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Matthew 3

Here Comes the King!

Sermon Notes + Quotes

We study through books of the Bible here at The Village Chapel, and we have extra copies. If you didn’t bring one with you and you would like one, raise your hand up and folks will come around and be able to offer you a paper copy. There’s also, if you prefer, a network here in the building, and you’re allowed to jump on that, if you would like. I know that’s impossible for you folks at home to do. I’m so sorry. I can’t see a red dot anywhere, but I know you’re watching from somewhere out there online.

We are studying through the Gospel of Matthew. We’re calling it “The King and His Kingdom.” And today Matthew 3. We’re going to call this chapter “Here Comes the King!” And that’s a good thing, you know? “Here Comes the King!” And it’s a really good thing, actually. And some of what we read just a minute ago reminds us why it’s a good thing.

Over 20 years, I’m not sure how many, but over 20 years have certainly passed since the events we read about in Chapters 1 and 2. And as we dip into Chapter 3, the narrative will shift to the predecessor of Jesus, John the Baptist, and then culminate with the baptism of Jesus. And next week we’ll study the temptation of Christ and then we’ll begin the narrative of Jesus’ public ministry. So, all of this is leading up to that start of His public ministry here on Earth.

But who was John the Baptist? We’re going try to ask and answer that question today. What was his message? What was his mission? What is this thing called repentance that he talked about, and who needs that? And why did Jesus want to be baptized by John? I think that’s a good question to ask as well. Let me pray for us before we begin. And I will ask the Lord to illuminate the Word for us:

Lord, as we study Your Word today, we ask You to give us a clear vision of Your truth, a greater faith in Your power, and a more confident assurance of Your love for us. And along with one of our older brothers from the 16th and 17th century, George Herbert, we pray, O make Your Word a swift Word, passing from the ear to the heart, from the heart to the lip in conversation. That as the rain returns not empty, so neither may Your Word, but accomplish that for which it is given. Amen and amen.

Turn to Matthew 3 in your Bibles, if you will. And we’ll maybe start reminding you that the last thing that happened was that Jesus, Joseph, and Mary have now come back to Israel and they’ve settled in Nazareth because they didn’t like King Archelaus who was down in the South. And they thought maybe Herod Antipas in the North would be a little easier to live with. Sort of, you know, the best of two bad options. They moved to Nazareth and that was what was spoken through the prophets, and that’s plural, which is interesting. This isn’t a direct quote of Isaiah or Jeremiah or anybody. This is sort of the summary of the collective Old Testament’s predictions and that he would be called a “Nazarene.”

Now, in those days, John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea saying again, 20 some years have passed, “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand. For this is the one referred to by Isaiah the prophet.” Here’s a very specific quote from Isaiah 40. “The voice of one crying in the wilderness.” Matthew is telling us that John the Baptist is this: “The voice of one crying in the wilderness, ‘make ready the way of the Lord. Make His paths straight.’” And I love this little character sketch of John. We’ll read three more verses and then I want to make a few comments. But “John himself had a garment of camel’s hair.” Raise your hand if you have a garment made of any kind of camel hair here. Okay, good. Not too many of us. Not sure where that came from and why. It must have been scratchy. My guess is pretty scratchy. “He had a leather belt,” okay, we understand that, “about his waist and his food was locusts and wild honey.” Awesome, so he’s going to audition as he can for a future version of “The Great British Baking Show” and bring his brownies that have little legs of locusts sticking out. And they’ve drizzled with honey, though. And I don’t know about you, but anytime I eat locusts, I prefer a little bit of honey around them, myself.

It’s funny because if you go back to some of the Old Testament laws and dietary laws—Leviticus 11 is one of them—it says what kinds of bugs you can eat. And I’m saying to the Lord, “I didn’t really ask that question.” I’m not really curious about that. That’s really okay. But it says you can eat the locusts and you can eat the bald locusts. And I’m thinking to myself, I have to get a magnifying glass out to see if this thing bald or not, you know? And is that just a receding hairline on that locust? What’s going on there? And you can eat those and you can eat a bunch of these other. Oh, you can eat the bugs that have legs above their feet, it says, in Leviticus 11. And I’m thinking, “Now who’s got legs below their feet?” You know, that just is amazing. When you read through that list of things, it’s really amazing, it’s incredible.

