spirit.

IV. He Spoke Plainly About the Awful Danger of the Impenitent and Unbelieving. He told his hearers that there was a 'wrath to come'; he preached of an 'unquenchable fire,' in which the 'chaff' would one day be burned. This, again, is a teaching which is deeply important. We need to be straitly warned that it is no light matter whether we repent or not. We are fearfully apt to forget this; we talk of the love and mercy of God, and we do not remember sufficiently His justice and holiness.

V. He Spoke Plainly About the Safety of True Believers. He taught that there was 'a garner' for all who are Christ's 'wheat,' and that they would be gathered together there in the day of His appearing. This, again, is a teaching which human nature greatly requires. The best of believers need much encouragement: they are yet in the body; they live in a wicked world; they are often tempted by the devil. They ought to be often reminded that Jesus will never leave them nor forsake them: He will guide them safely through this life, and at length give them eternal glory.

References. III. 1. H. Jones, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xliv. 1893, p. 405. G. Jackson, ibid. vol. lxvii. 1905, p. 171. III. 1, 2. J. E. C. Welldon, The Spiritual Life, p. 69. J. H. Thom, Spiritual Faith, p. 245. III. 1-3. H. Scott Holland, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xliii. 1893, p. 56. III. 1-12. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xlix. No. 2818. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture St. Matthew I.-VIII. p. 37. III. 2. C. Gore, The Permanent Creed and the Christian Idea of Sin, p. 27; see also The New Theology and the Old Religion, p. 231. H. Jones, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xliii. 1893, p. 124. G. A. Chadwick, ibid. vol. liv. 1898, p. 357. S. Baring-Gould, Village Preaching for a Year, vol. i. p. 85. III. 3. W. Llewelyn Williams, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lxvi. 1904, p. 74. G. W. Herbert, Notes of Sermons, p. 230. III. 4. F. C. Blyth, Plain Preaching to Poor People (7th Series), p. 5. III. 5, 6. H. Ward Beecher, Sermons (1st Series), p. 44.

Matthew 3:7

As his raiment was rough, so was his tongue; and if his food was wild honey, his speech was stinging locusts. Thus must the way be made for Christ in every heart. Plausibility is no fit preface to regeneration.

Bishop Hall.

Reference. III. 7. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xlvi. No. 2704.

Matthew 3:10

'Such as I am', said Ruskin in 1875, 'to my own amazement, I stand so far as I can discern alone in conviction, in hope, and in resolution, in the wilderness of this modern world. Bred in luxury, which I perceive to have been unjust to others, and destructive to myself; vacillating, foolish, and miserably failing in all my own conduct in life and blown about hopelessly by storms of passion I, a man clothed in soft raiment; I, a reed shaken with the wind; have yet this message to all men again entrusted to me. Behold, the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Whatsoever tree bringeth not forth good fruit shall be hewn down and cast into the fire.'

'I have a great regard,' said Dr. John Duncan once, 'for the Humorists, for they are generally men of a tender heart. Both Charles Lamb and Thomas Hood were great men, especially the author of 'The Song of the Shirt'. He had a good head and a fine heart. That song of his is better than many a sermon I've heard. Punch, too, is an acute censor, generally right in his castigations; a censor, but not censorious. When those who should lay the axe to the root of the tree won't do it, Providence raises up a buffoon, who preaches many a most rememberable sermon.'

Reference. III. 10. C. Houghton, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xliv. 1893, p. 36.

The Final Baptism

Matthew 3:11

'He that cometh after me.' Christianity has always some further man or truth or vision or poem in reserve. You never hear God's final word. This is the very secret, as it is also the joy and the security of eternity.

The point of this text is the One coming after: always coming, always come; a great fact and a great prophecy is the Christian idea or the Messianic prediction and forecast. My Lord is always coming: What I say unto one I say unto all, Watch. He came this morning, He came at noonday, He will be here with the evening star, or we may be called out to see Him under other conditions, but the kingdom of God is unseen but ever-coming, invisible but ever-descending; and where the kingdom comes the King is never absent.

