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Prepare the Way for the Lord (Matthew 3:1-12)

First Baptist Church http://fbcbartow.org

“Prepare the Way for the Lord”

(Matthew 3:1-12)

Series: God’s Fulfilled Promise [on screen]

Rev. Matthew C. McCraw, EdD

First Baptist Church, Bartow, Florida

August 5, 2018

Introductory Comments:

Have you ever had an event in your life that required some unique preparation? Perhaps it was a medical event, an athletic event, or maybe a long trip. 

Illustration: Many of you know that I used to be a mission pastor, so I have been on many mission trips around the world. Over time, I took packing lists and consolidated them together, and added my own things and developed quite the packing list for mission trips. As a result, when I was getting ready for a ten or twelve day trip, I knew what I needed. I was able to prepare. 

There was a man that came to prepare others for something significant. 

In this morning’s passage in the book of Matthew we will hear about a strange man named John the Baptist, who was doing preparation for the coming ministry of Jesus. 

Let’s take a look at the passage together. 

Read the Passage

Read Matthew 3:1-12

1 In those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the wilderness of Judea 2 and saying, “Repent, because the kingdom of heaven has come near!” 3 For he is the one spoken of through the prophet Isaiah, who said:

A voice of one crying out in the wilderness:

Prepare the way for the Lord;

make his paths straight!

4 Now John had a camel-hair garment with a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey. 5 Then people from Jerusalem, all Judea, and all the vicinity of the Jordan were going out to him, 6 and they were baptized by him in the Jordan River, confessing their sins.

7 When he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them, “Brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? 8 Therefore produce fruit consistent with repentance. 9 And don’t presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you that God is able to raise up children for Abraham from these stones. 10 The ax is already at the root of the trees. Therefore, every tree that doesn’t produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.

11 “I baptize you with water for repentance, but the one who is coming after me is more powerful than I. I am not worthy to remove his sandals. He himself will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 12 His winnowing shovel is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into the barn. But the chaff he will burn with fire that never goes out.”

Let’s pray as we dive into this passage. 

(Prayer)

As a reminder, we are in the middle of a series in the book of Matthew. 

We have seen how the coming of Jesus was predicted, prepared, and preserved. Miracles took place, all kind of traveling was happening, and angels were appearing left and right guiding the process as God was at work. 

Now, about 30 years or so have passed in Matthew’s timeline and we hear about a man named John the Baptist. 

Just for the record, John was not a Baptist like we are Baptists. There were no Christian denominations at that time. 

John was really John the Baptizer. That is, he baptized a lot of people. 

We also know from the other gospel accounts that John was the cousin of Jesus, although it doesn’t appear that they were hanging out much at grandma’s house.

However, John did seem to be familiar with who Jesus really was. He knew that Jesus was the Messiah. 

Through his ministry, John sought to point people to Jesus. 

This morning, let’s see three ways that John pointed people to the Messiah. 

First, let’s see how . . .

I. John pointed people to the coming of Jesus (vv. 1-3) [on screen]

We see that John came preaching in the wilderness of Judea. 

What was his message? Well, his message was two-fold:

First, repent. John was calling all people to repentance. We’ll talk about that in just a moment. 

Second, he was pointing people to the coming of Jesus. 

He was pointing people not to Jesus’ birth, because Jesus is already an adult man at this time. He’s pointing people to the coming of Jesus as the suffering servant, the ministering Messiah, the compassionate Christ, and the sacrificing Savior. 

John the Baptist wants his hearers to know that something special is about to happen. 

He said very specifically in verse 2, “the kingdom of heaven has come near.”

And, in verse 3, “Prepare the way for the Lord.”

Matthew, the writer of this account, points to both John’s and Jesus’ fulfillment of the words of Isaiah, which come from Isaiah 40:3. 

Matthew says that John is the voice crying out in the wilderness to prepare the way for the Lord. Jesus is the Lord!

Matthew again and again shows us how the coming of Jesus and the ministry of Jesus are fulfillments of the words of the prophets. 

(pause)

John says to prepare the way for the Lord, His kingdom is near. 

We can understand the kingdom of God in this way. The kingdom of God is the establishment of God’s rule and working out of His will on the earth. 

We see this in part ever since creation, we see it more fully when Jesus comes, and we will see it in totality when Jesus returns.

John basically says, “Look, God is doing something amazing here as He is working out His rule and will on the earth!”

John is pointing people to the coming of Jesus. 

Next, we see . . .

II. John pointed people to true repentance (vv. 4-10) [on screen]

Look at verses 4-10 again. 

Read verses 4-10. 