And there’s a bunch of things you’re not allowed to eat, or the ancient Jews were not allowed to eat. And hallelujah, Jesus comes along in Mark’s Gospel and declares all foods clean. Thank you, Lord. That’s good. I like me some crustacean seafood and that sort of thing.

Here we get a little picture or snapshot of John. He’s got this garment of camel’s hair and leather belt around his waist. And that would have said something to the ancient Jews. They would’ve immediately thought of some of their Old Testament prophets, and it would’ve conjured up the image of that great prophet Elijah and the food that he ate—the austere lifestyle, the aesthetic removal out to the wilderness, moving away from the main flow of commerce and society.

It says that “all Jerusalem was going out to him,” verse 5, “and all Judea and all the district around the Jordan.”  There are a ton of people who have heard something about this strangely dressed guy with a weird diet and they’re all going out there. There’s something drawing them. What is it? “And they were being baptized by him in the Jordan River, as they confessed their sins.”  

Notice the connection between baptism and confession of sin here. It’s the first time that the word baptize will show up in the New Testament. It recurs roughly 44 instances in the New Testament. Not much at all in the Old Testament to talk about this kind of a ritual or a rite. We’ll talk about that in just a second, but I love these first six verses. I think that when you see the 20 years that have flown by and all a sudden, you’re moving from Jesus as a toddler or maybe a little bit older than that and then suddenly, John the Baptist, who’s only six months older than Jesus. He’s a relative of Jesus. And he’s out there and he’s already got huge crowds without social media. He didn’t go on Twitter and say, “Hey, big party tonight at the wilderness, come on out!”  They didn’t have that access. Word got around though, somehow. And the idea is not just that word got around. Let’s go out there and get beat up by this prophet and have him scold us and, you know, wear around his “sandwich board sign,” ‘Repent! Turn or burn!’ It’s not what they’re going out for.

For 400 years Heaven had been silent. For 400 years people have been wondering, ‘Does God know?’ ‘Is He still there?’ ‘Did He turn away from this planet?’ ‘Did He turn towards some other part of the universe?’ ‘Does He care about we, His people, anymore?’ And then all of a sudden, the voice of a prophet, one who reminded them of an Old Testament prophet, comes on the scene and everybody all of a sudden from Jerusalem all the way down to the Jordan River.

Those of us who’ve been to Israel understand that’s a walk, that’s a distance. That’s a fair piece of travel right there. And the Jordan river, all the districts around Jordan, all of Judea, that’s that entire Southern third of Israel. So, I mean, this is a pretty big deal that’s happening. Something’s drawing people in a way. I mean, it’s quite magnetic and you wonder what’s going on there.

Well, I want to collectively, just like I love that first verse where it says, “in those days,” and what days are those.  Because it sounds like Matthew is referring to something we ought to know about. And Luke in Luke 3 if you want turn there you can. I’ll read it to you though. Look at the markers for those days. Listen to it or watch along in your own Bible, Luke 3:

“Now in the 15th year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, Herod was tetrarch of Galilee, and his brother Philip was tetrarch of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias was tetrarch of Abilene. In the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the Word of God came to John, the son of Zacharias, in the wilderness. And he came into all the district around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for forgiveness of sins.

There are six, probably seven space-time markers in Luke’s Gospel there. In other words, what we just read in Matthew 3 is not just a once upon a time story. It’s a historical event. This movement started and was gaining all kinds of momentum. And you can triangulate when Tiberias Caesar was the emperor when Pontius Pilate was the governor of Judea. Pontius Pilate served, I think, 26 to 36 AD. So now we have this window of time that we can zero in on. And this is not just once upon a time. This is space-time history. Herod the tetrarch of Galilee. That’s Herod Antipas not Herod the Great. “His brother Philip was tetrarch of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis.” John The Baptist will scold Herod Antipas for stealing his brother Philip’s wife and marrying her. And that’s how John the Baptist will actually lose his life because the Eastern despot Herod Antipas doesn’t like to be publicly scolded. And so, on and on, you have this amazing—in Luke, anyway—you have this amazing ability to say this is a real serious slice of space-time history. This happened.

If you go back to Matthew 3 you look and you notice a couple of things about what’s going on here. The mission, the message that’s here. And I’m going to come back and highlight a little bit of that for us in just a second. Let’s finish reading the chapter though, verse 7: “But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees…”  That’d be the time where the music goes, the background music in a teaching for this goes. ♪ Dun, dun, dun, dun. ♪ You know? Pharisees and Sadducees. ♪ Dun, dun, dun, dun ♪ (Two of you, thank you! God bless you. All the people online were louder than everybody in this room. I heard you online there. That was really great.) Anyway, “when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” ♪ Dun, dun, dun, dun ♪)

“Coming for baptism, he said to them, ‘You brood of vipers, who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?'” And I’m just thinking there, I don’t know what you guys do around Christmas… How many of y’all still send Christmas cards? Okay, here’s an inscription for you for next year. This would be a great opportunity! If you’re looking for something new to say—like, I’ve got family members that send us Christmas cards and you open it up and all it says is “2022,” that’s all, they don’t even sign it—here it is. This is like a plaque on the wall. “You brood of vipers. Who warned you to flee the wrath to come? Therefore bear forth fruit in keeping with your repentance. Do not suppose that you can say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham for our father,’ for I say to you God’s able to raise from these stones children to Abraham, and the axe is already laid at the root of the trees. Every tree, therefore, that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.”

The presumption of inherited faith is a mistake, John the Baptist says. Don’t just say, “Hey, I live in the South. I go to Village Chapel. That must make me a Christian, right?” No, not any more than standing in The Met in New York City makes you a van Gogh. I mean, it just doesn’t. You’re not a painting. You’re not a sculpture. So that’s not the determining factor. He even says, “bring forth fruit,” verse 8, “in keeping with your repentance.”

And then he’s got this sense of urgency in verse 10: “The axe is laid at the root of the trees. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.” Wow. That’s not a message on how to win friends and influence people and collect a big crowd. I mean, we all know if you want to build a church…softball team! chili cook-off! awesome stuff! But to stand up and say, “the axe is laid at the root of the tree and it’s about to swing,” it’s not a golf club setting. This is the wrath, the righteous wrath, of God against posing, against presumption. This is the wrath of God against pretenders. And he’s calling for authentic faith.

“As for me,” John the Baptist says, “I baptize you in water for repentance, but He who is coming after me is mightier than I, and I’m not even fit to remove His sandals. He Himself will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. And His winnowing fork is in His hand, and He will thoroughly cleanse His threshing floor, and He will gather His wheat into the barn, but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.”

John the Baptist is saying, ‘Don’t be chaff!’ (just to use his metaphor). Chaff is that worthless bit in an agrarian society and an agricultural economy. And you pull your grain together and you take your winnow and your big fork, you throw it up in the air. And when it floats down, when it falls to the bottom, the chaff, which is the worthless part of it, any just tiny little bit of wind will blow that away. And he says here that the one who’s coming after him is actually going to do that kind of winnowing, that kind of threshing. And He’s going to gather his wheat into the barn, but He’s going to burn up the chaff.

Don’t be chaff. Jesus will have the decisive, final, last word. The culture will not. You, me, we will not have the last and final word. The culture won’t. The political system will not have the last word. The economy will not have the last word. All the things that people put their hope and trust and confidence in, some of which are good things, none of them will have the last word, but Jesus will. And folks, that is good news. That’s not bad news. That’s really good news. Why? Because of who He is. That’s exactly what John is trying to do to point to the King and tell us the kingdom is coming, the kingdom of Jesus.

Verse 13, let’s finish the chapter and then I got a few points for you: “Jesus arrived from Galilee at the Jordan coming to John to be baptized by him.” Some of you have questions about that, and I hope we can at least try to answer those. “John tried to prevent Him, saying, ‘I have need to be baptized by You, and do You come to me?'” And he recognized Jesus was the greater than he was. And he’s resistant to baptizing Him because he feels like that somehow or another there’s something wrong with that. And notice Jesus’s answer, verse 15: “Answering, Jesus said to him, ‘Permit it at this time for in this way it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.'” That’s interesting. “To fulfill all righteousness.” And then John the Baptist permitted Him. In other words, he did what Jesus asked him to do. “After being baptized, Jesus went up immediately from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending as a dove and coming upon Him, and behold, a voice out of the heavens saying ‘This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased.'”

Who calls somebody their son? The father calls somebody their son. A mother could too, but in this particular case, we’re presenting to you a Trinitarian moment. The Father is saying, “This is my Son in whom I’m well-pleased.” And the Spirit is coming down as a dove. That’s a fascinating moment there, and I think there is quite a bit to learn here in this text. So let me throw up on the screen a couple of points, and this’ll be online as well, this section (these 17 verses) that I break into five different segments.

1. The first one, verses 1-4, I think we learn there that John the Baptist reminds us that the most important thing we can do with our lives is serve God’s kingdom purposes and point others to Christ. Now, that’s just basic and fundamental. Maybe you were hoping I would come up with something cleverer than that? I apologize. I feel like my job often is just about reminding people of things that they might already know. And the reason I still think that’s a significant job and a significant thing to do is because I, myself, my experience is that I forget the important stuff so easily. There are too many shiny objects out here, you know, distracting me and I need to be reminded and I need to push reset on the things that really matter. The distinctives of John the Baptist, as he did this, he wanted to serve the Kingdom of God and point to Christ. Well, he was clear in his mission. He understood his role in God’s Kingdom. He didn’t try to usurp Jesus. He actually said, ‘No, He’s mightier than I am. I’m not even worthy of untying His shoes.’

John the Baptist even said, “The one who’s coming after me is greater than I am.” This is a turning point in redemption history. He’s pointing to a greater turning point in redemption history, which is the arrival of the King. He says, ‘Here comes the King and the kingdom is on its way.’ And then he says, ‘Look, there’s the King,’ basically.

John recognized who he was and who he was not. And I think that’s important for us in our day and time too. There’s such an emphasis on human identity, individualism, and we have this sort of cultural flow of just a constant self-obsession. And we want to take the reins away from God. We’re sort of being formed to think that that’s okay. We’re being formed to think that we can bear that burden. And I’ve been trying to say for a couple years, no, we can’t. That’s a burden too great for us. That’s a burden for the Creator, not for the creatures. We have been given the gift of life and the gift of an identity in Christ. We don’t discover something. He’s giving us something. So, we keep looking to Him. John the Baptist’s mission is to say, ‘Jesus, He’s the one, you don’t need to look any further. He really is the one.’

See, I love that about him: he is clear in his mission. He came to baptize in water for repentance, preparing the way of the Lord and pointing to the Lord who would baptize in something more than water. Something that the Lord would baptize us in the Holy Spirit and with fire. The idea of the fire image there is that for them, fire was a purifying agent, a cleansing agent. It’d be like if you were purifying gold and you threw the ore that you pulled out of the mine into a big, huge vat back then. The ancient metal worker would turn up the fire so much that the dross would float to the top because the gold was heavier. And they would scoop off the dross and keep scooping off the dross until the metaler just could look down into the vat and see his own image reflected in the gold. And that’s what God is doing in our lives. He’s wanting to see His image in our lives. So, Jesus comes to baptize us with the Holy Spirit or in the Holy Spirit (that word could be either one), and with fire.

John the Baptist was very clear in his message, and it begins like this: “Repent, the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.” Do you know that Jesus says a few things here before Chapter 4, but His public preaching actually begins in Chapter 4, verse 17, which we’ll study in a couple weeks. Guess what His first words out of His mouth are in 4:17. The exact same words: “Repent for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.”  Hmm, interesting. He’s really driving home that same command and promise couplet. It’s beautiful. The command is to repent. And the promise is the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand. This is awesome if that’s what you’re looking for. If you’re not looking for it though, you better run. And guess what? You can run, but you can’t hide. So that’s kind of the bad news, but it should be good news to each and every one of us if we’re willing to take that first step of repentance.

John the Baptist spoke out with authority against hypocrisy and immorality. As I said earlier, he will call out Herod Antipas the king, the tyrant in the North up in Galilee. He will call him out for taking Herod Philips’ wife as his own wife. You don’t publicly scold Eastern despots without expecting there to be some kind of consequences to it. And indeed, that’s what happened to John the Baptist, but he was fulfilling his mission before God. His prophetic message included the bold and public rebuke of the contumacious religious leaders’ willful, belligerent, disobedient religious leaders whom he called “a brood of vipers.” Now, that wouldn’t be permitted in our day. I mean, he would literally be canceled for saying that today. He’d be bounced from YouTube, bounced from Twitter. You just don’t do that kind of thing in our day and age. And sadly, in a lot of churches, you don’t do that kind of thing. But we do because it’s here in the text and because we study through books of the Bible here at The Village Chapel; that really is a distinctive of this church.

I invite you like John did. I invite you like Jesus did. No, I more than invite you. I summon you. I challenge you as your pastor. I call you as your pastor to repent because the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand and it continues to be at hand. It continues to unfold. John didn’t begin with a feel-good message. He didn’t care much about how his words made people feel. And I find that throughout the Bible. And I know we live in a culture and time that is obsessed with the way I feel. And when I read my Bible, here’s what I don’t see. I don’t see much about how I feel. Read your Bible. Try to find something there that’s just about how you feel. Okay, Psalms, good. Whew, we found a little bit. And that’s because God created us as feeling creatures. And I think that’s great that we have those ancient songs in there where we can express ourselves and every bit of who we are, even the ugly parts to Him and confess our sins to Him and come to Him, bring all of who we are to all of who He is.

Realizing who He is is really important, though. John the Baptist did not care if he stepped on the toes of the elite and powerful. It got him thrown in jail later. Within his summons though, there was this hope of the arrival of the Kingdom of Heaven where oppression, poverty, and injustice, which were so palpable in their time and in our time as well in this world in which we live. But the hope of the Kingdom of Heaven… where kinds of things like injustice are not allowed. Why? Because the King is in charge. And He’s a righteous King and He loves justice and that’s good. John the Baptist, even though he was a wild-eyed, caustic, crazy-eyed old-fashioned prophet, because repentance is the greatest need of all of those he spoke to, he did not hesitate to call them to the solution to their greatest need, which is this coming Kingdom of Heaven. ‘Repent, make the way straight. Make the way smooth for the approach of the Lord. Repent! Get all the rocks out of the way. Make the path straight. Prepare, ye, the way of the Lord.’

John the Baptist showed us that being a hypocrite, a poser, a pretender is unacceptable. And then he also said being a mere spectator will not work either. He said, “Bear fruit in keeping with your repentance.”  It’s not just, stop doing that. It’s actually, start doing this. That’s what repentance starts to look like. It’s not just brakes. It’s also the gas pedal, and it’s the steering wheel as well—it’s all of that.

Why are we so silent in our day?  Don’t we really believe the Gospel, that our sin is much greater than we could possibly know? Do we not really believe that? Or maybe we don’t really believe that God’s love for us is much greater than we could ever imagine. Maybe we don’t believe that. Maybe we’re still performance-based in our thinking about all of this and so we remain quiet. We don’t want to tell anybody about that. Is that what it is? No, perhaps we’re not as certain as we used to be about the Gospel, or perhaps we really don’t love others enough to point them to Christ as the only one who can actually meet their greatest needs. Are we timid of what others might think of us? And what does that tell me about which and whose kingdom I’m really building? Am I building Jim’s kingdom? Is that all I’m concerned about? Or am I interested in the Kingdom of Heaven? I must confess, I’ve slipped into to all of the above kind of thinking from time to time. Thankfully John the Baptist was not, and perhaps he can serve as an example to inspire us.

Fleming Rutledge says this. It’s really beautiful:

“If the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand, as John the Baptist says, then all our other kingdoms are called radically into question, including my own private kingdom and yours.”

Fleming Rutledge, Advent: The Once and Future Coming of Jesus Christ

Now, she’s sounding a little bit like JTB. Yeah, because John the Baptist didn’t say, “The kingdom of John the Baptist is at hand.” He said, “The Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.” That’s what we should be reminding ourselves of as well.

Out here, the voices are telling you, ‘Build your kingdom. You should be the king. You’re the one that should have the last word and the final say, you’ve got the power. You’re good enough, you’re smart enough, and doggone it, people like you. (Those are all the above 30-year-olds right there!) There’s nothing more liberating than being set free from the burden of trying to be king. Somebody say “Amen” to that! It’s just really tiring. We are not equipped or able. We’re not wise enough. We’re not righteous enough. We’re not powerful enough. I can’t save myself. Neither can you. But John the Baptist came as a pivot prophet pointing to the person that can save us. (Did you like that “p” alliteration? Okay. It was very Presbyterian of me, wasn’t it!)

‘Jesus is the King,’ John the Baptist says. ‘He’s the King that you’ve always needed. And He’s also the King you’ve always wanted.’ Some of you know that. Some of us might still be resisting it, but I think it’s true. John the Baptist reminds us that the most important thing we can do with our lives is serve God’s kingdom purposes and then point others to Christ.

2. Secondly, the crowds here remind us that there are many who are more ready than we realize to hear the Gospel. Look at the flocking out there. All of Jerusalem, all of Judea, all the districts around the Jordan. People are going. Hundreds of people, likely. Maybe thousands. I don’t know. And I love the scene. I love the idea of that down by the river thing and him just baptizing people. “You repent?” “Yes.” “Okay.” I just love the images that that might stir up. Human beings, whether we know it or admit it or not, all human beings have a deep longing for God. We eagerly want to know our Creator because we’re concerned. We’re curious about where we came from, who we belong to, and even who we are. Where we turn for the answers to those questions is really important. Out there in the world around us, they’re going to turn you in certain directions for answers, and I don’t think they’re satisfactory answers. I don’t think naturalistic atheism, or a hyper-religious rule-following approach, is going to give you the answer you need. The Gospel is something completely different than either one of those things.

John the Baptist’s message, it rang clear, it pierced their hearts. They recognize their sin. They confessed their sin, we’re told right here in this chapter, and they were baptized as a symbol of being cleansed from their sins. In our culture, we might do some religious things, but are really alive spiritually? Are we longing for a word from God like they were back then? 400 years longing to hear from God. Their conditions, their creature comforts low, didn’t have a chapel like this, didn’t have air conditioning, didn’t have lights like ours, didn’t have a lot of what we have… They didn’t even know those kinds of things might exist in the future, but nonetheless, they had tried everything. They had tried all the power they could muster, and they kept coming up empty. And now after 400 years here comes a word from God. If we are chronically dissatisfied like I believe they were, longing to know God, wondering if God is there or knows, even knows our name, the Bible tells us the King has come and you are invited. I’m invited. We are invited to join His kingdom. Who wouldn’t want that? Sadly, the answer is, some people wouldn’t want that, but what about you? That’s kind of what matters, isn’t it?

I love the way, and this goes back to Augustine (this is much later than what we read about here in Matthew 3), Augustine from the fourth century AD says,

“Indeed, what would one search for when one has God before one’s eyes? Or what would satisfy one who would not be satisfied with God? Yes, we wish to see God. Who does not have this desire? We strive to see God. We are on fire with the desire of seeing God.”

Augustine of Hippo

I think that’s still true. I think that all of the people that you are too timid to talk to about your faith or about the Gospel, and the same with me, I think a lot of them are more ready than we realize to hear the Gospel because they’re longing in the deep nagging background of their mind and hearts. They’re trying to make sense of this world and they can’t apart from Christ. Augustine makes it so clear. If you have God, you have everything you need. You know, you have a proper relationship with the Lord.

3. Thirdly, the religious leaders here, I think they remind us that we must be authentic in our repentance and always beware spiritual presumption and pretense. What is repentance? It’s the change of direction that alters the value judgements of our minds, the affections of our heart and causes us to realign our will with God’s will, set up our goals as God’s glory, and learn to love all those whom God loves. The hardest part of all of that is the last part.

It’s so hard to love everybody that God loves. Somebody confess with me. Amen. Yeah, it’s really hard. Let’s face it. There are probably people in this room that you’re thinking about right now or maybe somebody’s thinking about you. It’s hard sometimes, but we gather ourselves together to remind ourselves that repentance isn’t just, “I’m so sorry.” It’s not just that. It’s actually, we stop traveling in one direction. We have a change of mind that results in a change of heart. The affections are changed and now we change direction. It’s not just stopping something. It’s more than that. It’s beginning anew to follow Jesus. I’ll throw it up on the screen, but I just put together a list of five things.


  1. Acknowledgement of sin. In other words, we come to see sin not just as a failure of performance, but also a failure in our intimacy with God, get that? Sin is a condition in your heart and mind before it’s an act of our body or mind. So the condition of sin is this broken intimacy. We don’t have intimacy with God anymore. We feel the distance between us, and sin is a separator. That’s what it does. Sin separates me from God. Sin separates me from you if I’ve sinned against you. And sin, I will argue, even separates me from my true self, who I was designed to be by God. Not who I just want to be by myself. See, that’s part of the problem. That flows out of a heart of sin as self-assertion. Instead of finding myself belonging to the One who made me, who loves me even though I’m a sinner and came to rescue and redeem me.
  2. Remorse over sin. It’s not merely feeling sorry about getting caught. It’s not that mechanical. Authentic repentance includes what I’ll call “good grief.” It’s good grief to actually recognize that my sin is an offense against my Creator. And in many cases, it’s also an offense against somebody else, but all of my sins are an offense against my Creator.
  3. Confession of sin. There’s a confession of sin that’s needed.
  4. Renouncement of sin. And a renouncement of sin. That is where we abandon it, turn away from the whole thing. Not just the little acts of sin, but even turn away from the sinful disposition of heart. You’ve got to think of it that way too because otherwise you’ll just fall into the rule following trap and the performance-based mentality of repentance, which, that’s not what I’m trying to preach. I don’t think that’s what John the Baptist preached. You’ve got to continue to frame this as broken intimacy with God. And He wants more for you than that you would just quit doing certain things. He wants you to find in Him the greatest delight your heart has ever known. That’s a big difference there.
  5. Renewed delight in Christ.  Turning toward Christ, receiving His grace, mercy and forgiveness. Reminding ourselves that what we find in Christ is what we’ve really been looking for all along, resolved to grow in our delight in Christ to bring forth fruit, verse eight, in accordance with our repentance.

You see how there’s something there? It’s not just don’ts, there’s a do. And there’s a goal there. I love the way the great 19th century English Evangelical Anglican Bishop, first Bishop in Liverpool, England, J.C. Ryle said,

“The waters of baptism are poured on myriads who are never washed in the water of life. The bread and wine eaten and drunk by thousands at the Lord’s table who never feed on Christ by faith. Are we converted? This is the grand question. It’s one which must be answered at last. The true character of every man’s religion will at length be exposed.”

J.C. Ryle

The religious leaders of this time (turning back to Matthew 3) remind us that we must be authentic in our repentance and always be aware of spiritual presumption and pretense. Just because you go to The Village Chapel does not make you a Christian. Even if you memorize the Westminster Catechism, that doesn’t make you a Christian. Putting money in the offering plate doesn’t make you a Christian. It all hinges on what you do with the personal work of Jesus. It’s all about Jesus. That’s so important for us. Jesus reminds us that He came to save us by fulfilling all righteousness on our behalf. And I think that’s exactly what was going on there in His baptism.

I like to ask the question this way. Why did Jesus want to be baptized? A lot of times people will frame it as, why did Jesus have to be baptized? I don’t think he had to. I think he wanted to. Why? Because in so doing, He fulfilled all righteousness. What does that mean? That means he actually showed Himself as identifying with we sinners who need to go into the water for a different reason ourselves to symbolically be washed from our sin. But I figure what happens is Jesus goes down to the water and He literally symbolically was saying, I’m going to take all the sin in this water and I’ll put it on myself. He’s foreshadowing what He’s going to do on the cross. I’m going to take that all. I’m literally going to clean this water of sin symbolically. And then Jesus rises up to newness of life. And the Father says, “This is my Son in whom I’m well-pleased.” The Spirit floats down there and John the Baptist has a full-on Trinitarian experience and we get to read about it, which I really love.

All right, so there’s so much there about Jesus. The apostle Paul would sum it up this way. Would you read it aloud with me?

“He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.”

–2 Corinthians 5:21

Now, the pronouns at the top of that verse, “He,” you can put in parentheses: “God the Father” made Him. You can put in parentheses, “Christ,” who knew no sin to sin on our behalf so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. Wow, this is one of my very favorites and one of the most beautiful verses that I think you could memorize. It would be great for you to know. I’ve got to hurry.

Trevor Laurence says,

“Jesus’s baptism is a multifaceted recapitulation of God’s acts in history that, now pregnant with meaning, is also a precapitulation of God’s work on the cross, an overture that tunes our ears to the coming themes, a clue to the meaning of Jesus’s arrival.”

Trevor Laurence

You’ll see that as we go through Matthew.  You’re going to see this precapitulation. You’re going to look back on this and go, “Oh, I get it now. He took my sin when He went down into that water. It’s almost like He died in the waters of baptism symbolically and is raised to newness of life, just like He will when He comes out of the tomb the third day.”

5. And lastly, I want to say this. You see the unity of the Trinity at work here. It reminds us that Jesus came in the power of the Holy Spirit and with the imprimatur of Heaven. The full endorsement of Heaven. This is the One. You need look no further. He’s the One. I love that, that they had that experience there. It’s just tickling me to no end.

Here’s the wholehearted shout from Heaven. God wants His kingdom family back, and He’ll go to great lengths to get it back. He comes Himself to get it back and to call us to Himself. It’s really powerful. Jesus—the King we’ve always wanted, the King we’ve always needed. The Kingdom of Heaven has broken into this dark world. The hope of the Gospel was flash-flooding like a powerful fountain through the despair of humanity here, washing away their sinfulness as they came to the river to be baptized for the repentance of sins. And later, of course, they would, after Jesus dies, rises again, they would hear the Gospel itself. But Jesus has come to reconcile us to God and only Jesus can do that.

The old Puritan Matthew Henry said, and I’ll close with this quote,

“Nothing like the consideration of divine grace to break the heart, both for sin and from sin. That is evangelical repentance. That is good news repentance. It flows from a sight of Christ, from a sense of His love, and the hopes of pardon and forgiveness through Him.”

Matthew Henry

I hope you know Him that way because we are not up here preaching about religious rule-following in this church. We are up here like John the Baptist pointing to the One who has come to rescue us, not only from the temptations of the world around us, but from the temptations within us—our own self that wants to be king. He came to rescue me from that. And how beautiful a King He is to do that and put that on offer to us. Let’s pray:

Lord, thank You for this chapter and all it teaches us, all that it foreshadows in the personal work of Jesus. We are so glad, Lord, that You have come to dispel the darkness, to literally cause the scales on our eyes where we can’t see, but to open our eyes, to be able to see the glory and the beauty of what Christ has done. Jesus, the King, the one we’ve been looking for and now find ourselves wanting to bow before and to become a part of His kingdom family, Lord. May the good seed of God’s Word find fertile soil in our hearts today and may the Holy Spirit cause it to take root and bear the fruit of righteousness in our lives today, amen and amen.

(Edited for Reading)

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