I. Now let us illustrate this text upon levels with which we are all familiar. 'He that cometh after,' the fuller teacher, richer, riper, gentler, the teacher who we know must come. There is a prophecy in the very soul of man. No man was ever yet contented with the spring as sufficient and final; when he saw the green blade he was right glad in his heart; he said, I have been waiting for this, here is the promise of God realized up to this visible and calculable degree. Will not that green blade satisfy you? No. What want you? The fruit, the full corn in the ear. Are you sure it will come? Certainly! Why so sure? Because the blade has come, and God never sends the beginning without also sending the end, He never sends the promise, without sending the fulfilment of the promise; inasmuch as He has given one little violet this February day or one snowdrop, He means to give a whole summerful of flowers, and He will not fail of His word. And so it is throughout all life. The teacher we have Today will give place to a larger teacher tomorrow.

II. 'He that cometh after Me.' That is what Jesus Christ Himself said. Jesus Christ did not remain long; who would remain long under these grey skies if he could honourably get away? Jesus Christ was not long here; He was always young and always old, He was always the child and always the Everlasting Father. He returned to the Father, not that He might enjoy immunity from suffering, but that He might help us on a larger and surer scale.

Christ comes by the Spirit; Christ returns in the power of the Holy Ghost.

III. Nothing has been finally settled until we receive the baptism of fire.

Under the power of the Holy Ghost we shall not need any new teachers. The Holy Ghost will give us new vision, new perception, new capacity, new sensitiveness; not some original speaker, but some clearer realization of the Holy Ghost is the security, the assurance, and the completion of our progress.

Joseph Parker, City Temple Pulpit, vol. 1. p. 94.

The Baptism of Fire

Matthew 3:11

Water and fire! Our two great cleansing ministrants! Which is the more searching, the more powerful agent, water or fire? Fire is our most effective purifying minister. A powerful and relentless enemy of disease.

I. When the 'Word became Flesh,' piety became transfused with passion; water was changed into fire. 'I baptize you with water,' says the Prophet John. The revelation which I have proclaimed has made you penitent, humble, and obedient, and this, indeed, has helped to cleanse and save you. But my baptism has only been the cleansing of water. The Christ who comes will reveal God in Himself, in His own person; and the revelation which He will make will be so full of unspeakable glory as to create in men a cleansing energy like fire, for their hearts shall become inflamed with an enthusiastic love.

II. Passionate religious enthusiasm attaches itself to a person; and the more near and real our intercourse with the person, the more beautiful will be our holiness, and the more fiery-hearted will be our service and devotion. Just think for a moment what magnificent import this revelation in the person of Jesus had for those Jews who became His disciples. The religion of the Jews had become an obedience to precept and laws. Christ lifted God out of abstraction, out of dead regulations and traditions, and presented the image of the eternal glory in His own person. God was no longer a burdensome law, but a great, near, and loving personality. And what happened to those disciples who received the revelation? Cold obedience to law was changed into enthusiastic obedience to a person. Cold and lukewarm water was changed into hot and cleansing fire.

III. Is this in any way significant of the need of the Church Today? Has she put on her beautiful garments, the garments of a holy and sanctified life? By cold obedience the Church can never be holy. If the Church would be pure the Church must be passionate. Why, the very heart of the word 'pure' is suggestive of fire. It is significant of an end which has been reached through the ministry of flame. You cannot have purity without burning; you cannot have holiness without the baptism of fire. When devotion burns low, and personal piety smoulders down into a cold spiritual obedience, the 'beauty of holiness' becomes an impossible attainment. But when devotion is fiery, when religion is enthusiastic, when piety is passionate, then you have the very fire from the altar of God, in which all uncleannesses are purged away.

IV. But this is not all. An enthusiastic religious life is not merely the only saving religious life, it is the only religious life that is safe. The defensive energy of character is born out of its own heat. Lukewarmness is never safe. A man's defences are gone when he loses his zeal. A chilling and benumbing worldliness steals in upon the Church when she loses her vesture of fire. The only safety for you and for me and for all men is that we be baptized with fire.

V. How is this baptism of fire to be attained? How is this spiritual enthusiasm to be kindled; and, when kindled, how is it to be kept burning? We shall have to make time to contemplate God. The spirit of meditation must be re-introduced into our fruitless feverishness and our passion for things transformed into a thirst for God. The Church must give herself time to kindle and time to pray. We must give ourselves time for visions, if we would worthily accomplish our task. Let us muse upon the King in His beauty, let us commune more with His loveliness, let us dwell more in the secret place, and the unspeakable glory of His countenance shall create within us that enthusiastic passion which shall be to us our baptism of fire, a fire in which everything unchristian shall be utterly consumed away.

J. H. Jowett, Apostolic Optimism, p. 209.

References. III. 11. A. Martin, Winning the Soul, p. 81. J. H. Jowett, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xlix. 1896, p. 181. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture St. Matthew I.-VIII. p. 48. III. 11, 12. T. Chalmers, Sermons Preached in the Tron Church, Glasgow, p. 75. III. 12. J. Clarke, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lx. 1901, p. 349. F. D. Maurice, Lincoln's Inn Sermons, vol. iii. p. 231. T. M'Crie, Sermons, p. 382. III. 13-17. A. Morris Stewart, The Temptation of Jesus, p. 2. J. Bannerman, Sermons, p. 84. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture St. Matthew I.-VIII. p. 64. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xlv. No. 2613.

Christ's Advents (An Advent Sermon)

Matthew 3:14

Our thoughts turn at this season of the year to our Lord's second coming to judge the quick and the dead. There are two aspects of the second advent: the one relates to the whole human race for we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; the other relates to each one of us separately for every one of us shall give an account of himself to God.

I. Christ's Advent to Judgment. It is an awful thought all the thousands, all the millions of our race who have lived since time began, to be assembled on that great day to receive their eternal doom. And it is a still more awful thought that we shall each one of us have a separate place in that great scene. We sing together in the Te Deum, 'we believe that Thou shalt come to be our judge'. Let us then, in this Advent season and in our private prayers ask, 'Comest Thou to me?' Let us picture ourselves as placed before His bar, the record of our deeds proclaimed to ourselves and the assembled universe, out of the books of God's remembrance; our hidden works of darkness made manifest, our thoughts and deeds no less than our words and actions all made visible to ourselves and others, and each of us in our separate identity alone by himself, waiting to hear the awful sentence in which is our everlasting happiness or everlasting, never-ending misery and punishment.

II. Christ's Invisible Advent. There is the invisible advent of Jesus Christ, which is probably nearer to us than these. His invisible advent or coming at the hour of our death. It is appointed unto men to die and after that the judgement. We all acknowledge death to be a universal necessity, but how few of us regard it as a personal necessity. We think that everyone must die except ourselves. One after another our companions, our friends in life who are nearest and dearest to us, are summoned from our side, and laid in the cold grave. We see in the failing strength and whitening hair of one and another of our friends and neighbours that their time of departing hence is not far distant, and as, sooner or later, we gather round their dying beds we tell them that the Master has come and calleth for them. But although His approaching footsteps may be just as plain to ourselves, we promise to ourselves many years to come and lay our plans for the future as if our life had a long time to run. Would it not be far wiser and better to think and meditate on our death, and its possible speedy approach, and say to our Lord, 'Comest Thou to me?' Is not this the way to follow and obey our Blessed Lord's oft-repeated warning: 'Be ye therefore ready, for at such an hour as ye think not the Son of Man cometh'.

III. Christ's Present Advent. Lastly, there is yet another advent of Christ. Our Lord said of old that the day should come when we should desire to see the days of the Son of Man, and should not see them. This day is, for all of us, a day of the Son of Man. By His Cross, by His Spirit, by His Holy Sacraments, by the reading and the preaching of the Word, by the dispensation of His providence, He comes amongst us and visits us. May He never have cause to say over any of those mournful words He sighed over Jerusalem of old, 'thou knewest not the day of thy visitation'.

References. III. 15. Hugh Black, University Sermons, p. 233. III. 16. G. Matheson, Voices of the Spirit, p. 91. S. A. Tipple, The Admiring Guest, p. 60. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture St. Matthew I.-VIII. p. 66. III. 16, 17. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xvi. No. 909.

