Labour (Matthew 3:12)

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John the Baptist had many calls for heartfelt repentance. He has already told   us that the One to come is far more powerful. He has already mentioned that Messiah’s status is so lofty that he doesn’t consider himself even worthy to be the lowest of slaves in His household. Now John says of the One to come, “His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor…”   

The Lexham Bible Dictionary tells us that the steps in ancient grain production were:

1. Plowing (1 Sam 11:5; Isa 2:4; Joel 3:10)

2. Planting (Gen 26:12; Deut 22:9; Jer 50:16)

3. Harvesting (Deut 6:19; Jer 50:16; Joel 3:13)

4. Stacking stalks in sheaves (Gen 37:7; Ruth 2:7, 15; Zech 12:6)

5. Transporting sheaves to the threshing floor (Amos 2:13; Mic 4:2)

6. Threshing (Deut 25:4; Judg 6:11; 2 Sam 24:16–25)

7. Winnowing (Exod 15:7; Job 13:25; Isa 30:24)

8. Sifting (Amos 9:9; Luke 22:31)

9. Milling (Gen 18:6), parching (2 Sam 17:28), or storing (Joel 1:17)

To clear the threshing floor was necessary after sifting. The farmer threshed the grain by lashing it with flails or leading animals to repeatedly step on it, often pulling a heavy sledge in a processes reminiscent of steamrolling. This separated out the grain from the chaff, and by using a winnowing fork to toss the resultant mass into the air, the gain would separate out, falling straight down while the chaff and straw would be blown downwind. Once the chaff was separated out, the grain lay all over the threshing floor, and prior to processing for food it had to be cleaned up. The farmer or their assistants would sweep it all up and put in baskets or jars so that none of it would be lost. 

It was all a very laborious process, but absolutely necessary. Straw and chaff are inedible, and grain sold without adequate separation was therefore useless and unprofitable. Inversely, grain was very valuable, so none of it would be wasted – the threshing floor was never left partially covered in grain. Wise farmers gathered all of it, and Christ is the very epitome of a wise farmer. To that point John uses a word for ‘clear’ that implies ‘to completely empty’. As the NASB better puts it, “He will thoroughly clear His threshing floor.”  

You may think that you haven’t gathered so much, and that your spiritual fruitfulness is far too small to cover God’s threshing floor. You may even think for a moment that what little fruit you have is so small as to be lost in the hurry of the harvest. But Christ will thoroughly clear His threshing floor, and nothing will be lost. All of the fruitfulness that genuine repentance produces will be counted – every last act and every witness of His Name. 

Fear not, even a cup of cold water given in His Name will earn a reward in glory. 

A farmer does not wrest the plant from the seed. He sows the seed and leaves the result to God. If God’s people are fait

HH Hobbs

APPLICATION: Thankfulness

Thank God that He who knows the number of hairs on your head also knows what you have done for His Name. Meditate on Hebrews 6:10, “God is not unjust; he will not forget your work and the love you have shown him as you have helped his people and continue to help them.”

Winnowing (Matthew 3:12)

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John continues his reasons why we ought to be earnestly repentant, saying of Messiah, “His winnowing fork is in his hand.” A winnowing fork is a multi-pronged wooden pitchfork used to toss threshed (beaten or crushed) grain, “into the air so that the wind can separate the lighter straw from the heaver grain.”  Winnowing (the act of using the winnowing fork) is a separation process. It is the removal of what is unnecessary and unwanted from the valuable and wanted. 

A clearer metaphor could not be wished for in an agrarian society (as Israel was in John’s day). The One to come after John the Baptist will be about separating the covenant children of God from the condemned. The context of the statement allows that it builds on John’s previous comments; Christ’s arrival is imminent, which means the opportunity to ensure that you are on the right side of that separation process is urgent, because the decision will shortly be taken out of your hands. The urgent nature of John’s ministry is all the more highlighted when one realizes that all it takes for anyone to begin the transition from chaff to grain is wholehearted repentance. 

It is one thing to lose out on an opportunity when you do not have the means to win. If all of life depended on you winning an olympic race, you may well have a case that there was no point in even trying. But all of life does not depend on the accomplishment of such a high and lofty goal. It depends merely on your willingness to lay down your pride and turn to God. It depends entirely on repentance. 

