Tag Archives: John the Baptist

Sermon — Matthew 3:7-12 — The Gospel: Comfort and Warning

18 Oct

I’m sure you’ve heard the phrase “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.” I remember one time when I was a youth leader having a yard sale. Yard sales usually make very little money for the amount of time you have to put into them. So here I was with a yard sale at another church. And the people of the church brought all their stuff and we filled up the church fellowship hall and then people started coming. Before we started I noticed a big ceramic frog sitting on a table. I chuckled. It was the ugliest thing I’d ever seen. Big round bright green frog with a cartoon face. I said to one of the youth, “There’s no way anybody’s going to buy that frog.” Well, you probably know how the story ends. Somebody bought the frog during the first fifteen minutes of the yard sale. One man’s trash is another man’s treasure. And you know, that’s the way I think the gospel is to people. To some people, it’s worthless. To others, it is the greatest treasure in the world. Of course, in reality, it is the greatest treasure in the world, not because of how we feel about it but because God has made it so. The worth of all things is defined by God, not by us. Still, though, we often reject God’s view of things. Sometimes we even reject God’s view of things while still being very religious. There’s a whole category of people today who say, “I’m spiritual” but they totally reject what God has said about the realities of life. They are making a god in their own image and feeling good about it. And that is not unlike what the religious leaders of the Jews: the Pharisees and Sadducees, did. And this is why John the Baptist addressed them when they came out to see him. He wanted to call them away from their false image of God and themselves to a true and real repentance and faith. And so he points them to the comfort and warning found in the good news of the kingdom. This morning we’re going to look at Matthew 3:7-12.

 But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?”

Wow, John, that’s kind of harsh! Calling these guys the offspring of snakes! Yet again, John is basically saying what we said last week, “Wake up!” The Pharisees and Sadducees were religious leaders, and as such they were the most likely to put their security in their own religious activities and not really consider the condition of the hearts before God. Have you ever wondered how preachers can fall into affairs and all kinds of terrible sin? It happens way more than we’d like to admit. And I think the reason it happens is because preachers, in bringing the Word of God week by week, sometimes lose the wonder of knowing God. We become inoculated against the very things we preach week by week. The condition of our hearts does not match the content of our words. The one thing all preachers and teachers must focus on most is their own heart. If I do not cultivate a heart of repentance and faith I am a sitting duck for hypocrisy. And so are you. This was the chief problem both John and Jesus had with the religious leaders: their inward life bore little resemblance to their outward life.

The Pharisees and the Sadducees were very different people. The Pharisees were numerous and popular, viewed as the upstanding, godly people of their day. They cared about the law of God and even built a fence around the law, coming up with additional regulations that were supposed to keep you far from breaking God’s law but which actually became a law unto itself that degenerated into legalism and formalism and self-righteousness and hypocrisy. Jewish heritage was all-important to the Pharisees. They saw their lives of purity as the key to national revival in Israel and the rule of God overcoming the rule of Rome. The Sadducees, on the other hand, were considered more liberal in their standards, rejecting the traditions of the Pharisees but also rejecting some truths that were clearly from God, like the reality of a future resurrection and a future judgment and the reality of angels and spirits. They were too sophisticated for such beliefs and they often cultivated a lavish lifestyle and sought cultural power.  They were respected because of their position and power and people in Jesus’ day, even as in our day, often considered a rich person blessed by God and a poor person cursed.

These Pharisees and Sadducees were coming to John’s baptism probably to check it out, maybe even to see if there was some way they could exploit John’s popularity for their own ends. John sees right through them and gives this stern warning.

John associates these religious leaders with the offspring of snakes. By calling them offspring John is probably connecting them to the corrupt priests of the Old Testament who persecuted the prophets. So John is saying the leaders of his day are just as bad as the leaders of yesterday. The religious leaders appear to be the cream of the crop but because of their hypocrisy they lead others away from spiritual life. In this way, they are like that original serpent, the devil, who led Adam and Eve away from spiritual life with the promise of a new and better life. Jesus will go on to make this association directly, calling the religious leaders children of the evil one.

John not only called out the religious leaders for their true identity, he also talked about the wrath to come. This would have struck a nerve with the Sadducees in particular, as John was making clear, contrary to their beliefs, that a judgment was coming, God’s wrath was going to be poured out. The way to get out from under that wrath is found in 1 Thessalonians 1:9-10 you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, 10 and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come.  Repentance and faith. Sadly, the religious leaders had neither. They were self-assured. This is why John gave them such a harsh message. The old cliché is right: “Good preaching comforts the afflicted and afflicts the comfortable.” Consistent with the preaching of the New Testament, we find a holy boldness in confronting unrepentant people and compassion for those who repent. And both actions are loving, because without repentance no one will believe and be reconciled to God. If I saw my child in danger in the middle of the road with the truck bearing down on them but didn’t want to upset them by speaking to them harshly, I would not be loving them, I would be hating them. Having my child upset because I yelled to them, “Get out of the road!” is worth it, because that yell saved them from death. In the same way, a strong message of repentance to a self-assured people can be life-giving. John goes on to point to the weaknesses of the Pharisees and Sadducees in order, starting with verse 8 . . .

 Bear fruit in keeping with repentance.

This must have cut the Pharisees deeply. They were the pure ones, the examples of virtue for the whole nation, yet John says their fruit is rotten. Fruit in keeping with repentance is about recognizing our sin and turning to God in humble faith. The Pharisees were about recognizing the sin in others and trumpeting their own so-called acts of righteousness. Much like the fig tree with leaves but no fruit, the Pharisees had the outward appearance of spiritual life but there was no inward reality. The fruit of repentance for us is to walk in the light of the Lord, as we read in Ephesians 5:8-11, for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true), 10 and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord. 11 Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. So John’s first challenge, primarily to the Pharisees, is that their apparently fruitful lives are not so fruitful after all. His second challenge to them comes in verse 9 . . .

And do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father,’ for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham.

John goes after the Pharisees next on the matter of their heritage. Don’t trust in your hypocritical works and don’t trust in your heritage as children of Abraham. The people coming to be baptized were getting this. They were recognizing that they needed hearts of repentance and faith not merely blood relation to Abraham if they were to be the people of God. So they adopted the approach of the Gentile convert to Judaism by being baptized. “We’re just as needy as the Gentiles, we’re not trusting in Abraham’s bloodline.” This was an attack on everything the Pharisees stood for because they though salvation was theirs by right through their being part of the covenant people of God and here comes John saying what Paul will basically say in the book of Romans, “A Jew is not a Jew outwardly, but from the heart.” The heart is all-important. The kingdom is at hand. If you are going to get in on it, you have to repent. It’s really very similar to the discussion Jesus had with the Pharisee, Nicodemus, “You must be born again.” Everything you’ve been relying on will do you no good.

Isn’t it interesting that John doesn’t hold back from giving the bad news? I mean, we are so tempted to hedge on things like God’s judgment and hell because we don’t want to make anybody mad. We shouldn’t preach hell with a smile on our face, we shouldn’t want anyone to go there but we must be willing to warn people that hell is a reality with which we must reckon. So many times we want to get to the good news before we’ve really laid out the bad news. But that approach just leads to a bunch of unrepentant people professing Jesus with their lips and denying Him with their lives. Until we feel the weight of our sin against God and the reality of His judgment against sin, we will not be compelled to repent. And without repentance, there can be no true enjoyment of the good news.

So this is John’s message to the Pharisees: Don’t trust in your track record, and don’t trust in your heritage. Repent. In verse 10, I believe, he turns his attention back to the Sadducees . . .

10 Even now the ax is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.

The Pharisees were legalists, holding onto heritage and self-righteousness to make their way with God. So they needed to be warned that their works were not as good as they thought and their blood relation to Abraham was no guarantee of being in God’s family. The Sadducees, on the other hand, were worldly. They were about acquiring wealth and influence, they were very much focused on this life. So they needed a wake-up call about the true nature of reality, which John begins to give them in verse 10.

The ax is at the root of the trees. The root. That’s an unusual way to cut down a tree, unless you’re trying to be totally rid of a tree. Then you go at the roots. But here there is no stump, it is roots and all. Proud Sadducees, all your energies have gone into this life, building up your own little world of influence, making for yourself a legacy, but now the ax is coming down on the roots of that life, it’s all going to be taken from you and cast into the fire. There’s still time. The ax is there but it’s not swinging yet. So repent.

To bear good fruit is to live a life of repentance and faith. To bear bad fruit is to live a life of pride and self-reliance. Good fruit leads to life, bad fruit leads to damnation. So John is pleading with the Sadducees not to merely live for today, but to think about the future, to consider their destiny. In verse 11, he warns them of the coming of the King, a coming that comforts the afflicted and afflicts the comfortable.

11 “I baptize you with water for repentance, but he who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.

John makes a comparison between himself and the one to come: Jesus. John makes it clear that there is a stark difference between himself and Jesus. John is not worthy of to be Jesus’ lowly servant. Jesus is far more powerful than John. And Jesus will bring a very different kind of baptism than John, not a baptism of water for repentance but a baptism of the Holy Spirit and fire.

