Summary: John’s message was “Repent!” So was Jesus’. Here is the distinction between the two. John urged repentance because he thought judgment was at hand. Jesus urged repentance because salvation was at hand.
Matthew 11:2-6 The Last Prophet
2/8/15 D. Marion Clark
What would it have been like to encounter Jesus in the flesh? To see him with your own eyes, hear his voice, witness his deeds, and listen to his teachings? What impact would he have had on you? Our new sermon series thinks about such questions. We will consider the testimonies of several characters in the gospels, who bear witness to our Lord. Our first character is Jesus’ cousin, John the Baptist.
Now when John heard in prison about the deeds of the Christ, he sent word by his disciples 3 and said to him, “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?”
Let’s review the life and ministry of John the Baptist. We know of his own miraculous birth. His mother was barren and well past the age of child-bearing. Nevertheless, like Sarah of ages past, she conceived and bore John. The angel that had appeared to his father, Zechariah, gave the following prophesy:
…he will be great before the Lord… he will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother's womb. And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God, and he will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready for the Lord a people prepared” (Luke 1:14-17).
After John’s birth, his father prophesied over him:
And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High;
for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways,
to give knowledge of salvation to his people
in the forgiveness of their sins… (Luke 1:76-77).
The next time John appears in Scripture, he is carrying out his mission.
In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea,
“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” 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’” (Matthew 3:1-3).
“Repent” summarizes well John’s message and work of preparing the way for the Lord. John preached repentance and then baptized those who were convicted. Thus, the baptisms he performed were known as “baptisms of repentance.” They signified that the sinner was repenting of his sins and making a new start.
This was how John was preparing the way for the Lord. He was turning rebellious people back to the Lord, so that they would be prepared to receive the Lord’s saving work. The Messiah was coming to save Israel, but before he could save God’s covenant people, they needed to turn from their rebellion and have their hearts made ready to follow him.
Think of John’s work as that of getting a town ready for the visit of a distinguished visitor. Houses and yards must be spruced up. The streets must be cleaned and all visible trash removed. Time to fix up public sites that have fallen into disrepair. John was getting the nation of Israel ready to receive her king. The difference is that he was not thinking of outward changes, but the inner changes of hearts.
John understood his mission and even the prophesy that he was fulfilling. When pressed by Jewish authorities about his identity, he replied, “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’ as the prophet Isaiah said” (John 1:23). The Messiah was on his way, and he, John, was the messenger sent to proclaim his coming and to get his people prepared to receive him.
But just who was it that John thought the Messiah to be? That is what brings our passage into play. For here is the proclaimer of the Messiah expressing doubt as to who the Messiah might be. Will the real Messiah please stand up?
Why the doubt? Evidently, Jesus is not fitting the profile of the job description that John had in mind. Let’s look further into John’s expectations.
Matthew, in agreement with the other three gospels, crystalizes well John’s teaching about the Messiah:
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.
The baptism of the Messiah is what separates him from John and anyone else. John clearly was an imposing figure and a no-holds-barred preacher. He must have been intimidating. I’m not sure how comfortable I would have felt walking into a river and having his hands lay hold of me. But, as John noted, all he was doing was baptizing with water. The Messiah was going to baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire.