Saturday, September 29, 2012

Jesus' Baptism - Matthew 3:13-17 Bible Commentary

Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to John, to be baptized by him. John would have prevented him, saying, "I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?" But Jesus answered him, "Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness." Then he consented. And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; and behold, a voice from heaven said, "This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased." (Matthew 3:13-17)
The climax of John's ministry was at hand. All of his preaching, all of his pleading for Israel's repentance— even his encounter with the Pharisees— all of it had been leading up to this moment: the coming of the Messiah.

John had labored hard in preparing the Messiah's way. Now he had the privilege of preparing the Messiah Himself for His ministry. This was, in a sense, the fulfillment of all that John had come to do. What better way was there to prepare for the Messiah than to baptize Him? Indeed, Jesus' baptism marked the beginning of His ministry and the descent of John's.

John almost "descended" his ministry too quickly: in his desire to honor Christ, he was nearly blinded to the purpose of his mission. For a moment, He was going to refuse to baptize Jesus, and it was only when he was told, "Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness," that John remembered the work he had been sent to do.

Imagine the splendor of this baptismal scene, nearly equaling in many ways that of the Transfiguration. There stands John, the greatest of the Old Testament prophets, who had gone forth "in the spirit and power of Elijah" (Luke 1:17). On the other side stands Jesus, the Lamb of God, the very One who would take away the sin of the world.

John lowers Jesus into the water, immersing Him completely. Then Jesus reemerges, marking the beginning of His ministry. Suddenly, the Holy Spirit descends upon Christ like a dove, just as Isaiah had prophesied:
And the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him,
the Spirit of wisdom and understanding,
the Spirit of counsel and might,
the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.
(Isaiah 11:2)
Then came the Father's voice from Heaven, "This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased."

Here, at the beginning of Christ's ministry, is the Trinity in full display. From His baptism to His resurrection, the divine nature of Christ was obvious. He was none other than God in human flesh. This Trinitarian baptismal scene shows us what heresy it is to say God is merely one Person, taking upon different forms at different times. For here at Christ's baptism we see the three distinct Persons of the Godhead: the Son clothed in flesh, the Spirit moving like a dove, and the Father speaking from heaven.

What a picture this is of the unity of the Godhead! Here is God, in three Persons, united in the task of the Messiah's mission. Notice especially the glimpse we get in this passage of the love of God. The Son is beloved by the Father! This is not some secret, hidden truth, for the Father's words were not whispered to Christ in midnight solitude— instead, they were proclaimed for all to hear, "This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased."

Jesus' ministry on earth began with baptism, and it would also end with baptism. The second baptism, however, was not with water, but with wrath. On the cross, Christ drank the cup God's terrible, righteous fury, bearing the blow of the axe meant for all sinners, and was submerged in death. On the third day, He rose again from His baptismal grave, defeating the sin's power forever. Let us praise our great Saviour, who was so humbly prepared by John, in order that He might suffer and rise again for us!

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Tuesday, September 18, 2012

A Winnowing Fork and an Unquenchable Fire (Part 2) - Matthew 3:11-12 Bible Commentary

This is part two of a two part series, to go to part one click here.

Picture John now, in the middle of his hellfire and brimstone sermon, splashing around in the Jordan River, proclaiming to the crowds that the coming Messiah, "will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire!"

In other words, John was once again recognizing that He was not the Messiah. The One who was coming was greater, and He would have a greater baptism to offer. Through Christ a baptism with the Holy Spirit would come, but Christ would also bring with Him a baptism of fire— of judgment— a baptism of flaming judgment upon all those who refuse to worship Him.

John was not in the business of preaching light, feel-good messages. He preached the truth, regardless of its terror. John further proclaimed to the crowds concerning the Christ, saying, "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 crowds would have instantly connected with this illustration. At the end of the season, farmers would harvest their crop. But not everything they harvested was worth keeping. To get rid of the worthless, inedible parts of the gathered wheat (the chaff) farmers would toss their crops up into the air with a winnowing fork. All the chaff, which was lighter than the wheat, would blow to the side, but the wheat would fall back down in its place.

That is the image John is after. Christ will find all the hypocrites. When He tosses up the mass of humanity, all the hypocrites will be blown toward their destruction. And what kind of destruction is it? John tells us that they will be burned with fire. That alone would be terrifying, but John tells us more. They will not be burned merely with fire, but with an unquenchable fire.

The penalty for rebellion against God is serious. It is not a momentary thing. You aren't just burned at the stake for five minutes until you suffocate and your body disintegrates. No, it's far worse. This is an unquenchable fire, a fire that cannot be put out.

Oh let us worship and praise the Christ whom John exalts in his preaching! Think for a moment of what Christ bore for you, oh believer! He bore an unquenchable fire, a fire that would be upon you forever and ever. Let such awful thoughts drive you closer to Him, to honor Him more, and to see the greatness of His love.

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Thursday, September 13, 2012

A Winnowing Fork and an Unquenchable Fire (Part 1) - Matthew 3:11-12 Bible Commentary

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. (Matthew 3:11-12)
Picture the scene: John the Baptist is standing knee-deep in the Jordan River. He's in the middle of a sermon. The size of the crowds is at an all time high. People from all over the country, even the Pharisees have come to hear him.

John's sermon on this occasion was especially directed towards these Pharisees, but still applicable to everyone present. See John now, perhaps stooping down, lifting up a cupped-hand full of water, and proclaiming, "I baptize you with water for repentance!"

From the beginning, John's ministry had been about repentance. It was his constant cry that the kingdom of Heaven was at hand, that all sin therefore must be abandoned.

John continued his message on this occasion, saying, "But He who is coming after me is mightier than I." The crowds, perhaps, perked up at this statement. John was talking about the Messiah, the one who would save all of Israel (the home country of most of the listeners) from oppression. John spoke further, saying that this coming King was someone "whose sandals I am not worthy to carry."

This statement might have been too much for some in the crowds. Doubtless, many of the Pharisees in the crowd must have thought that they would be the ones marching beside the Messiah. After all, they had earned it through their piety. The thought of being unworthy to even carry the Messiah's sandals was strange, perhaps offensive.

You see, the Pharisees read the Scriptures. They knew them inside and out, but many of them did not know the God who wrote them. They knew that God was holy, but that truth didn't affect their lives. Although they may have been able to define sin, they were convinced they were free from it.

Sadly, the thoughts among many people in the crowds would not have differed from the Pharisees. After all, the Pharisees were their teachers. The Pharisees were the blind guides, leading their nation into a pit (Matthew 15:14).

Thankfully, not all of Israel followed the Pharisees. There was a remnant of believers who, like John, knew their sin, who knew that they deserved nothing. Like John, they too would have confessed that holding the position of a sandal-carrier was too noble a rank.

Here's the amazing truth, though: the Messiah who came took the position of a sandal-carrier! Jesus did not come to be served, but to serve others, even going so far as to wash his disciple's feet! Let us praise our risen Saviour who, for His own pleasure, bore the blow of the axe meant for our own trunks, who saved us from the wrath we justly deserve!

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Tuesday, September 04, 2012

John The Baptist's Message For the Pharisees And Sadducees - Matthew 3:7-10 Bible Commentary

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. (Matthew 3:7-10)
News about a man named John was spreading. People all over the country were coming. The low and high, the rich and poor, all sorts of people were coming, even the Pharisees and Sadducees.

John must have perked the curiosity of the Pharisees. In John's Gospel, we learn that the Pharisees had sent priests and Levites to question John the Baptist (John 1:24). The Pharisees must not have been satisfied with John's answer, because we soon see them show up in person.

John's first words to the leading religious figures of his day were less than pleasant. John knew that the Pharisees and Sadducees had no desire to repent, so he immediately launched his assault by calling them a "brood of vipers."

Vipers are highly poisonous snakes. John was not complimenting the Pharisees. Instead, he was associating them with death, with Satan himself, who through a snake deceived Eve.

Matthew tells us that John the Baptist directed his attack, "You brood of vipers," at the Pharisees and Sadducees. In Luke, we read that John spoke these words to the crowd (Luke 3:7). Evidently, John's "discussion" with the Pharisees was not private. Instead, this was a message for everyone in the crowds, but it was specifically directed toward the Pharisees and Sadducees— the leaders who were supposed to be guiding Israel in righteousness.

John continues with the words, "Bear fruit in keeping with repentance." As if to say, "Show me the evidence of your repentance. True repentance produces fruit, but where is your fruit? Is your fruit the long prayers that you pray? The large gifts you donate to the sound of trumpets?" Clearly, there was little fruit to be found, and that was John's point.

Any good preacher knows the importance of cutting off objections before they can be made, and that's what John does next, saying, "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 knew what the response from Pharisees and Sadducees would be; he knew that they would claim that their ancestry was what gave them favor before God. But John's message was clear: the axe was laid at the root of the trees. Their ancestry did not matter because they lacked any evidence of inward transformation. They did not truly love God. Thus John warns them, "Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire."

How sharply this must have struck the hearts of the religious authorities and those in the crowds! This was a very different message, one that forced them to examine themselves. And was that not the point of John's ministry, of his life? Had he not been sent by God to prepare the way for the Messiah?

By the grace of God, there were some who were transformed by John's preaching. So great was the transformation of John's followers, that those who truly changed became followers of Christ upon hearing of His death and resurrection (see Acts 19:1-5).

But the Pharisees, for the most part, were not changed by John's preaching. It may have startled a few. It may have led a few to repentance, but for the most part it hardened their hearts even farther.

You see, John the Baptist prepared for the Messiah in more than one way. Yes, he preached repentance and, yes, he also transformed many hearts. But John the Baptist also hardened many hearts, including those of the religious elite, the very same people who three years later had hardened their hearts to such an extent that they handed the Son of the Living God over to be crucified. Let us take such an awful thought as a warning! You must be careful to examine your own life, making sure that you truly belong to Christ. For, if you do not, the axe is laid at the root of your tree. Make sure, then, that you are found in repentance, trusting in Christ!

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