Summary: Matthew 3:1-12: Vipers, repentance and fire
Vipers, repentance and fire
Over the last few weeks we’ve been looking at the first couple of chapters of Matthew - the birth and infancy of Jesus. And on that first Christmas, He appeared in human form, first as a baby, and then He grew up to commence His ministry. Today we look at Matthew 3:1-12. Jesus is now a grown man and is about to commence His ministry. But before Matthew talks about Jesus’ ministry, we are introduced to John the Baptist. Every Gospel – all four of them, mentions John the Baptist as the one who prepared the way for Jesus.
But who is this John the Baptist? Why was He so significant? What was this John the Baptist like? Well for starters, as we read John the Baptist’s preaching, it looks like he never read such books as Dale Carnegie’s “How to win friends and influence people.” When we read of his ministry methods, it seems as though he never went to any church growth seminars of courses on “How to have a seeker-senstive church service”or on “How to make everyone in your church feel good.” When we read about John the Baptist, we see he was a straight talker, said it like it was and wasn’t afraid to offend people in order to tell them the truth. And so today, I’m going have to ask you to put your seatbelts on. Today’s sermon is hard hitting: it doesn’t pull any punches. Today’s sermon may confront us and may force us to make a decision about the way we live, about our focus in life.
Our passage starts in Matthew 3.1. It tells us that John came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, where the Jordan River flowed through it, so it was probably in this area in this photo here (which is now a fenced border between Israel and Jordan). And in verse 2, it tells us what John was preaching.
Matt 3:2 “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”
This was John’s message “Repent.” That is, turn from sin and towards God. And we’ll look at that more closely later in the passage. But why repent? Because the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand. The Kingdom of Heaven, that is, God’s kingdom, God’s reign, God’s rule, is at hand. But what does all this mean? What does repentance mean? What is this Kingdom of Heaven? The reign of God’s rule?
Well first, let’s have a look a bit more about John the Baptist and who he was. Matthew as well as the other 3 Gospel writers tell us that John the Baptist was the exact one foretold by the prophet Isaiah hundreds of years earlier.
Matthew 33 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 direct quote from Isaiah 40:3, and every single Gospel writer quotes from Isaiah 40 in order to explain who John was. So to understand the significance of that quote, we have better go and read the first few verses of Isaiah 40. The book of Isaiah was written in a period of turmoil in the southern kingdom of Judah. The northern kingdom of Israel had just been taken off into captivity, and the big question was – would Judah follow suit? In the first part of the book of Isaiah, it is mostly doom and gloom as Isaiah prophesied disaster and defeat for the Jews because of their sin; their rebellion against God. The Jews continued in their sin and were eventually taken into captivity as their northern relatives had. But Isaiah was not all doom and gloom. From chapter 40 onwards there is a turning point, where we see prophecies of the Messiah.
We have the famous servant songs, songs that foretell of the suffering of the Messiah for our sins. And this turning point is in chapter 40, where we read:
Isaiah 40 Comfort, comfort my people, says your God.
2 Speak tenderly to Jerusalem,
and cry to her
that her warfare is ended,
that her iniquity is pardoned,
that she has received from the LORD’s hand
double for all her sins.
3 A voice cries:
“In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD;
make straight in the desert a highway for our God.
Up to this point, Isaiah had been prophesying warfare and calamity for Jews, for the inhabitants of Jerusalem and it surrounds. Why? Because of their sin. The result of that sin, was that eventually they were carried into exile in Babylon. And now in chapter 40 the table turns, and we can see in verse 2, that her warfare is ended. Why? Because, as it says, her iniquity is pardoned. And in verse 3 we see the foretelling of a messenger, a voice crying in the wilderness. A voice crying to prepare the way of the Lord. And now Matthew – as well as every other Gospel writer, tells us that this prophecy has now been fulfilled! This voice of one preparing the way is none other than John the Baptist. Matthew 3:3 says, “For this is he who was spoken of by the prophet Isaiah”