DECEMBER 27, 2015
MAIN TEXT: 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.”
In the midst of a lost and broken world, the light of truth has come. Jesus’ first advent marked the arrival of the Kingdom of Heaven. This baby whose purpose was to bear witness to the truth (John 18:37), the truth of who he is.
In our text for today, we are looking intently at the ministry of John the Baptist in preparing the way of Jesus. His voice, which cries out in the wilderness broke the deafening silence that had plagued Israel for over 400 years. God’s voice cried aloud through John, declaring “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 3:2).
What does this phrase mean, that the kingdom of heaven is “at hand”? How are we to understand this in light of the story of the Bible? How are we to appropriate this to our lives today? What significance does this carry for us now?
Matthew, the author of this Gospel, is showing us that John the Baptist came preaching. He was a preacher, whose message was bold, timely and disruptive. His message and method was reminiscent of the prophet Elijah–a great prophet of Israel. He appears at a crucial time, presenting this message as a means of laying a straight highway for Jesus in the hearts of the people. Finally, the power of his message confronts the idolatry, the sin, the wickedness, the self-centeredness, the self-righteousness, the conceit, the pride of the most “religious” in Israel.
So, what are we to make of this phrase that John preaches so boldly and intentionally, “the kingdom of heaven is at hand”? What does he mean by his phrase?
The Kingdom is Here & Is Coming
Are you confused yet? When we talk about the Kingdom of God, we are talking about a reality is here now, but is yet to fully come. We live between the two advents of Christ. This means that the work of redemption has been paid. Christ has come and in his death and resurrection has reconciled the world back to himself (2 Corinthians 5:18-19). Yet, our world remains under the power of the evil one and we experience brokenness, pain and struggle in this time (1 John 5:19).
This may sound strange, but let’s liken it to a pregnant mother. The baby is here but has yet to arrive. The baby is present in the mother–forming and developing the way God designed this process. Yet, the baby has not arrived fully, because we have yet to look upon the baby and the baby us. The mother experiences pain and struggle now, but joy will come at the baby’s arrival.
John declares that this Kingdom is at hand. This moment was spoken of by one of Israel’s favorite prophets, Isaiah. Nearly 750 years before John appears, Isaiah prophesied that there would be a voice in the wilderness saying “Prepare the way of the Lord; make his paths straight”
(Isaiah 40:3) and this is exactly what John is saying and doing.
The Kingdom of God is at hand, because Jesus is here and he is making all things new. This message was disruptive to some in that crowd and I think if we are honest, it disrupts us as well. This Kingdom does not bow to your kingdom. This King does not bend his knee to your rule. Jesus comes and those who have eyes to see and ears to hear will know that he is to be feared and treasured above all the other entrapments of our lesser kingdoms.
The King of the Kingdom
In order to understand this Kingdom, you need to know the King. Listen to how John speaks of this king, namely of his authority and power. He says that he is not worthy to carry his sandals. He says that this king will judge all rightly. There is a boldness that John has, not in himself, but in his king. He knows this king. He knows Jesus.
Is our view of Jesus shaped in this way? Do we realize that our King reigns over all? The truth of Christ is not just truth for Christians, but is truth for the entire world, and more, the entire creation. This kingdom that is “at hand” has cosmic significance.
The Way of the Kingdom
As we listen to John’s words of who Jesus is and what he would do, we need to notice that John’s hope is in this one who is coming after him. John’s cry is to repent. Repentance means that your mind and thoughts have been renewed and your heart and desires have been changed. Repentance calls for a new direction. This is what John proclaims to the crowds, and many experienced this moment of a man who has gripped with the holiness of God and the glory of Christ. They came to him, and like Isaiah the prophet, who saw a vision of God’s glory and immediately becomes aware of his own sin (Isaiah 6:5), they confess their sins and are baptized.
Conversely, there were some there who placed great confidence in their merits. They thought that because of their lineage, they were safe from the wrath to come. The sad reality is that Israel had put their hope in the wrong place. Their eyes had grown to desire their idols and their hearts became dull–their ears deaf, their eyes blind–to that which God was doing. John tells them to “bear fruit”, which was like asking a dead, withered tree to spring forth life. There is nothing that can be done–God must do a work.
How do you know if you trust in Jesus? Look at the fruit of your life. Jesus said that a “healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a deceased tree bear good fruit” (Matthew 7:18). He said that the fruit of our lives shows us something very important–it shows where our hope is. Display King Jesus with your life and show him as the Way to this Kingdom that never ends.
APPLY TO LIFE
This week, as you reflect on the message, utilize this section to help you apply what has been taught to your life. Think of friends, co-workers, neighbors, family etc., that you could meet with to have a time of mutual sharing as you open God’s Word together.
This simple acronym (BLESS, B - Bless, L - Listen, E - Eat, S - Speak, S - Sabbath) should help you to frame your life according to the great commandment “love God” (Matthew 22:37) and the expression of that commandment in loving your neighbor (John 13:34). Each time you meet, start by discussing the rhythms of your life according to B.L.E.S.S.
Intentionally bless: Christ-followers, non-believers and those different than you.
Listen to what God is saying to you, through His Word and others.
Share a meal with a Christ-follower and also a non-believer.
Talk to God through prayer and to others about Jesus through witness.
Be intentional about taking time to both rest and recreate.
DISCUSS THE MESSAGE
Read: Matthew 3:1-12
Think of a time when you repented of something. Describe this moment and reflect on what brought you to the point of repentance.
How does the reality of the Kingdom of Heaven affect the way you think about our world now?
In what ways do you seek to make straight paths for Jesus in your life?
As you encounter the holiness of God, what is the Holy Spirit revealing to you about yourself? What conviction is he bringing about in your heart? To whom do you confess this? Make a plan to share this conviction point with someone this week.