Sapphire Sky

May 25, 2018

The Herald of the King

Filed under: encouragement, theology — Tags: , , — Steve Knaus @ 12:38 am

Thoughts from Matthew 3 …

I remember many of my children’s books that I had when I was younger.  There were colorful Bible Story books, showing scenes and characters from popular events.

But there was one character that I always loved to see. They always pictured him in a faraway place, holding a long staff and wearing strange clothes. He had to be the strangest man that could ever think of:

He lived in the desert!

He dressed in camel hair (my picture books always showed him wearing some strange, hairy toga)!

He always had a big beard (in all my picture books)!

HE ATE BUGS!!

My Bible Story books showed people coming from far and wide to hear him. They would go into the desert to listen to this strange man preach. He would then lead them into the Jordan River where he would baptize them.

As I grew older, I saw many movies which dramatized the life of this man in the desert. He was no longer just a picture in a book, but a live person walking through my TV screen. It seemed like all the movies depicted this person, John the Baptist, as a very angry man. He was always shouting at people, trying if he could to scare them into repentance.

As we look at the Bible says, the picture of John the Baptist emerges as a very important man. Jesus would later describe John as the greatest man who ever lived (Matthew 11:11)!

Jesus Christ, the King of the Jews, was about to arrive. John’s message had the following parts:

First, the king is coming! The long-awaited Messiah was about to be here! He would come and set up His kingdom on earth as the prophets foretold.

Second, the people were not ready. They needed to repent!

Finally, if their repentance was true, then they needed to come into the Jordan River with John. They would put their heads under the water and demonstrate to the world that they were now ready for the kingdom.

What does it mean to repent? It is much more than simply being sorry for disobeying God. Repentance involves both the knowledge and the sorrow that you have violated the law of a Holy God. It then involves a conscious act to turn away from your disobedience and to turn to God.

“Repentance means that the natural man takes God’s side against himself.” – H.A. Ironside 6

This was John’s message, but he had opposition. The religious leaders came to see why he was upsetting the status quo. John compared them to deadly snakes and urged them to flee from the fires of God’s judgement.

These religious leaders were caught up in their own imaginations about what it meant to be right with God. They believed that they were safe from God’s judgement because of their family relations — they were descendants of Abraham! They also believed that God would look favorably on them because they worked so hard to keep the law. But John said that all of these things — the family connections, their own good deeds — they all were worthless to God. They needed to come back to Him.

There was no longer any time for middle ground. You need to either repent and join the king, or be swept away in God’s wrath.

The people were impressed by John, but he always deflected their praise (see also here). He was not the king, he was simply the announcer for the king. When the king comes, John did not consider himself worthy to wash his feet!

 

Remember!

Most of us have head of John the Baptist before this. The story of his life may not give you any new information. However, don’t forget some of the things that God is showing us through his life:

  • If you have not turned to God, then the time is now! Repent and join Him! You may not have another chance!
  • If you already belong to God but are not obeying Him, then you too need to repent. Don’t let this day go by before you get right with God!
  • Don’t stop at the inward steps of repentance, but show it in your life. If you really have turned from your disobedience and turned to God, then there will be real, tangible changes in your life.
  • Don’t let your pride or preconceptions stand in the way of getting right with God. Very few of the religious leaders believed John because they thought they knew better.

2 Peter 3:9
The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.

 

Previous post: Friends and Enemies of the King


Matthew 3:1-12
In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” 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.’”

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

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? Bear fruit in keeping with repentance. 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. 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.

“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. 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.”

 

Mark 1:1-8
The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
As it is written in Isaiah the prophet,
“Behold, I send my messenger before your face,
who will prepare your way,
the voice of one crying in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight,’”

John appeared, baptizing in the wilderness and proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And all the country of Judea and all Jerusalem were going out to him and were being baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. Now John was clothed with camel’s hair and wore a leather belt around his waist and ate locusts and wild honey. And he preached, saying, “After me comes he who is mightier than I, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. I have baptized you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

 

Luke 3:1-18
In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, Pontius Pilate being governor of Judea, and Herod being tetrarch of Galilee, and his brother Philip tetrarch of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene, during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John the son of Zechariah in the wilderness. And he went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. As it is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet,
“The voice of one crying in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight.
Every valley shall be filled,
and every mountain and hill shall be made low,
and the crooked shall become straight,
and the rough places shall become level ways,
and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.’”

He said therefore to the crowds that came out to be baptized by him, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruits in keeping with repentance. And do not begin 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. 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.”

And the crowds asked him, “What then shall we do?” And he answered them, “Whoever has two tunics is to share with him who has none, and whoever has food is to do likewise.” Tax collectors also came to be baptized and said to him, “Teacher, what shall we do?” And he said to them, “Collect no more than you are authorized to do.” Soldiers also asked him, “And we, what shall we do?” And he said to them, “Do not extort money from anyone by threats or by false accusation, and be content with your wages.”

As the people were in expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Christ, John answered them all, saying, “I baptize you with water, but he who is mightier than I is coming, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”

So with many other exhortations he preached good news to the people.


 

Matthew 3:1-2
In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”

Mark 1:1,4
The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. John appeared, baptizing in the wilderness and proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.

Luke 3:1-3
In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, Pontius Pilate being governor of Judea, and Herod being tetrarch of Galilee, and his brother Philip tetrarch of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene, during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John the son of Zechariah in the wilderness. And he went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.

All four of the gospel accounts start out the ministry of Jesus Christ by first telling of John the Baptist. Like a herald to a great king, John came before Jesus to announce His coming.

This is a different John than the disciple who wrote the fourth gospel. John is given the title, “The Baptist” because baptism was one of the distinctive aspects of his ministry.

John’s message had three parts: First, to announce that the king was coming. The kingdom of the long-awaited Messiah was about to be here! 1

Second, the people needed to be ready for the King. They had been disobedient to Him and needed to repent. To repent means more than to simply be sorry for your disobedience. It is a conscious act to turn away from your disobedience and to follow God.

Finally, if they really wanted to identify with the kingdom, then they needed to demonstrate this by being baptized. The baptism was the visible act to show that they had repented and were now identified with this new kingdom.

John’s message was not an easy one. He did not live in the city but in the wilderness. if they were to identify with the kingdom, they would need to leave the comfort of their home and come out into the desert to him and be baptized.

What was this baptism? Many commentators have compared John’s baptism with the Jewish initiation of proselytes. If a Gentile outsider wanted to join the Jewish faith, they would undergo a ritual much like baptism. However, in this case it was the Jews who needed to change. They had to come back to the true faith in God himself. John’s baptism may have been similar to the Jewish ritual, but ultimately it was something new, sent by God himself. John took them into the Jordan river and dipped them under the water, thereby identifying them with the Messiah‘s kingdom.

What is the Messiah’s kingdom? The prophets spoke about the Messiah, the promised one, returning to rule over the whole earth. This is the “kingdom that shall never be destroyed” in Daniel 2:44. Some commentators have looked for more abstract or complex explanations, but this was a kingdom that was clearly and simply understood by the entire Jewish audience who came to hear John’s preaching. It was a real, literal, physical kingdom. There was a certainly a spiritual aspect to the kingdom of God (John 3:3), and it will have a greater depth than any of John’s listeners could comprehend. One of the main points of Matthew’s gospel account is to explain this Kingdom of Heaven. 2 4

John’s message was that the king was coming, so get ready!

“When Christ says, that ‘except a man be born from above, he cannot see the Kingdom of God,’ He teaches … that a man cannot even comprehend that glorious idea of the Reign of God, and of becoming, by conscious self-surrender, one of His subjects, except he be first born from above.” – Alfred Edersheim 3

John the Baptist was more than a footnote in the life of Jesus Christ. Jesus described John in Matthew 11:11 as the greatest man who ever lived.

Luke’s account provides background information of the current rulers at the time. This is the 15th year of Tiberius Caesar over Rome, which would be at about 28 AD. The other four rulers were known as the tetrarchs, or the governors over the four provinces in the region. Two of these tetrarchs were (Herod Antipas and Philip) were sons of the Herod who attempted to kill Jesus as a young child.

“But this rule of heaven and Kingship of Jehovah was the very substance of the Old Testament; the object of the calling and mission of Israel; the meaning of all its ordinances, whether civil or religious; the underlying idea of all its institutions.” – Alfred Edersheim 3

“When John the Baptist called upon the people to be baptized confessing their sins, he was telling them that they were lost, that they deserved to die, that they could not make atonement for their own sins; but he told them of One who could.” – H.A. Ironside 6

 

Matthew 3:3
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.’”

Mark 1:2-3
As it is written in Isaiah the prophet,
“Behold, I send my messenger before your face,
who will prepare your way,
the voice of one crying in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight,’”

Luke 3:4-6
As it is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet,
“The voice of one crying in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight.
Every valley shall be filled,
and every mountain and hill shall be made low,
and the crooked shall become straight,
and the rough places shall become level ways,
and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.’”

The ministry of John the Baptist is the fulfillment of Isaiah‘s prophecy (Isaiah 40:3-5). Just like an ancient herald would go in front, announcing the king, so John was to ahead of Jesus Christ, proclaiming that He was coming.

The first function of the herald was to announce his coming. The other function of the herald was to prepare the roads. He would oversee straightening the sharp curves, smoothing the bumps and filling in the holes. John was calling people to prepare the way for Jesus Christ.

Isaiah’s prophecy was one identifying mark of John the Baptist’s ministry. Matthew, Mark, and Luke all quote Isaiah 40 when introducing John. In the fourth gospel, we see that John uses the same prophecy to directly describe himself:

John 1:22-23
Then they said to him, “Who are you, so that we may give an answer to those who sent us? What do you say about yourself?” He said, “I am A voice of one crying in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’ as Isaiah the prophet said.”

“In John’s case, he was announcing that the king of kings was coming, and he was not asking to you prepare a road to the city but to prepare a road into their hearts.” – John MacArthur 7

 

Matthew 3:4-6
Now John wore a garment of camel’s hair and a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey. 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.

Mark 1:5-6
And all the country of Judea and all Jerusalem were going out to him and were being baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. Now John was clothed with camel’s hair and wore a leather belt around his waist and ate locusts and wild honey.

John’s physical description would have been a shocking sight to the people around him. Much like Elijah in the days before, he dressed in camel’s hair and wore a leather belt. His diet consisted of locusts (similar to grasshoppers) and wild honey in the wilderness.

John drew a massive crowd from all of the surrounding regions. They came to John in the wilderness confessing their sins, and John baptized them.

“This baptism was the outward sign of repentance, and that would be the inward change for the remission of sins that would be the end result.” – Stephen Davey 8

 

Matthew 3:7-10
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? Bear fruit in keeping with repentance. 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. 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.

Luke 3:7-9
He said therefore to the crowds that came out to be baptized by him, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruits in keeping with repentance. And do not begin 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. 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.”

Not all the followers were true believers. John called the Pharisees and Sadducees a “brood of vipers”! The vipers were poisonous snakes that could easily resemble a twig or a tree branch (This is the same type of snake that bit Paul in Acts 28:3). They looked innocent on the outside, but were secretly deadly!

John also shows another component of the Kingdom, the wrath of God. Do not depend on Jewish ancestry to save you, but show by your actions that your repentance is real. Those who refuse to believe in Him will be swept away by the flames of His anger!

The Jews believed strongly in the “merits of the fathers”. The Rabbis taught that Abraham sat at the gate of hell in order to make sure that no Israelite would pass through. John’s message was that their ancestry has no more value to God than the stones.

John uses the picture of animals scurrying from a desert fire in order to illustrate the wrath of God. He then used the picture of an orchard to show that God will cut down and destroy those who do not repent.

At the end of His ministry, Jesus told His disciples that fruitless branches would be cut down and thrown into the fire (John 15:6, see here). The message is the same: those who truly repent and belong to Jesus Christ will show fruit. Those who do not repent have no part in Jesus Christ. They will be destroyed by God’s judgement.

Luke’s account only showed John rebuking the crowd while Matthew’s account is more precise, calling out specifically the religious leaders (the Pharisees and the Sadducees) from within the crowd.

 

Luke 3:10-14
And the crowds asked him, “What then shall we do?” And he answered them, “Whoever has two tunics is to share with him who has none, and whoever has food is to do likewise.” Tax collectors also came to be baptized and said to him, “Teacher, what shall we do?” And he said to them, “Collect no more than you are authorized to do.” Soldiers also asked him, “And we, what shall we do?” And he said to them, “Do not extort money from anyone by threats or by false accusation, and be content with your wages.”

At first glance, it appears that John was preaching that the people be saved by their works. But this part immediately follows after John had told the crowd to “bear fruits in keeping with repentance”. In other words, John had just instructed them to show that their repentance was true. He then gave practical advice for how to show that the had truly turned around.

As part of the practical advice, those who had more should show generosity and give to those who were in need. The tax collectors, known for cheating, were to treat people fairly and honestly. The soldiers were to be content and not to take from others by force.

“When John saw the people were repentant he baptized them and they confessed their sins. He expected them, however, to give some evidence of their sincerity.” – H.A. Ironside6

 

Matthew 3:11-12
“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. 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.”

Mark 1:7-8
And he preached, saying, “After me comes he who is mightier than I, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. I have baptized you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

Luke 3:15-17
As the people were in expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Christ, John answered them all, saying, “I baptize you with water, but he who is mightier than I is coming, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”

But John admitted that his work was only the prelude. A greater one is coming, and whom John did not consider himself worthy of the most menial service (one of the lowest of servant duties was to untie his master’s shoes and wash his feet. See here).

John’s baptism was with water to show their repentance, but One coming would baptize them with the Holy Spirit and with fire. He will give the Holy Spirit without reserve to those who believe (see here), but he has also reserved the fire of judgement for those who do not believe. 10

John concluded his sermon with the analogy of a threshing floor. The king will separate the believers from the unbelievers, the wheat from the chaff. He will store the good wheat and will destroy the chaff with fire.

 

Luke 3:18
So with many other exhortations he preached good news to the people.

John was an Old Testament prophet, yet he was preaching the gospel (literally, “good news”) to the people.

 


 

The Pharisees and the Sadducees

The Pharisees and the Sadducees emerged as rival religious factions during the 400 years between Malachi and Matthew. Under intense persecution from the Greek rulers, a group of Jews, known as the “Hasidim”, banded together and vowed to never compromise with idolatry and the corruption of their leaders. It was from this group that the Pharisees emerged, determined to meticulously keep all of the Jewish law. However, the Pharisees not only followed the scriptures but they gave equal value to their various traditions. By the time of Jesus Christ, the once noble cause had become vain, self-centered, and extremely legalistic. They had become so fixated on their many laws that they left no room for a true change of heart.

The name Pharisee likely came from the Aramaic word perisayya, meaning “separatist”. c

By contrast, an opposite faction also arose during the same period. Unlike the Pharisees, this group advocated working with the government and keeping the peace. By the time of Jesus Christ, this faction, the Sadducees, had lost all belief in the supernatural and denied all of the Old Testament except for the five Books of Moses (Genesis through Deuteronomy).

The origin of the name Sadducee is not as certain. The two most likely possibilities are that:

  • The name originated from the words for “the right” (in contrast to the Pharisees, who were “the separate”)
  • The name originated from Zadok, the High Priest who served under King David (1 Kings 1:32).