The comparison John makes is amazing because by earthly standards John is incredibly powerful and the Holy Spirit is with him. It is obvious that John was highly sought after by the people, deeply courageous in speaking the truth to the powerful and totally willing to give his life to the purposes of God. Jesus Himself would later say, “Among those born of women no one has arisen who is greater than John.” Yet here John says in comparison to Jesus he is not worthy to be the lowliest household slave. There can only be one reason why such a great man as John would say what he says here about Jesus. It can only be that Jesus is not a mere man. John is not speaking with false humility, he is just recognizing how much greater Jesus is than he is.

The same truth is clear when John talks about the Holy Spirit. It is clear that the Holy Spirit was active in the ministry of John. There is no way all those people would have gone out into the wilderness to be baptized if the Holy Spirit had not been working. I mean, it’s easy to get people to come out for a show. That’s true in church life and in life outside the church. Put together a show and people will come out. But John’s ministry was not a show. The people who came out were not coming out as spectators. John was calling them to an action, baptism, which would crush all their pride as Jews. Since baptism was one of the ways a Gentile converted to become a Jew, John’s ministry was a humbling and costly ministry to those Jews who participated in baptism. They were basically admitting that they were no better than Gentiles, that they too were in need of baptism. So John was not doing something that would have been naturally appealing to people. So for his actions to receive such a favorable response from the people is a sign that the Holy Spirit is at work.

And yet John says that the One who is to come is far mightier than John. He says He will baptize with the Holy Spirit and with fire. So this coming One, Jesus the Messiah, will bring the work of the Holy Spirit to a whole new level. And of course we know the rest of the story: Jesus, dying for our sins, rising from the dead, ascending to heaven, on the day of Pentecost sends the Holy Spirit and He fills the believers there and all believers since. So John is not saying, before Jesus, no Spirit, after Jesus, the Spirit. He is instead saying, before Jesus: the work of the Spirit prepares the way, after Jesus: the fullness of the Spirit at work in God’s people.

And this is what the prophet Jeremiah had said would happen when the Savior came, “And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. 27 And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules. 28 You shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers, and you shall be my people, and I will be your God.”

So there is great comfort in John’s words because there is a great Savior coming who is going to deal with the sin the people are repenting of. It’s not enough to repent. That’s a starting point but repentance in itself doesn’t save us. Sin must not only be acknowledged and regretted and turned away from it must also be dealt with. And we, as sinners, cannot save ourselves from our sins. We need a Savior. Jesus has come to be that Savior. And when He saves us, he gives us freedom from God’s wrath, freedom from sin’s power over us, the promise of eternal life, the presence of the Holy Spirit and a thousand other gifts of grace. So John’s ministry, as powerful as it was, was limited. It was a preparatory, foundational ministry. Repent in order to prepare your hearts for the salvation that is coming. But if the salvation had never come the repentance would have been utterly meaningless. But salvation has come, full of grace and truth.

But I also believe John has given us a warning here, because not only will Jesus baptize with the Holy Spirit, he will also baptize with fire. Now this fire baptism has been debated through the years. What does John mean, he will baptize you with fire? And the reason it is debated is because fire in the Bible is used to illustrate both judgment and purification. Sometimes fire illustrates how God will bring judgment on a non-believer and sometimes fire is used to illustrate how God will refine or purify a believer. So which is it here? That is the question that people have discussed through the years. When I first started studying this passage I thought John was talking about the refining fire the Holy Spirit would bring in the lives of believers. But I now think the context of the passage points strongly to the fire Jesus brings here being the fire of judgment on unbelievers.

Jesus will bring the Holy Spirit to those who repent and believe, like the ones here who are coming for baptism. But He will bring the judgment of fire to the unrepentant and unbelieving, like the Pharisees and Sadducees who have come to see John. If you look at verse 10, you see a reference to fire, and it is the fire of judgment. If you look in verse 12, you see a reference to fire, and it is the fire of judgment. So here in verse 11, it seems that consistency would lead us to say that this fire too that Jesus brings is a fire of judgment.

 John MacArthur explains how this view of the baptism of fire being judgment in this passage is backed up by the prophecy of Malachi. He says, “It had been predicted by Malachi that the Messiah would purify the nation.  He predicted it.  He predicted that when He came He would come with fire, that He would purify.  But listen to me.  Listen to Malachi 3:1 “Behold I will send my Messenger he shall prepare the way before me”…that’s John the Baptist…”and the Lord, whom ye seek, shall suddenly come to His temple, even the Messenger of the covenant…”  Now, what happens when He comes?  “…who may abide the day of His coming?  And who shall stand when He appeareth?”  Listen to this. “For He is like a refiner’s”…what?…”fire…And He shall sit like a refiner and purifier of silver…purify the sons of Levi, purge them like gold and silver…”  Now, this tells us that He’s coming to purify the nations.  But how?  By just removing the dross, just cleaning them up a little bit?  No.  Chapter 4, it tells us how, verses 1 to 3.  “…the day cometh that shall burn like an oven and all the proud, yea, and all that do wickedly shall be stubble…the day that cometh shall burn them up…”  In other words, this isn’t just purification; this is consummation…shall burn them up, see.  The fire predicted in chapter 3 is described in chapter 4 of Malachi as that which burns up, consumes the wicked like stubble.  And, beloved, John the Baptist, 400 years later, picked right up where Malachi left off and he says, Israel, He’s coming and He’s coming for salvation and He’s coming to baptize you with the Spirit, but if you reject Him, He’ll come with the baptism of fire, just as Malachi said it 400 years ago.”

Now you might say, “Well, I thought Jesus in his first coming did not come to bring judgment but salvation. And there is certainly truth to that, He came to save. But Jesus also by His very nature makes neutrality impossible: you must reject Him or receive Him. And this makes His coming, while a glorious gift of grace, also divisive. Jesus even says in Luke 12:49 “I have come to send fire on the earth . . . do you think I have come to bring peace on earth? No but rather division. From now on houses will be divided, family member against family member.”  So with his words about the ministry of Jesus, that He would baptize with the Holy Spirit and with fire, John is comforting the afflicted (promising the repentant that they would have the Spirit) and afflicting the comfortable (warning the Pharisees and Sadducees that a fearful fiery judgment was coming). And verse 12 says that judgment is coming soon.

 12 His winnowing fork 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 unquenchable fire.”

The ax is at the root of the tree, the winnowing fork is in His hand. Words of warning. The winnowing fork is used to toss the grain into the air as a way to separate the good wheat from the chaff, the debris that is gathered along with the wheat when it is harvested. This verse is talking about the future judgment. Jesus will gather His people but the unbeliever will be like chaff that will be burned with unquenchable fire. The amazing comfort is in the security of the wheat being gathered into the barn. Nothing can touch it. It is safe and secure. And it is all gathered. And so it is for all who repent and believe. We are safe in the presence of God and forever can enjoy Him and one day will be gathered with Him forever. The grace of this passage cannot be overstated. For those who repent and believe there is the promise of salvation and a fruitful life and the Holy Spirit and the final gathering into the presence of the Savior, forever safe and secure. But the horror of this passage can also not be overstated. For those who reject Jesus the Savior, there is the reality of damnation, a fruitless life, the fire of judgment marking a person as chaff, worthless, only to be thrown out and burned with unquenchable fire. Unquenchable. Forever safe or forever damned, that is the picture Jesus is giving us here. Judgment and salvation will be thorough, no one will escape. And judgment and salvation will be right. There will be no mistakes. No wheat will be thrown out, no chaff will be retained. There will be no mistakes in separating believer from unbeliever.

This passage is a word of comfort to those who know they have nothing to offer God but empty hands of faith. It is a joy to those who are burned out, beat up and broken. All we need to do is repent and believe. Turn away from sin and turn to God.

But this passage is a terribly fearful passage for the secure. For those who feel like they have it all together, for those to whom outward appearance is everything. Our danger as churchgoers is that we never come to the waters to repent but we only come to observe. Our danger is that we never personally give ourselves to the life of the kingdom even as we are there watching it all unfold in other people’s lives. Our danger as churchgoers is that we become Pharisees or Sadducees, either leaning on our own righteousness or just writing off the reality of God’s judgment as being something not realistic. Trying to bring in the kingdom through our own wits and willpower or denying the kingdom altogether and just trying to build our own little kingdoms of wealth and fun and success. And John comes to us today and says, come to the One who is now here. Come to Jesus. He will forgive and restore and give you new life. The alternative is to go your own way and in rebellion face a fruitless life and a Christ-less eternity of punishment.  Isaiah 45:22 says, “Turn to me and be saved, all you ends of the earth. For I am God and there is no other.” Some today criticize hell. They act as if God is saying, “Love me and if you don’t I’ll send you to hell forever.” They don’t understand that we God’s judgment as the fruit of a faithless life. It is not arbitrary but is an expression of His holiness against sin and rebellion. As Christians, we do not celebrate hell but we dare not deny it. Our job is to offer hope to the hopeless and warning to those who are trusting in their own righteousness while at the same time making sure we don’t become hopeless or self-righteous ourselves. This is our message, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is here.” That’s good news. 

