Saturday, September 23, 2023

2023.09.23 Hopewell @Home ▫ Matthew 3:1–12

Read Matthew 3:1–12

Questions from the Scripture text: To what days does Matthew 3:1 fast forward? Where was John the baptizer preaching? What did he command to do (Matthew 3:2)? Why? Who had talked about John (Matthew 3:3)? What had Isaiah called him? What would this voice command that they prepare? How was John dressed (Matthew 3:4)? What did he eat? From where were people coming to him in Matthew 3:5? What was he doing to them (Matthew 3:6)? Where? What were they doing as they were being baptized? Whom does John see in Matthew 3:7? What does he call them? What does he say is coming with the kingdom? What does he ask them? What does he tell them to do in Matthew 3:8? What mustn’t they think can be a substitute for repentant works (Matthew 3:9)? How do children of Abraham arise? What picture does Matthew 3:10 use for the coming of the kingdom? How are the trees that are going to be burned identified? With what did John baptize (Matthew 3:11)? Unto what? Who else was coming—of what power? Of what worthiness? With Whom (!) would He baptize instead? What is the difference in source of power and likelihood of success? What else does the One Who baptizes with he Spirit have in His hand (Matthew 3:12)? What will He do with it? What does He gather? What does He burn? With what fire?

What has King Jesus come to do? Matthew 3:1–12 looks forward to the morning sermon on the coming Lord’s Day. In these twelve verses of Holy Scripture, the Holy Spirit teaches us King Jesus has come to fit His people for glory with Him before pouring out His wrath in unquenchable fire. 

Humility. Hosea 11 (cf. Matthew 2:15) and Jeremiah 31 (cf. Matthew 2:18) had prophesied a return of the Jews from exile and a reunification not only of Israel and Judah but more importantly of God’s people with God Himself. Now, Matthew takes us to another passage that had promised the same. John came preaching in a literal wilderness (Matthew 3:1) as the one prophesied about in Isaiah 40:3. There, YHWH Himself was coming to show His incomparable glory by gathering His people to Himself through His Word. He brings the “great” ones of the earth to nothing, but sustains His flock with enduring strength.

So, there is this building theme that whatever national expectations Israel might have had, what the Lord had actually promised and intended was not on a national scale but a cosmic scale. The sort of scale that makes us say, “God alone is glorious! No man is anything compared to Him!” (cp. Isaiah 40:12–26). John himself, YHWH’s herald, is an example of this humility. Jesus Himself makes this point in Matthew 11:7–10. John’s location and clothing (as well as his diet) are lowly in the eyes of men (Matthew 3:4), and this highlights (by contrast) the infinite greatness of the King and kingdom: what are fine clothes and a king’s palace next to YHWH the King?

If we are going to heed John’s message in Matthew 3:2, we are going to need humility. “Repent” is literally “be changed in the substance of your mind.” He is not just saying “feel more correctly” about your sin, or even “do better.” He is saying “be changed from the inside out!” Some have well-translated it, “Be converted!” This requires humility on two counts: the humility to admit that we ourselves need to be fundamentally changed to be saved, and then the further humility to realize that this is something that we cannot do for ourselves.

Of course, there is the danger of thinking that making public display of humility is a substitute for genuine internal transformation. This is the problem with the Pharisees and Sadducees—theological opponents who had in common that they loved appearances. But John compares them to snakes slithering out of Jerusalem (Matthew 3:7), and tells them that their lives must genuinely change (Matthew 3:8), for which external/visible covenant membership is not even a substitute (Matthew 3:9). Wanting to appear humble before men is no substitute for actually being humiliated before God!

John is announcing that conversion is necessary. In God’s great mercy, crowds flock to him (Matthew 3:5), confessing the great necessity of their conversion (Matthew 3:6). 

Urgency. The need for repentance has been occasioned by the nearness of the kingdom. When we come to Matthew 4:23, Matthew is going to tell us that Jesus preaches the “gospel” of the kingdom. But the kingdom is only good news for you if you have the favor of the King! John’s message is not one of sweetness and comfort but alarm and terror! The nearness of the kingdom (Matthew 3:2), becomes the wrath that is coming (Matthew 3:7), and then an ax the is already mid swing (Matthew 3:10a), and fire follows the death-blow (verse 10b). The King Who is coming separates those who are His (His winnowing, His hand, His threshing, His wheat), because He is ready to burn the rest with an unquenchable fire.

Hope. John pressed the urgent need of conversion, but he could not offer hope for that conversion from himself. He administers the sign, but we desperately need the One Who can apply the thing signified. And this One is the One in Whom John proclaims hope. Jesus is not a mere man. He is YHWH of Isaiah 40, before Whom the voice in the wilderness cries out. He is YHWH of Ezekiel 36, Who puts His own Spirit into people to change them (cf. Ezekiel 36:26–27), something that He illustrated by the sprinkling of water (cf. Ezekiel 36:25; Hebrews 10:22). By His Spirit, Jesus will change sinners’ hearts, join them to Himself through faith, and make them the good grain that He is cleansing to gather to Himself. 

By right, Jesus the King destroys His enemies. But by His pleasure, and by His plan, He gives His Spirit to redeem us, so that we are indeed changed by the time the kingdom itself has come.

What do you need, in order for the kingdom to be good news for you? How does this conversion happen?

Sample prayer:  Father, thank You for giving Your Son to be our King, Who first subdues us to Himself by His Spirit, before destroying His enemies. Grant that by the Spirit, we would believe in Christ, we ask in His Name, AMEN!

Suggested songs: ARP98 “O Sing a New Song” or TPH391 “Come, O Come, Thou Quickening Spirit”

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