The Messianic Consciousness of Jesus

Matthew 3:17

There are many ways of approaching the life of Jesus. No other theme has produced so many books, and the steady stream flows on. The knowledge of Jesus is indeed the most excellent of the sciences. And yet no one has written an exhaustive or comprehensive discussion of Christ. It has always been so. No one of the Gospels gives a complete picture of the Master, nor do all four Gospels tell us all that we should like to know, nor, in fact, all that was once known of Jesus. Herein lies a strong argument for the deity of Christ, His inexhaustibleness. 'The riches of Christ' are 'unsearchable' and past finding out

I. The Problem of Jesus. He is a constant challenge to men, to the greatest of men. It was so at the first and is true Today. Men have grappled with the universe under the spell of a great theory of development. Orderly development has been found in the various spheres of human knowledge. But what about Jesus of Nazareth? Is He the product of the narrow ceremonialism and ecclesiastical bigotry of Palestinian Pharisaism? No connexion can be traced between Christ and Plato, Socrates, Buddha, or any of the great thinkers outside of Judaism. Here is universal and absolute truth that sprang out of an atmosphere of intense racial pride and hate. Here is the man who laid most stress on the spiritual and moral aspects of religion in the midst of teachers who tithed mint, anise, and cumin.

But this is not all. Here is One who led a sinless life in the face of malignant enemies, whose character is the unapproachable ideal of all men who have ever read His story. Here is One who made the greatest claims for Himself, who put Himself on a par with the living God, according to the testimony of the Gospels which bring us the story of His career. Here is One who asserts His right to the allegiance of all men, who offers to rescue all that come to Him from sin and its effects. His perfect life and His lofty teachings give a serious aspect to what would otherwise be absurd claims.

II. The First Glimpse of Jesus. When the boy Jesus comes to Jerusalem at twelve years of age, He knows that He is the Son of God in a sense not true of other men. 'Wist ye not that I must be in My Father's house?' His parents were astonished at the ease and powers He showed in such a place of dignity, teaching and amazing the doctors of divinity in the rabbinical theological seminary. But none the less is He astonished at their ignorance of the fact that this is the place of all the world for Him. Who can tell a boy's golden dreams of the future till some day the sun bursts out in full glory? The boy has gone for ever with the revelation of the man, and the manly purpose has come to fill the heart and life. The word 'must' throws a long light back into the boy's quiet years at Nazareth. Modern theologians speculate learnedly on the time when Jesus first became conscious of the fact that He was God's Son and had a Messianic mission to perform. That is idle speculation. We only know that at twelve years of ago Jesus is aware that God has laid His hand upon Him. He is at home in the Father's house and rejoices to discuss high and holy themes.

The whole problem of the person of Jesus is brought before us by this incident. By the side of this early Messianic consciousness lies the other fact that He grew in wisdom and in stature. He was a real boy for all the Divine element in Him, and an obedient one, too, for He was subject to His parents gladly after this event The one boy that really knew more than His father and mother was a model of obedience.

III. The Father's Sanction of the Son. The news came to Jesus in Nazareth that strange things were going on down by Jordan River. He was a man now, the man Jesus, and the news had a fascination for Him. It was not the call of the wilderness, but the call of His Father that He heard, though He must go to the desert.

Clearly the baptism of Jesus had a wonderful personal significance. It has been variously interpreted. Some imagine that now for the first time Jesus became aware of the fact that He was the Messiah, the Son of God, but that interpretation is not justified by the facts. His protest to John just before the baptism was no disclaimer of the Messiahship. His whole bearing with John was that of one who had faced His; destiny and had settled it Some of the Corinthian Gnostics imagined that Christ as an Aeon or Emanation of God came down on Jesus at His baptism like a dove, and that it was this Aeon Christ that was Divine, while Jesus was Himself a mere man. His baptism was, however, the beginning of the public Messianic work. Jesus was now stepping out into the open. He had crossed the Rubicon and there was no turning back. He had put His hand to this plough and He must follow it to the end and sink the plough in deep. It was the coming of the Holy Spirit that constituted the anointing of Jesus, and not the baptism.

A. T. Robertson, Epochs in the Life of Jesus, p. 1.

References. III. 17. J. Wright, The Guarded Gate, p. 133. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xli. No. 2409.

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Bibliographical Information
Nicoll, William Robertson, M.A., L.L.D. "Commentary on Matthew 3". Expositor's Dictionary of Text. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/edt/matthew-3.html. 1910.