 

Sermon: Matthew 3:7-12

4 May

Matthew 3:7-12  The Gospel: Comfort and Warning

 I’m sure you’ve heard the phrase “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.” I remember one time when I was a youth leader having a yard sale. Church yard sales usually make very little money for the amount of time you have to put into them. So here I was with a yard sale at another church. And the people of the church brought all their stuff and we filled up the church fellowship hall and then people started coming. Before we started I noticed a big ceramic frog sitting on a table. I chuckled. It was the ugliest thing I’d ever seen. Big round bright green frog with a cartoon face. I said to one of the youth, “There’s no way anybody’s going to buy that frog.” Well, you probably know how the story ends. Somebody bought the frog during the first fifteen minutes of the yard sale. One man’s trash is another man’s treasure. And you know, that’s the way I think the gospel is to people. To some people, it’s worthless. To others, it is the greatest treasure in the world. Of course, in reality, it is the greatest treasure in the world, not because of how we feel about it but because God has made it so. The worth of all things is defined by God, not by us. Still, though, we often reject God’s view of things. Sometimes we even reject God’s view of things while still being very religious. There’s a whole category of people today who say, “I’m spiritual” but they totally reject what God has said about the realities of life. They are making a god in their own image and feeling good about it. And that is not unlike what the religious leaders of the Jews: the Pharisees and Sadducees, did. And this is why John the Baptist addressed them when they came out to see him. He wanted to call them away from their false image of God and themselves to a true and real repentance and faith. And so points them to the comfort and warning found in the good news of the kingdom. This morning we’re going to look at Matthew 3:7-12.

 But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?”

Wow, John, that’s kind of harsh! Calling these guys the offspring of snakes! Yet again, John is basically saying what we said last week, “Wake up!” The Pharisees and Sadducees were religious leaders, and as such they were the most likely to put their security in their own religious activities and not really consider the condition of the hearts before God. Have you ever wondered how preachers can fall into affairs and all kinds of terrible sin? It happens way more than we’d like to admit. And I think the reason it happens is because preachers, in bringing the Word of God week by week, sometimes lose the wonder of knowing God. We become inoculated against the very things we preach week by week. The condition of our hearts does not match the content of our words. The one thing all preachers and teachers must focus on most is their own heart. If I do not cultivate a heart of repentance and faith I am a sitting duck for hypocrisy. And so are you. This was the chief problem both John and Jesus had with the religious leaders: their inward life bore little resemblance to their outward life.

The Pharisees and the Sadducees were very different people. The Pharisees were numerous and popular, viewed as the upstanding, godly people of their day. They cared about the law of God and even built a fence around the law, coming up with additional regulations that were supposed to keep you far from breaking God’s law but which actually became a law unto itself that degenerated into legalism and formalism and self-righteousness and hypocrisy. Jewish heritage was all-important to the Pharisees. They saw their lives of purity as the key to national revival in Israel and the rule of God overcoming the rule of Rome. The Sadducees, on the other hand, were considered more liberal in their standards, rejecting the traditions of the Pharisees but also rejecting some truths that were clearly from God, like the reality of a future resurrection and a future judgment and the reality of angels and spirits. They were too sophisticated for such beliefs and they often cultivated a lavish lifestyle and sought cultural power.  They were respected because of their position and power and people in Jesus’ day, even as in our day, often considered a rich person blessed by God and a poor person cursed.

These Pharisees and Sadducees were coming to John’s baptism probably to check it out, maybe even to see if there was some way they could exploit John’s popularity for their own ends. John sees right through them and gives this stern warning.

John associates these religious leaders with the offspring of snakes. By calling them offspring John is probably connecting them to the corrupt priests of the Old Testament who persecuted the prophets. So John is saying the leaders of his day are just as bad as the leaders of yesterday. The religious leaders appear to be the cream of the crop but because of their hypocrisy they lead others away from spiritual life. In this way, they are like that original serpent, the devil, who led Adam and Eve away from spiritual life with the promise of a new and better life. Jesus will go on to make this association directly, calling the religious leaders children of the evil one.

John not only called out the religious leaders for their true identity, he also talked about the wrath to come. This would have struck a nerve with the Sadducees in particular, as John was making clear, contrary to their beliefs, that a judgment was coming, God’s wrath was going to be poured out. The way to get out from under that wrath is found in 1 Thessalonians 1:9-10 you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, 10 and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come.  Repentance and faith. Sadly, the religious leaders had neither. They were self-assured. This is why John gave them such a harsh message. The old cliché is right: “Good preaching comforts the afflicted and afflicts the comfortable.” Consistent with the preaching of the New Testament, we find a holy boldness in confronting unrepentant people and compassion for those who repent. And both actions are loving, because without repentance no one will believe and be reconciled to God. If I saw my child in danger in the middle of the road with the truck bearing down on them but didn’t want to upset them by speaking to them harshly, I would not be loving them, I would be hating them. Having my child upset because I yelled to them, “Get out of the road!” is worth it, because that yell saved them from death. In the same way, a strong message of repentance to a self-assured people can be life-giving. John goes on to point to the weaknesses of the Pharisees and Sadducees in order, starting with verse 8 . . .

Bear fruit in keeping with repentance.

This must have cut the Pharisees deeply. They were the pure ones, the examples of virtue for the whole nation, yet John says their fruit is rotten. Fruit in keeping with repentance is about recognizing our sin and turning to God in humble faith. The Pharisees were about recognizing the sin in others and trumpeting their own so-called acts of righteousness. Much like the fig tree with leaves but no fruit, the Pharisees had the outward appearance of spiritual life but there was no inward reality. The fruit of repentance for us is to walk in the light of the Lord, as we read in Ephesians 5:8-11, for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true), 10 and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord. 11 Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. So John’s first challenge, primarily to the Pharisees, is that their apparently fruitful lives are not so fruitful after all. His second challenge to them comes in verse 9 . . .

And do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father,’ for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham.

John goes after the Pharisees next on the matter of their heritage. Don’t trust in your hypocritical works and don’t trust in your heritage as children of Abraham. The people coming to be baptized were getting this. They were recognizing that they needed hearts of repentance and faith not merely blood relation to Abraham if they were to be the people of God. So they adopted the approach of the Gentile convert to Judaism by being baptized. “We’re just as needy as the Gentiles, we’re not trusting in Abraham’s bloodline.” This was an attack on everything the Pharisees stood for because they though salvation was theirs by right through their being part of the covenant people of God and here comes John saying what Paul will basically say in the book of Romans, “A Jew is not a Jew outwardly, but from the heart.” The heart is all-important. The kingdom is at hand. If you are going to get in on it, you have to repent. It’s really very similar to the discussion Jesus had with the Pharisee, Nicodemus, “You must be born again.” Everything you’ve been relying on will do you no good.

Isn’t it interesting that John doesn’t hold back from giving the bad news? I mean, we are so tempted to hedge on things like God’s judgment and hell because we don’t want to make anybody mad. We shouldn’t preach hell with a smile on our face, we shouldn’t want anyone to go there but we must be willing to warn people that hell is a reality with which we must reckon. So many times we want to get to the good news before we’ve really laid out the bad news. But that approach just leads to a bunch of unrepentant people professing Jesus with their lips and denying Him with their lives. Until we feel the weight of our sin against God and the reality of His judgment against sin, we will not be compelled to repent. And without repentance, there can be no true enjoyment of the good news.

So this is John’s message to the Pharisees: Don’t trust in your track record, and don’t trust in your heritage. Repent. In verse 10, I believe, he turns his attention back to the Sadducees . . .

10 Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.

The Pharisees were legalists, holding onto heritage and self-righteousness to make their way with God. So they needed to be warned that their works were not as good as they thought and their blood relation to Abraham was no guarantee of being in God’s family. The Sadducees, on the other hand, were worldly. They were about acquiring wealth and influence, they were very much focused on this life. So they needed a wake-up call about the true nature of reality, which John begins to give them in verse 10.

The axe is at the root of the trees. The root. That’s an unusual way to cut down a tree, unless you’re trying to be totally rid of a tree. Then you go at the roots. But here there is no stump, its roots and all. Proud Sadducees, all your energies have gone into this life, building up your own little world of influence, making for yourself a legacy, but now the axe is coming down on the roots of that life, it’s all going to be taken from you and cast into the fire. There’s still time. The axe is there but it’s not swinging yet. So repent.

To bear good fruit is to live a life of repentance and faith. To bear bad fruit is to live a life of pride and self-reliance. Good fruit leads to life, bad fruit leads to damnation. So John is pleading with the Sadducees not to merely live for today, but to think about the future, to consider their destiny. In verse 11, he warns them of the coming of the King, a coming that comforts the afflicted and afflicts the comfortable.

11 “I baptize you with water for repentance, but he who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.

John makes a comparison between himself and the one to come: Jesus. John makes it clear that there is a stark difference between himself and Jesus. John is not worthy of to be Jesus’ lowly servant. Jesus is far more powerful than John. And Jesus will bring a very different kind of baptism than John, not a baptism of water for repentance but a baptism of the Holy Spirit and fire.

