Submission (Matthew 3:13-15)

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 The people of Israel have been coming from all over to receive the baptism of  repentance by John. Not only the common folk, but the spiritual leaders as well.  John warns each of them to take it seriously. Then John gets yet another visitor. Matthew writes, “Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to be baptized by John. But John tried to deter him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” Jesus replied, “Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.” Then John consented.” 

John is apparently instantly aware that Jesus has no need for a baptism of repentance.  His perception is spot on – the situation is very much reverse of what it ought to be; As righteous as John is, he stands yet in need of Jesus’ ministry, not the other way around. 

But Jesus – knowing that the people around them do not yet know who He is – instructs John to proceed all the same. One commentator writes, “The words “to fulfill all righteousness” mean that Jesus, with John’s cooperation, is to do all that is right for the completion of his mission.”  That completion depended on Jesus’ incarnation and ministry among sinners, but also His complete identification with the sinners He came to save. And Jesus’ identification is so much so that He feels the need to be baptized.  

What Jesus did in submitting to John’s ministry is the very definition of intercession: To so identify with those you are ministering to, that before God you repent on their behalf, crying out to Him for mercy on them. Such is the depth of Jesus’ love for the lost He is surrounded by, and such is the length of His humility in modelling righteousness for them.

That is not just a note of interest. It is a tremendously practical and tremendously profound object lesson for us. For the mission Jesus revealed during this personal conversation with John is also our mission. We know that because much later, Jesus will say, “As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” We are sent with the same objective as He was sent (to reconcile others to God), and we are reminded of that fact every time someone refers to us as a Christian (which means, literally ‘little Christ’). We are therefore obligated to also identify with those God sends to us, and those He sends us to. We are to get to know them, to practice their language and invest in their lives, so that we can pray to God for them and intercede on their behalf. 

After all, they cannot do so on their own accord – they are spiritually dead and unable to respond to the things of heaven until mercy is put upon them

We are priests, which is far more than being a king or queen, because the priesthood makes us worthy to stand before God and to intercede for others.

Martin Luther

APPLICATION: Prayer

Today, pray for the lost around you. Intercede for them, and call on God to have mercy toward them. Then, pray for them that they too will hear God’s voice calling them to repentance. PTL, mercy triumphs over judgment!

How It Ends (Matthew 3:12)

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A garden is much more orderly than the wild outdoors. Though there is beauty in both,   and though mankind can find a certain satisfaction in the outdoors, our inherent tendency is to tame it and structure it. It’s a reflection of man’s first job. Adam was tasked with working and taking care of the garden (Gen 2:15). So it is not hard to understand that every person has the ability to choose (what belongs where) and the ability to organize (this from that), perhaps even a built-in need to do that on some level.  God made us to bring a certain kind of order to the created world. One might even say that human life consists of using discernment and making decisions to affect the environment around us. With these tools we build cities as well as gardens, and with these tools we determine the lives of the plants and animals in our environment. We weed and tend our gardens, and we govern and police our cities. 

We are like that because we made in the image of God, and Sovereign God does likewise. He determines what to create, and He discerns who is to live and when, and who must be given yet another opportunity to thrive, and who must perish. Our times and lives are in His hands, always.

John the Baptist has already given us five reasons why repentance should be sought wholeheartedly.  As Matthew wraps up John’s message, the Baptist gives us two more. Speaking of Christ who is to come after him, John says He will go about, “…gathering his wheat into the barn and burning up the chaff with unquenchable fire.”  As with the earlier analogies of threshing and winnowing, ‘gathering into the barn’ and ‘burning the chaff’ are metaphors easily understood by an agrarian society. Everyone can know that you store what you value and can use, and you burn what is useless. John’s final two reasons both have to do with our final state.  One result – that of being gathered and kept by God, is for the repentant. The other result – that of being burned to ash – is for the unrepentant. 

To modern ears that can all sound more than a little harsh. But then again, is it not harsh to commit treason against the King of Kings? Is it not even harsher to reject the sacrifice of God incarnate, made on account of your treason that you might be cleared of your sin? 

The modern reader might think that God would want to lead with love, not a call to repentance. But God has already lead with love. He has provided us a world that has everything we need and more. He has give us life to enjoy, a society to thrive in and His Word to rightly guide us in both, and He did not do all that for nothing. It was all to lead us to repentance. As Paul wrote, “Do you think you will escape God’s judgment? Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, tolerance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness leads you toward repentance? But because of your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath against yourself for the day of God’s wrath, when his righteous judgment will be revealed. God “will give to each person according to what he has done.” To those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honor and immortality, he will give eternal life. But for those who are self-seeking and who reject the truth and follow evil, there will be wrath and anger.”

John is right to emphasize repentance and to keep hounding us about it. Without repentance, we are but chaff awaiting fire. With it, we are blessed of God and welcome in His household. 

God gives us time enough to turn and live. When a teacher sets a task of a few pages to his scholar, and says, “I give you a week to do it in,” he allows him a “long time,” for the task is one which might be done in an hour. So, when God says, “Seek ye Me, and ye shall live,” or “Acquaint thyself now with God, and be at peace,” and gives us a lifetime for this, He is giving us “a long time.” We delay, and linger, and loiter; so that year after year passes by, and we are no nearer God than at first. But our delays do not change the long time. We make it a short one by our folly; but it was really long for the thing that was to be done.

Horatius Bonar

APPLICATION: Repentance

There is always something more of ourselves to loose, and something more of God to gain. For that reason alone we have more than enough to seek His face in repentance.

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

APPLICATION: Worship

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

APPLICATION: Repentance

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