4 Now John had a camel-hair garment with a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey. 5 Then people from Jerusalem, all Judea, and all the vicinity of the Jordan were going out to him, 6 and they were baptized by him in the Jordan River, confessing their sins.

7 When he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them, “Brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? 8 Therefore produce fruit consistent with repentance. 9 And don’t presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you that God is able to raise up children for Abraham from these stones. 10 The ax is already at the root of the trees. Therefore, every tree that doesn’t produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.

Just to be clear, John was a pretty odd fellow. 

He had a camel-hair garment with a leather belt holding it together. 

He ate bugs and wild honey.

He was a wild man. 

Yet, people left Jerusalem and all over Judea to come to him, out in the wilderness, and hear his preaching. 

This was his message: Repent!

The first word that Matthew records from John is “repent.”

John gets to the heart of what kind of repentance he’s talking about when he addresses the Pharisees and Sadducees. 

First of all, he calls them “brood of vipers,” basically saying, “you children of snakes!”

He tells them to produce fruit consistent with repentance. Well, what does that mean? It means to demonstrate the true change in your heart and mind by the way that you live your life. 

He also makes a remarkable statement that is extremely applicable to us today in the culture in which we live. 

He says, “ . . . don’t presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you that God is able to raise up children for Abraham from these stones.”

What he means is this: “Don’t say that just because we’re Jewish, because we’re God’s chosen people, everything will be ok.”  He further states (and I’m paraphrasing), “God can make chosen people out of these rocks if He wants to! He doesn’t need you!”

We need to get this, church! Just because we have a heritage of faith in our family, doesn’t mean that we are truly followers of Jesus. 

Just because our loved ones help found a church, or build a building, or left a large donation, or were preachers, or whatever, that doesn’t mean we are genuine followers of Jesus Christ. 

Just because we were baptized, or grew up in Sunday School, or walked the isle at some point, that doesn’t mean we are truly devoted to Jesus Christ. 

Just because someone’s a preacher at a historic First Baptist Church, doesn’t make them a Christian. 

John says, “Produce fruit consistent with repentance.”

Let it show!

This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine, this little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine, let it shine, let it shine!

If God’s truly changed your life, let it shine, let it show by the way you live!

This was John’s message to those in the wilderness of Judea, and it is his message to us in the pews of First Baptist Church: produce fruit consistent with repentance. 

(pause)

We also see that John was baptizing. Well, what kind of baptism was this?

The baptism of John the Baptist was the same type of baptism that we practice here at First Baptist Church. 

Notice what the passage says in verse 6. “They were baptized by him in the Jordan River, confessing their sin.”

They were not baptized for the forgiveness of their sins. They were baptized because they were confessing their sins and they were seeking repentance. 

The confession of their sins and the repentance preceded (that is, it came before) their baptism. 

Their baptisms were a significant symbol and outward sign of the inward change that God had brought about in their lives. 

In the same way, we today, are baptized as a sign and symbol of what has happened on the inside! We are committed to a changed life because our hearts are changed by God. Our baptism signifies that. 

So, John was calling for true repentance and folks were baptized to signify that true repentance. 

(pause)

Notice the consequences of a lack of true repentance. 

John says in verse 10:

10 The ax is already at the root of the trees. Therefore, every tree that doesn’t produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.

To whom is he speaking at this point? He’s speaking to the Pharisees and the Sadducees. 

These are the Jewish religious leaders of the day. If anybody is safe because of their pedigree of religiosity and birthright, it’s these people. Yet, John says just the opposite. 

He says just because you have Abraham as your father doesn’t mean you get a get into heaven free card. 

No! You must produce fruit, and if you don’t, the ax is at the base of the tree ready to cut it down. 

Illustration: I spoke to a citrus expert this week about a reason why an orange tree wouldn’t produce fruit. He told me the main reason that an orange tree wouldn’t produce fruit is that it’s dying. The tree will start to do things that it’s not supposed to do, it will give you signs that something isn’t right, then it will not produce fruit, then it will eventually die. After it’s dead, it’s good for nothing and it will be thrown away or burned. In the same way, we as professing Christians, if we don’t do what we’re supposed to do, as we learn in the book of James, then we’re not really any good as Christians. The lack of fruit in our lives will demonstrate that our fate is not good. We’re not really fruit bearing followers of Jesus, we are pretenders, and we will one day die and face destruction as well. 

Some of you might say, Pastor Matt you’re being kind of intense. Well, John’s being kind of intense here. He’s serious about this. 

Listen to what he says about the work of Jesus. Let’s look at our last point . . .