Billy Graham used to have a radio show called “Hour of Decision” in which he preached the Gospel of Jesus Christ over the airwaves and called on people to make a personal decision for Christ. That ministry started in 1950 and ran till 2015. Through it many souls have been saved, and it continues today in syndication.  Of course, Billy Graham and his association do not have a monopoly on the call to repentance anymore than John did in his day. To call others to a single critical decision for God Most High is something all of God’s own can do just as easily as they themselves can repent. What is more, such a call is just as – if not more – urgent in our day than it was in John’s. For Christ’s second appearing and the final judgment are just as close to us as Christ’s first appearing was for John. 

That reality means what while we can, we must do all we can, to prepare people for Christ’s imminent return. Just as John pointed out, the day draws near when such work will end, and His work of separating the grain from the chaff will suddenly begin. Then it will be too late for all those around us who have not yet repented, and it will also be too late for us to have enjoined His mission. The time to repent of sins is now, and the time to repent of inaction is now. Today is the day of salvation for those who repent of their sins, and today is the day of engagement for those who repent of inaction.

Your piety is worthless unless it leads you to wish that the same mercy which has been extended to you may bless the whole world.

Charles Spurgeon

APPLICATION: Intentionality

If you knew for certain Christ would come back in the next few years, what would you want to set about doing? Who do you yet need to speak to? What stops you from doing it now?

Soaking in Fire (Matthew 3:11-12)

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John gives seven reasons why we ought to be earnestly repentant. The first of those   reasons is the power of Christ. The second is that Christ is so holy and exalted that even the best of us are not worthy of Him. The third reason John gives is, “He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.”  This is a markedly different experience from John’s baptism with water.  

The act of baptism is highly symbolic and deeply spiritual. At the very least, it is the public illustration of our being dead to sin and the old life (by going under the water), and of our coming alive to God and being born anew (in our coming up from the water). Water is a substance we can all understand. But the One John says will follow him will provide both a baptism of the person of the Holy Spirit, and a baptism of fire. To be baptized into God’s Spirit is not something as easily envisioned as simple immersion into water! 

Craig Blomberg writes in the New American Commentary, “The expression baptism “with/in the Holy Spirit” appears six other times in the New Testament. Five of these texts refer to this very saying of John (Mark 1:8; Luke 3:16; John 1:33; Acts 1:5; 11:16). Acts 1–2 demonstrates that John’s prediction was fulfilled at Pentecost. The sixth reference appears in 1 Cor 12:13, where it is clear that all Christians receive Spirit-baptism. The phrase therefore refers to a ritual that depicts a believer’s initiation into the body of Christ by the indwelling Holy Spirit, who never departs following true conversion and regeneration.” All true – yet the word ‘baptizo’ used in the text, and the context in which it is used (that is, repenting wholeheartedly) communicates more than simple immersion signifying a changed worldview. It communicates the flooding of, and the sustained dwelling with the presence of God. One therefore cannot simply say, “I received the Spirit a long time ago and it’s done”, but must instead confess, “I received the Spirit at salvation, and I seek every day to live in awareness of and in full communion with the Spirit of God.”  There is a world of difference between the two, just as there is a massive delta between mere participation in water baptism and heartfelt repentance. 

Ed Silvoso once used the illustration of a making a pickle in speaking of the Baptism of the Spirit.  He pointed out that to make one, you first dip a small cucumber into hot water to ‘bapto’ it – to soften its outer membrane. Then you can ‘baptismo’ it in the brine over a long time. As it soaks in that solution, the very character of the vegetable is changed. It starts out as a cucumber, but over time and at some point becomes a pickle. Likewise, our character is changed as we ‘soak’ in the presence of God. As we stay immersed in His Word, as we keep worshipping together with other saints, as we seek His face in prayer – we become more like Him and less like our old selves. 

That’s not only central to who we are called to be, it’s critical for our future baptism of fire. As the Lord said through Isaiah long ago, “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name; you are Mine! When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; And through the rivers, they will not overflow you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be scorched, nor will the flame burn you. For I am the Lord your God, The Holy One of Israel, your Savior.”

Will power does not change men. Time does not change men. Christ does.

Henry Drummond

APPLICATION: Intentionality

Today, practice soaking in God’s presence. What is the Spirit saying to you?

Honor (Matthew 3:11-12)

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John continues his rebuke of the Jewish leadership, who have come to him to be   baptized, “I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me will come one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not fit to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor, gathering his wheat into the barn and burning up the chaff with unquenchable fire.”  

John gives seven reasons why the Jewish leadership ought to be earnestly repentant.  The first of those reasons is the power of Christ. The second reason John gives is, “whose sandals I am not fit to carry”.  The NASB puts it, “I am not fit to remove His sandals.”  Scholars have long recognized the poignant nature of John’s self-deprecating comment.  John Nolland wrote, “The scale of the status difference between John and the coming agent of God is figured by the image of John’s being unworthy to carry his sandals. Carrying the clothing of another is clearly a servant role. It became a rabbinic image of self-humiliation. Smelly and dirty footwear could be a particularly unpleasant part of the clothing to have to deal with. John inverts an obvious image of humiliation to express graphically the status differential involved.” WS Lewis and HM Booth likewise comment, “Among Jews, Greeks, and Romans alike, this office, that of untying and carrying the shoes of the master of the house or of a guest, was the well-known function of the lowest slave of the household.

John draws a deliberately sharp contrast, not merely proclaiming that the coming Messiah is more powerful than he, but that He is so holy that John feels unworthy to serve Him in the lowest capacity possible. We should not easily dismiss that. It is something that John – having faithfully fulfilled all that God asked of him – still felt so far beneath even the lowest office in God’s house. Yet if that was true, how much less worthy are the objects of John’s warning – the Pharisees and Sadducees – who have not faithfully executed their divine mandate and instead unfaithfully abused their power?

Later, a different John will see the same One that the Baptist spoke of. He later wrote,  “Then I looked and heard the voice of many angels, numbering thousands upon thousands, and ten thousand times ten thousand. They encircled the throne and the living creatures and the elders.  In a loud voice they sang: “Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise!”  Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all that is in them, singing: “To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honor and glory and power, for ever and ever!”” So great is Jesus Christ the Lamb of God, and so worthy of honor. 

It is no wonder that John feels unworthy to serve Him. It is rather a very great wonder that God allows us to serve Him in even the most off-hand ways, let alone in direct ministry. Truly, we are privileged far more than John, for we carry something far greater than His sandals. We carry His Name! 

The highest form of worship is the worship of unselfish Christian service. The greatest form of praise is the sound of consecrated feet seeking out the lost and helpless.

Billy Graham


Consider how God has honoured you. Worship Him accordingly.

Opportunity (Matthew 3:11-12)

Detail of John the Baptist Preaching (British Museum)

The apostle Paul, speaking to the crowd gathered at the synagogue in Pisidian  Antioch,  said, “Before the coming of Jesus, John preached repentance and baptism to all the people of Israel.  As John was completing his work, he said: ‘Who do you think I am? I am not that one. No, but he is coming after me, whose sandals I am not worthy to untie.’” 

From that, we can know that when John made that statement, it was toward the very end of his ministry. That’s an important clue to understanding why John was saying that as he rebuked the Pharisees and Sadducees who were now showing up in the crowds.  After insulting them and warning them that judgment was at hand, he said, “I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me will come one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not fit to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor, gathering his wheat into the barn and burning up the chaff with unquenchable fire.”  

John’s comment about the one who comes after him (which could only be Messiah) gives both weight and reason for his recent harsh rebuke of the Jewish spiritual leadership. For not only is judgment at hand, but the judge Himself is the one coming – and John’s knows his opportunity to warn them is growing short. He is therefore prompted to speak not merely out of the truth of the matter, but the urgency also. In modern parlance, the stakes could not be higher or the time more opportune. His poignant warning becomes all the more succinct. 

In it, John gives seven reasons why the Jewish leadership ought to be earnestly repentant. The first of those reasons is that the one to come is more powerful than John. 

Now John had not demonstrated a lot of power in the sense of working miracles – in fact, John never performed a miracle. But he did have power. In fact, it was the power of his message that caused people to stream out to the desert to see him to start with. Of this we cannot doubt; John preached with power! That power was so great it even stirred the Jewish leadership to come out to see him. Surely such a fact could not be lost in the irony of how so harshly John addressed them. 

No doubt they felt a strong conviction even as he spoke these words. But feeling conviction and acting on that conviction are not the same thing – and the essence of John’s phrase is to that very point. He knows Messiah is coming very soon, and he knows the leadership before him are not ready at all. 

It is time for the most crucial of crucial conversations. A more poignant moment is hard to imagine. If they’ve felt convicted now (yet are fixing to avoid acting on it), then what will happen should they wait to meet Him? Then their conviction will not be mere heartfelt prompting, but an inescapable sentence of destruction. 

Repentance is never something to be put off. In fact, the closer we get to the Lord the more we sense the urgency of being truly ready to meet Him. Therefore, repentance in the kingdom of God is not something one has done once, long ago. Instead, it becomes a way of life, and all the more so the closer we draw to Him. 

I tell you, now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation!

The Apostle Paul (2Corinthians 6:2)

APPLICATION: Intentionality

Ask the Lord to show you the fruitfulness of your life. What do you see?

Trees (Matthew 3:10)

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There is a lot of analogy and metaphor in the Scripture . Taken in context, such  linguistic tools help us quickly understand complex spiritual principles and happenings without the need for extensive Scriptural training. 

The prophet Isaiah uses one such metaphor in explaining how the Lord will use Assyria as a tool to judge other nations, saying, “See, the Lord, the Lord Almighty, will lop off the boughs with great power. The lofty trees will be felled, the tall ones will be brought low. He will cut down the forest thickets with an ax; Lebanon will fall before the Mighty One.”  From that, we can grasp that the Assyrian army is like an ax being wielded by God – they are a brutal instrument used by the Lord to clear the land for better purpose, and that the nation of Lebanon is not unlike a forest in the way.

John the Baptist is an Old Testament prophet just like Isaiah. He is aware of the prophesies of years past, and brings up the same kind of imagery in speaking to the spiritual leaders of Israel, “The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.”  In John’s imagery, nations are like forests and individuals like trees. His message is very clear – those who live lives without spiritual fruitfulness will have their future truncated, and their very persons consumed by burning. It is a horrific prophesy of the eternal destruction God assigns to selfish and unrepentant individuals.

Compare such imagery to the first words from the Psalmist, who also uses a tree as metaphor:“Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked or stand in the way of sinners or sit in the seat of mockers. But his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither. Whatever he does prospers.” In the Psalmist’s metaphor, the godly individual is a tree that does not fail to provide needed shade and fruit – they are a help to all who encounter them. 

Just like a tree, we have a purpose to be helpful and fruitful. Unlike a tree, we have a choice. We can choose which kind of tree we want to be. We can be the “tree that does not produce good fruit” or the “tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season”. Better yet, we can recognize if there is fruit in and from our lives (or lack thereof), and we know that all that lays between the unfruitful and the fruitful is a season of repentance and the daily drinking in of God’s instruction. 

I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live and that you may love the Lord your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him. For the Lord is your life, and he will give you many years in the land he swore to give to your fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

Moses (Deuteronomy 30:19-20)

APPLICATION: Intentionality

Ask the Lord to show you the fruitfulness of your life. What do you see?

A Place of Privilege (Matthew 3:7-9)

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At what point should a privileged position be taken for granted? The day after  tenure is  granted? After 7 years in political office? After thirty years of marriage?  

The wise know there is no number that is the correct answer.  Places of privilege – even in positions we might consider irrevocable – are never to be taken for granted. The whole point of the place of privilege is advancement of the good of the other. Taking advantage (that is – taking what was a shared blessing and using it primarily for your own blessing) is a surefire way to create disunity. Disunity always threatens the mutual blessing, and if pushed too far, unravels it.  

John is involved in a dialogue – or rather – a heated monologue – with the spiritual leaders of the Jewish people. They’ve come out to be baptized along with their followers, but John has seen through their façade, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not think you can say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham.” The Pharisees and Sadducees thought that their position was secure.  Not only were they ‘qualified’ in the worldly sense of the term (in their academic role), but they were ‘children of Abraham’ according to Jewish law.  They knew they could trace their history all the way to Abraham, just as Matthew had done with Jesus in chapter 1. Yet John is adamant that such a qualification based on ancestry does not mean they can take God’s favor for granted. 

Ancestry may be a special place of privilege, but it is not license to excuse a lack of fruitful heartfelt repentance. God expects His own to do as He does, and what He does produces spiritual fruit. Both the inward fruitfulness of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control that Gal 5:22 speaks of, and the outward fruitfulness of influencing others toward Him, and influencing society toward transformation into God’s Kingdom come. God’s children have profound and irrevocable privilege in knowing Him, but also have a profound and inescapable responsibility to make Him known! 

Years before John made such bold statements, God had spoken to Israel through the prophet Isaiah, “Listen to me, you who pursue righteousness and who seek the Lord: Look to the rock from which you were cut and to the quarry from which you were hewn; look to Abraham, your father, and to Sarah, who gave you birth. When I called him he was but one, and I blessed him and made him many.”  Jewish leadership therefore looked to their heritage as a comfort, and it was (and is). But the point the prophet was making was that God can do the impossible, and will bring forth many children for Himself no matter how barren the situation! Abraham and Sarah were blessed, but not only for themselves. They were blessed so that through them, God might bless all peoples. Therefore, we must understand that our place of privilege is not a right to be indulged, but a blessing God assigned for His purposes, and always with others in mind. 

Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant.

The Apostle Paul (Philippians 2:5-7a)

APPLICATION: Intentionality

Consider how Christ treated His place of privilege. How can we do likewise for His sake?

Party Lines (Matthew 3:7-8)

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John is ministering in the desert, and people are coming to hear him from near and far. Along with the crowds came the spiritual leaders of the people – the Pharisees and Sadducees. But who were these people? 

They weren’t the same group. Though both were influential among the people, they held differing viewpoints on Jewish spiritual thought and practice. The Baker encyclopedia of the Bible says of the Pharisee, “Josephus, who tells us that he belonged to this sect, wrote toward the end of the 1st century that the Pharisees were “extremely influential among the townsfolk; and all prayers and sacred rites of divine worship are performed according to their exposition. This is the great tribute that the inhabitants of the cities, by practising the highest ideal both in their way of living and in their discourse, have paid to the excellence of the Pharisees” (Antiq 18.15).” By comparison, the Sadducees “opposed the legal regulations introduced by the Pharisees and were saying that only the OT Law should be considered mandatory. In this, as in their stand against belief in angels and in life after death, they appear to have regarded the Pharisees as innovators and themselves as conservatives.” 

Of course, which was more ‘conservative’ and which was more ‘liberal’ is all rather irrelevant. The point is that these two groups represent the spectrum of Jewish leadership. In fact, every time we see these two together in Scripture, it is indicative of ‘people from all over the religious spectrum.’ 

Verses 7-8 of chapter 3 record John’s reaction, “But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to where he was baptizing, he said to them: “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce fruit in keeping with repentance.” John calls the lot of them a ‘brood of vipers’. To say such a thing is no small insult. He is calling them out as the devil’s children, even as they present themselves as God’s children coming to be baptized! That is harsh. Moreover, his warning is that they must not simply go through the outward motions of repentance (as one would believe they were aiming to do). John tells them they must actually repent! 

RC Sproul once wrote, “Generally speaking, [Biblical repentance] has to do with the changing of one’s mind with respect to one’s behavior. It contains the idea of ruing. To rue something means to regret a particular action. It carries with it not only an intellectual assessment but also an emotional or visceral response. The feeling most often associated with repentance in Scripture is that of remorse, regret, and a sense of sorrow for having acted in a particular way. Thus, repentance involves sorrow for a previous form of behavior.”

Our actions always have consequences. True repentance not only has the very real benefit of avoiding the wrath of God, but produces spiritual fruit. Of course, only you and God above know whether or not your repentance is heartfelt and real, or if you are merely sorry for being caught out. But if it is heartfelt and real, repentance will do more than change your mind. It will change who you are, and that will result in changed behaviour that all around you can see. 

Repentance is mainly remorse for the share we had in the revolt that wounded Jesus Christ, our Lord. Further, I have discovered that truly repentant men never quite get over it, for repentance is not a state of mind and spirit that takes its leave as soon as God has given forgiveness and as soon as cleansing is realized. That painful and acute conviction that accompanies repentance may well subside and a sense of peace and cleansing come, but even the holiest of justified men will think back over his part in the wounding and the chastisement of the Lamb of God. A sense of shock will still come over him. A sense of wonder will remain—wonder that the Lamb that was wounded should turn His wounds into the cleansing and forgiveness of one who wounded Him.

AW Tozer


What are you merely sorry for, and what are you repentant of?

Gaining Popularity (Matthew 3:1-6)

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Verse 1 of chapter 3 records, “In those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the  Desert of Judea.” One commentator writes, “the reader is given no help in imagining how John, at least in the early stages, could have gained any audience for his message in an unpopulated wilderness area. John is being thought of as a prophet, but where the prophets characteristically take their message from God to the people, here the people must trek out into the wilderness to receive the message. This is presumably because the commerce with God which John is calling for is deemed to have its natural setting in the wilderness (as the place to initiate eschatological renewal).”

With John ministering in the wilderness, most had to walk at least a full day into the desert to see him, and that was no quaint morning stroll. It would take a strong motive and purposefulness to take time out of the normal schedule to go and be baptized by him, out there in the desert. Yet the people streamed out to him. As if to rub that point in, verse 5 says, “People went out to him from Jerusalem and all Judea and the whole region of the Jordan.” They came because John’s message was persuasive. They were convicted by the Spirit of God as John faithfully preached what God had given him to preach, and they wanted to assure themselves they were in right standing with God Most High. In summary one might say that though John was perhaps a bit abrasive, and though he was certainly unusual, and though he was not right next door, yet it was worth the walk to experience his ministry because you were changed forever by it.

Today, many of our churches do not offer Sunday school, evening services or midweek services, and the main worship service is often a highly produced event given strict timelines, so that the message is restricted to 20 or 30 minutes. All of that is adaptation to our present culture, where church is no longer seen as central to a community’s life, but very much an optional extra. 

We who live and breathe in such a culture can easily assume that such limitations are in place because people don’t want to hear preachers anymore. That preaching has somehow become passé, like the arbor meetings of yesteryear and the tent revival meetings of old. But the speaking of God’s Word among His people is never without impact. Nor does it go long without audience. Indeed, to connect with God and hear what God has laid on the preacher’s heart, people will endure travel – even to the point of changing their schedules and suffering hardship. Even if the meeting place is a distance away, and even if the preacher is a bit unusual and not in the slightest charismatic.

People don’t stop going out of their way to connect with God. They stop going out of their way when they expect they will not or cannot connect with God. We must remember Jesus’ viewpoint, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few.” When the preacher faithfully and prayerfully brings God’s Word (and not just their own thoughts about God’s Word), people are changed. They remember that, they speak to others about that and they bring their friends to experience what they experienced.  

Light yourself on fire with passion and people will come from miles to watch you burn.

John Wesley

APPLICATION: Intentionality

How are you bringing the presence of God to others?

First Steps (Matthew 3:4-6)

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Leviticus 16 detailed the process the redeemed Israelites were to undertake on the day   of atonement. The day of atonement was the one day a year where their collective sin could be dealt with under the covenant they had with God. This included the confession of sin and subsequent washing with water – acts that reminded Israel of when Moses led the people through the Sea on their way to the promised land. It was a national foreshadow of the personal act of baptism, and something that John the Baptist capitalized on in his ministry. 

As one scholar notes, “The readiness with which the multitudes submitted to baptism is explained by the fact that purificatory rites by the application of water were not new nor strange to the Jews.” Indeed, the need for personal application of water in the purification of sins was detailed in Ex 19, Lev 14 and 15, Num 8 and Deut 23. Yet what John was doing was far more meaningful than a periodic ritual. His message powerfully moved people to action, and in his message John had just what was called for  – a baptism in accordance with whole life repentance

Just what did John’s baptism mean? It signified a person’s willingness to turn from his or her sins and from the false belief that being born a Jew automatically put a person in right relationship with God. John announced Israel was in spiritual crisis and about to be judged. When John came with the first prophetic message in four centuries, it was only natural that as people repented, they demonstrated the sincerity of their repentance by submitting to baptism, thus publicly identifying themselves with the faithful among God’s people.”

We’ve already from the previous verses that John’s message of repentance was also consistent with the messages of Isaiah and Ezekiel and basically every other prophet Israel had ever known. The wilderness where John ministered was a further reminder of Israel’s past. Now Matthew tells us what John wore and ate. He wore rough clothes, as Elijah was known for (see 1Ki 1:8), and he ate the uncultivated food God provided, as the poor were instructed to do (see Lev 11:20–23).

 “John’s clothes were made of camel’s hair, and he had a leather belt around his waist. His food was locusts and wild honey.  People went out to him from Jerusalem and all Judea and the whole region of the Jordan.  Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River.”  

Though John never performed miracles, his life, clothing and ministry epitomized the whole of the Old Testament message. That is so very fitting and appropriate, as his cousin Jesus likewise epitomized the whole of the New Testament. Both call us into restored relationship with God the Father – the life we were created to live but failed at. Both call us to be His people through repentance and subsequent living as obedient children of God. One could say that in John the Baptist we most clearly see how the Old Testament message and the New Testament message are actually one and the same: We are to be God’s people, with all the privileges and responsibilities that entails!

Baptism is an outward expression of an inward faith.

Watchman Nee

APPLICATION: Intentionality

What would you say is the overall message of your life?  Is it consistent with your belonging to God?  Would those around you say the same? Purpose to make  any changes necessary. Purpose to be baptized if you haven’t already. You are God’s child, and all the world should see Him and His message reflected in You!