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The Preaching and Baptism of John
We wish to present the great theme of John the Baptist as he preached in the wilderness of Judea.
1. There is the positive statement, "The Kingdom of Heaven is at hand." Was John mistaken? Some say so; we say nay. The Kingdom of Heaven was at hand, because the King was at hand. If John were mistaken, then Christ was also mistaken, for we read in Matthew 4:17 : "From that time Jesus began to preach, and to say, Repent: for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand."
However, in Matthew 16:21 it is written: "From that time forth began Jesus to shew unto His disciples, how that He must go unto Jerusalem, and suffer many things * *, and be killed." There is a change in testimony. Why this change? It was not that the Kingdom of Heaven had not been nigh, it was because Israel had utterly rejected the King. Christ was crucified six months after the words in Matthew 16:1-28 were spoken. Did He, however, forever give up the message of the King and His Kingdom? Did He discover that He had been wrong in. His prognostications? Not at all.
When He died, Pilate wrote over His head, in three languages, "This is Jesus the King of the Jews." Did that end His message of the Kingdom? Follow Him into those forty days that followed His resurrection. What was His message then? Here is the account: "To whom also He shewed Himself alive after His passion by many infallible proofs, being seen of them forty days, and speaking of these things pertaining to the Kingdom of God."
Instead of ceasing to speak of the Kingdom, He emphasized it anew. After He had vanished from their sight, from the Mount of Olives, two shining ones came to announce, "This same Jesus * * shall so come * * as ye have seen Him go into Heaven."
Peter, as recorded in Acts 3:19 , pleaded with Israel as follows: "Repent ye therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, when the times of refreshing shall come from the presence of the Lord; and He shall send Jesus Christ, which before was preached unto you: whom the Heavens must receive until the times of restitution of all things, which God hath spoken."
Thus Peter pleaded for Israel's immediate repentance, that Christ might return at once from the Heavens which He had entered. Of course God knew, and Christ knew, for He was God, that Israel would reject Him as King when He came to earth the first time; and He knew that Israel would not accept Peter's urge and repent; yet the Kingdom was offered in all sincerity, and it is still offered. According to God's personal attitude of reckoning time, two thousand years; that is, two days, have passed, and, praise God, the Kingdom is still at hand!
2. There is the positive command, REPENT.
(1) Repentance has, in our verse, a very intimate connection with the Kingdom of Heaven. In fact, the word was: "Repent ye: for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand." John the Baptist seemed to be saying, "The Kingdom is at hand, and its inauguration depends upon your repentance." Perhaps we could say repentance is the steppingstone to the coming of the Kingdom. Of one thing we are sure before Christ returns the second time, the two witnesses will appear on earth to turn the hearts of the Children of Israel to repentance. Israel will, indeed, have the spirit of grace and supplication poured out upon them, and they shall mourn for Christ, as one who mourneth for art only son; and they shall be in bitterness for Him.
(2) Repentance has also its present hour appeal to the church.
To Ephesus God says, "Remember therefore from whence thou art fallen, and repent ."
To Pergamos it is written: " Repent ; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will fight against [thee]."
To Thyatira God promises certain tribulation except they repent.
To Laodicea the Lord pleads: "Be zealous therefore, and repent."
Surely the churches today have great need to heed the warning John gave to Israel, for the Spirit is saying the same now to the churches.
3. Repentance is God's call to the lost everywhere: For now God "commandeth all men every where to repent." He has also commanded that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His Name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. Let us obey God.
I. PREPARING THE WAY OF THE LORD (Matthew 3:3 )
1. John the Baptist's preaching was a fulfillment of Isaiah's prophecy. Isaiah wrote: "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." Zacharias received from Gabriel the assertion that the birth of John the Baptist would bring the fulfillment of Isaiah's prophecy. Gabriel, however, linked Isaiah's prophecy with Elijah's coming, for John, said Gabriel, "Shall go before Him in the spirit and power of Elias."
When Zachariah, filled with the Holy Ghost, nine months later, spoke aloud at the occasion of John's circumcision, he also quoted Isaiah's word, saying, "And thou, child, shalt be called the prophet of the Highest: for thou shalt go before the face of the Lord to prepare His ways."
2. John's preaching of REPENTANCE was God's way of preparing the people for Christ's coming. Luke graphically describes one of the scenes in John's preaching: "Then said he to the multitude that came forth to be baptized of him, O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bring forth therefore fruits worthy of repentance, and begin not to say within yourselves, We have Abraham to our father."
Then John bluntly laid down the law of righteousness in acts and in life to the scribes, the publicans, the soldiers, and to all the people.
3. Let us return to the preaching of repentance. Stop and think. Shall repentance be buried beneath the glories of grace? Nay, for grace is "favor toward the guilty," preparing through the Blood of Christ, for salvation from sin's penalty, and also from its power.
"Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound? God forbid." Nay, Christ died to save us from sin. It is the riches of God's grace, as exemplified in His goodness, forbearance, and long-suffering, that leadeth us to repentance.
II. A PLAIN PREACHER WITH A PLAIN MESSAGE (Matthew 3:4-5 ; Matthew 3:7 )
1. A Plain Preacher. "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."
I wonder where the present-day denominational churches got their orders to demand a college and a seminary training as a prerequisite to preaching and missionary appointment?
We are not saying one word against being taught of the Spirit, and filled with a deep knowledge of God. We are not criticizing good manners. We are far from deriding even a study of good grammar, as a means to reach many people in the modern world. However, we still say, where did anyone get the idea that God, the Holy Ghost, cannot impart to His called ones all that a messenger of His needs in these various lines? Certainly He is the Greatest of all teachers.
Stop a moment and look at the great old Testament Prophets who stirred kingdoms. Some were, to be sure, taught in all the learning of their day; many, however, were called from the plow, or the field, or the sheepcote. They were taken from the fastnesses of the mountains, or from the lonesomeness of the plains, and thrust into the presence of kings clothed with a power given of God, and with a message commanded by God.
2. A plain message. Whether John was speaking to Pharisee or publican or Herodian; whether to Herod the king or to the king's soldiers, it made no difference with him. He cared for neither the face nor the power of the men who sat before him. He was fired with the Holy Ghost, and he spoke a truth that cut to the core, where cutting was needed.
III. JOHN THE BAPTIST'S BAPTISMAL DEMANDS (Matthew 3:6 )
1. John's baptism was a baptism unto repentance. We realize that in after years some who had heard only of John's baptism, were rebaptized in the Name of the Lord Jesus. That does not mean, however, that baptism in our day has nothing to do with repentance, or with the negation of sins. John baptized the people who came unto him, confessing their sins. People of today are not worthy of baptism unless they also come confessing and forsaking their sins. We mean nothing short of this.
To the Pharisees and Sadducees who came to John's baptism, he said, "O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come?" Then he added, "Bring forth therefore fruits meet for repentance." Think you that present-hour preachers should demand anything less? If baptism is to be no more than a "door" to the church, an administration of admittance; it may easily become no more than a mere formality.
2. John never lowered God's standards of righteousness to get a convert. Merely numbers, apart from vital repentance and confession of sin, with the fruits thereof, meant nothing to John. He was not after a good report of "the number added by baptism" to something. In this John walked in the way of the Lord. Even to a rich young ruler, who might have added glory to Christ's corps of followers, heard from the Master the words, "Go thy way, sell whatsoever thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in Heaven: and come, take up the cross, and follow Me." The young ruler went away sorrowful. Christ loved him but His love did not make Him let down the bars.
IV. JOHN'S WARNING AGAINST SUPERFLUOUS CONTENTIONS (Matthew 3:9 )
Here are John's own words: "And think not to say within yourselves, We have Abraham to our father." These words are filled with suggestive meanings for the people of today, and the warning is now needed.
1. John saw among religionists of his day a tendency to excuse sins under the. guise of some supposed religious heritage that was supposed to make repentance unnecessary. The preacher was facing the great religious leaders of Judaism. The first thing he did was to call them a generation of vipers. The second thing he did was to pull off the pretense with which they sought to cover their villainy.
They thought that being religious, and very religious, made it possible for them to sin as they wished. They would devour widows' houses, and cover it over with long prayer. They would omit the matters of law, judgment, mercy, and faith, and hide it all under the payment of Jewish tithes of mint, and anise, and cummin. Their hypocrisy and iniquity they covered up by building tombs for the Prophets, and garnishing the sepulchers of the righteous.
2. John exposed their sins and laid bare the folly of their false hopes. Religiosity is no cure-all. It is not a bed on which a man may stretch himself; nor is it a covering with which a man may cover his guilt.
To you, we urge, say not to yourselves, "We are good Methodists, Baptists, Presbyterians," or what not. The question is not one of membership, but of regeneration; not a matter of singing in the choir, but of separation from the world; not a matter of anything less than genuine holy living.
V. JOHN'S BASIS OF JUDGMENT (Matthew 3:10 )
1. The ax laid at the root of the tree. This judgment does not portend the judgment of the wicked at the Great White Throne. John is speaking to Israel nationally, and to a religion that could not stand the test of the genuine. He was uncovering the hypocrisy of those who were saying they had Abraham to their father. Men may look on the outward appearance, but God goes deeper down and sees the thoughts and the intents of the heart. Men may deceive one another with a display of religion that knows no spiritual life, but they cannot deceive God.
2. The fruitless tree is cut down. Christianity is manifested not by professions, or by a display of formal worship, but by its fruits in daily life and act. As it was in Israel, so it is in the church many there are who say, "Lord, Lord," who have no depth of experience. Many there are who have sufficiency of cant, and a proficiency of religious display, but who know nothing of a vital Christian faith.
If they have any fruit, it is tied on, and not grown by personal touch with God. Their root is dried up, their goodness is as a morning cloud it quickly goeth away. They are an empty vine. The Lord says He looked for grapes, and behold wild grapes. And, "By their fruits ye shall know them."
3. The judgment of fire. This is the message which John preached. It is what Christ preached. He said, "Every branch in Me that beareth not fruit He taketh away." That is the reason, at this moment, that Israel is cast under the feet of men.
We can hear the Psalmist bemoaning Israel's fate: "Why hast thou then broken down her hedges, so that all they which pass by the way do pluck at her?" Then he cries, "It is burned with fire, it is cut down: they perish at the rebuke of Thy countenance." Does this mean, however, that Israel is forever cast off? Not at all, for Israel shall be grafted in again. Thus the Psalmist goes on to say, "Return, we beseech Thee, O God of Hosts: look down from Heaven, and behold, and visit this vine." Verily Israel shall yet say, "From me is Thy fruit found." Yea, she will "fill the world with fruit."
VI. THE BAPTISM OF THE HOLY GHOST AND FIRE (Matthew 3:11-12 )
1. The One mightier than I. John the Baptist was not slow to give honor and glory to Jesus Christ. He said, "He that cometh after me is mightier than I." The same John said, "He it is, who coming after me is preferred before me, whose shoe's latchet I am not worthy to unloose."
This is as it should be. The servant is not greater than his Lord. We who speak for Him, and serve Him in the Gospel, are no more than was John, and he confessed himself to be only a voice crying in the wilderness.
God grant that we may ever live at His feet, as we worship in His matchless Name. May we never think of ourselves more highly than we ought to think.
2. He shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost. John said, "I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance: but He * * shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost, and with fire." The Lord Himself quoted these words, ere He went away, saying, "John truly baptized with water; but ye shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost not many days hence."
When that baptism came, there came the sound as of a mighty rushing wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. What about the fire? Here it is: "And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them." Thus did God verify the preaching of John the Baptist, and thus did the Holy Spirit come.
3. His fan is in His hand. John also spoke of the judgment which Christ would render. He had said before, "And now also the ax is laid unto the root of the trees": now he says of Christ, "Whose fan is in His hand, and He will throughly purge His floor." One cannot but think of Christ's entry into the Temple on the occasion when, with a whip of cords, He drove out the money changers.
At that time He purged His floor; He will purge it again. The day of Jacob's purging is now on. His hour of trouble is at hand. Christ will burn the chaff with unquenchable fire, and He will then gather the wheat into the garner.
VII. THE BAPTISM OF JESUS (Matthew 3:13-17 )
1. The significance of Christ's baptism. "Thus it becometh us to fulfil all righteousness." As Christ came to John for baptism, John would have hindered Him, saying, "I have need to be baptized of Thee, and comest Thou to me?" We, like John the Baptist, may wonder why Christ should have come to a baptism of repentance, such as John was practicing. He came to add a hitherto unseen dignity and depth to the meaning of the baptismal waters. Christ said, "Thus it becometh us to fulfil all righteousness." To us this meant that it was through His death, burial, and resurrection that righteousness was to come upon the believer. He took a sinner's baptism, because He came to be made sin in our behalf, that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him.
Thus does baptism become more and more meaningful as we think upon it.
2. The coming of the Spirit. "The Spirit of God descending * * and lighting upon Him." As Christ came from the waters of baptism He stood there by the brink, and prayed. Luke puts it this way: "Jesus also being baptized, and praying, the heaven was opened, and the Holy Ghost descended in a bodily shape like a dove upon Him." Would that all saints at their baptism might know the infilling of the Spirit, that they might be panoplied for the conflict of Christian life and service.
3. The acceptance of the Father. "This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased." How wonderful it all was. As Christ stood there, the voice of God came from adown the blue, saying, "I am well pleased." The words carry so much of authority and acceptance that they can well bear careful study.
God seemed to say, "For thirty years My Son has been dwelling in Nazareth, as the Carpenter, and I am well pleased." In other words all the past had God's full approval.
God seemed to say, "My Son has made Himself known as Saviour, by death and resurrection, and I am well pleased."
Dear friend, God hath now received Christ back to Himself, and given Him a seat at His own right hand, with all the glory He had with Him before the world was, and with the added glory of a new name and a new Saviourhood. Let us love and trust Him.
John the Baptist never preached himself, nor did he honor men. He humbled himself and gave glory to God.
"Daniel Webster, the famous American politician and orator, once spent a summer in New Hampshire, and every Lord's Day went to a little country church morning and evening. His niece asked him why he went there, when he paid little attention to far abler sermons in Washington. He replied: 'In Washington they preach to Daniel Webster, the statesman, but this man has been telling Daniel Webster, the sinner, of Jesus of Nazareth.' 'All have sinned' (Romans 3:23 ). Preach Christ."
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Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Neighbour, Robert E. "Wells of Living Water Commentary on Matthew 3". "Living Water". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29