The Pharisees were students of the law and controlled the Synagogues in the countryside. The Sadducees were centered in Jerusalem and controlled the high priest and the temple. The Jewish ruling body, the Sanhedrin, was comprised of both Pharisees and Sadducees.

The Pharisees and Sadducees were bitter rivals and opposed each other. It was not until Jesus Christ that they were united by their common hatred against Him. Acts 23:6-10 shows an example where the rivalry escalated into violence.

“The Pharisee was a ritualist; the Sadducee was a rationalist. The Pharisee was a formalist; the Sadducee was a free thinker. The Pharisee was a separatist; the Sadducee was a skeptic. The Pharisee was a commoner, and the Sadducee was an aristocrat. So in terms of where they were in life, there was differences. In terms of what they believed there was a difference. In terms of their approach to religion there was a difference. But I want you to understand one great thing. Though they differed, they were yet in perfect agreement on one thing, and that one thing is this: that you, by your own works, earn whatever you’re gonna get.” – John MacArthur a

 

Sources:


 

[1] Matthew often describes the Messiah’s kingdom as the “Kingdom of Heaven”, while the other gospel accounts use the term, “Kingdom of God”. These terms as essentially synonymous. Most Bible scholars believe that Matthew used the term “heaven” on behalf of his Jewish audience, who held a high reverence for the name of God.

[2] Stanley D. Toussaint, Behold The King, Kregel Publications, 1980, Matthew 3:1-12, pages 58-71

[3] Alfred Edersheim, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, Book II, CHAPTER XI: IN THE FIFTEENTH YEAR OF TIBERIUS CAESAR AND UNDER THE PONTIFICATE OF ANNAS AND CAIAPHAS, A VOICE IN THE WILDERNESS (St. Matthew 3:1-12; St. Mark 1:2-8; St. Luke 3:1-18.)

[4] Some have taken the Kingdom of God as the church. However, as Edersheim says, “‘The Kingdom of God,’ or Kingly Rule of God, is an objective fact. The visible Church can only be the subjective attempt at its outward realisation, of which the invisible Church is the true counterpart.” 3

[5] Warren W. Wiersbe, The Wiersbe Bible Commentary: New Testament, David C. Cook, 2007, Luke 3:1-20, Pages 146-147

[6] H.A. Ironside, Ironside Expository Commentaries, The Gospel of Luke, Address 9, The Baptism of Jesus, Luke 3:1-22

[7] John MacArthur, The Greatest Man, Matthew 3:1-6, 3/19/1978

[8] Stephen Davey, Five Small Locusts and Two Cups of Honey, Mark 1:1-8, 9/27/1987

[9] The soldiers who came to see John were likely Jewish citizens who were enlisted to guard the temple and the Roman interests in the region. It is unlikely that Roman soldiers would have come to John’s baptism.

[10] Bible Scholars have debated the meaning of “baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire”. Some see this as the flames of Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit came upon the apostles, but these were small tongues like fire, and not the immersion into fire that is mentioned here. Others see this as the cleansing of believers by fire (see 1 Corinthians 3:12-15), however this is not readily consistent with the text here. The most consistent explanation is that the fire represents God’s judgement, as it does in the other parts of this passage. 11

[11] John MacArthur, The Fruits of True Repentance, Part 2, Matthew 3:7-12, 4/9/1978

 

1 Comment »

  1. […] About 30 years have passed since the times when Jesus was born (Matthew 1), and when He was visited by the wise men (Matthew 2). Jesus’ relative, John the Baptist, was preaching in the wilderness that the kingdom of Heaven was at hand. Therefore, the people needed to repent, and to be baptized in order to show that they were part of this kingdom (see here). […]

    Pingback by The Initiation of the King | Sapphire Sky — June 5, 2018 @ 11:12 pm


RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

w

Connecting to %s

Blog at WordPress.com.

%d bloggers like this: