Prepare the Way
December 4, 2022 |Prepare the Way | Matthew 3:1-12
This is the second Sunday in Advent. A time of anticipation and longing for the return of our Lord and reflection on his first coming. Last week we looked at what Jesus said concerning his second coming, this week we turn to the situation surrounding the beginning of his public ministry in his first advent, or arrival.
It is hard to tell the story of Jesus and his ministry without beginning with John the Baptist. The forerunner, the cousin of Jesus, and the one who baptized him at the beginning of his public ministry.
John's ministry centered on one word.
Not always a very popular word. As a matter of fact, it may conjure images of fire and brimstone preachers or street corner sign holders with things like 'turn or burn' on them. But whatever your thoughts about it, it is a biblical word. It was John's message, it was Jesus' message, and it is the message of the New Testament writers as well.
As we examine John the Baptist's appearance, preaching, and teaching surrounding this idea of repentance, we are going to look at his ministry under four divisions.
The need for, the act of, the evidence of, and result of repentance.
The Need for Repentance
Matthew 3:1-4 (ESV) 1 In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, 2 “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” 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.’”
4 Now John wore a garment of camel's hair and a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey.
When John the Baptist came onto the scene, there had not been a prophetic voice in some 400 years. The people were looking expectantly for God's messiah and his promised deliverance. John came announcing that good news, God was about to do what he promised, but something needed to happen before. The people needed to prepare to meet the coming King by repenting and turning from their sin.
This was what Isaiah's prophecy said he would do. He would cry out for the people to prepare the way, and John did that by calling Israel to repentance.
What is repentance?
Four Biblical uses of repentance.
A desire to forsake wickedness and live more nobly. (Example- Nineveh)
A saving conversion, turning from sin and to God.
An ongoing process of forsaking our sin after salvation.
A turning to God after a season of coldness or lifeless faith (David or Rev. church of Ephesus)
(Reformed Expository Commentary (28 Vols.) - REC) This passage calls us first to repent of our sins and to turn to God. It urges every man, woman, and child to be reconciled to God by repenting of sin and turning to Christ.
Repentance was needed by John the Baptist's audience and it is still necessary in order to be ready to meet the King!
The Act of Repentance
Matthew 3:5-6 (ESV) 5 Then Jerusalem and all Judea and all the region about the Jordan were going out to him, 6 and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.
People responded to John’s message of repentance by confessing their sins and being baptized by him.
Anytime we talk about repentance, it usually involves three components. Conviction, confession, and commitment. The people were convicted by John's preaching, they confessed their sins, and then expressed their commitment by water baptism.
This baptism was different than what would have been the normal for the Jewish people. There were ceremonial washings of course, and gentile converts were baptized into Judaism as part of their conversion experience. John's baptism was different, it was an outward expression of repentance.
The question for us today is what does repentance look like for us? Without the Jordan, without John's call to repent, and with water baptism taking on a different meaning after the resurrection of Jesus.
The answer is that the mode is not the most important thing, following the Biblical pattern is. When God convicts you of sin, through the power of the Holy Spirit, you confess that sin, and commit to walking in obedience to God. This is the act of repentance.
The Evidence of Repentance
Matthew 3:7-10 (ESV) 7 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? 8 Bear fruit in keeping with repentance. 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. 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.
After John warned the religious leaders that unless they repented they would face the wrath to come, we see in Luke, the people wanted to know what to do after repentance.
What shall we do? (after repentance, faith, and baptism)
Luke 3:10-14 (ESV) 10 And the crowds asked him, “What then shall we do?” 11 And he answered them, “Whoever has two tunics is to share with him who has none, and whoever has food is to do likewise.” 12 Tax collectors also came to be baptized and said to him, “Teacher, what shall we do?” 13 And he said to them, “Collect no more than you are authorized to do.” 14 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.”
In each one of these we hear echoes of Jesus’s consistent message against excess, selfishness, and oppression of the poor. Each one is ‘tailored’ to the particular sins of each person’s situation/lifestyle.
But the root of each response is obedience. Obedience to what God had taught his people, love your neighbor.
How do you know if your repentance is genuine? What does evidence of repentance look like in your life? A change in actions.
A life aligned more and more with God's will, a heart more and more in step with the Father's.
The Result of Repentance
Matthew 3:11-12 (ESV) 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. 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.”
Repentance wasn’t just identifying with John the Baptist’s ministry, it wasn’t just about a change in actions or lifestyle, it was a preparatory experience to being baptized with the Holy Spirit and fire by Jesus. John’s mission was to prepare the way for Jesus.
It is the same for us today. Repentance isn't the end, it is the beginning.
This advent as we turn our hearts and minds to Jesus’s return, John’s message is particularly relevant today.
Repent- for the first time…
Repent- in the areas you have not yielded fully over to Christ…
Repent- of lifeless faith or cooled affections for Jesus…
Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.
Jesus is returning, we must be ready to meet him.
But furthermore, for the believer, this is the message we have been entrusted with as well. There is no heaven without repentance. No one, apart from God’s saving power is ready to meet Christ, and the only way to experience God’s saving power is to turn to Christ in faith and trust, surrendering your life to him and experiencing the saving baptism of the Spirit and the new life that comes with being born again.