The comparison John makes is amazing because by earthly standards John is incredibly powerful and the Holy Spirit is with him. It is obvious that John was highly sought after by the people, deeply courageous in speaking the truth to the powerful and totally willing to give his life to the purposes of God. Jesus Himself would later say, “Among those born of women no one has arisen who is greater than John.” Yet here John says in comparison to Jesus he is not worthy to be the lowliest household slave. There can only be one reason why such a great man as John would say what he says here about Jesus. It can only be that Jesus is not a mere man. John is not speaking with false humility, he is just recognizing how much greater Jesus is than he is.

The same truth is clear when John talks about the Holy Spirit. It is clear that the Holy Spirit was active in the ministry of John. There is no way all those people would have gone out into the wilderness to be baptized if the Holy Spirit had not been working. I mean, it’s easy to get people to come out for a show. That’s true in church life and in life outside the church. Put together a show and people will come out. But John’s ministry was not a show. The people who came out were not coming out as spectators. John was calling them to an action, baptism, which would crush all their pride as Jews. Since baptism was one of the ways a Gentile converted to become a Jew, John’s ministry was a humbling and costly ministry to those Jews who participated in baptism. They were basically admitting that they were no better than Gentiles, that they too were in need of baptism. So John was not doing something that would have been naturally appealing to people. So for his actions to receive such a favorable response from the people is a sign that the Holy Spirit is at work.

And yet John says that the One who is to come is far mightier than John. He says He will baptize with the Holy Spirit and with fire. So this coming One, Jesus the Messiah, will bring the work of the Holy Spirit to a whole new level. And of course we know the rest of the story: Jesus, dying for our sins, rising from the dead, ascending to heaven, on the day of Pentecost sends the Holy Spirit and He fills the believers there and all believers since. So John is not saying, before Jesus, no Spirit, after Jesus, the Spirit. He is instead saying, before Jesus: the work of the Spirit prepares the way, after Jesus: the fullness of the Spirit at work in God’s people.

And this is what the prophet Jeremiah had said would happen when the Savior came, “And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. 27 And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules. 28 You shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers, and you shall be my people, and I will be your God.”

So there is great comfort in John’s words because there is a great Savior coming who is going to deal with the sin the people are repenting of. It’s not enough to repent. That’s a starting point but repentance in itself doesn’t save us. Sin must not only be acknowledge and regretted and turned away from it must also be dealt with. And we, as sinners, cannot save ourselves from our sins. We need a Savior. Jesus has come to be that Savior. And when He saves us, he gives us freedom from God’s wrath, freedom from sin’s power over us, the promise of eternal life, the presence of the Holy Spirit and a thousand other gifts of grace. So John’s ministry, as powerful as it was, was limited. It was a preparatory, foundational ministry. Repent in order to prepare your hearts for the salvation that is coming. But if the salvation had never come the repentance would have been utterly meaningless. But salvation has come, full of grace and truth.

But I also believe John has given us a warning here, because not only will Jesus baptize with the Holy Spirit, he will also baptize with fire. Now this fire baptism has been debated through the years. What does John mean, he will baptize you with fire? And the reason it is debated is because fire in the Bible is used to illustrate both judgment and purification. Sometimes fire illustrates how God will bring judgment on a non-believer and sometimes fire is used to illustrate how God will refine or purify a believer. So which is it here? That is the question that people have discussed through the years. When I first started studying this passage I thought John was talking about the refining fire the Holy Spirit would bring in the lives of believers. But I now think the context of the passage points strongly to the fire Jesus brings here being the fire of judgment on unbelievers.

Jesus will bring the Holy Spirit to those who repent and believe, like the ones here who are coming for baptism. But He will bring the judgment of fire to the unrepentant and unbelieving, like the Pharisees and Sadducees who have come to see John. If you look at verse 10, you see a reference to fire, and it is the fire of judgment. If you look in verse 12, you see a reference to fire, and it is the fire of judgment. So here in verse 11, it seems that consistency would lead us to say that this fire too that Jesus brings is a fire of judgment.

 John MacArthur explains how this view of the baptism of fire being judgment in this passage is backed up by the prophecy of Malachi. He says, “It had been predicted by Malachi that the Messiah would purify the nation.  He predicted it.  He predicted that when He came He would come with fire, that He would purify.  But listen to me.  Listen to Malachi 3:1.  “Behold I will send my Messenger he shall prepare the way before me”…that’s John the Baptist…”and the Lord, whom ye seek, shall suddenly come to His temple, even the Messenger of the covenant…”  Now, what happens when He comes?  “…who may abide the day of His coming?  And who shall stand when He appeareth?”  Listen to this. “For He is like a refiner’s”…what?…”fire…And He shall sit like a refiner and purifier of silver…purify the sons of Levi, purge them like gold and silver…”  Now, this tells us that He’s coming to purify the nations.  But how?  By just removing the dross, just cleaning them up a little bit?  No.  Chapter 4, it tells us how, verses 1 to 3.  “…the day cometh that shall burn like an oven and all the proud, yea, and all that do wickedly shall be stubble…the day that cometh shall burn them up…”  In other words, this isn’t just purification; this is consummation…shall burn them up, see.  The fire predicted in chapter 3 is described in chapter 4 of Malachi as that which burns up, consumes the wicked like stubble.  And, beloved, John the Baptist, 400 years later, picked right up where Malachi left off and he says, Israel, He’s coming and He’s coming for salvation and He’s coming to baptize you with the Spirit, but if you reject Him, He’ll come with the baptism of fire, just as Malachi said it 400 years ago.”

Now you might say, “Well, I thought Jesus in his first coming did not come to bring judgment but salvation. And there is certainly truth to that, He came to save. But Jesus also by His very nature makes neutrality impossible: you must reject Him or receive Him. And this makes His coming, while a glorious gift of grace, also divisive. Jesus even says in Luke 12:49 “I have come to send fire on the earth . . . do you think I have come to bring peace on earth? No but rather division. From now on houses will be divided, family member against family member.”  So with his words about the ministry of Jesus, that He would baptize with the Holy Spirit and with fire, John is comforting the afflicted (promising the repentant that they would have the Spirit) and afflicting the comfortable (warning the Pharisees and Sadducees that a fearful fiery judgment was coming). And verse 12 says that judgment is coming soon.

12 His winnowing fork 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 unquenchable fire.”

The ax is at the root of the tree, the winnowing fork is in His hand. Words of warning. The winnowing fork is used to toss the grain into the air as a way to separate the good wheat from the chaff, the debris that is gathered along with the wheat when it is harvested. This verse is talking about the future judgment. Jesus will gather His people but the unbeliever will be like chaff that will be burned with unquenchable fire. The amazing comfort is in the security of the wheat being gathered into the barn. Nothing can touch it. It is safe and secure. And it is all gathered. And so it is for all who repent and believe. We are safe in the presence of God and forever can enjoy Him and one day will be gathered with Him forever. The grace of this passage cannot be overstated. For those who repent and believe there is the promise of salvation and a fruitful life and the Holy Spirit and the final gathering into the presence of the Savior, forever safe and secure. But the horror of this passage can also not be overstated. For those who reject Jesus the Savior, there is the reality of damnation, a fruitless life, the fire of judgment marking a person as chaff, worthless, only to be thrown out and burned with unquenchable fire. Unquenchable. Forever safe or forever damned, that is the picture Jesus is giving us here. Judgment and salvation will be thorough, no one will escape. And judgment and salvation will be right. There will be no mistakes. No wheat will be thrown out, no chaff will be retained. There will be no mistakes in separating believer from unbeliever.

This passage is a word of comfort to those who know they have nothing to offer God but empty hands of faith. It is a joy to those who are burned out, beat up and broken. All we need to do is repent and believe. Turn away from sin and turn to God.

But this passage is a terribly fearful passage for the secure. For those who feel like they have it all together, for those to whom outward appearance is everything. Our danger as churchgoers is that we never come to the waters to repent but we only come to observe. Our danger is that we never personally give ourselves to the life of the kingdom even as we are there watching it all unfold in other people’s lives. Our danger as churchgoers is that we become Pharisees or Sadducees, either leaning on our own righteousness or just writing off the reality of God’s judgment as being something not realistic. Trying to bring in the kingdom through our own wits and willpower or denying the kingdom altogether and just trying to build our own little kingdoms of wealth and fun and success. And John comes to us today and says, come to the One who is now here. Come to Jesus. He will forgive and restore and give you new life. The alternative is to go your own way and in rebellion face a fruitless life and a Christ-less eternity of punishment.  Isaiah 45:22 says, “Turn to me and be saved, all you ends of the earth. For I am God and there is no other.” Some today criticize hell. They act as if God is saying, “Love me and if you don’t I’ll send you to hell forever.” They don’t understand that we get God’s judgment as the fruit of a faithless life. It is not arbitrary but is an expression of His holiness against sin and rebellion. As Christians, we do not celebrate hell but we dare not deny it. Our job is to offer hope to the hopeless and warning to those who are trusting in their own righteousness while at the same time making sure we don’t become hopeless or self-righteous ourselves. This is our message, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is here.” That’s good news. Let’s Pray.

Sermon: Matthew 3:1-6

24 Apr

Matthew 3:1-6  Preparing for Revival

 In America, there have been two Great Awakenings in our history: one in the 1700’s and one in the 1800’s. These were times of special spiritual revival that swept over our land and left our culture changed. There have been other outbreaks of revival here and there in our history but nothing as sustained as those two Great Awakenings. I think most of us would agree that we as a nation are in need of revival again. Not just an emotional stirring, but a deep work of the Holy Spirit that changes our lives and our community. Our year verse for 2015 is Psalm 51:12, “Restore to me the joy of your salvation and uphold me with a willing spirit.” This verse is a plea for revival because revival is about recapturing our joy in the Lord and re-establishing deep fellowship with Him. When He is changing us, He uses us to bless others. Spiritual fruitfulness comes when we are walking with God. But often for us there is a roadblock to that walk that keeps revival far from us. The passage we’re going to look at today is all about that roadblock. Turn with me to Matthew chapter 3. We’ll be looking at verses 1-6.

In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea,

Many years have passed between the end of Matthew 2 and the beginning of Matthew 3. Jesus is now an adult. Matthew is not writing a biography with every detail of Jesus’ life at every stage. He is writing a selective history with a focus on the years when Jesus was most active in ministry. Verse 1 answers three questions: who?, what?, and where?

Matthew starts not with Jesus as an adult but with John the Baptist. John was a relative of Jesus, his mother Elizabeth was related to Jesus’ mother Mary. John became well-known for his ministry of baptizing people, so that even the Jewish historian Josephus makes note of John in his history of the Jews and calls him “John the Baptist.” So baptizing was John’s calling card, because the way he was baptizing people was so unusual.

The “what” in verse 1 is preaching. John is first and foremost a preacher. This word for preaching is connected to the word for announcing. John is a herald of the coming King, Jesus.

The “where” in this verse is the wilderness. This is where John spent his life and this is where he ministered. And there’s probably some meaning in that, although Matthew doesn’t come right out and tell us. John is walking in the way of prophets like Elijah, who ministered from the wilderness. But maybe John also ministers in the wilderness as a way of calling the Jews away from everyday life. I know for me I see life a lot more clearly when I get out in nature. The quiet of the land takes me away from everyday concerns and helps me focus on what really matters. The deserted wilderness with its quiet rolling hills would have been a strong contrast to the Temple in Jerusalem, with all its busyness and religious activity. Maybe the wilderness was part of the message. Get away from the hypocrisy of the religious leaders with their false worship. Get away from the power games and the use of God for self-advancement or self-aggrandizement. Come to this desolate place. See clearly. See that your own hearts are dry and dirty. In need of water to quench your thirst and water to clean you up.  In the city with all its hustle and bustle you can’t hear the message you most need to hear . . .

“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”

John’s message is simple but so profound. “Repent.” This word points to a total change of life and perspective. I see my true standing before God, I turn away from my sinful ways and I trust God for power to follow Him. And this was John’s message. And this is the roadblock to revival, our failure to repent. This message of repentance was a shocking message a message like the ones the prophets had given hundreds of years before. The reason it was shocking is because most of the Jews felt like they were secure. They were the seed of Abraham, the friend of God. The Lord had entered into covenant with them. They lived within a few miles of the Temple, the very center of Jewish religious life. And in the busyness of their lives and trying to get by in day-to-day life most people in Judea and the surrounding areas had assumed they were right with God because of this heritage and this background. And so there is a shocking sense to John’s message. Right from the start he is warning people that their religious heritage is not enough. He is telling them that if they are going to experience the coming kingdom of heaven, they have to repent. And so it is for us, if we would experience salvation, we must repent. Trusting in Jesus is about leaving and following, about turning away from sin and turning to Christ. Saying no to sin and yes to holiness. And yet many times people in church live in unrepentant sin and comfort themselves with the same kinds of things the Jews used for comfort. “I’ve gone to church all my life.” “I am a member of this church or that church.” “I was baptized in 1973.” “I read my Bible once in a while.” “I prayed a prayer when I was ten.” Am I saying we’re saved by works? No way. What I am saying is what the Bible says. A good tree produces good fruit and a rotten tree produces rotten fruit. We don’t seek to honor God in order to be saved, we seek to honor God because we are saved. And this honoring of God has to do with our hearts, with what we love and hate. It has to do with our affection for God versus our attachment to sin. So all these markers like walking the aisle or being baptized or joining the church or being involved in this or that in church, its all just rubbish if we don’t have a heart that hates sin and loves God. So John’s message is basically, “Wake up!” Stop making excuses.

Most of you who are tuned out right now are tuned out because you love your sin more than you love God. And you say, “No, I love God, it’s just you’re too boring or the music is too old-fashioned or the pews are too uncomfortable or somebody made me mad or the preacher didn’t talk to me enough.” And I just want to say to all of that, bull. If you’re tuned out right now, if you have no enthusiasm for God, no desire to worship Him, no joy in being here, the problem is 99 times out of a hundred that you love your sin more than you love God. Repent.

Why repent? Because the kingdom of heaven is at hand. What is this kingdom of heaven? It is God’s decisive action in the world to establish His rule. There is one sense in which God has always reigned. He created everything, He sustains everything. Yet there is another sense in which He people rebel against God and His reign. We try to build our own kingdoms and we can do a pretty good job of building a kingdom that looks pretty impressive on the outside. But the foundations are shaky, the structures are unstable and the story of history is simply the story of the passing of one kingdom after another. It will happen to America too eventually. We are a young nation. But there will come a time when our nation will be covered over by the sands of time. It happens to all earthly kingdoms, both personal and national. We spend so much time in our lives building our own kingdom or wealth or fun or family or friends or status that we fail to see that in the end our little kingdoms all crumble and we are soon forgotten. Most of us will only be remembered by a very few people, and truly known by even fewer.

This issue of kingdoms was something Daniel spoke about in the second chapter of his book. King Nebuchadnezzar had this dream about a statue made of four different materials: a head of gold, a chest of silver, thighs or bronze, and legs of iron, with feet mixed with iron and clay. And Daniel interpreted his dream. And here’s what Daniel said,

Daniel 2: you are the head of gold. 39 Another kingdom inferior to you shall arise after you, and yet a third kingdom of bronze, which shall rule over all the earth. 40 And there shall be a fourth kingdom, strong as iron, because iron breaks to pieces and shatters all things. And like iron that crushes, it shall break and crush all these. 41 And as you saw the feet and toes, partly of potter’s clay and partly of iron, it shall be a divided kingdom, but some of the firmness of iron shall be in it, just as you saw iron mixed with the soft clay. 42 And as the toes of the feet were partly iron and partly clay, so the kingdom shall be partly strong and partly brittle. 43 As you saw the iron mixed with soft clay, so they will mix with one another in marriage, but they will not hold together, just as iron does not mix with clay. 44 And in the days of those kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that shall never be destroyed, nor shall the kingdom be left to another people. It shall break in pieces all these kingdoms and bring them to an end, and it shall stand forever, 45 just as you saw that a stone was cut from a mountain by no human hand, and that it broke in pieces the iron, the bronze, the clay, the silver, and the gold. A great God has made known to the king what shall be after this. The dream is certain, and its interpretation sure.” Nebuchadnezzar was the leader of the Babylonian Empire. Then came the Persian Empire, symbolized by the chest and arms of silver. Then came the Greek Empire, symbolized by thighs of bronze. And finally the Roman Empire, the legs of iron. Yet even in Rome, there was the beginning of breakdown, as the Empire in its expansion became weak and diluted, like iron mixed with clay. There were four world Empires that ruled from the time of Daniel to the time of Jesus: Babylon, Persia, Greece and Rome. Then, the kingdom comes. That stone not made with human hands comes and breaks apart the statue, making it like chaff to be blown away by the wind. And the stone becomes a great mountain and fills the whole earth. This is the picture I believe John is referencing when he says, “the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” With the coming of Jesus we have God’s decisive action to bring the kingdoms of the world to nothing and to establish His reign over all. He will judge those who continue to rebel against Him and He will save those who believe. And He will do it all through His cornerstone, Jesus. Of course, the fullness of this reign and judgment is not going to happen not at the first coming, but at the second coming. But the point John is making is that with the coming of Jesus, God’s kingdom has entered into the world in a new way. Something decisive has happened, not out of line with what God has already done in the Old Testament, but as a fulfillment of what God has promised there. So the call to repentance is a call to not be left in the dust of the Savior but to be gathered to Him and to reign forever with Him in a kingdom that will not be shaken and that will not fade away. This is how high the stakes are when it comes to Jesus. It is the difference between earthly good and eternal life and earthly emptiness and eternal damnation. John wakes us up to the reality that what we talk about here on Sunday morning and what we do in our lives day-by-day is not a joke and it is not optional. We don’t play around with these things. We don’t try on the kingdom like a new sweater. We don’t say, “Let’s change the message so we can get a few more people in the door or keep the ones we already have.” We don’t back down not because we want to be stubborn but because the stakes are eternal. And we don’t water down because we don’t want to give people false assurance like so many of the Jews of John’s day had. We preach repentance and faith for salvation. Because we are part of a kingdom. And the King demands the allegiance of His subjects. Therefore repent.

There is no doubt that repentance is the key to revival. Not just sorrow over sin or sadness at being caught but a deep-down, gut-wrenching recognition of our sinfulness that results in our calling out to God for mercy and for power to live a holy life. Repentance is John’s message because he wants to see revival. Do you want to see revival? Be careful. Make sure your real heart is not, “I want to see us have more people, new members, so we can feel like the church is going well.” Watch out. Watch out that your heart is not more for West Hickory Baptist Church than for the kingdom of heaven. I’m talking to myself too. It’s so dangerous. No, we want to see revival because we want spiritual life and growth. Why be half-hearted? This is why God so hates the lukewarm. If these truths are touching your heart today, go for it. Don’t hold anything back. Believe the good news and walk with Jesus. Let go of your need to succeed or to possess or to control. Believe the good news that there is a King and you’re not Him. Repent, the kingdom is here. But John is not the King. Look at verse 3 . . .

For this is he who was spoken of by the prophet Isaiah when he said,

“The voice of one crying in the wilderness:

‘Prepare the way of the Lord;

make his paths straight.’ ”

I love Matthew’s insistence of sticking close to Scripture, don’t you? He’s always

looking for connections to what God has said before. He doesn’t use the word “fulfilled” here, he seems to reserve that for words about Jesus. Yet he clearly thinks Isaiah 40:3 speaks about John. “The voice of one crying in the wilderness, prepare the way of the Lord; make His paths straight.” This verse reminds us of the passion of John. He is crying out in the wilderness. I am afraid that our own sin, the hard knocks of life and lack of affection for God has robbed us of our passion. I want to be like John the Baptist. I want to be passionate for Jesus. I know that there are lots of personalities in this room but there is no personality that keeps you from being passionate for Jesus. You may express it a little differently than me but by all means express it. Cry out to God in prayer and cry out for God in the world around you.

Verse 3 also reminds us of the necessity of repentance. John calls us to prepare the way of the Lord and make straight His paths. How do we do that? Through repentance, through turning away from our sin. The book of Joel contains the great promise of the coming of the Holy Spirit which was fulfilled in Acts. But right before the Spirit is promised in chapter 2, we read these words, “Yet even now,” declares the Lord, “return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; 13 and rend your hearts and not your garments.” Return to the Lord your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love; and he relents over disaster. The promise of the pouring out of the Spirit follows a call to repentance. And with our year verse from Psalm 51, restore to me the joy of your salvation, remember that Psalm begins with David’s deep confession of his sin. “Have mercy on me, O God, according to your love, blot out my transgressions. Against You, You only have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight.” So it is here in Matthew as well. Repentance prepares us to receive God’s blessings.

Finally, verse 3 teaches us that John is only a forerunner to the true King. John’s role is preparatory. He is a messenger of the King. His ministry is meant to point to the King. How easy it would have been for John to make the ministry all about Him. We will see in this passage that he was wildly popular. Yet he was also incredibly humble. What a warning to all Christians, especially pastors and teachers, to remember that we are just messengers of the King. I get concerned when I see churches today that are recognized more for their Senior Pastor than for Jesus. I get concerned today when I see the culture of celebrity that surrounds so many Christian figures in our time. I can’t help feeling like Jesus is getting obscured. And it can happen in small places as well, where some person in the church, pastor or otherwise, can put themselves on a pedestal. But how dangerous is this focus on men and women. How careful we must be to keep Jesus first in our hearts. Verse four shows us John remembered who was King, not only by his words but also by his lifestyle.

Now John wore a garment of camel’s hair and a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey.

Many who have studied this passage have made note of John’s simple lifestyle. His highest concern was proclaiming Jesus. R.C.H. Lenski says, “His very appearance was a stern sermon. It was a call to all those who made food and drink, house and raiment their chief concern in life to turn from such vanity and to provide far more essential things. He was a living illustration of how little man really needs here below—something we are prone to forget. And by drawing people out into the wilderness John made them share a bit of his own austere life. Men left their mansions, offices, shops, their usual round of life, and for a time at least gave their thoughts to higher things.” And John stood in stark contrast to so many of the religious leaders of his day, especially the Sadducees, who tended to live luxurious lives. How about us? John’s simplicity should challenge us as we consider how much stock we often put in having this thing or that thing. They are just things. The new car, the computer, the new phone, the new outfit, the new book, the good meal. They are just things. John got along just fine in the wilderness eating bugs and honey wearing a scratchy suit of camel’s hair. Would we be OK with that? Or would we fall apart if all our props were taken away? Oh, this is challenging. We know Jesus said, “You can’t serve two masters. You can’t serve God and money.” And you know, it doesn’t really matter how much or little you have. It matters what you do with what you have, whether God has your heart or money has your heart. John shows us that a kingdom focus leads away from an obsession with possessions.

John was not only making a statement about single-minded devotion to God by his lifestyle, he was also again acting like a prophet. We read of the description of Elijah in 2 Kings 1:8 They answered him, “He wore a garment of hair, with a belt of leather about his waist.” And he said, “It is Elijah the Tishbite.”

The prophet Malachi had said in Malachi 4, Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the Lord comes. Most Jews believed that the prophet Elijah, who had been taken up to heaven, would come back. But Jesus, in Matthew 11, gives us a different perspective. For all the Prophets and the Law prophesied until John, 14 and if you are willing to accept it, he is Elijah who is to come. So Jesus is telling us, Elijah has come, the kingdom is here, repent and believe the good news.

This new prophet, coming some 400 years after the close of the Old Testament, was making quite an impression. Look at verses 5 and 6 . . .

Then Jerusalem and all Judea and all the region about the Jordan were going out to him, and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.

People from the regions all around are going to John. It is possible that John baptized thousands of people. It seems like the Holy Spirit is moving in this passage and I say that not because of how many people are going to John but because of what they are doing when they go to him. They are being baptized in the Jordan River, confessing their sins. The baptism was amazing in itself. The Jews had nothing like this in their experience. There were ritual washings in the temple and things like that. Where we find a parallel to what John is doing is among Gentiles who wanted to become Jews. Throughout history many non-Jewish people, in seeing the religion of the Jews, have desired to become Jews themselves. These Gentiles were allowed to become Jews through three steps: being circumcised, offering a sacrifice in the Temple, and being baptized. This baptism symbolized repentance and cleansing and entrance into the people of God. So what is so amazing here in verses 5 and 6 is that the Jews are submitting to baptism, something normally reserved for Gentiles. So they are admitting through baptism that they are no better than Gentiles, that they too need to be forgiven, inwardly changed and living with a heart of faith if they are going to be part of God’s family. So it is an amazingly humble thing they are doing here, especially since most Jews were taught to look down on Gentiles. And yet great crowds willingly submit to baptism, confessing their sins. What a joy! Visible and verbal signs of repentance. John’s mission is being accomplished. The way for the King is being prepared.

This morning, is your heart prepared for the King? Or has your heart grown cold because of obsession with the things of this world? Or has your heart grown dark because it is focused on sin? Is your heart hard because of bitterness toward others or even toward God? Is your heart calloused because you have repeatedly ignored the saving Word that comes to you? John’s message was so simple, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.” My message is simple too, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is here.” Jesus has come. He has lived a perfect life. He has died on the cross in the place of sinners, the perfect, acceptable sacrifice. He has risen from the dead, defeating death and sin. He has ascended to heaven where He reigns and intercedes for us. He is coming again to judge all people, bringing home His own and damning those who have rebelled against His reign. If your heart is not singing over these truths, if your life is not bearing the good fruit of love, joy, peace and all the rest, repent. Maybe you need to repent and believe for the first time, maybe you’ve never trusted in Jesus to save you. There may be children here or young people or maybe even some older people for whom that’s true. Turn to Jesus today. There’s no age requirement for the kingdom. If you have understood what Jesus has done for you repent, turn away from your sin and trust in Jesus to save you. Just call on Him right now. And then, when we start to sing in a minute, come up here to the front and share with us what you have done. God would be honored through that. Maybe today you know you are a Christian. You have trusted Jesus to save you, but you have drifted. Your heart is not right. Today is the day to come home. Today is the day to re-align your heart to the heart of God. Today is the day for revival to sweep your heart. I want to say to everyone this morning, we may hope for more from our life as a church. And we may make plans or have ideas of how things can be better. Everyone does and most people’s plans for the church are more about what would make them comfortable and happy than what would honor God. But what I am calling us to today is not comfortable. The call to repentance will hurt, because it is an admission that we have been falling short. And the call to repentance will cost us something, because repentance means a change of life. But the call to repentance is worthwhile, because repentance is the gateway to revival. So if you want revival today, come offer your life to God anew, come to the altar and offer Him your life afresh, turn away from your sin and turn to God as we sing.

 

 

 

Sunday’s Sermon — Matthew 3:1-6, “The Key to Revival”

19 Jan

In America, there have been two Great Awakenings in our history: one in the 1700’s and one in the 1800’s. These were times of special spiritual revival that swept over our land and left our culture changed. There have been other outbreaks of revival here and there in our history but nothing as sustained as those two Great Awakenings. I think most of us would agree that we as a nation are in need of revival again. Not just an emotional stirring, but a deep work of the Holy Spirit that changes our lives and our community. Our year verse for 2015 is Psalm 51:12, “Restore to me the joy of your salvation and uphold me with a willing spirit.” This verse is a plea for revival because revival is about recapturing our joy in the Lord and re-establishing deep fellowship with Him. When He is changing us, He uses us to bless others. Spiritual fruitfulness comes when we are walking with God. But often for us there is a roadblock to that walk that keeps revival far from us. The passage we’re going to look at today is all about that roadblock. Turn with me to Matthew chapter 3. We’ll be looking at verses 1-6.

In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea,

Many years have passed between the end of Matthew 2 and the beginning of Matthew 3. Jesus is now an adult. Matthew is not writing a biography with every detail of Jesus’ life at every stage. He is writing a selective history with a focus on the years when Jesus was most active in ministry. Verse 1 answers three questions: who?, what?, and where?

Matthew starts not with Jesus as an adult but with John the Baptist. John was a relative of Jesus, his mother Elizabeth was related to Jesus’ mother Mary. John became well-known for his ministry of baptizing people, so that even the Jewish historian Josephus makes note of John in his history of the Jews and calls him “John the Baptist.” So baptizing was John’s calling card, because the way he was baptizing people was so unusual.

The “what” in verse 1 is preaching. John is first and foremost a preacher. This word for preaching is connected to the word for announcing. John is a herald of the coming King, Jesus.

The “where” in this verse is the wilderness. This is where John spent his life and this is where he ministered. And there’s probably some meaning in that, although Matthew doesn’t come right out and tell us. John is walking in the way of prophets like Elijah, who ministered from the wilderness. But maybe John also ministers in the wilderness as a way of calling the Jews away from everyday life. I know for me I see life a lot more clearly when I get out in nature. The quiet of the land takes me away from everyday concerns and helps me focus on what really matters. The deserted wilderness with its quiet rolling hills would have been a strong contrast to the Temple in Jerusalem, with all its busyness and religious activity. Maybe the wilderness was part of the message. Get away from the hypocrisy of the religious leaders with their false worship. Get away from the power games and the use of God for self-advancement or self-aggrandizement. Come to this desolate place. See clearly. See that your own hearts are dry and dirty. In need of water to quench your thirst and water to clean you up.  In the city with all its hustle and bustle you can’t hear the message you most need to hear . . .

“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”

John’s message is simple but so profound. “Repent.” This word points to a total change of life and perspective. I see my true standing before God, I turn away from my sinful ways and I trust God for power to follow Him. And this was John’s message. And this is the roadblock to revival, our failure to repent. This message of repentance was a shocking message a message like the ones the prophets had given hundreds of years before. The reason it was shocking is because most of the Jews felt like they were secure. They were the seed of Abraham, the friend of God. The Lord had entered into covenant with them. They lived within a few miles of the Temple, the very center of Jewish religious life. And in the busyness of their lives and trying to get by in day-to-day life most people in Judea and the surrounding areas had assumed they were right with God because of this heritage and this background. And so there is a shocking sense to John’s message. Right from the start he is warning people that their religious heritage is not enough. He is telling them that if they are going to experience the coming kingdom of heaven, they have to repent. And so it is for us, if we would experience salvation, we must repent. Trusting in Jesus is about leaving and following, about turning away from sin and turning to Christ. Saying no to sin and yes to holiness. And yet many times people in church live in unrepentant sin and comfort themselves with the same kinds of things the Jews used for comfort. “I’ve gone to church all my life.” “I am a member of this church or that church.” “I was baptized in 1973.” “I read my Bible once in a while.” “I prayed a prayer when I was ten.” Am I saying we’re saved by works? No way. What I am saying is what the Bible says. A good tree produces good fruit and a rotten tree produces rotten fruit. We don’t seek to honor God in order to be saved, we seek to honor God because we are saved. And this honoring of God has to do with our hearts, with what we love and hate. It has to do with our affection for God versus our attachment to sin. So all these markers like walking the aisle or being baptized or joining the church or being involved in this or that in church, its all just rubbish if we don’t have a heart that hates sin and loves God. So John’s message is basically, “Wake up!” Stop making excuses.

Most of you who are tuned out right now are tuned out because you love your sin more than you love God. And you say, “No, I love God, it’s just you’re too boring or the music is too old-fashioned or the pews are too uncomfortable or somebody made me mad or the preacher didn’t talk to me enough.” And I just want to say to all of that, bull. If you’re tuned out right now, if you have no enthusiasm for God, no desire to worship Him, no joy in being here, the problem is 99 times out of a hundred that you love your sin more than you love God. Repent.

Why repent? Because the kingdom of heaven is at hand. What is this kingdom of heaven? It is God’s decisive action in the world to establish His rule. There is one sense in which God has always reigned. He created everything, He sustains everything. Yet there is another sense in which He people rebel against God and His reign. We try to build our own kingdoms and we can do a pretty good job of building a kingdom that looks pretty impressive on the outside. But the foundations are shaky, the structures are unstable and the story of history is simply the story of the passing of one kingdom after another. It will happen to America too eventually. We are a young nation. But there will come a time when our nation will be covered over by the sands of time. It happens to all earthly kingdoms, both personal and national. We spend so much time in our lives building our own kingdom or wealth or fun or family or friends or status that we fail to see that in the end our little kingdoms all crumble and we are soon forgotten. Most of us will only be remembered by a very few people, and truly known by even fewer.

This issue of kingdoms was something Daniel spoke about in the second chapter of his book. King Nebuchadnezzar had this dream about a statue made of four different materials: a head of gold, a chest of silver, thighs or bronze, and legs of iron, with feet mixed with iron and clay. And Daniel interpreted his dream. And here’s what Daniel said,

Daniel 2: you are the head of gold. 39 Another kingdom inferior to you shall arise after you, and yet a third kingdom of bronze, which shall rule over all the earth. 40 And there shall be a fourth kingdom, strong as iron, because iron breaks to pieces and shatters all things. And like iron that crushes, it shall break and crush all these. 41 And as you saw the feet and toes, partly of potter’s clay and partly of iron, it shall be a divided kingdom, but some of the firmness of iron shall be in it, just as you saw iron mixed with the soft clay. 42 And as the toes of the feet were partly iron and partly clay, so the kingdom shall be partly strong and partly brittle. 43 As you saw the iron mixed with soft clay, so they will mix with one another in marriage, but they will not hold together, just as iron does not mix with clay. 44 And in the days of those kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that shall never be destroyed, nor shall the kingdom be left to another people. It shall break in pieces all these kingdoms and bring them to an end, and it shall stand forever, 45 just as you saw that a stone was cut from a mountain by no human hand, and that it broke in pieces the iron, the bronze, the clay, the silver, and the gold. A great God has made known to the king what shall be after this. The dream is certain, and its interpretation sure.” Nebuchadnezzar was the leader of the Babylonian Empire. Then came the Persian Empire, symbolized by the chest and arms of silver. Then came the Greek Empire, symbolized by thighs of bronze. And finally the Roman Empire, the legs of iron. Yet even in Rome, there was the beginning of breakdown, as the Empire in its expansion became weak and diluted, like iron mixed with clay. There were four world Empires that ruled from the time of Daniel to the time of Jesus: Babylon, Persia, Greece and Rome. Then, the kingdom comes. That stone not made with human hands comes and breaks apart the statue, making it like chaff to be blown away by the wind. And the stone becomes a great mountain and fills the whole earth. This is the picture I believe John is referencing when he says, “the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” With the coming of Jesus we have God’s decisive action to bring the kingdoms of the world to nothing and to establish His reign over all. He will judge those who continue to rebel against Him and He will save those who believe. And He will do it all through His cornerstone, Jesus. Of course, the fullness of this reign and judgment is not going to happen not at the first coming, but at the second coming. But the point John is making is that with the coming of Jesus, God’s kingdom has entered into the world in a new way. Something decisive has happened, not out of line with what God has already done in the Old Testament, but as a fulfillment of what God has promised there. So the call to repentance is a call to not be left in the dust of the Savior but to be gathered to Him and to reign forever with Him in a kingdom that will not be shaken and that will not fade away. This is how high the stakes are when it comes to Jesus. It is the difference between earthly good and eternal life and earthly emptiness and eternal damnation. John wakes us up to the reality that what we talk about here on Sunday morning and what we do in our lives day-by-day is not a joke and it is not optional. We don’t play around with these things. We don’t try on the kingdom like a new sweater. We don’t say, “Let’s change the message so we can get a few more people in the door or keep the ones we already have.” We don’t back down not because we want to be stubborn but because the stakes are eternal. And we don’t water down because we don’t want to give people false assurance like so many of the Jews of John’s day had. We preach repentance and faith for salvation. Because we are part of a kingdom. And the King demands the allegiance of His subjects. Therefore repent.

There is no doubt that repentance is the key to revival. Not just sorrow over sin or sadness at being caught but a deep-down, gut-wrenching recognition of our sinfulness that results in our calling out to God for mercy and for power to live a holy life. Repentance is John’s message because he wants to see revival. Do you want to see revival? Be careful. Make sure your real heart is not, “I want to see us have more people, new members, so we can feel like the church is going well.” Watch out. Watch out that your heart is not more for West Hickory Baptist Church than for the kingdom of heaven. I’m talking to myself too. It’s so dangerous. No, we want to see revival because we want spiritual life and growth. Why be half-hearted? This is why God so hates the lukewarm. If these truths are touching your heart today, go for it. Don’t hold anything back. Believe the good news and walk with Jesus. Let go of your need to succeed or to possess or to control. Believe the good news that there is a King and you’re not Him. Repent, the kingdom is here. But John is not the King. Look at verse 3 . . .

For this is he who was spoken of by the prophet Isaiah when he said,

“The voice of one crying in the wilderness:

‘Prepare the way of the Lord;

make his paths straight.’ ”

I love Matthew’s insistence of sticking close to Scripture, don’t you? He’s always

looking for connections to what God has said before. He doesn’t use the word “fulfilled” here, he seems to reserve that for words about Jesus. Yet he clearly thinks Isaiah 40:3 speaks about John. “The voice of one crying in the wilderness, prepare the way of the Lord; make His paths straight.” This verse reminds us of the passion of John. He is crying out in the wilderness. I am afraid that our own sin, the hard knocks of life and lack of affection for God has robbed us of our passion. I want to be like John the Baptist. I want to be passionate for Jesus. I know that there are lots of personalities in this room but there is no personality that keeps you from being passionate for Jesus. You may express it a little differently than me but by all means express it. Cry out to God in prayer and cry out for God in the world around you.

Verse 3 also reminds us of the necessity of repentance. John calls us to prepare the way of the Lord and make straight His paths. How do we do that? Through repentance, through turning away from our sin. The book of Joel contains the great promise of the coming of the Holy Spirit which was fulfilled in Acts. But right before the Spirit is promised in chapter 2, we read these words, “Yet even now,” declares the Lord, “return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; 13 and rend your hearts and not your garments.” Return to the Lord your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love; and he relents over disaster. The promise of the pouring out of the Spirit follows a call to repentance. And with our year verse from Psalm 51, restore to me the joy of your salvation, remember that Psalm begins with David’s deep confession of his sin. “Have mercy on me, O God, according to your love, blot out my transgressions. Against You, You only have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight.” So it is here in Matthew as well. Repentance prepares us to receive God’s blessings.

Finally, verse 3 teaches us that John is only a forerunner to the true King. John’s role is preparatory. He is a messenger of the King. His ministry is meant to point to the King. How easy it would have been for John to make the ministry all about Him. We will see in this passage that he was wildly popular. Yet he was also incredibly humble. What a warning to all Christians, especially pastors and teachers, to remember that we are just messengers of the King. I get concerned when I see churches today that are recognized more for their Senior Pastor than for Jesus. I get concerned today when I see the culture of celebrity that surrounds so many Christian figures in our time. I can’t help feeling like Jesus is getting obscured. And it can happen in small places as well, where some person in the church, pastor or otherwise, can put themselves on a pedestal. But how dangerous is this focus on men and women. How careful we must be to keep Jesus first in our hearts. Verse four shows us John remembered who was King, not only by his words but also by his lifestyle.

Now John wore a garment of camel’s hair and a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey.

Many who have studied this passage have made note of John’s simple lifestyle. His highest concern was proclaiming Jesus. R.C.H. Lenski says, “His very appearance was a stern sermon. It was a call to all those who made food and drink, house and raiment their chief concern in life to turn from such vanity and to provide far more essential things. He was a living illustration of how little man really needs here below—something we are prone to forget. And by drawing people out into the wilderness John made them share a bit of his own austere life. Men left their mansions, offices, shops, their usual round of life, and for a time at least gave their thoughts to higher things.” And John stood in stark contrast to so many of the religious leaders of his day, especially the Sadducees, who tended to live luxurious lives. How about us? John’s simplicity should challenge us as we consider how much stock we often put in having this thing or that thing. They are just things. The new car, the computer, the new phone, the new outfit, the new book, the good meal. They are just things. John got along just fine in the wilderness eating bugs and honey wearing a scratchy suit of camel’s hair. Would we be OK with that? Or would we fall apart if all our props were taken away? Oh, this is challenging. We know Jesus said, “You can’t serve two masters. You can’t serve God and money.” And you know, it doesn’t really matter how much or little you have. It matters what you do with what you have, whether God has your heart or money has your heart. John shows us that a kingdom focus leads away from an obsession with possessions.

John was not only making a statement about single-minded devotion to God by his lifestyle, he was also again acting like a prophet. We read of the description of Elijah in 2 Kings 1:8 They answered him, “He wore a garment of hair, with a belt of leather about his waist.” And he said, “It is Elijah the Tishbite.”

The prophet Malachi had said in Malachi 4, Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the Lord comes. Most Jews believed that the prophet Elijah, who had been taken up to heaven, would come back. But Jesus, in Matthew 11, gives us a different perspective. For all the Prophets and the Law prophesied until John, 14 and if you are willing to accept it, he is Elijah who is to come. So Jesus is telling us, Elijah has come, the kingdom is here, repent and believe the good news.

This new prophet, coming some 400 years after the close of the Old Testament, was making quite an impression. Look at verses 5 and 6 . . .

Then Jerusalem and all Judea and all the region about the Jordan were going out to him, and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.

People from the regions all around are going to John. It is possible that John baptized thousands of people. It seems like the Holy Spirit is moving in this passage and I say that not because of how many people are going to John but because of what they are doing when they go to him. They are being baptized in the Jordan River, confessing their sins. The baptism was amazing in itself. The Jews had nothing like this in their experience. There were ritual washings in the temple and things like that. Where we find a parallel to what John is doing is among Gentiles who wanted to become Jews. Throughout history many non-Jewish people, in seeing the religion of the Jews, have desired to become Jews themselves. These Gentiles were allowed to become Jews through three steps: being circumcised, offering a sacrifice in the Temple, and being baptized. This baptism symbolized repentance and cleansing and entrance into the people of God. So what is so amazing here in verses 5 and 6 is that the Jews are submitting to baptism, something normally reserved for Gentiles. So they are admitting through baptism that they are no better than Gentiles, that they too need to be forgiven, inwardly changed and living with a heart of faith if they are going to be part of God’s family. So it is an amazingly humble thing they are doing here, especially since most Jews were taught to look down on Gentiles. And yet great crowds willingly submit to baptism, confessing their sins. What a joy! Visible and verbal signs of repentance. John’s mission is being accomplished. The way for the King is being prepared.

This morning, is your heart prepared for the King? Or has your heart grown cold because of obsession with the things of this world? Or has your heart grown dark because it is focused on sin? Is your heart hard because of bitterness toward others or even toward God? Is your heart calloused because you have repeatedly ignored the saving Word that comes to you? John’s message was so simple, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.” My message is simple too, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is here.” Jesus has come. He has lived a perfect life. He has died on the cross in the place of sinners, the perfect, acceptable sacrifice. He has risen from the dead, defeating death and sin. He has ascended to heaven where He reigns and intercedes for us. He is coming again to judge all people, bringing home His own and damning those who have rebelled against His reign. If your heart is not singing over these truths, if your life is not bearing the good fruit of love, joy, peace and all the rest, repent. Maybe you need to repent and believe for the first time, maybe you’ve never trusted in Jesus to save you. There may be children here or young people or maybe even some older people for whom that’s true. Turn to Jesus today. There’s no age requirement for the kingdom. If you have understood what Jesus has done for you repent, turn away from your sin and trust in Jesus to save you. Just call on Him right now. And then, when we start to sing in a minute, come up here to the front and share with us what you have done. God would be honored through that. Maybe today you know you are a Christian. You have trusted Jesus to save you, but you have drifted. Your heart is not right. Today is the day to come home. Today is the day to re-align your heart to the heart of God. Today is the day for revival to sweep your heart. I want to say to everyone this morning, we may hope for more from our life as a church. And we may make plans or have ideas of how things can be better. Everyone does and most people’s plans for the church are more about what would make them comfortable and happy than what would honor God. But what I am calling us to today is not comfortable. The call to repentance will hurt, because it is an admission that we have been falling short. And the call to repentance will cost us something, because repentance means a change of life. But the call to repentance is worthwhile, because repentance is the gateway to revival.

 

Even the Greatest Doubted

31 Jan

I was reading this morning in Matthew 11 and was struck once more by John the Baptist. The one whom Jesus said was the greatest person born among women, in his discouragement in imprisonment, wondered about whether Jesus was the Messiah who was to come or whether there was another. This Jesus, whom John had proclaimed the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, now in John’s dark cell looks to be something less than what John once knew Him to be.

But Jesus doesn’t slam John. He comforts Him with the truth. He sends back a message, “Look what I’ve done John. You can trust me.” And then he goes on to praise John before the people, saying “among those born of women there has not arisen one greater than John the Baptist.”

Jesus comes to us in a similar way in our discouragement. When we are in darkness and see no way out. When our inward struggles drive us to despair. When our outward trials bring us to the breaking point. When our earthly future looks grim. Look to Jesus.

It is OK to wrestle with doubt and discouragement. Just don’t turn away from who Jesus is and what He has done.

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