III. John pointed people to the work of Jesus (vv. 11-12) [on screen]

Look at verses 11 and 12 once again. 

11 “I baptize you with water for repentance, but the one who is coming after me is more powerful than I. I am not worthy to remove his sandals. He himself will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 12 His winnowing shovel is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into the barn. But the chaff he will burn with fire that never goes out.”

John tells us four things about Jesus here:

    1. Jesus is more powerful than him. 

There’s something about John and everyone knows it. They travel out into the wilderness to see him. Yet, John says Jesus is more powerful than him, so Jesus will be really special. 

    1. John is not worthy to remove his sandals. 

Feet were very disgraceful to the Jewish people, yet John basically says, “I’m not even worthy to touch his feet.” John recognizes a supreme worth to Jesus that exceeds any normal human being. 

    1. Jesus will baptize with the Holy Spirit. 

John baptized with water, but Jesus will baptize with the Holy Spirit. What does this mean?

Well, again, John’s baptism was symbolic of an inward change. The baptism was not the change itself. The power was in what took place in the heart. 

John says that Jesus will baptize with the Holy Spirit of God. The Holy Spirit actually brings real change to the heart. Jesus will bring the actual power!

We see this power on full display in the book of Acts when the Holy Spirit was unleashed by Jesus and people’s lives were radically changed!

When we give our lives to Jesus, and He changes our hearts, we have access to the power of God through His Holy Spirit, and He changes us so that we can live new lives. 

We’re different! We’ve been baptized with the Holy Spirit! The Holy Spirit floods our hearts and minds miraculously.

It’s not a separate event than our salvation experience with Jesus, it’s one in the same. We are washed from our sin, we are given a new heart, and we are filled with God’s Holy Spirit. 

What a miracle!

(pause)

    1. Finally, John also says Jesus will baptize with fire. 

I believe John is referencing here Jesus’ work when He will return back to the earth. 

Most often, when we hear of fire in the Scriptures it speaks of judgment. When Jesus returns to the earth He will come to bring judgment. 

This fits the context of what John was saying to the religious leaders and it fits the context of what John says in verse 12. 

In verse 12 John says that Jesus will separate the wheat from the chaff (the bad part of the crop that is no good) and he will throw the chaff to be burned in a fire that never ceases.

That’s some strong language. Jesus will keep His wheat (those who have truly repented and followed Him) and He will destroy the chaff (those who did not truly repent and turn to Him).

(pause)

Concluding Thoughts:

So, John the Baptist came to point people to the coming Jesus, to point people to true repentance, and to point people to the work of Jesus. 

May his coming impact us and the way we live. 

May we point to the coming of Jesus, to true repentance, and to the work of Jesus. 

Here’s our bottom line this week:

Bottom Line: The coming of Jesus must move us towards genuine change.  [on screen]

(repeat)

This was the message of James, this was the message of John, this is the message of the Apostle Paul, this is the message of Jesus Himself, and this was the message of the Old Testament prophets. 

We must have genuine change. 

Have you been changed?

Challenge yourself this week in the following ways:

Weekly Challenge: [on screen]

  1. Describe what the coming of Jesus had done in your life.  [on screen]

Spend some time this week and describe how Jesus has changed your life. 

What kind of change has taken place?

What would your life be like without Jesus?

  1. Share with someone how Jesus has brought about genuine change in your life.  [on screen]

As John did, share with someone else about the change that Jesus brings. 

Share with them how Jesus has changed you. 

As you know, we exist to develop disciples who love God, love the church, and love others. The beginnings of developing a disciple involve telling them about the work of Jesus.

Challenge yourself to do so this week. 

Closing:

As we close I want to ask you three questions:

  1. Have you been changed by the coming of Jesus?

If not, you can today. 

(Gospel Presentation)

  1. Have you been baptized as a sign that you have been changed by Jesus?

If you have not been baptized, realize that it’s so important. 

It identifies you publicly with Jesus, it unites you with His church, it is an act of obedience to Jesus (who commanded baptism), and it identifies you with thousands of years of other followers of Jesus. 

Talk to me today about being baptized if you have not done so. 

  1. When’s the last time you pointed someone to Jesus?

John pointed people to Jesus and His work and so should we. 

Have you done that recently? If not, commit today to do so. 

(Closing Prayer)

Invitation Song – Room at the Cross for You

Benediction:

If you have any sort of spiritual decision that you would like to make, you can contact me or Pastor Richard and we would be glad to talk to you anytime.

Join us back here tonight for our series, “An Expedition Through the Bible.” I hope you’ll be a part of it. 

Let’s dismiss by singing the Doxology. (give words as projector is down)

(Sing Doxology)

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