Matthew 3

 

The interval between the last verse of the second chapter and the first verse

of this chapter measures the period of the life of Christ stretching from His

earliest childhood to His entrance on His public ministry, or close

thereupon. Meantime we are here brought to the time when appeared one

of the most distinctly marked, most honored, characters of all history.

John the Baptist, son of Zacharias and Elisabeth, was the child of prophecy.

He was one of the noblest expressions, if not the very noblest, of the true

prophet in his character and work. And as he sealed the testimony of his

life with his life’s blood, it was given him to win the brilliant crown that

awaits the prophet and martyr united in one. This is not the place for

anything resembling a dissertation on the prophetic character in general,

nor on the life and character of John the Baptist in particular. This only is

proposed here, to give expression to what may seem the leading

suggestions of this chapter as to “one called as was” John the Baptist,

prophet and herald of the Teacher, the Example, the Saviour of the world.

 

 

                                                The Herald (vs. 1-12)

 

Parallel passages are found in Mark 1:1-8 and Luke 3:1-18.  In reference to John

the Baptist:

Ø      His public appearance and proclamation (vs. 1-2),

Ø      as foretold by Scripture (v. 3).

Ø      His Elijah-like dress (v. 4).

Ø      He is listened to by multitudes (vs. 5, 6).

Ø      His faithful warning to typical Jews, and his pointing not to

      himself, but to the Coming One (vs. 7-12).

 

The date at which he appeared is stated, in Luke 3:1, to have been in the fifteenth

year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar; i.e. between August, A.D. 28, and August,

A.D. 29.

 

1 “In those days came John the Baptist, preaching in the wilderness of

Judaea,”   In those days; and in those days (Revised Version). Probably

merely contrasting those past days of the beginning of the gospel with the

present, when the evangelist wrote (ch. 24:19, 22, where the days yet future

are contrasted with those present). In Mark 1:9 the expression is used

directly of the Lord’s baptism. And (Revised Version); δέ - de -  those;

Hebrew usage taking up the narrative (compare Joshua 1:1; Judges 1:1;

Ruth 1:1; Esther 1:1). Came; cometh (Revised Version); historic present (compare

ch. 2:19); παραγίνεται paraginetaicame, is coming along, here equivalent to

“come forward publicly,” make one’s public appearance (compare especially

Luke 12:51; Hebrews 9:11; also especially I Maccabees 4:46; also infra,

v. 13 and here, ch. 2:1). John; Johanan. The name occurs first as that

of a high priest in, apparently, the days of Rehoboam (I Chronicles 6:9-10,

Authorized Version). “The Lord is gracious” was a fitting title for

one born by the special grace of God, and sent to be the herald of His grace

to all men (Titus 2:11). The Baptist:

 

(1) The Jews were far from having attained the simplicity of our present

system, by which each person has both a family and a Christian name, and

is thus designated with sufficient exactness for all the ordinary purposes of

life. Their custom of name-giving was, and still largely is, as follows:

 

            (a) A Hebrew name is given to the child at circumcision. This is the holy

            name, and is used at all strictly religious ceremonies; e.g. when called to

            read the Law in the synagogue.

           

            (b) Each person has a name whereby he is known among the Gentiles. This

            is, at the present time, the name used for business and social purposes, and

            may be either Hebrew or of some ether language. It is usually connected,

            either in sound or meaning, with the holy name. So Paul and Saul,

            Didymus and Thomas.

 

            (c) He may have, either as well as or instead of the last, a name which

            designates him more exactly

 

ü      by mentioning his father or some other relation; e.g.

                                    Bartimaeus, Barsabbas (probably);

 

ü      by mentioning some physical, mental, moral, or other

                                    peculiarity; e.g. James the Little, Simon the Zealot,

                                    Barnabas (the son of exhortation), and, from non-biblical

                                    authors, James the Just, Rabbi Judah the Holy, Samuel the

                                    Astronomer, John the Shoemaker.

 

The title “the Baptist” belongs, of course, to this last class, and must have been

given him partly because of the number of persons whom he baptized, and still

more because baptism was the visible and external aim and result of his preaching.

 

(2) What was there new in John’s baptism? In considering this it must be

remembered that

 

            (a) dipping in water had been commanded in the Law as a religious rite to

            priests (Exodus 30:20; 40:12; Leviticus 8:6) on their first

            consecration to their office, and on each occasion that they fulfilled the

            holiest parts of their duties (cf. the sprinklings of the Levites on their

            consecration, Numbers 8:5-22); and to all Israelites in cases of

            ceremonial uncleanness (Leviticus 14:8; Numbers 19:13).

 

            (b) It was very frequent among the Essenes

 

            (c) It was, we can hardly doubt, already customary at the admission of

            proselytes. There are, indeed, no certain allusions in Josephus, Philo, and

            the older Targumists, to the baptism of proselytes properly so called; but:

 

ü      it is distinctly mentioned in the Mishna, and in such a way

     as to imply that it was an ancient custom, for the schools of

     both Shammai and Hillel assume it as a matter of course;

 

ü      as with books, so with customs, acceptance in two bodies

     originally one, as the Jewish and Christian Churches were,

     throws back the book or custom before the date of the

     separation. In other words, it is most improbable that Jews

     would only have begun to practice baptism at the

                                    admission of proselytes after it had been practiced by a body

                                    which had separated from them. Jews would not be likely to

                                    adopt the distinguishing rite of Christians.

 

            (d) Thus already, before John’s time, baptism was largely practiced as a

            symbol of purification from sin and of entrance on a new and holier life.

            Wherein, then, lay the distinguishing feature of John’s baptism? Apparently

            in its being extended to all Israelites, without their having any personal

            ceremonial hindrance, and more particularly in the special aim and purpose

            to which it now referred. It signified the entrance upon a new life of

            expectation of Messiah. As of old, the nation had accepted the offer of

            God’s kingdom, and, having washed their garments (Exodus 19:10,14),

            had been sprinkled with blood (Exodus 24:8), so now, when this

            kingdom, was about to be more fully manifested, not the nation, indeed,

            considered as a whole, but (in harmony with the individualization of the

            gospel) those persons who responded to the invitation, came forward and

            publicly renounced their sins and professed their expectation of the

            kingdom. It is thus easy to account for the deep and widespread

            impression made by John the Baptist (compare Acts 18:25; 19:3),

            and for the important position that he holds in summaries of the origins

            of Christianity. John’s baptism was treated by our Lord Himself

            as the first stage in His earthly ministry, which culminated in the gift of

            the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:5), and naturally by the apostles as the historical

            introduction to the teaching and work of Messiah. Josephus’s account of

            John the Baptist is well known, but too interesting to be omitted. “Now,

            some of the Jews thought that the destruction of Herod’s army [by Aretas]

            came from God, and that very justly, as a punishment of what he did

            against John that was called the Baptist. For Herod had had him put to

            death, though he was a good man, and commanded the Jews to exercise

            virtue both as to righteousness towards one another and piety towards

            God, and so to come to baptism; for baptism would be acceptable to God,

            if they made use of it, not in order to expiate some sins, but for the

            purification of the body, provided that the soul was thoroughly purified

            beforehand by righteousness. Now, as many flocked to him, for they were

            greatly moved by hearing his words, Herod, fearing that the great influence

            John had over the people might lead to some rebellion (for the people

            seemed ready to do anything he should advise), thought it far best, by

            putting him to death, to prevent any mischief he might cause, and not bring

            himself into difficulties by sparing a man who might make him repent of his

            leniency when it should be too late. Accordingly, he was sent a prisoner, in

            consequence of Herod’s suspicious temper, to Machaerus, the castle I

            before mentioned, and was there put to death. So the Jews had an opinion

            that the destruction of this army was sent as a punishment upon Herod, and

            was a mark of God’s displeasure against him” (‘Ant,’ 18:5. 2, Shilleto’s

            Whiston). Observe that:

 

(1) Josephus confirms the Gospel account of the extent of John’s influence

over his countrymen; but

 

(2) attributes his imprisonment and death to a political, not a moral, cause.

It is quite possible, on the one hand, that political reasons were not

altogether wanting; and, on the other, that Josephus was ignorant of the

more personal and stronger motive of Herod’s action. Preaching (κηρύσσων

kaerussonpreaching; heralding; proclaiming). Unlike εὐαγγελίζομαι

 euaggelizomaigood news; glad tidings - this word refers, not to the matter,

but to the manner, the openness, of the proclamation. In contrast to the

esoteric methods alike of heathen philosophers and of Jewish teachers,

whether Pharisees, Sadducees, or Essenes. The herald proclaims as a

herald; compare Isaiah 40:9 (the original context of our v. 3); Genesis 41:43

(Septuagint). In the wilderness. By this term is not necessarily meant

absolute desert, but “des lieux pen habites ou non cultives” (Neubauer,

Geogr. du Talm.,’ p. 52: 1868). The very place in which John preached

was part of the symbolism of his whole life. The expectation of Messiah

must lead to separation, but separation deeper than that of those who

called themselves the “separated’’ (Pharisees). Of Judea. The exact

expression comes elsewhere only in the title of Psalm 63, and in Judges 1:16,

where it is defined as “in the south of Arad.” It seems that, while

different parts of the rugged district from Jericho southwards (Joshua 16:1),

immediately on the west and north of the Dead Sea, had their

distinctive titles — the wilderness of Siph (I Samuel 23:14-15), of Maon

(ibid. v, 24), of Engedi (ibid. ch.24:1), of Jeruel (II Chronicles 20:16),

of Tekoa ( ibid. v. 20) — the whole district was, as belonging to the tribe and

even more certainly to the kingdom and province of Judah, known by the name

of “the wilderness of Judaea.” According to tradition, John was now preaching

near Jericho. We find him soon after this at Bethany beyond Jordan (John 1:28),

and later still at Aenon, near Salim, in, or on the borders of, Samaria (John 3:23).

 

 

 

                                    The Mission of Preaching (v. 1)

 

Preaching in the wilderness of Judaea.” John Baptist was not a teacher; he

was precisely a preacher, in the first and proper sense of that word.

Everywhere in the New Testament it implies proclaiming after the manner

of a herald. It is the term used in the Old Testament of the witnessing work

of the prophets (see Nehemiah 6:7; Isaiah 61:1; Jonah 3:2, etc.).

There is a distinct place for the preacher and for the teacher. They may be

combined in one man, and the processes of preaching and teaching may go

on together; but usually, if a man has the one gift, he has not the other; and

we are constantly making the mistake of expecting a man to have the one

gift because we see plainly that he has the other. Two things are gathered

up in the term “preaching.”

 

  • PREACHING AS PROCLAIMING A MESSAGE. The preacher is but

            the agency, or medium, by means of which a message is conveyed. So John

            calls himself a “voice,” because what he said was the all-important thing.

            This is the idea of the prophet, who was the medium through which a

            message of God was carried into the minds of men. It is essential to every

            preacher that he should have something to proclaim; therefore what

            Christian preachers preach is called the “gospel,” or “good news.”

 

Ø      But the preacher must be sure of his message. Compare the expression

                        used by prophets, “The word of God came to me.” A preacher

                        proclaims, not what he thinks, but what he knows; what he grips as

                        THE TRUTH OF GOD  given him to declare. The “accent of

                        conviction” is the test of the true preacher.

 

Ø      And they who hear must feel convinced of the authority of the

                        messenger. Not an authority arising out of his office, but out of the

                        evidence that he holds a commission, and has a message. In what

                        sense can preachers nowadays be said to have their messages direct

                        from God?

 

  • PREACHING AS PERSUADING TO RESPOND TO THE

            MESSAGE. This brings to view the personal force of the preacher. To be

            a herald HE NEED TO BE BUT A VOICE!   To be a persuader he must

            be a voice with a tone in it; and that tone is the personal element. See, then,

            the kind of preachers that become men of power. They are men who “tell

            the truth;” but they are much more than this — they are men who, like John

            the Baptist, can “make the truth tell.”

 

2 “And saying, Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”

And (omitted by the Revised Version) saying. The parallel

passages give the substance of John’s preaching — the baptism of

repentance. St. Matthew takes, as it seems, a sentence that actually fell

from his lips, and presents it as the kernel of his message (“preaching…

saying”). This is the more interesting as nowhere else are we told any

words uttered by him in this the first stage of his ministry before crowds

flocked to hear him. Repent ye… at hand; said word for word by our

Lord (ch. 4:17, note). Repent ye (μετανοεῖτεmetanoeitebe ye repenting) . The

word expresses the central thought of true repentance, in speaking, as it does, of

a change of mind. Contrast μεταμέλεσθαιmetamelesthairegretting - (ch.27:3;

II  Corinthians 7:8-10). As such it goes deeper than the Old Testament

summons “Turn ye” (שובו), or the rabbinic תשובה, for it points out in

what part of man the alteration must be. (On your meaning more than the

mere thinking power, and including also the willing faculty.   It is noticeable that

the Septuagint never, as it seems, translate שוב by μετανοῖν metanoin - ,, but often

נחם (of man only in Jeremiah 8:6; 31:19; and possibly Joel 2:14; compare I Samuel

15:29), which refers to repentance as a matter of feeling. As Messiah was coming,

it was only natural that John should urge repentance. Similarly, we find late Jewish

writers expounding Genesis 1:2, “‘And the Spirit of God was moving [on the face of

the waters].’ This is the Spirit of King Messiah, like that which is said in Isaiah 11:2,

‘And the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him.’ By what kind of merit does it

draw near and come? It says, ‘upon the face of the waters.’  By the merit of

repentance, which is compared to water, as it is written (Lamentations 2:19), ‘Pour

out thy heart like water’. . But, unfortunately, they assign far too legal a meaning

to the word, and their phrase, “do repentance”  (עשה תשובה), becomes almost

identical with the “do penance” (poenitentiam agite, Vulgate) of the Roman

Catholics (cf. Talm. Dab., ‘Sanh.,’ 97 b).

 

 

            The Plea by Which Repentance is Urged.  (v. 2)

 

“For the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” There seems to be evidence that

Judaea was in a very low moral condition when John the Baptist appeared.

Ceremonial religion took the place of practical righteousness, rabbinical

rules covered personal indulgence and iniquity, luxury enervated the

wealthy, and restlessness led to crime among the masses. It was a time

when a moral reformation was needed, and John was, first of all, a national

reformer. What John sought was the national repentance — the change of

mind of the nation (compare Jonah’s preaching to Nineveh). He dealt with

individuals, not in relation to their private concerns, but as representatives

of the nation; so we find that he convicts of the sins of classes, not of

personal sins. From this point of view John’s work can be effectively

compared with that of the ancient prophets (e.g. Elijah), who were

essentially national reformers. Those old prophets had demanded national

repentance as a preparation for some special manifestation of the delivering

or restoring power of God. The revelation of grace could not come unless

men were morally prepared to receive it. So John pleads that the Messianic

manifestation is close at hand, is at the doors; and there should be

readiness to receive it. Illustrate by the Eastern custom of demanding that

the roads should be repaired when an Eastern king proposed to visit a

district.

 

  • WE CLAIM REPENTANCE BECAUSE GOD WILL JUDGE, Our

            plea is:

o       the sinfulness of sin,

o       the certain consequences of sin,

o       the future judgment on sins.

 

            “Knowing therefore the terror of the Lord, we persuade

            men.” This is right for the individual. Partly right. But even for the

            individual it may be doubted whether the revelation of Divine grace is not a

            more truly humbling force. “A sense of blood-bought pardon soon

            dissolves a heart of stone.”

 

  • JOHN CLAIMED REPENTANCE BECAUSE GOD WILL .SAVE.

            The “kingdom of heaven” is the manifestation of God’s delivering grace

            and power, the fulfillment of the national hope. He says, because God is

            gracious, therefore repent. The apostle ventures to declare that the

            “goodness of God” should “lead to repentance.” And that is true to human

            nature, though doctrinal theologies have tended to obscure the truth. Love

            is the great melting, humbling power. God’s redemption is the true

            convicter of sin.

 

3 “For this is he that was spoken of by the prophet Esaias, saying, The voice

of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make His

paths straight.”  For. The reason for John’s appearance and proclamation lies in

prophecy. This is he that was spoken of (οῦτος γὰρ ἐστινῤηθείς outos gar estin

ho rhaetheisfor this is the one being declared). In John 1:23 the following quotation

is uttered by the Baptist himself, and some commentators have supposed this to be

the case also here. But

 

(1) this is against the parallel passages in Mark and Luke.

(2) The form of the expression in John arises directly from the context.

(3) In the Baptist’s mouth the neuter (τοῦτο... τὸ ῤηθέν touto…..to rhaethen

     that…one ) rather than the masculine would have been more natural.

 

The expression is doubtless that of the evangelist, suggested to him by John’s own

utterance, the “is” (ἐστιν estin - is) expressing John’s permanent character. Contrast

εϊχεν η΅ν -  eichen aen -  had the, (v. 4) of his clothing and food. [He that was] spoken

of. The  expression means, not a mere reference found in Isaiah, but the absolute

content of the prophet’s words. The utterance of God by means of the prophet is —

John the:Baptist. The Prophet Esaias; Isaiah the prophet (Revised Version);

the commoner Greek order (but compare Luke 4:17). The voice, etc. (except

“His” for “our God,” from the Septuagint of Isaiah 40:8). The Hebrew

probably joins “in the wilderness” with “prepare ye,” but St. Matthew with

“crying” (compare v. 1, “preaching in the wilderness,” as probably the Septuagint)

In Isaiah the original meaning of the passage was probably, “prepare for the

return to Jerusalem.” The figure is that of the common and necessary

process in semi-civilized countries of repairing roads before a great

personage comes along them. Zacharias had; years before, applied the

similar expression in Malachi 3:1 to his son (Luke 1:76; compare Mark 1:2). (For a

metaphor like in kind, but with contrasted meaning, compare Galatians 5:7,  

ἐνέκοψενenekopsenhinders -  from ἐγκόπτωenkoptoto cut into - was

used of "impeding"  persons by breaking up the road, or by placing an obstacle

sharply in the path; hence, metaphorically, of "detaining" a person unnecessarily;

(Vine’s Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words); breaking up a road to

render it impassable.) Paths (τρίβους  tribous - highways). According to Philo,

the word is equivalent to “a carriage-road” (ἱππήλατος καὶ ἁμαξήλατος ὁδός vide in

Wetstein). It is thus equivalent to the Hebrew (msillah, “a highway,” “a

made road”). Possibly the plural was employed by the Septuagint rather than the

singular of the original, from their interpreting the passage, not of the

return of the Lord to Palestine, but His coming into many hearts.

 

 

                                    Preparation for Christ (vs. 1-3)

 

It was no accident that brought about the conjunction of the mission of

John the Baptist with the advent of our Lord. A Divine providence, the

purpose of which was declared in an ancient prophecy, connected the two

events. The conjunction is shown by that prophecy not to be like one of

binary stars. The work of Christ is not associated with that of John. The

Baptist is but the forerunner — the pioneer opening up the way for the

glorious King.

 

  • PREPARATION FOR CHRIST IS NEEDED. The Jews were not fit to

            receive their Messiah; they needed the preliminary work of the prophet of

            the wilderness to make them rightly susceptible to the new influences of

            the kingdom. The world will not welcome its Saviour till the way has been

            made ready for His approach. Individual men and women are far from the

            kingdom of heaven, and the intervening district is wild and impassable till

            God makes a providential path across it. The ploughman must precede the

            sower. It is the work of John the Baptists to break up the fallow ground.

            Sometimes the messenger comes in the form of a great sorrow. Men are

            arrested and aroused, made to feel their helplessness and their need. Then,

            but not till then, they may receive the kingdom.

 

  • THE METHOD OF PREPARATION MAY BE VERY UNLIKE THE

            METHOD OF SALVATION. John the Baptist is very different from Jesus

            Christ. The one is a recluse, the other a brotherly, sociable Man; the one

            lives in a wild, antique fashion, the other quite simply and naturally; the one

            speaks in thunder, the other in the still, small voice of sympathy and “sweet

            reasonableness.” Nevertheless, John prepares for Jesus. The furnace that

            melts out the ore is harsh and fierce, yet it is making the metal ready for the

            goldsmith to work up into his beautiful design. Most un-Christlike

            experiences may bring us near to Christ.

 

  • THE ESSENTIAL PRELIMINARY TO THE RECEPTION OF

            CHRIST IS REPENTANCE. The burden of the Baptist’s message was

            “Repent!” It is not to be supposed that he only preached the word. He

            must have labored to produce the thing; he must have made it his aim to

            lead his hearers to a deep sense of their sin. Until a man owns his guilt he

            will not seek pardon. The reason of this is obvious directly it is perceived

            that salvation is just deliverance from sin; for who would wish for such a

            salvation while still clinging to his evil habits? To such a person Christ

            would appear not at all as a deliverer, but rather as an invader, as a robber

            who came to steal the choice treasures of the heart.

 

  • REPENTANCE IS ENCOURAGED BY THE PROMISE OF THE

            KINGDOM OF HEAVEN. That kingdom is near at hand; therefore the

            Baptist urges his hearers to lose no time in making themselves ready for it.

            The vision of the better life reveals the shame and horror of the life of sin.

            If there were no hope there would be no repentance; in such a state the

            awakened conscience could only plunge the soul into remorse — which is

            hell. Therefore the message of the Baptist must be twofold. It is not right

            or wise to preach of sin by itself, nor to try to induce repentance chiefly by

            painting the guilt of the past in the blackest colors. The anticipation of

            Christ is the best inducement to REPENTANCE.

 

4 “And the same John had his raiment of camel’s hair, and a leathern

girdle about his loins; and his meat was locusts and wild honey.”

With this verse we begin to meet with matter peculiar to Matthew and Mark.

And the same John (αὐτὸς δὲ Ἰωάνης – autos de ho Ioanaeshe yet the John).

(For the phrase, compare Mark 6:17; Luke 3:23.)

 

(1) If the Revised Version “Now John himself,” holds good, the phrase

seems to mean that not only did Isaiah speak of him in terms that implied

that he was the forerunner of Messiah, the true Elijah (Mark 1:2), but

also he himself had his very food and dress consistent with his office.

 

(2) But it is safer to take αὐτός as merely recalling the person before mentioned.

“Now he, whom I spoke of, John” (compare II Chronicles 32:30). Had; during all

that time (εϊχεν eichen - had).  His habitual dress, etc., was as follows. Of (ἀπό -

apoof). camel’s hair. Not, as Dgr Old Lat. a in the parallel passage in Mark,

δέῥῤηνderraen pellem, “a camel’s hide,” but coarse cloth made from the hair.

So probably, “hairy man” (II Kings 1:8; Zechariah 13:4). And a leathern girdle.

Probably of sheep or goatskin, worn over the garment. Mentioned because

 

a.       it formed another point of similarity to Elijah;

b.      girdles were frequently very costly (cf. Smith’s ‘Dict. of Bible,’ 1:701).

 

Every part of John the Baptist’s dress was for use, not ornament. And his meat; food

(Revised Version); τροφή - trophaemeat -  not βρῶμαbroma - food. He cared not

what he ate, but what nourished and supported him. Was. The right order of the

words (δὲ τροφὴ η΅ν αὐτοῦ - hae de trophae aen autouthe yet nourishment of him)

lays slightly more stress on the continuance of this mode of life. Locusts. Used for

food in the East from he remotest times until now. Four kinds are permitted in

Leviticus 11:22. “The wings and legs are torn off, and the remainder is sprinkled

with salt, and either boiled or eaten roasted” (Meyer). They are mentioned

in Talm. Bab., ‘Ab. Zar.,’ 4:0 b, as being sold after preservation in wine.

The word ἀκρίδεςakrideslocusts - identification of these locusts with the pods

of the carob, or locust tree, such as the prodigal son would fain have eaten.

It seems that Jewish Christians of Essene and therefore vegetarian

tendencies read ἐγκρίδες enkrides - cakes) here. Such at least is the most natural

meaning, accepted by Epiphanius, of a quotation which he gives from the

Ebionite Gospel according to the Hebrews (vide Tischendorf, in loc.) (On

the theory that John the Baptist was an Essene, cf. Bishop Lightfoot,

‘Colossians,’ p, 161, edit. 1875.) And wild honey. This apparently simple

phrase is, notwithstanding, of doubtful interpretation.

 

(1) Probably the honey of wild bees. This is still to be found in trees and

rocks, and must have been much more common before the greater part of

the timber was cut down (compare Judges 14:8; I Samuel 14:25;

Psalm 81:16). Bee-keeping was a favorite pursuit of the Essenes

(Philo, 2. p. 633), and the Talmud has frequent notices of hives and the

methods of taking bees, etc. (vide Hamburger, ‘Real-Encyc,’ 1. s.v.

Biene”). Hence the need for the addition of some such epithet as “wild,”

although there seems to be no independent parallel instance of the exact

word used (ἄγριον agrion -  wild); cf. Pliny’s “mel silvestre.”

 

(2) Possibly “tree-honey” (so Weiss, ‘Marc.,’ p. 44; ‘Life,’ 1:308), a sweet

vegetable juice obtained from dates (vide Josephus, infra) and grapes (as

probably in Genesis 43:11; Ezekiel 27:17), and perhaps directly from wild

trees, such as the manna ash and the tamarisk. So distinctly Suidas (A.D.

1100). “The forerunner ate locusts and wild honey, which is gathered

together from the trees, and is commonly called manna.” Diodorus Siculus

(B.C. 8) seems to use the epithet “wild” (ἄγριον) to distinguish this

vegetable honey from that commonly in use (cf. Nicholson, ‘Gosp.

Hebrews,’ p. 35). Josephus (‘Bell. Jud.,’ 4:8. 3) states that in the plain

watered by the fountain of Jericho, “there are many sorts of palm trees

watered by it, different from each other in taste and name; the better sort of

them, when they are pressed, yield an excellent kind of honey not much inferior

to other honey. This country withal produces honey from bees.” But the

former interpretation seems the more probable.

 

 

                                                The Herald (vs. 1-4)

 

“In those days,” viz. while Jesus dwelt at Nazareth, the place of separation

and reproach, “came John the Baptist,” viz. to herald Him. Man’s order is

to champion that which is popular, God’s order is to herald TRUTH!  

We note:

 

  • THAT JOHN CAME IN THE QUALITY OF ELIJAH.

 

Ø      In this quality he was predicted.

 

o       Gabriel stood at the right side of the altar of incense, evidently

      in response to the prayer of Zacharias which had ascended with

      the incense. Gabriel promised Zacharias that he should have a

      son in his old age, gave directions for the ordering of the child,

      adding, “And he shall go before the face of the Lord in the

       spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the heart of the fathers to

      the children,” etc. (Luke 1:11-17).

 

o       Gabriel’s words clearly allude to those of Malachi, “Behold, I

      will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great

      and dreadful day of the Lord: and he shall turn the heart of

      the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to

      their fathers,” etc. (Malachi 4:5-6).

 

o       “Elijah,” in these passages, comes in two senses, and on the

      same principle it is evident that the place in Isaiah (Isaiah 40:1-3),

      in the text applied to John, is in its ultimate sense also applicable

      to the Tishbite.

 

Ø      John accordingly behaved like Elijah.

 

o       His dwelling was in the wilderness. There he was brought up

      (Luke 1:80). There he exercised his ministry. Note: We get

      our moral strength for the rough work of life by retirement

      with God.

 

o       John applied to himself the words of Isaiah, “I am the voice,” etc.

      (see John 1:23). Note:

                                   

§         John was simply the “voice,” Jesus is the “Word.”

§         This voice arose out of silence.  Zacharias was dumb until

      he pronounced the name of “John.” So we, until visited

      by the pledges of His mercy and grace, are dumb before

      God.

 

o       His diet was the wild food of nature. “Locusts” were “clean”

                                    (Leviticus 11:22). Our conversation should be pure. “Wild honey,”

                                    whether from the rock in which the bee had swarmed, or the

                                    saccharine exudation from the palm, date, or olive trees (see

                                                                        Deuteronomy 32:13; I Samuel 14:26). Note: Men of heavenly

                                    tempers are not epicures in earthly food.

 

o       He wore a rough garment. This appears to have been the usual

      dress of the prophets (see Isaiah 20:2; Hebrews 11:37). Therefore

      psuedo-prophets assumed it (Zechariah 13:4). John’s garb

      particularly resembled that of Elijah (II Kings 1:8). The girdle

      of dried skin, rough and strong, denoted the wearer to be a

      man of resolution, like his prototype (Luke 12:35; I Peter 1:13).

      Note: If John’s dress was plain in the sight of men, he was

      himself “great in the sight of God”  (Luke 1:15). Let us not

      plume ourselves upon our clothes, or value our fellows by

      outward appearances.

 

Ø      Yet is John distinguished from that prophet.

 

o       He distinguished himself. When priests and Levites demanded if

      he were Elijah, he said, “I am not” (John 1:21).

 

o       Jesus also distinguished him. “If ye are willing to receive it, this is

      Elijah which is to come. So after John’s death He said, “Elijah

      indeed cometh first and restoreth all things” (ch.11:14; Mark

      9:12).   John Baptist did not “restore all things.”

 

o       It is evident that in these prophecies there is a double sense.

      They point to two advents of Jesus. In the first He came to

      set up a spiritual kingdom, and was heralded by Elijah in

      “spirit and power.” In the second He will come to establish

      a visible kingdom, and will be heralded by Elijah in person.

 

  • THAT JOHN CAME TO HERALD THE KING MESSIAH.

 

Ø      His testimony was unequivocal.

 

o       The “Lord” whom he proclaimed is styled “Jehovah” in Isaiah.

      John pointed out Jesus of Nazareth as that very personage (see

      John 1:15, 29).

 

o       Herein was John the greatest of all the prophets (ch.11:9-11).

o       Other prophets gave marks and tokens by which Christ

o       might be known. John pointed Him out IN PERSON!

      The greatest triumph of prophecy is to bring men to the

      personal Jesus, in their very soul to see Him as the

                                    saving Christ.

 

Ø      His qualifications were unimpeachable.

 

o       John was indicated as a prophet of the Lord in the extraordinary

                                    circumstances of his birth (Luke 1:5-25). In these he resembled

                                    Samson and Jeremiah (Judges 13.; Jeremiah 1:5).

 

o       He had his commission immediately from heaven (Luke 3:2).

 

o       The Jews acknowledged him. Multitudes of them came to

      his baptism (v. 6). No one disputed his claims (ch.21:26;

      Mark 11:32 Luke 20:6).

 

o       The testimony of John to Jesus is therefore most valuable. The

      marks by which John identified Jesus as the Christ were Divine

      and inimitable  (John 1:32-34). It is difficult to conceive how

      the unbelieving Jews can dispose of John’s testimony.

 

  • JOHN CAME ALSO TO HERALD MESSIAH’S KINGDOM.

 

Ø      He heralded it as the kingdom of the heavens.

 

o       The Christian discipleship is a kingdom.

§         It has subjects.

§         It has a King.

§         It has laws.

 

o       It is called the kingdom of the heavens.

§         Its principles are those of heaven.

§         In the heavens its principles are made eternal.

§         It prepares its subjects for translation to the heavens.

 

o       It is in “spirit and power” the “kingdom of the God of heaven”

                                    described by Daniel (Daniel 2:44; 7:13-14). In the other Gospels

                                    it is called the “kingdom of God.”

 

o       John, though a priest, never officiated in the temple. But he

      introduced the Lord of the temple (Malachi 3:1). Was there

      not here an intimation that the priesthood of Aaron was now

      to give place to that of Melchizedek?

 

Ø      He proclaimed its near approach.

 

o       The coming of the kingdom in “spirit and power” dates from

      the ascension of Christ (compare Psalm 110:1-2; Luke 19:12-14).

      That event was indeed “at hand,” but not the coming of the

      kingdom in visible glory.

 

o       The spiritual kingdom is entered by faith. Believers do not pass

      out of it at death. In that “article” Jesus, however, comes in

      Person, though invisibly, to receive them to Himself (John 14:1-3).

 

Ø      He therefore preached repentance.

 

o       “The voice,” etc. The imagery here is borrowed from the practice

      of Eastern monarchs, who on taking a journey or going on a

      military expedition, used to send persons to “form the road.”

      So repentance must:

 

§         Bring down the eminences of pride, presumption,

      ingratitude.

§         Fill up the hollows of inattention, apathy, despondency.

§         Straighten the crooked places of prejudice, censoriousness,

                                                covetousness.

§         Smooth the rough places of sabbath-breaking,

      drunkenness, profanity, immorality, instability.

 

o       John’s garb and mode of living preached. His habits were in

      keeping with his doctrine. Sweet is the harmony between the

      lip and life.  (Our lips do not promise that which our hearts

      cannot keep!  CY – 2015)

 

o       The time of his preaching was opportune. Jewish writers admit

      that their nation was then fearfully degenerated. They soon

      filled up the measure of their iniquity. No preaching was more

       needed than that of the Baptist.

 

o       The place also was opportune. The mind of every man, whether

      Jew or Gentile, is like the wilderness in which John preached,

                                    and needs his  stirring words.

 

 

5 “Then went out to him Jerusalem, and all Judaea, and all the region round

about Jordan,” Then. Not merely temporal, as probably in v. 13, but almost

consequential, “thereupon”; so also v. 15; ch. 2:7, 16. John’s preaching and manner

of life were not without effect. Went out; ἐξεπορεύετο exeporeuetowent out

 (similar in the parallels). Our Lord, when referring to this (ch. 11:7-9), uses

the commoner ἐξήλθατε exaelthateye came out, merely indicating

the crowds leaving for a while their present surroundings. The synoptists

here point rather to the trouble involved and the distance traversed (compare

Mark 6:11 with 12). The singular is used (as often in the Hebrew)

because the writer’s first thought was of Jerusalem; the other parts were

added as an afterthought. All (compare ch. 8:34); i.e. from all parts and

in large numbers. Judaea. Strictly speaking, this would, of course, include

part of the next expression, but the reference here is especially to the hill

country.  And all the region round about Jordan; i.e. the inhabitants of

the Ghor, the Jordan valley. They presumably came from either side of the

river. “Strabo, concerning the plain bordering on Jordan, hath these words:

It is a place of an hundred furlongs, all well watered, and full of

dwellings” (John Lightfoot, ‘Her. Heb.’).

 

There was a fascination about John the Baptist which drew all classes. The very

sight of an old prophet of the extinct type was worth a day’s journey to the

wilderness. It became the fashion to see John and be baptized. The authorities

paid him a compliment they can have paid to very few — they sent a deputation

to ask him if he was the Messiah. (John 1:19-24)  But a public character or a

preacher may be very popular, and yet the impression he makes may be superficial

and transitory.   Some were guided to Jesus by John, but it is difficult to say how

far he succeeded in his object.

 

6 “And were baptized of him in Jordan, confessing their sins.”

And (they, Revised Version) were baptized. The Revised

Version probably desires to call attention to the change in the verb from

singular to plural. In Jordan; in the river Jordan (Revised Version, with

manuscripts). So also parallel passage in Mark. By him; i.e. their baptism was

not self-imposed, but an act of submission to his teaching, and of acceptance

of his message. The forerunner saw results, not merely in crowds of listeners,

but in external actions. By him (contrast John 4:2). Confessing their sins;

i.e. in at least some detail; cf. Josephus, ‘Ant.,’ 8:4. 6, “confessing their sins

and their transgressions of the laws of their country” also Acts 19:18,

“confessing and declaring their deeds” (compare James 5:16).

 

The faithful warning (vs. 7-12)   (Parallel passage: Luke 3:7-9, 16-17.)

Observe that this is before the baptism of our Lord, while the witness

in John 1:19-27 is after.

 

7 “But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees come to his baptism,

he said unto them, O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the

wrath to come?”  But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees. The

typical Jews, considered as one class (τῶν Φαρισαίων καὶ Σαδδουκαίων – ton

Pharisaion kai Saddoukaionof the Pharisees and Sadducees), in contrast to the

multitudes. Pharisees. Their characteristic is shown in their name, “Separatists;” i.e.

from anything that would hinder exact obedience to the Mosaic Law. Hence they

are the strict adherents of tradition. They ultimately gained the ascendancy, and, in

consequence, the standard Jewish books represent the result of their

teaching, They belonged almost entirely to the middle classes. Sadducees.

They were chiefly of the noblest, especially the high-priestly, families.

Hence their first thought was political quiet, and with this they not

unnaturally combined the love of Greek culture. They set the plain meaning

of the Law far above all tradition, even that of the Prophets and the

Hagiographa. Come (Obtains, Revised Version) to his baptism;

ἐρχομένους ἐπὶ τὸ βάπτισμα erchomenous epi to baptismacomin on the

baptism (omit αὐτοῦ - autouof him).They were apparently not

merely coming to see what took place, but with the purpose of receiving

his baptism - Luke 23:48. The marginal reading, however, proposed by the

American Revisers “for baptism,” does not do justice to the article. The Gospel

according to the Hebrews (Resch, ‘Agrapha.’ p. 343) says that they were

in fact baptized, but we can hardly suppose this to have been the case after

John’s words to them. Observe that the Pharisees, with their self-conscious

sanctity, were hardly likely to come to confess their sins, or the Sadducees

to even listen to so ascetic a teacher. He said unto them; i.e. to the

Pharisees and Sadducees; Luke, less exactly, “to the multitudes that went

out to be baptized of him.” There is, indeed, nothing, save the opening

sentence, which refers solely to the Pharisees and Sadducees; but this fact

does not show that the words were really spoken to all, and that

Matthew’s expression is wrong. John doubtless addressed the Pharisees

and Sadducees primarily; but as, after all, they only formed the apex of

ordinary Jewish thought, what he said to them fitted also the majority of

his listeners. O generation (ye offspring, Revised Version) of vipers! The

simile not only expresses the thought that, behind their smooth exterior, the

outward legal strictness of the Pharisees, and the worldly decorum of the

Sadducees, lay hidden malice and venom, but also that this is due to their

very nature. It may have directly implied that they belonged in a true sense

to the seed of the serpent (Genesis 3:15); of our Lord’s words

(Matthew 12:34; 23:33). Who hath (omitted by the Revised Version)

warned you? The verb (ὑπέδειξεν hupedeixenwarns; intimates) has

elsewhere in the New Testament (St. Luke’s writings only) no thought of

warning, nor of secrecy, but of teaching, of placing the matter under the eyes

of others (compare especially Acts 9:16; 20:35; Luke 6:47). John is making no

inquiry for information, but only utters surprise at seeing them (compare ch.23:33,

πῶς φύγητε – pos phugaetehow ye may be fleeing). Whoever can have told you

of your danger? He might have saved himself the trouble, you being what you are!

Yet the very violence of his expression was such as to call their attention to the

depth of their sinfulness, and after all to lead them perhaps to repentance. For this

reason he adds, “Bring forth therefore.” To flee; aorist, not exactly indicating the

activity as momentary, setting forth the point of time when the wrath

breaks forth, in which the flight also is realized, but the flight as

one single action, without any reference to the time of the breaking forth of

the wrath. From. The wrath is pictured as coming on them from without.

In I Thessalonians 1:10 Paul says that Jesus delivers out of (ἐκ - ek) it,

implying that he himself and all men are naturally in and under it (but see

ch.6:13, note). The wrath to come. Perhaps connected in John’s mind with

the wrath of the Messianic age (Isaiah 63:3-6). If so, it would find its primary

fulfilment in the destruction of Jerusalem, but its complete fulfillment only in the

manifestation of the wrath at the last judgment — (Acts 24:25; compare Romans

2:5; 5:9; Revelation 6:16-17; 11:18). Wrath. Not merely punishment. The thought

is of the feeling of anger against sin in him who punishes it (compare ch.18:34; 22:7;

Mark 3:5).

 

8 “Bring forth therefore fruits meet for repentance:” Bring forth therefore

(vide supra) fruits; fruit (Revised Version). The plural is due to a false reading

taken from the parallel passage of Luke — it regards the various graces of a good

life as so many different fruits (ch. 21:43); the singular, as one product from one

source (Galatians 5:22). The term used here (ποιήσατε οὖν καρπὸν poiaesate oun

 karponproduce ye fruits), and frequently, lays more stress on the effort involved

than ἐδίδου καρπόνedidou karpongave; brought forth fruit -  simple “yielding”

(ch. 13:8), or φέρειν pherein - bearing in the course of nature (ch.7:18; Mark 4:8;

John 15:4-5, 8, 16). The preacher requires a repentance which produces results. Meet for

(oompare Acts 26:20). Though strictly meaning “suitable to” (“answering to,”

Authorized Version margin; cf. Tyndale, ‘belonging to”), the phrase

might today be understood as “suitable to produce.” John really means

that true repentance has fruit which belongs to its proper nature, and which

is alone “worthy of” it (Revised Version). Repentance (τῆς μετανοίας taes

metanoiasof repentance).  The article is either generic (Authorized Version

and Revised Version; compare Acts 11:18 and probably 26:20); or equivalent to

“your” (Revised Version margin). If the latter, the following sentence shows that it

is still said in good faith. (For repentance, compare v. 1, note.)

 

 

                                    The Fruit of Repentance (v. 8)

 

John sees a great danger. His preaching is immensely popular. Even the

insincere are drawn under the spell of his oratory, and his rousing

eloquence is enjoyed on its own account by many who refuse to obey its

ideas. He is the lion of the season, and society runs after him as after the

latest fashion. To one in dead earnest, as John was, this must have been

perfectly abhorrent. Then no doubt there were sentimental, superficial

hearers who were really impressed by his preaching for the time, but on

whom the effect of it was merely emotional. Such people needed to see

that they must have a repentance deeper than the tears of a day.

 

  • REPENTANCE MUST BE IN THE WILL AS WELL AS IN THE

            EMOTIONS. It is easy to feel sorry for the wrong one has done; yet this

            feeling may not carry with it any determination not to repeat the wrong. A

            wave of emotion may sweep over the soul, and during its passage all love

            of sin may be buried, and only the most becoming ideas appear on the

            surface. But they will be but froth and foam melting into nothing, and they

            will vanish with the retreating wave, leaving the hard rock beneath quite

            unmoved. There is no real repentance until the will is touched, until the

            penitent resolves to abandon his sin and to seek a better life. He may well

            see that he cannot do this himself; his sin is too strong for him, and the

            better life is above his reach. Repentance is not regeneration, but it is a

            sincere desire for a new life, an honest determination to seek it.

 

  • TRUE REPENTANCE WILL REVEAL ITSELF IN CONDUCT. It

            has its fruits. No one can be really turning round from sin and setting his

            face towards the light without some results appearing in his behavior. He

            will not immediately step on to the pedestal of the saint. He will be still

            down in the darkness, feeble, depressed, guilty, and conscious of guilt. But

            every action will show that he is trying to reach after better things, even

            though they may be still far beyond his grasp. Lorenzo di Medici on his

            death-bed sends for Savanarola and, in terror of the torments of hell, begs

            to be assured of the Divine forgiveness. The stern reformer bids the dying

            man return their possessions to those whom he has robbed, and set his

            imprisoned enemies free, and he consents. Then Savonarola makes a third

            demand, that the tyrant will restore their liberties to the Florentines. This is

            too much for him; he turns away in silent refusal and dies unrepentant —

            and therefore unshriven.

 

  • IT IS THE DUTY OF THE PENITENT TO CULTIVATE FRUITS

            OF REPENTANCE. People sometimes distress themselves with the fear

            that they have not repented sufficiently to receive the pardon of God. But

            they make a mistake if they suppose that the exciting of deeper feelings of

            compunction or the shedding of more tears is what God requires. Let them

            leave their emotions to take care of themselves, and set their attention on

            their conduct. (better, the Word of God – we base our faith on what God

            tells us - NOT ON HOW WE FEEL! – CY – 2015)  This does require

            thought and effort. Yet the very fact that repentance must bear fruit shows

            that it is more than a work of man’s production. Therefore it is necessary to

            seek the “grace” of repentance, to pray for the Spirit of God to make the

            true fruits appear. Lastly, let it be remembered when they do appear they are

            not all we need; they are only the signs of a right state of mind fur receiving

            forgiveness.

 

9 “And think not to say within yourselves, We have Abraham to our

father: for I say unto you, that God is able of these stones to raise

up children unto Abraham.”  And. An additional warning against any false

feeling of security based on natural privileges. As this feeling was common to all

Jews, the reference to the larger audience (v. 7, note) was probably begun here.

Think not to say. Not do not think, consider, with a view to saying; but do

not think it right to say, do not be of opinion you may say (Luke 3:8,

“Begin not to say”). St. Luke deprecates the commencement of such an

utterance in their heart; St. Matthew denies its justice. Within yourselves;

compare Esther 4:13 (Hebrew). We have Abraham to our father. As it was

recognized on all hands that the promise of blessing was made to Abraham

and his seed, it is no wonder that many Jews presumed upon their descent

from him, “supposing,”, as Justin Martyr says (‘Trypho,’ § 140.), that the

everlasting kingdom will assuredly be given to those who are of the seed of

Abraham according to the flesh, although they be sinners and unbelieving

and disobedient towards God.” In later times, when the doctrine of merit

was more fully established, God could be represented as saying to

Abraham, “If thy children were like dead bodies without sinews or bones,

thy merit would avail for them” (‘Ber. Rabb.,’ on Genesis 15:11).  In John’s

words, on the contrary, we have the germ of the doctrine afterwards brought out

by St. Paul (e.g. Galatians 3:9, 29), that not natural descent, but spiritual relationship

by faith, leads to inheriting the promises. The argument in John 8:39, etc., is closely

akin to that presented here. In both passages the Jews lay stress on their origin

from Abraham; in both the answer is that morally they are sprung from a

very different source (supra, v. 7, note). But in John 8. the Jews are

thinking chiefly of their present state, of not being as sinful as Jesus makes

them out to be, while here they are thinking more of the future, that they

have no need to take trouble, because promises for the future belong to

them. Hence, perhaps, the exact expression (contrast John 8:33), “We

have Abraham as father,” which brings out the protecting influence of

Abraham as still available. For I say unto you (λέγω γὰρ ὑμῖν lego gar humin).

The solemnity of the phrase (ch.6:25, 29; 8:11; 11:9) lies in the self-consciousness

which it implies. The absence of the ἐγώ - ego – I) shows that the speaker has no

desire to bring out his own personality (contrast ch.5:22, etc.), but the message only.

That God. Not “the LORD,” because

 

 (1) the thought is of power rather than of covenant relationship;

(2) he is about to speak of others than members of the covenant nation.

 

Is able of these stones. These; apodeictic (ch.4:3). Some have

thought that by these stones John directly means certain Gentiles who were

standing near; but it is much mere likely that he points to the literal stones

at his feet, and with strong hyperbole says that he who once raised up

offspring as the stars for multitude from persons as good as dead

(Romans 4:19), and who had originally made man of the dust of the

earth, can (δύναται dunataiis able), with both physical power and moral right,

raise out of the very rawest material a new Israel (compare Romans 4:17; I Corinthians

1:28,  “the things that are not”). Raise up. The verb employed (ἐγείρω egeiro

to raise; to rouse)  is, as it seems, not used in the Septuagint. with reference to natural

generation, but ἀνίστημι - anistaemito make to stand up (compare Genesis 38:8,

ἐξανίστημιexanistaemito raise up - Genesis 4:25; 19:32; compare also here,

ch.22:24). It is, however, very suitable here, for while ἀνίστημι regards future worth,

ἐγείρω specially contrasts a later with an earlier state (e.g. sleep) — in this case the

nature of children with the insensibility of stones. Children. The new Israel would

possess, not merely Abraham’s privileges, but his nature and character (τέκναtekna

children), in which you to whom I now speak are so deficient.

 

 

            The Subtlety of Self-Deception (v. 9)

 

The Jews always were, and still are, remarkable for their pride of race; for

their confidence of acceptance with God on the simple ground of their

Abrahamic relations. And there was a certain amount of reasonable ground

for such pride. The Abrahamic was a privileged race; it did stand in a

special covenant with God. But, in a subtle way, this merely outward

relationship had come to be used as an excuse for neglecting personal

piety. Their relation to God was secure for this life and any other, and

therefore all anxiety was removed, personal religious concern came to be

regarded as a work of supererogation. Illustrate by the deceptive influence

of antinomian tenets. How easily they take on a garb of supreme piety, and

yet hide out of sight negligences, and even permitted moral evil! In many

subtle ways men try to deceive themselves into the idea that race-relations,

formal connections, will suffice to secure their eternal safety. In so many

forms men say, “We have Abraham to our father;” all is well. Men are glad

to get away from the searching spiritual, from that personal Word of God

which is “a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.” They can do

with general and official relations with God; they cannot do with personal

relations. There is a thrill of fear if prophets abruptly say, “Prepare to meet

thy God.” So they are willing to be deceived. This deception, which John

Baptist deals with so scornfully, put on a semblance of piety. Who could

take exception to it? And yet the relationship was not necessarily a spiritual

one. They are the true children of Abraham who inherit Abraham’s faith.

This the classes John reproved did not care to see. Spiritual relationships

are the only important relationships. Work out two thoughts.

 

  • RELIGIOUS SELF-DECEPTIONS PROVIDES BODILY

      OCCUPATIONS AND RELATIONS IN PLACE OF SPIRITUAL

      ONES.   

 

Ø      Routines,

Ø      ceremonials,

Ø      relationships.

 

  • RELIGIOUS SELF-DECEPTIONS PUT MAN’S AUTHORITIES IN

      PLACE OF GOD’S. Ministries of helpfulness man may provide; “dominion

            over faith” even the great apostle steadfastly refused to claim.

 

10 “And now also the axe is laid unto the root of the trees: therefore every tree

which bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire.”

And now also; Revised Version, and even now. “And” (δὲ - de - and),

slightly adversative. In contrast to the delay supposed in v. 9a,

preparations have already been made for your destruction. The axe is laid;

Revised Version, is the axe laid; bringing out more emphatically its present

position. The American Revisers propose, “the axe lieth at,” avoiding the

suggestion of an agent; but κεῖμαιkeimaiis lying -  often implies one, being

used of vessels set ready for use; e.g. John 2:6; 19:29 (compare Revelation 4:2).

Unto (πρὸςpros - toward); brought near to. Therefore. The axe is lying

there, therefore every useless tree is sure to be cut down (cf. Winer, 40:2, a).

Every tree, etc.; even the noblest. However good the tree ought to be, from the

character of its original stock (you claim to be Abraham’s children, v. 9), yet, if it

does not bear good fruit, it is cut down (ch.7:19, note). Into the fire (εἰς πῦρeis  pur).

Not into a fire prepared with a definite purpose, nor into any one fire pictured as

burning (ch.17:15; compare τὸ πῦρ – to pur -  the fire - John 15:6), but into fire

generally, which may be in many different places. Worthless trees are only for

burning. (For thought, compare Hebrews 6:8.)

 

 

                        The Axe at the Root (vs. 9-10)

 

Here we have an insight into the method of John the Baptist. We see how

he led his hearers to repentance. He found them too often soothing their

consciences in a false security, and quite blind to the danger that threatened

them. So he set to work first to destroy the false security and then to reveal

the imminent danger.

 

  • A GREAT DELUSION. (v. 9.)

 

Ø      Its excuse. The Jews prided themselves in their pedigree. They were

                        Abraham’s children, and they expected to be favored on account of

                        their great ancestor. Glorious promises had been made to Abraham

                        and his seed; the Jews were the seed of Abraham; therefore they

                        concluded that the promises were for them, and that no final harm

                        could come near them. The same delusion is found in those people

                        who comfort themselves with the thought that they belong to a

                        Christian Church, that they are members of a Christian family, that

                        in some way they are included in a Christian covenant, although there

                        is nothing Christian in their character and conduct.

 

Ø      Its mistake. There is no such thing as hereditary salvation. The children

                        of a saint will suffer the doom of sinners if they are sinners, quite as

                        much as the children of a sinner; nay, even a worse doom, because

                        their advantages are greater. It is true that great promises are laid up

                        for the children of Abraham; but only they are his true children

                        who have their ancestor’s faith. The Jews could not but admit that

                        the Arabs were children of Abraham, yet they did not extend to

                        them the hope of Abraham’s blessings. It might have been urged

                        that the Israelites cannot perish because, if they were lost, God

                        would not have a people on whom He could fulfill His great

                        promises  to Abraham. This would be to limit the power of God,

                        to forget His resources. If He wanted other children He could raise

                        them from the very stones of the wilderness. He did raise them

                        from the Gentile peoples. We are none of us necessary to God.

 

  • A NEAR DANGER. (v. 10.) This question of Abraham’s family is

            not a subject for quiet speculation only. Soon the futility of the theory of

            the Jews with which they quiet their fears will be apparent. The axe is

            already lying by the root of the tree. The Roman power that is destined to

            cut down the Jewish state is close at hand.

 

Ø      Its unsuspected presence.

 

o       The tree is still standing — a great tree, with massive trunk and

                                    spreading branches. An imposing presence suggests strength

                                    and security.

 

o       The tree is vigorous. Its stem is not rotten. But it is bearing

      no good fruit, and it is cumbering the ground; in these facts

      is its danger.

 

o       The axe is unseen. It lies at the root — perhaps hidden among

      the grasses. Yet the place where it lies suggests utter destruction.

      We do not see dangers lurking at our feet.

 

Ø      Its fatal power. That cold gleam of steel at the root of the tree — how

                        frightfully suggestive it is!  It is a small thing by the side of the giant

                        of the forest. Nevertheless how soon can it bring the proud tree

                        crashing to the ground! No one can escape from the keen blows

                        of the axe of GOD’S JUDGMENT!

 

Ø      Its merciful warning. Why is the axe laid at the root of the tree? why is

                        it not used at once? Here is mercy in the midst of judgment. The Baptist

                        points to the axe that he may drive his hearers to repentance. Our

                        attention is drawn to it that we may escape — though at the eleventh hour.

 

11 “I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance. but He that

cometh after me is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to

bear: He shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost, and with fire:”

(Compare especially John 1:27; Acts 13:25; also 19:4.) After

our v. 10 St. Luke inserts details of the various kinds of fruit that

repentance ought to produce, suggested by the questions of different

portions of the Baptist’s audience; and then, with an explanatory note that

John’s words were due to a misconception having arisen that he was

himself the Messiah, he adds what we have in vs. 11-12. But even if

vs. 10-12 were, in fact, not said consecutively, yet their juxtaposition here

may be defended by the real connection between the statements. In v. 10

John has spoken of the present danger of his audience; he therefore now

urges repentance, and that in view of the coming of One who will sift them

to the uttermost. With water; in, Revised Version margin (ἐν - en - in), and so in

the second part of the verse. The thought is not of the instrument by which

the baptism is effected, but of the element in which it takes place. “In”

suggests more complete submergence of the personality. But he that

cometh after me. The expression would recall the thought of  “the Coming

One” — a common designation of Messiah (ch.11:3; 21:9). Is

mightier than I. Not in authority (the next clause), nor in honor

(John 1:30), but in inherent strength and power. Whose shoes. Though

shoes or boots were usual in the winter, at all events later, and probably

also now, yet sandals are doubtless meant. “In the Septuagint and Josephus

σανδάλιον sandalion - sandals (Mark 6:9; Acts 12:8) and ὑπόδημα hupodaema

shoes; sandals - [here] are used indiscriminately. Worthy. In moral sufficiency

(ἱκανός hikanosworthy; competent; sufficient) , and so in the parallels, but

(ἄξιος axios - worthily) in moral desert in John 1:27. To bear; complementary 

to “loosen” in the parallel passages. The duty of slaves of the lowest rank.

The distance of superiority here attributed by John to “Him that cometh after me,”

must be reckoned even greater than it usually is; for most of the slaves then held

by Jewish masters would not be Jews, but Gentiles. The thought is, “I am further

removed from my successor than the meanest Gentile slave is from his

Jewish master.” Some have seen in this expression a reference to the

practice of disciples carrying the shoes of their teachers, but this can hardly

have been general so early. He. The emphasis is made the more evident by the

absence of any connecting particle. Shall baptize you. “The transference of the image

of baptism to the impartment of the Holy Spirit was prepared by such passages as

Joel 2:28 (Acts 2:17)” (Bishop Westcott, on John 1:33); compare also Ezekiel 36:25-27,

where the symbol of cleansing by water and the gift of the Holy Spirit are closely

connected. With the Holy Ghost, and with fire (ἐν Πνεύματιυ Ἁγίῳ καὶ πυρί -

en Pneumato Hagio kai puriin the Holy Spirit and fire.  To the visible John

contrasts the invisible, nto the symbol of water the reality of the Spirit; adding

(here and in the parallel passage in Luke) to this, which forms the main point of the

contrast (compare Mark 1:8; John 1:33), the thought of Malachi 3:2, purification

as by fire; and, by not placing it under the government of another preposition

(which would have necessitated the conception of it as a distinct element) implying

that it is only another aspect of one and the same baptism. It has been questioned,

indeed, whether “fire” here refers to the purification of the godly who truly accept

the baptism of the Spirit, or to the destruction of the wicked, as in vs. 10, 12. But the

thought is one.  The Divine presence will in fact, as is recognized by Isaiah (Isaiah

33:14; 31:9), be twofold in its working, according as it is yielded to or the

reverse. It burns away sin out of the godly, and it consumes the ungodly if

they cleave to their sin.        

 

 

                                    The Twofold Baptism (v. 11)

 

The author of ‘Ecce Homo’ suggests the distinction between the baptism

of John and the baptism of Jesus, which John himself puts in such strong

contrast. “Christ was to baptize with a Holy Spirit’ and with fire. John felt

his own baptism to have something cold and negative about it. It was a

renouncing of definite bad practices. The soldier bound himself to refrain

from violence; the tax-gatherer, from extortion. But more than this was

wanting. It was necessary that an enthusiasm should be kindled. The

phrase, ‘baptize with fire,’ seems at first sight to contain a mixture of

metaphors. Baptism means cleansing, and fire means warmth. How can

warmth cleanse? The answer is that moral warmth does cleanse. No heart

is pure that is not passionate; no virtue is safe that is not enthusiastic. And

such an enthusiastic virtue Christ was to introduce.” This suggestion helps

us to a more precise view of the distinction between the two baptisms, and

the relation of one to the other.

 

  • WATER-BAPTISM IS THE TYPE OF PUTTING OFF SURFACE

            ACTS OF SIN. Attention should be fixed on the ministry of water. It

            washes off; it cleanses surfaces. “The result of John’s baptism, even for

            those who received it faithfully, did not go beyond the change of character

            and life implied in repentance.” Illustrate by the advice given to the

            different classes who came to John. They were to cease their wrong-doing,

            to put away their characteristic faults, to wash off their particular sins from

            the record of their lives. In a similar way Isaiah pleads, “Wash you, make

            you clean; put away the evil of your doings from before mine eyes; cease to

            do evil” (Isaiah 1:16). This is the proper beginning of moral reformation;

            but it is only a beginning.

 

  • FIRE-BAPTISM IS THE TYPE OF BURNING OUT THE SOUL OF

            SIN, THE LOVE OF SIN. Fire is a cleanser; it is, indeed, the supreme

            cleanser, because it searches into the very substance of a thing. So fire is

            applied to metals. The fire is to “try every man’s work, of what sort it is.”

            (I Corinthians 3:13)  Christ is to deal with that spiritual condition out of

            which the acts of sin come. To put the matter sharply, John only dealt with

            actions and opinions.  Christ deals with feelings, and will; cleansing the

            very thoughts of the heart.

                                             

12 “Whose fan is in His hand, and He will throughly purge His floor, and

gather His wheat into the garner; but He will burn up the chaff with

unquenchable fire.” Whose fan. The pronged winnowing-fork which throws

up the grain against the wind. The Coming One is to put an end to the present

mixture of chaff and corn. He will thoroughly purge the threshing-floor of this

world, gathering the good into one safe place, and destroying the evil. The figure

of winnowing comes not unseldom in the Old Testament (e.g. Jeremiah 15:7; 51:2),

but generally with the sole idea of destruction of the ungodly, not with that

of separating so as to also preserve the godly (yet compare Psalm 139:3,

margin - winnowest; Amos 9:9). Is in His hand. The figure is stronger than that in

v. 10, where the instrument was only lying ready to be taken up. But that

was an instrument of destruction alone. And He will throughly purge;

cleanse (Revised Version); permundo (Vulgate); διακαθαριεῖ - diakathariei he

shall be scouring – the preposition is intensive, not local. His. Observe the threefold

αὐτοῦ - autouof Him - referring to hand, flour, corn — personal agency, sphere,

ownership. In the Vatican and some other manuscripts it is found also after “garner;”

but this is, perhaps, introduced from the parallel in Luke. Floor; threshing-floor

 (Revised Version). Not the barn that English-men think of, but an open and

level space (for the figure, compare especially Micah 4:12). Here the

threshing-floor is equivalent to the scene of the Lord’s operations, i.e. the

world, or rather the universe.  The present mixture of good and evil shall be brought

to an end.  And gather together, from different parts of the threshing-floor, or from

intimate association with the chaff, into one heap. All true believers shall

finally be brought to perfect unity (compare ch. 13:30).  His wheat. The

term is adopted by Ignatius (‘Ram.,’ §4): “I am the wheat of God, and I am

ground by the teeth of wild beasts, that I may be found pure bread [of

Christ].” Into the garner. The final home of the saints, hidden away and

safe from all marauders. Garners in the East are generally subterranean

vaults or eaves (but compare Luke 12:18). But will burn up. Utterly

consuming it (contrast Exodus 3:2), as the tares (ch.13:30, 40) and the books

of magic (Acts 19:19). The chaff. For, as Jeremiah says (Jeremiah 23:28) when

comparing a mere dream with a message from the Lord, “What is the chaff to the

wheat?” The Targum even interprets Jeremiah’s words of the wicked and the

righteous. The chaff in Jeremiah includes the straw, for in the East everything

except the actual grain is generally burnt, and is sometimes used for heating

fireplaces (Mishna, ‘Sabb.,’ 3:1; ‘Parah,’ 4:3). With unquenchable fire.

“Unquenchable” shows that John is here thinking not of the figure of chaff

but of the persons figured by it. But what does the word mean? In itself it

might mean that the fire cannot be overcome by the greatness or the nature

of the mass that it has to consume; i.e., to drop the figure, by either the

number or the character of the wicked. But from its usage it seems rather

to be equivalent to not being overcome by the lapse of time. It is used, e.g.,

of the perpetual fire of Vesta, of the fire of the Magi, of the fire upon the

Jewish altar (vide references in Thayer). The whole expression in itself says

nothing about the everlasting duration of the punishment; i.e. it does not

decide for “everlasting punishment” or for “annihilation,” but seems rather

to exclude the possibility of amelioration under it (compare Isaiah 1:31).

 

 

                                    The Forerunner (vs. 1-12)

 

  • HIS ANNOUNCEMENT.

 

Ø      His sudden appearance. It is the first mention of John the Baptist in

                        Matthew’s Gospel. He flashes upon us suddenly, like his prototype

                        Elijah in the Old Testament. Luke tells us of his birth, of his solitary

                        life: he “was in the deserts till the day of his showing unto Israel.”

                        Now the time was come. “In those days,” St. Matthew says, while

                        the Lord was still at Nazareth, living a family life with brethren and

                        sisters — the children, in all probability, of Joseph by a former marriage,

                        taking His share in the family duties, laboring with His hands to support;

                        in those days, while the Lord was still unknown, unrecognized, in the

                        world that was made by Him, comes John the Baptist.

 

Ø      His preaching.

 

                        (1) “Repentance.” The word means properly a change of mind, an inner,

                        spiritual change. It is the first note of warning in the New Testament, the

                        first practical exhortation addressed generally to all men — the first

                        sermon in the First Gospel. John, indeed, belonged rather to the Law

                        than to the gospel. He was the embodiment of the Old Testament, as

                        Christ is the embodiment of the New. But he was preparing the way

                        of the Lord, announcing the kingdom that was coming; therefore he

                        preached repentance. A mighty change must come over all who are

                        to be true citizens of that kingdom, fellow-citizens with the saints.

                        All needed that great change. The Sadducees must lay aside their

                        false doctrine, their worldliness, their indifference; the Pharisees

                        must be set free from their formalism, their hypocrisy, their self-

                        righteousness. All who would receive the Christ, who would come to

                        Him for peace and for salvation, must alike repent. Old things must

                        pass away; all things must become new:

 

a.       indifference must make way for devotion,

b.      selfishness for self-sacrifice,

c.       the love of the world for the holy love of God,.

 

                        This is the blessed change of repentance, the great need of every

                        human soul.

 

                        (2) The kingdom of heaven. The Hebrew nation had been the kingdom

                        of God, the theocracy. But Daniel had prophesied a kingdom that

                        should fill the whole earth, that should never be destroyed an

                        everlasting dominion that should not pass away. That kingdom

                        came from heaven; its government, its laws, its modes of life and

                        thought and worship, are those of heaven; the great commonwealth

                        of which the saints are citizens is now (ὑπάρχει huparchei

                         to exist, which always involves a pre- existent state, prior to the fact

                        referred to, and a continuance of the state after the fact – this is one

                        of the hardest Greek words I have had to try to decipher and is

                        worthy of individual scrutiny to try to absorb the meaning – CY –

                        2015) centered in heaven (Philippians 3:20); it looks to heaven as

                        its home, its proper country; it shall be established there when the

                        kingdoms of this world shall have become the kingdoms of our

                        Lord and of His Christ. It is the great Church of Christ, the

                        congregation of Christian people dispersed throughout the whole

                        world. It was at hand, not yet come, but very near. Those who

                        would be true citizens of that heavenly kingdom:

 

a.       must repent;

b.      they must die unto sin,

c.       they must receive the consecration of a new

                                    and higher life.

 

                        It is true still as it was then, “Except ye be converted,… ye shall not

                        enter into the kingdom of heaven.”

 

Ø      His description.

 

                        (1) By the prophet. He was a voice. John himself applied that description

                        to himself (John 1:23). Be was not the Christ, he said, not Elias, not

                        that prophet; he was but a voice. Humility was one of his most striking

                        characteristics. It was scarcely to be looked for in a man of his stern,

                        severe character. In such a one you would expect unworldliness,

                        self-sacrifice, austere self-control; but scarcely that deep, sincere

                        humility which marked the holy Baptist. The power of God’s Spirit

                        can unite in one personality graces which seem almost incompatible.

                        “He must increase, but I must decrease,” he said afterwards. He

                        had been famous while Christ was still unknown. He was willing

                        to be forgotten so that Christ should be glorified; nay, in his utter

                        self-forgetfulness, he rejoiced with joy in the overshadowing glory

                        of the greater Prophet. He is an example to all Christian preachers.

                        He was only a voice — the voice of one crying. His preaching was

                        powerful, aggressive, energetic; the voice was loud and strong.

                        His self-forgetfulness, the intensity of his conviction, gave strength

                        to his preaching. It was the voice of one crying in the wilderness, not

                        in great cities, not in the crowded haunts of men. God sets His

                        ministers sometimes in what seems to them a wilderness; they must

                        work there, where he has placed them; each must do his best in that

                        station to which God has called him. The voice must sound everywhere –

                        in the quiet country and in the great city, in the cottage and in the palace.

                        God sends His ministers where it pleases Him; they must accept the

                        leadings of His providence. “Here am I; send me,” is the trustful

                        answer of the obedient Christian. But what was the cry? “Prepare ye

                        the way of the Lord.”  Isaiah’s words, it may be, referred in their

                        primary sense to the return from the Captivity. The Lord of hosts

                        was about to lead His people back; He goeth before them. A highway

                        through the desert must be made for the great King; every valley must

                        be exalted, every mountain and hill made low. But they had a deeper

                        meaning, a more august fulfillment. THE LORD, THE INCARNATE

                        GOD WAS COMING NOW!  The proud heart must be abased; the

                        hands that hang down, the feeble knees, must be lifted up; the path

                        must be made straight; there must be no wavering, no inconsistency,

                        no crooked designs, but a simple, straightforward, decided readiness

                        to receive the coming Saviour. He was at hand; soon He would knock

                        at the door; the gates must be lifted up; the hearts of men must be

                        prepared to welcome and to admit the Lord of glory.  (Psalm 24:7-10)

 

                        (2) By the evangelist. He was an ascetic; he wore the rough garment of

                        the prophet; like Elijah, he was a hairy man. He was a Nazarite; his

                        unshorn locks waved rough and long in the wind; he drank neither

                        wine nor strong drink; his food was of the commonest, that which

                        the desert supplied — locusts and wild honey, the food of the very

                        poor. He was a very high saint of God, but a saint of the Old

                        Testament type rather than of the New; suited for the times, as

                        Elijah had been; greater than any who had preceded Him. But,

                        our Lord has told us, “he that is least in the kingdom of heaven is

                        greater than he.”  (Luke 7:28)

 

  • HIS BAPTISM.

 

Ø      The multitudes. There was great excitement. It was a time of eager

                        expectation. John’s character, his asceticism, his strange, solitary life,

                        his stern, awful, heart-stirring preaching, commanded attention.

                        Multitudes went out to listen to him — Jerusalem, and all Judaea,

                        and all the region round about Jordan.” The wilderness was lonely

                        no more; it was filled with thronging crowds. There was an attraction

                        not to be resisted in his preaching. Men could not but come; they

                        could not but listen. Alas! they did not, most of them, repent. To the

                        many he was what Ezekiel had been in his time, “a very lovely song

                        of one that hath a pleasant voice, and can play well on an instrument”

                        (Ezekiel 33:32); for they heard his words, but they did them not.

 

Ø      They were baptized of him in Jordan. He preached the baptism of

                        repentance for the remission of sins. John baptized with water; Christ,

                        with the Holy Ghost and with fire. John’s baptism was a preparatory

                        rite; Christ’s baptism was a sacrament of regeneration, the one baptism

                        (Ephesians 4:5). John’s baptism was unto repentance; Christ’s baptism

                        was into Christ. John’s baptism was incomplete; it was not baptism

                        with the Holy Spirit (I Corinthians 12:13); it did not remove the

                        necessity of Christian baptism (Acts 19:5). But it was a holy rite,

                        performed in accordance with the Divine command (John 1:33),

                        symbolical, like the purifications under the Law, of that spiritual

                        cleansing which the sinful heart needs, and consecrated at last by

                        the example of the Lord Jesus Himself.

 

Ø      Their confession. The Greek word seems to imply that the confession

                        was complete, not a mere general acknowledgment of sinfulness, but a

                        special confession of definite sins. John’s baptism was unto repentance;

                        confession was the preliminary, the pledge of that repentance without

                        which the baptism was an empty sign. God requires confession of us,

                        not necessarily to man, but to Himself. There is no word of Holy

                        Scripture more precious than that gracious promise, “If we confess

                        our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to

                        cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”  (I John 1:9)

 

  • HIS RECEPTION OF THE PHARISEES AND SADDUCEES.

 

Ø      They came to his baptism. It was strange — the Pharisees came with

                        their intense sectarianism, their hollow formalism; the Sadducees with

                        their indifference, their unbelief. But they came; the power of John’s

                        preaching, the attraction of his character and ascetic life, the widespread

                        excitement, drew them with the multitudes who flocked to the banks of

                        Jordan. So people come now in crowds to hear a great preacher; but,

                        alas! often their hearts are not touched. They listen, but they are not

                        converted.  Did they seek to be baptized? We might have thought that

                        they were drawn to John only by curiosity, but the Greek preposition

                        seems to imply that they sought baptism at his hands. We cannot tell

                        their motive. Perhaps it was simply the strong current of public opinion;

                        they came because others came; as, alas! many come to church

                        nowadays. Perhaps it was the desire to stand well in the sight of the

                        people, who all regarded John as a prophet.  Certainly it was not the

                        right motive. John was unwilling to receive them; they were unfit for

                        his baptism; they wanted the baptism only, not the repentance; the

                        putting away of the filth of the flesh, not the inquiry of a good

                        conscience after God; they did not feel the need of that change of

                        heart which was the necessary preparation for the coming kingdom.

                        Probably John refused to receive them. St. Luke tells us (Luke 7:30)

                        that the Pharisees generally were not baptized of him.

 

Ø      His address.

 

(1)   He rebukes them. Mark his unsparing severity. He was no flatterer.

The high places in the Church were then in the hands of the Sadducees.

The Pharisees had great influence; men revered them for their supposed

                        sanctity; they were the recognized guides of public opinion. But John

                        had no soft words for them. It is painful to Christians to speak sternly;

                        but sometimes holy sternness is necessary, sometimes it is a bounden

                        duty. It is never more necessary than in the case of those who have

                        deluded themselves into the belief that they are righteous men, while

                        their religion is mere formalism, hypocrisy, outside pretence. John

                        called them a generation of vipers, offspring of vipers; our Lord used

                        the same strong words afterwards. They were like the serpent in

                        Genesis-cunning, deceitful; dangerous; all the more so, because they

                        hid their venom under the appearance of godliness. The Baptist

                        distrusted them: “Who hath warned you?” he said. He had not

                        expected that such as they would seek his baptism. He knew the

                        hardness of their hearts, the hollowness of the formalism to which

                        they had enslaved themselves, their pride and confidence in their

                        exclusive privileges. Nothing short of a miracle, he thought, could

                        arouse them. They knew, indeed, that THERE WAS WRATH TO

                        COME  but they supposed it was reserved for the Gentiles, and that

                        they, the seed of Abraham, were safe. Could it be that God’s Holy Spirit

                        had touched even those proud zealots, and softened even those stony

                        hearts? NOTHING IS IMPOSSIBLE WITH GOD!  If He bears with

                        hardened sinners, His ministers may well bear with them. Therefore:

 

(2)   He counsels them. They must show the sincerity of their repentance

by bringing forth the fruit of a holy life — fruit worthy of the repentance

                        which they professed. John’s baptism was a baptism of repentance.

                        Repentance is a change of heart and thought; such a change must

                        manifest itself in a renewed, a consecrated life. They must not trust in

                        their descent from Abraham. God could raise up children to Abraham

                        from the very pebbles that lay in the bed of Jordan. He would gather

                        Gentile believers in crowds into His Church. They would become heirs

                        of the faith of Abraham, true children of that father of many nations,

                        in whose seed all the nations of the earth were to be blessed. We must

                        always be on our guard against putting our trust in external privileges.

                        Those privileges may be very great, very precious helps; but they are

                        only helps toward the spiritual life; they are not the life itself. We must

                        not dare to despise others who seem destitute of our privileges, but

                        rather strive always to show, by increasing holiness of life, that we

                        value and use the blessings which have been conferred upon us. And:

 

(3)   He warns them. Judgment was coming. Only holiness of heart and

life could endure the searching eye of God. His baptism would not help

them unless they brought forth fruit worthy of repentance. The Judge

was already in the world. John was nothing in comparison with Him —

not worthy to do Him the most menial service. And as John was

inferior to the coming Saviour, so was his baptism inferior to the Lord’s

baptism. John baptized with water; Christ would baptize with the

Holy Ghost, and with fire. The baptism which Christ afterwards

ordained was a baptism of water, but not of water only; it was a

laver of regeneration, a new birth of water and of the Spirit,

a baptism into Christ by the one Spirit (I Corinthians 12:13).

And he was to baptize with fire. The prophecy was literally fulfilled

                        on the great Day of Pentecost; but its meaning is not exhausted in

                        `that first fulfillment. Christ baptized with fire not only then; He

                        baptizes with the Holy Ghost, not only in the sacrament which He

                        ordained. There is a more precious baptism yet; the perpetual baptism

                        of the blessed Spirit’s presence, a true baptism with fire — the fire

                        of holy love and sacred energy, which spring from that Divine

                        indwelling. This is the baptism which we must seek and pray for

                        with all the power of our spirit, the only baptism which can help us

                        in the great day, the baptism which distinguishes the saved from

                        the lost, the wheat from the chaff. We must seek it all the more

                        earnestly because He who baptizeth with the Holy Ghost is also

                        the Judge, the awful Judge of QUICK and DEAD! He will gather the

                        wheat into His garner; He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.

 

 

                                                Religious Revival (vs. 5-12)

 

When the Baptist opened his commission the Jewish nation was in a woeful state of

degeneracy. In connection with his ministry there was a remarkable revival of religion.

This may be viewed as a specimen of revivals of religion in general.

 

  • IT WAS A SEASON OF FAITHFUL PREACHING.

 

Ø      Christ was prominent in the sermon.

 

o       “Make ye ready the way of the Lord!” was the “cry” of the

      “voice” in the wilderness. “He that cometh” was the grand

      theme — the Promise of prophecy, the Hope and Expectation

      of the world.

 

o       The sermon set forth Christ in His dignity. “The Lord,”

      equivalent to “Jehovah” in the Hebrew of Isaiah. If amongst

      men there had not arisen a greater than the Baptist, then who

      must that Person be whose shoes John was not worthy to bear?

      Maimonides says, “All services which a servant does for his

      master a disciple does for his teacher, excepting unloosing his

                                    shoes” (compare John 8:58).

 

o       It set forth Christ in His power. “Mightier than I.” “God is able

      of these stones,” etc., viz. as He raised up Adam from the dust.

      “These stones.”  John was now baptizing in Jordan at Bethabara

      (John 1:28), the House of passage, where the children of Israel

      passed over; and there were the twelve stones, one for each tribe,

      which Joshua set up for a memorial (Joshua 4:20). It is not unlikely

      that he pointed to those stones, which God could make to be, more

      than in representation, the twelve tribes of Israel.

 

o       It set forth Christ also in His official distinction. “He shall baptize

      you with the Holy Ghost, and with fire.” John, though a priest,

      did not presume to wield the fire of the sanctuary. That was a

      Divine prerogative (compare Luke 24:49; John 15:26). Apostles

      presumed not to claim it.  Sacraments have no efficacy from those

      who minister them (compare II Kings 4:31; I Corinthians 3:6).

 

Ø      It insisted upon essential things.

 

o       John preached repentance in order to remission of sins. He

      insisted that true repentance will have meet fruit. Shakespeare

      well describes it as

 

                                                                        “Heart’s sorrow,

                                                            And a clear life ensuing.”

 

                                    Those are not true penitents who say they are sorry for sin, and

                                    persist in sinning.

 

o       John also preached faith in Jesus as the Christ. In the text he

      spoke of Him as coming. Afterwards he pointed Him out in

      Person (John 1:29).  That is grand preaching which brings the

      sinner into personal relationship to his Saviour.

 

o       John also preached holiness. His baptism was a ceremonial

      purification, of which the baptism conferred by Jesus is the

      spiritual complement. John’s baptism was “with water,” viz.

      which washes the surface; Christ’s, “with fire,” viz. which

      purges the substance:

 

§         The regeneration of water is outward and ceremonial,

§         that of the Holy Ghost is inward and spiritual.

 

Ø      Its lessons were closely applied.

 

o       With encouragement. This was in the forefront. John’s

      ministry was “the beginning of the gospel [or,’ good news’]

      of Jesus Christ, the Son of God” (Mark 1:1).

 

o       With entreaty. He besought the people to repent of their sins.

 

o       With admonition.

 

§         The lineage of goodness is no substitute for repentance.

      The Talmud says that “Abraham sits next the gates of hell,

      and does not permit any Israelite, however wicked, to go

      down there.” John preached a different doctrine. Visible

      Church-membership will not save.

§         “Think not to say within yourselves,” etc. Do not attempt

      secretly to justify impenitence by things that you have not

      the courage to announce.  Hide no lie that will ruin you.

§         God is not restricted to any law of succession in His Church.

      “Of these stones Gentiles, apparently without any

      covenant life, in opposition to fruitless “trees,” He could

      “raise up children unto Abraham” (compare Romans

      4:16-18; Galatians 3:22-29).

 

Ø      With reproof. The Pharisees and Sadducees, who claimed to be

                        children of Abraham, are described as a brood of vipers — the seed of

                        the old serpent. They are also described as “trees” with leaves (of

                        profession), but without fruit of performance. They are described as

                        the “chaff” — light, hollow, hypocritical, having only the semblance

                        of “wheat.”

 

Ø      With warning.

 

o       The “axe” of judgment lay at the root of the trees (compare

      Isaiah 10:33-34; Daniel 4:11, 20, 23; Luke 13:7-9).

 

o       The “fan” to separate the chaff from the wheat was in Messiah’s

      hand (compare Psalm 1:4; Daniel 2:35; ch. 13:30, 49).

 

o       The “wrath to come,” or predicted destruction of Messiah’s

      enemies (Malachi 4:6), was set before them.

 

o       The “unquenchable fire” of hell was shadowed in the

      horrors of the judgments of God upon the city. The lost’s

      torment makes them sin, and their sin feeds their torment,

      one being fuel for the other.”

 

o       “He that cometh” and “the wrath to come” are nearly

      associated (see I Thessalonians 1:10). It is evermore

      “wrath to come.”

 

o       The danger is imminent. “Even now,” etc. Fools only can

      make a mock of sin.

 

  • IT WAS A SEASON OF STRONG RELIGIOUS EXCITEMENT.

 

Ø      Multitudes were deeply moved. This fact is clearly set forth in the text

                        (see also Luke 3:7).

 

o       Here was a great honor put upon John. He was a man of

      retirement.  God often confers the greater honor on those who

      court it least.

 

o       These multitudes were not moved solely by John’s eloquence.

      They were “a people prepared of the Lord” (Luke 1:17). The

      same Holy Spirit who called and qualified John moved the

      people to wait upon his ministry.

 

o       The prayers of the faithful had much to do with it.

 

§         Like his prototype Elijah, John himself was a man of

      prayer. This was the moral of his retirement in the

      wilderness.

§         There were also those who “looked for redemption in

      Jerusalem — those who, like Anna, “departed not

      from the temple, worshipping with fastings and

      supplications night and day” (Luke 2:37-38).

§         Who can say to what extent blessings come upon

      the Church and upon the world in response to the

      prayers of saints dwelling in obscurity (compare

      Ezra 10:1)?

 

Ø      Notorious sinners were moved.

 

o       Such there would naturally be amongst the multitudes.

o       “Publicans and harlots” appear to have been baptized by

      John (see ch. 21:32). None are too wicked to be saved

      but those who are TOO WICKED TO REPENT!

 

Ø      Unlikely sinners were moved.

 

o       Of this number were the Pharisees.

 

§         They were orthodox Jews, who believed in Church

      doctrines and traditions.

§         They were formalists, strict in life, and who prided

      themselves upon their righteousness. What need could

      such persons feel for repentance?

§         Yet many of them, their righteousness notwithstanding,

      had the viper’s venom in their hearts. Formalism may

      consist with heart-malice.

 

o       Of this number also were the Sadducees. They were the opposite

      of the Pharisees. They rejected Church traditions. They interpreted

      the Scriptures in the rationalistic spirit. They denied the

      immortality of the soul and the existence of the angels. They were

      materialists and deists. Of what use would repentance be to such?

 

o       John was astonished to see these coming. He noticed how they \

      came in company. So he treated them alike. Extremes meet.

 

Ø      The results of the movement were various.

 

o       Some came under true religious conviction. They confessed

      their sins, i.e. took them home to themselves. With these there

      was no attempt to throw the blame, in whole or part, upon

      either God or man (see I John 1:8). Those who thus received

      the baptism of John were prepared to become disciples of Jesus

      (John 1:35-37).

 

o       Some came ‘because their neighbors came. (I highly recommend

      John 1 – Spurgeon Sermon – Two Loving Invitations – this

      website – CY – 2015)  Note here the power of:

 

§         example;

§         fashion;

§         numbers.

 

                                    Men, like sheep, are gregarious. Of these some became true

                                    disciples.  Others went back when the excitement subsided

                                    (compare Ezekiel 33:31-33; John 5:35). Many come to

                                    ordinances the power of which they never feel.

 

o       Some came from selfish policy. Forming conceptions of the

      coming kingdom suited to their gross affections, they thought

      it might offer them advantages of civil distinction. Upon

      discovering the spiritual nature of the kingdom, they were

      offended. Such were the majority of the Pharisees and

                                    lawyers (compare ch.21:25; Luke 7:27-30). There are still

                                    those who join Churches for worldly ends.

 

 

                        Christ’ s Unquenchable Fire (v. 12)

 

It is not possible to think that John could have referred to what we call

“hell-fire” — the punishment-fires of the next life. And we need have no

definite opinions concerning the nature of that fire in order to understand

John’s figure here. Speaking of Messiah’s actual present work in souls, he

calls it a “baptism of fire,” and he further remarks on its severity and

continuity. His baptism of water was but of a temporary and symbolical

character. Christ’s baptism of fire would be permanent and spiritually real

— a fire that would go on burning until all the world’s evil was burned up.

As illustration, note that “every year all effete substances that have served

their purpose in the old form are burnt up in the autumn fire of nature, and

only what has promise of life and usefulness passes scatheless through the

ordeal. This flaming besom of nature’s fire sweeps from sight in the most

obscure nooks, as well as in the most open places, the impurities of death

and decay, in order to prepare the stage for fresh life and new growth.”

 

  • THE SEVERITY OF CHRIST’S WORK. Apparently John’s seems to

            be more arresting and severe; but really it does not prove to be so. There is

            all the difference between “washing off” and burning out.” The very

            forces themselves, “water,” “fire,” suggest the distinction. Repentance

            seems severe; the after-time resolute dealing with sin and rooting it out is

            much more severe. Christian keeping on is much more stern than Christian

            beginning. Illustrate by the Book of Revelation. The living Christ is

            actually present in His Churches, and at work, making them altogether

            white; and all the forces, famine, war, commotions, disease, etc., are the

            fires in which He is burning away the dross, and making the silver shine

            perfectly white. He were no true friend of sinners if He withheld necessary

            severity.

 

  • THE CONTINUITY OF CHRIST’S WORK. What is presented to

            thought is, that nothing will check or stop the Divine fire-cleansing. That

            it will stop when its work is done is assumed. The fire will keep on

            consuming as long as there is anything to consume, but no one conceives

            evil to be eternal. Christ will burn on until His burning work is needed no

            more.

 

                                    The Baptism of Jesus. (vs. 13-17)   

 

(Parallel passages: Mark 1:9-11; Luke 3:21, 22.)

 

13 “Then cometh Jesus from Galilee to Jordan unto John, to be

baptized of him.” Then; temporal (v. 5, note). When John was preaching and

baptizing. Cometh (v. 1, note). From Galilee. Mark adds, “from

Nazareth of Galilee (for this is his first historical mention of our Lord),

thereby implying that our Lord had lived in Nazareth since our ch.2:22, etc.

In contrast to the representative teachers from Jerusalem, and the crowds both

from there and from the Jordan valley (v. 5), this Stranger came from Galilee.

To Jordan. It is hard to see why the Revised Version inserts “the” here and

leaves the Authorized Version unaltered in v. 5. To be baptized (τοῦ βαπτισθῆναι

tou baptisthaenaito be baptized); ch.2:13, note. By him; and no other. Not mere

baptism, but baptism at the hands of John, was our Lord’s motive for coming.

He would link His own work on to that of John (vide infra) .

 

14 “But John forbad Him, saying, I have need to be baptized of thee,

and comest thou to me?”  Vs. 14 and 15 are peculiar to St. Matthew. But John. In

John 1:31, 33 the Baptist says that he knew Him not till the descent of

the Holy Spirit; i.e. knew Him not in His full Messianic character. Here,

either by an involuntary and miraculous impression, psychologically due to

the previous revelation he had received; or, as is on the whole more probable, from

his previous knowledge, direct or indirect, of Jesus, he recognizes His superior sanctity.

John’s inmost thoughts must therefore have been somewhat as follows. “I have come

to announce the advent of Messiah; here is One who is much holier than I; it may be

that He is Messiah, but I have no certainty till the sign promised has been

vouchsafed.” Forbade; would have hindered (Revised Version), for

διεκώλυενdiekoluenforbade; prohibited, does not in itself imply speech.

(For a similar imperfect of that which was not fully carried out, compare Luke 1:59.)

It is noticeable, though doubtless merely as a coincidence, that the strong compound

word διακωλύω diakoluo - prevent  and βαπτίζομαι baptizomai -  washed - also

occur together in  Judith 12:7. I have need to be baptized of thee. Many see here a

reference to the baptism of the Spirit and fire, mentioned in v. 11. But the following

clause, “and dost thou come to me?” implies that the baptisms are identical, viz.

baptism by water. The sentence is equivalent to “I John, who myself administer the

baptism of repentance, need to profess repentance myself, and ought rather, therefore,

to receive such a baptism at thy hands, who art so far holier than I”.

 

 

15 “And Jesus answering said unto him, Suffer it to be so now: for thus

it becometh us to fulfill all righteousness. Then he suffered Him.”

Suffer it to be so now; suffer it now (Revised Version); “suffer me now”

(Revised Version margin); ἄφες ἄρτι aphes artisuffer now; let you at present –

 only here (apparently) in the New Testament quite absolutely, but ch.7:4

slightly favors the Revised Version margin. Now; at this special season

(ἄρτι - arti); in contrast to the more permanent relation which shall be

recognized later. Our Lord thus slightly removes the trial to John’s faith,

which a mere refusal might have aggravated. Observe the implied

consciousness of His Messiah-ship, even before the baptism. Several of the

Fathers infer from these words that John was afterwards baptized by Jesus;

but this is to completely miss the point of the expression. For thus. Not exactly

“by this baptism,” but” by the spirit of submission in us both, which in this case will

issue in my baptism.” It becometh (πρέπον ἐστὶνprepon estinit is behooving).

Not a matter of absolute necessity (δεῖ - deimust; it is binding -  ch.16:21; 26:54),

nor of absolute duty (ὀφείλωopheiloought; are owing -  John 13:14), but of

moral fitness (Hebrews 2:10). It befits us, in our respective characters, to

perform this symbolical act. Compare Melchizedek and Abraham; the

representative of the older blesses the representative of the coming age

(Luke 16:16). Us; thee and me. To fulfill; here only with “righteousness” (compare

ch.5:17). All righteousness (πᾶσαν δικαιοσύνην pasan dikaiosunaen). Not the whole

circle of righteousness (πᾶσαν τὴν δικαιοσύνην pasan taen dikaiosunaen), but every

part of righteousness, as each is presented to us (similarly, Acts 13:10).  “Let me be

baptized by thee now,” our Lord says to John, “for it is fitting for us, in this spirit

of submission, to fill up every part of righteousness.” Our Lord thus pleads for the

absolute submission of John and Himself to every portion of righteousness as it may

be proposed to them by God to perform; His words thus somewhat resembling those

to Peter, “If I wash thee not, thou hast no part with me” (John 13:8). Thy

duty is to baptize, mine to be baptized. It has generally been thought that in

this verse our Lord implies that His baptism was to constitute His own

formal recognition and acceptance of His distinctly Messianic duties — an

act which involved the complete leaving of His past life and the giving

Himself up to a new and public life.

 

What was the meaning of Jesus’ baptism?  John did not recognize its meaning. He

was taken aback when Jesus presented Himself for baptism. This was a difficulty

he had not foreseen. He had foreseen trouble with scrupulous consciences;

that he would be abused, perhaps endangered; that he would be the

repository of disagreeable secrets — a nation’s confessor. But this he had

not foreseen. How could he baptize One who had no sin? John’s refusal a

strong testimony to the sinlessness of Jesus. He might not yet know he was

the Messiah; it was His personal character and private conduct which had

impressed him. He was abashed in His presence, and would have changed

places with Him. But Jesus demanded the performance of the rite, because,

as one with a guilty race,He felt that baptism was for Him. He was so truly

one with us that He felt ashamed of our sins, grieved because of them, felt

as if they were His. The father hangs his head, sickens and dies when the

son is disgraced. The wife cannot persuade herself she need not be

ashamed when the husband commits a fraud. Our Lord could not claim

separation from those whom He more intensely loved than human heart has

ever loved; nor could He help feeling a truer sorrow and a deeper shame for

sin than the holiest of sinners or the most despairing has ever felt. The

baptism may also be looked upon as an anticipation of his death; or, again,

as the anointing of the King.

 

16 “And Jesus, when He was baptized, went up straightway out of the

water: and, lo, the heavens were opened unto Him, and He saw the

Spirit of God descending like a dove, and lighting upon Him:”

And Jesus, when he was baptized. Combining the statements

of the synoptists, we may conclude that Jesus went up from the water at

once, praying as He went, and that, while He was going up and praying, the

heavens opened. Out of; from ‘(Revised Version); ἀπό - apofrom - for, as it

seems, He had not gone fully out of the water. The heavens were opened unto Him.

So also the Revised Version, but the Revised Version margin, rightly omits

“unto Him.” The words were inserted because it was thought that Jesus alone saw

the manifestation, as indeed we should have supposed if we had had only the

account of St. Mark, who reads, “He saw” before “the heavens being rent asunder”

(but compare John 1:32-34). To our Lord and to the Baptist the appearance was as

though the sky really opened (compare Ezekiel 1:1; Acts 7:56). The Spirit of God;

recalling Genesis 1:2. Messiah now enters on His public office, and for

that receives, as true Man, the appropriate gifts. The Spirit by whom men

are subjectively united to God descends upon the Word made Flesh, by

whom objectively God is revealed to men (see John 1:32).  . Like; as (Revised

Version). The comparison is hardly to the gentleness of the descent of a dove,

but to a visible appearance in bodily form, as a dove (see parallel passage in Luke).

Not, of course, that the Holy Spirit was thus at all incarnate, but that either the

appearance of a dove was seen by John’s eyes only, or, a dove flew down

and lighted on the Lord (Luke), and that this, to outsiders merely

a curious incident (compare John 12:29), was to our Lord and the Baptist a sign

of spiritual blessing. A dove (περιστερά - peristera - dove); any member of the pigeon

tribe; chosen because a symbol of deliverance (Genesis 8:8), of purity (Leviticus 5:7),

of harmlessness (ch.10:16), and of endearment (Song of Solomon 6:9). There

is no evidence that the dove was at this period interpreted by Jews as a symbol

of the Holy Spirit. The Targum on Song of Solomon 2:12 paraphrasing “the voice

of the turtle-dove ‘ by “the voice of the Holy Spirit,” dates in its present form from

the eighth to the tenth century. The dove mentioned (though probably by

 interpolation) in the account of Polycarp’s death, appears to be a symbol of the

soul.  No kingdom in the world has a lamb or a dove as emblems on its

escutcheon.” And; omit, with manuscripts. Lighting; coming (Revised

Version), because it is needless to translate a common Greek (ἐρχόμενον

 erchomenon - coming) by a rare English word. Observe that it refers to the

Holy Spirit, not to the dove as such. Upon Him (so Luke and John 1:32- 33;

Mark more vaguely, “unto Him”).

 

 

                                    The Dove-Spirit on Christ (v. 16)

 

“Descending like a dove, and lighting upon Him.” Comparing the accounts

given by the evangelists, it still remains uncertain whether what was seen

by John actually had the form of a dove, or hovered or brooded as a

descending bird does. But for our fixed associations, and the familiar

comments, we should be more willing to see that the brooding, resting,

abiding of the Spirit on Jesus, is the thing intended to be set prominently

before us by the figure. It will be safer, perhaps, to fix attention on both the

explanations.

 

  • THE SPIRIT ON CHRIST UNDER THE DOVE-FIGURE. The gift of

            supernatural power and wisdom brought with it also the perfection of the

            tenderness, the purity, the gentleness, of which the dove was the

            acknowledged symbol” (see ch. 10:16). “Harmless as doves;” and

            compare the Baptist’s figures, “Behold the Lamb of God!” Seeley says,

            “There settled on his head a dove, in which the Baptist saw a visible

            incarnation of that Holy Spirit with which he declared that Christ should

            baptize.” “According to the symbolism of the Bible, certain mental

            characters appear expressed m several animals, as in the lion, the lamb, the

            eagle, and the ox. In this system of natural hieroglyphics the dove denotes

            purity and sincerity, and hence the Spirit of purity may be most fittingly

            compared with the dove. The coming of the Spirit like a dove denotes,

            consequently, that the fullness of the Spirit of purity and sincerity was

            imparted to Jesus, whereby He became the Purifier of mankind.”

 

  • THE SPIRIT ON CHRIST UNDER THE BROODING FIGURE. The

            impression to be made both on John and Jesus was of THE ABIDING,

            permanent endowment of Christ with the precise spiritual power needed

            for His Messianic mission. We are to distinguish carefully between the

            Divine nature of Christ, which was unaffected by this brooding Spirit, and

            the precise gift needed for the Messiahship. The Spirit dwelt in Him.

 

17 “And lo a voice from heaven, saying, This is my beloved Son, in

whom I am well pleased.” Lo; peculiar to St. Matthew — a reminiscence of

Aramaic diction. A voice. Similarly in ch.17:5 (Transfiguration, compare

II Peter 1:17-18); John 12:28 (like thunder); [possibly Acts 2:6, Pentecost];

9:4 (Paul’s conversion); 10:13, 15 (Peter). Talmudic and rabbinic writings often

mention the Bath-Qol as speaking from heaven.  The character of the occasions

on which the voice is heard in the New Testament on the one hand, and in the

Jewish writings on the other, shows the complete difference in the moral aspect

of the two voices. The latter is at best little more than a parody of the former.

From heaven; out of the heavens (Revised Version), pointing to

the phrase in v. 16. Saying. Western authorities add, “unto Him,” mostly

reading the following words in the second person (compare Mark and Luke).

This is my beloved Son. Very similar if not identical words were spoken

at the Transfiguration (ch.17:5), Matthew giving precisely the

same, Mark and Luke only omitting “in whom I am well pleased,” and

Luke also reading “chosen” instead of “beloved.” It would seem more

natural to suppose that the words spoken on the two occasions were really

slightly different, and that therefore Matthew is the less accurate. My ....

Son (compare Psalm 2:7). My beloved Son. The expression is probably based on

Isaiah 42:1 (compare ch.12:18, note); but this does not necessitate the punctuation

of the Revised Version margin, “My Son; my beloved in whom,” etc. (For the

expression, compare Mark 12:6)  (not in the parallel passage, ch.21:37); Ephesians 1:6.)

In whom I am well pleased; rather, in whom I have delight (compare Isaiah 62:4,

Authorized Version). The tense (εὐδόκησαeudokaesaI delight) is equivalent to

“my delight” fell on Him, He became the object of my love. The Spirit came, the

Father bore witness. Thus the Baptist receives through a revelation the certainty

of the Messiahship of Jesus, and thus the reader learns that the Son of David,

who through His birth (ch. 1.) and the fortunes of His childhood (ch. 2.) was

certified as the Messiah, now also is announced to the last of the prophets

as the Son of God, to whom Jehovah, in Psalm 2:7, etc., had promised

the Messianic dominion of the world.  There are two other matters connected

with our Lord’s baptism recorded by tradition, additional words spoken, and an

additional sign given. The words spoken are found in “Western” authorities of

Luke 3:22, “Thou art my Son; this day have I begotten thee,” evidently with a

desire to emphasize the application of the second psalm. The additional sign is the

light or fire. The simplest form of this is (Tatian’sDiatessaron,’ edit. Zahn), “A

light rose upon the waters;” and in the Ebionite Gospel apud Epiph., “Immediately

a great light shone round about the place;” more fully in Justin Martyr

(‘Trypho,’ § 88), “When Jesus had gone down into the water, fire was

kindled in the Jordan;” also in a now lost ‘Pred. Paul,’ “When He was being

baptized, fire was seen upon the water;” and in the Cod. Vercellensis of the

Old Latin, “When He was being baptized, an immense light shone round

from the water, so that all who had come thither were afraid.” Although

there is no intrinsic objection to this symbol having taken place, it is very

improbable that in this case the evangelists would not have recorded it. The

legend may have arisen from v. 11, or, and more probably, from an

endeavor to make the baptism parallel to the Transfiguration

(Matthew 17:2); cf. Ephraem, in Resch (‘Agrapha,’ p. 358), “John

drew near and worshipped the Son, whose form an unwonted lustre

surrounded.”

 

The sign from heaven was given, no doubt mainly in order that John might be

able to  identify Jesus as the Messiah, but to Christ Himself The Spirit is given

to without measure, in a bodily form. The Father makes Him Heir of all His

treasure, and takes no account of all He takes. There is no gauge, no metre.

(John 3:34)  The more that is used the better. This fullness He received as Man

and for us.  The head being anointed, refreshment is felt to the very skirts of the

garments — to the least and last and lowest of the members of Christ’s body.

Claiming to be our King, it is this He claims — to give us His Spirit. That very

Spirit which  enabled Him to be what He was and to do what He did, He gives

to us. Had Jesus lacked anything which He needed for His office, had He found

Himself helpless to heal the sick, bewildered by the arguments of clever men,

 outwearied by the wretched blindness of sinners, unmanned by danger and

the approach of death, this could only have arisen from His being abandoned

by the Spirit; and when we fail and stop short, when we are overcome by

outward difficulties or inward weakness, it is because we are trying to live

without the Spirit. The finishing of His work is the guarantee that ours shall be

finished. And the indwelling of the Spirit in Christ in a bodily completeness

is the guarantee that we shall enjoy, not merely one, but all of His

influences, and that in every part of our life HE WILL BE SUFFICIENT

FOR ALL OUR OCCASIONS!

 

 

                                    Christ the Beloved Son of God (v. 17)

 

This declaration at the baptism of Christ was repeated later on in His ministry at the

Transfiguration (ch.17:5). Thus God owns His Son and bears witness to Him. Let us

consider what the heavenly voice teaches us about Him.

 

  • THE NATURE OF CHRIST AS THE SON OF GOD.  Christ is the Son

      of God. He is not one of God’s sons as we may be through Him, as in a

      natural sense we all are because “we are also His offspring” (Acts 17:28).

      He is the Son of God in a supreme and unique sense. Now, this is not merely

      a sublime truth of theology. It has important bearings on religion.

 

Ø      To know the Son is to know the Father, of whom He is the Image

                        (John 14:7).

 

Ø      If the Son is our Friend, the Father cannot be our Enemy; for they

      are “One” (John 10:30). Therefore our fellowship with Christ carries

      with it our reconciliation to God.

 

Ø      Christ is able to save the world. The Divinity of Christ implies His

                        unlimited power. So great a Saviour is equal to the tremendous task

                        of redeeming a whole fallen world.

 

  • THE HAPPY RELATIONS BETWEEN CHRIST AND HIS FATHER.

 

Ø      He is Gods beloved Son. This truth seems to belong to the very nature

                        of Christ. It throws light on His permanent relations with God. God is

                        love, and Christ is good and worthy of love. Through all eternity the

                        love of the Father is directed to the Son. But now we see Christ on

                        earth, incarnate, a Man, and in lowly estate. Yet God does not fail

                        to own or cease to love Him. He is known to His Father, though He

                        may be despised by men. Surely this must have been a cheering and

                        sustaining influence for Christ in the midst of His hard and toilsome

                        life. In a lower way may not the same be true of us? God recognizes

                        His human family; He owns all His earthly children. The shame of

                        outward conditions does not blind His eye. Rejected by men,

                        His children are still owned and loved by God; and it is better to

                        be loved by God than to be praised by the world.

 

Ø      God is well pleased with Him. This further truth seems to refer to

      the immediate condition, to the recent action, of Christ. Jesus has

      just been baptized; He had persevered in spite of the flattering

      resistance of the Baptist; He had felt that He must fulfill all

      righteousness; He had consecrated Himself to His great work.

      God is well pleased with Christ for this.

 

o       The obedience of the Son pleases the Father. If, like Christ,

      we delight to do God’s will, He will delight in us.

 

o       The good pleasure of God signifies His approval of Christ s

      work. This mission of saving the world that Christ has just

      consecrated Himself to is well-pleasing to God. Thus God

      accepts the redeeming work from the first.  Now the sacrifice

      of Christ, being acceptable to God, must be efficacious

                                    for man.

 

 

                                    The Baptism of Jesus (vs. 13-17)

 

  • ITS REASON.

 

Ø      He was made sin for us, though He was without sin. He came to be

                        baptized; it was the purpose of His coming He would not have come

                        that long journey from Galilee to Bethany beyond Jordan unless there

                        had been some grave reason, some necessity, some deep meaning in

                        His baptism. It was the baptism of repentance; He needed no repentance.

                        It was accompanied with confession of sin; He could not confess, for He

                        had no sin to confess. But God had sent His own Son in the likeness of

                        sinful flesh; in some deep, mysterious sense “he was made sin for us.”

                        He bore the sin that was not His own. Therefore, as He submitted in

                        His infancy to the rite of circumcision; as His mother, after the birth

                        of the sinless Child, went through the ordinary purification; so now

                        when He was about to begin His ministry, THE MOST HOLY ONE

                        came to the baptism of repentance. It seemed to John strange,

                        unsuitable. He felt his own unworthiness in the presence of

                        the Saviour. He himself, he knew, needed the baptism of the

                        Holy Ghost; the Lord needed not the baptism of repentance.

                        And so he would have hindered Him. He had hindered, it seems

                        most probable, the Pharisees and Sadducees. The reasons were very

                        different. The Pharisees and Sadducees were not fit for his baptism;

                        his baptism was not fit for Jesus. But the Lord who, in His ineffable

                        condescension, had taken upon Him the form of a servant, in that

                        same condescension submitted to the rites which told of sin and

                        uncleanness. (Philippians 2:7-8).  He was baptized, not that He might

                        be cleansed by the baptism of repentance, but rather, as Ignatius says

                        in his ‘Epistle to the Ephesians’ (sect. 18), that he might by his baptism

                        cleanse water and sanctify it to the mystical washing away of sin.

 

Ø      It becometh us to fulfil all righteousness. God had sent John to baptize

                        with water (John 1:33). The Son of God, now in the form of man,

                        comes to the baptism which God had commanded. It is an example to

                        us. It is our duty to fulfill all righteousness, all God’s ordinances alike.

                        We may not dare to neglect things external, things which some men

                        call unimportant. If God has commanded them, that commandment

                        gives them at once a deep and real importance; it makes them

                        duties of righteousness.  The principle of obedience is no less

                        involved in things that seem to some small and trivial, than in the

                        highest duties of religion. The Lord Jesus came to the baptism of

                        John; no Christian man may dare to neglect the baptism of Jesus.

                        For these reasons the Lord offered Himself to be baptized. John

                        knew Him not at first. He must have heard of Him from His parents;

                        He must have known something of the wondrous birth at Bethlehem,

                        and of his own destination to go before the face of the Lord in the

                        spirit and power of Elijah. But the two cousins had been long separated

                        from each other; they had grown up far apart; John had lived a solitary

                        life in the wilderness of Judea; Jesus had lived unknown and unregarded

                        in the quiet town of Nazareth. John did not recognize him at first; but he

                        felt the power of His presence. Holy himself, he reverenced that majesty

                        of unearthly holiness which beamed from the calm, sad, gracious eyes of

                        the Saviour of the world. His heart told him that it was a most sacred

                        Person who sought His baptism — a sinless, a Divine Presence that

                        stood before him. His hopes were kindled, his soul filled with intense,

                        eager anticipations. Surely it must be He that should come, the long-

                        expected One. The descent of the Holy Ghost revealed the Messiah

                        (John 1:33). But now a strange feeling of unworthiness came over him.

                        A deep instinct prompted him to say, like Peter, “Depart from me;

                         for I am a sinful man, O Lord!” It is ever so with His saints. The

                        nearer we draw to Christ, the more fully the Lord manifests

                        Himself to us, the more we feel our own utter sinfulness and

                        weakness. But the Lord, who in His gracious lowliness came to

                        John the Baptist, comes to His people still. John shrank from His

                        awful purity at first; he suffered Him when he heard his reassuring

                        words. It is a parable of the experience of many an awakened soul.

                        He seems so awful in His majesty, in His spotless holiness, and we

                        so feeble, defiled with so many sins; but He allures us with

                        His tender pity, He speaks comfortably to our souls, till we

                        welcome the Lord into our heart, seeking henceforth to live

                        always in that blessed fellowship which is with the Father and

                        with His Son Jesus Christ.

 

  • THE DIVINE MANIFESTATION.

 

Ø      He went up straightway out of the water. There seems to be meaning in

                        these words. His baptism was a consecration for His great and blessed

                        office. Son of God though He was, He had, in the mysterious union of

                        the human and Divine, increased in wisdom from childhood to manhood;

                        and now, it may be, the full consciousness of His Divine mission, the

                        full, clear knowledge of the awful, the most blessed, work which lay

                        before Him, dawned upon His holy human soul. He went up straightway;

                        immediately, as He emerged from the baptismal waters, He went up

                        prepared for His work; immediately He arose in the strength of holy

                        purpose and self-sacrificing love. He had lived hitherto in the quiet life

                        of lowly obedience; now He was manifested as THE GREAT HIGH

                        PRIEST, THE MESSIAH, THE ANOINTED ONE!  Priests under

                        the Law received at their consecration the baptismal purification and

                        the anointing of the holy oil. The Lord Jesus, now about to

                        enter upon His three years’ ministry, submitted to the baptism of

                        repentance, and was anointed with the Holy Ghost and with power.

 

Ø      The heavens were opened. Paradise was closed to Adam; heaven is

                        opened to Christ. The sin of Adam closed the way to Paradise; the

                        obedience of the incarnate Son opens heaven to all who follow Him.

                        As is the heavenly, such are they also that are heavenly. “He hath made

                        us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus;” “Our citizenship is

                        in heaven.”  Our treasure must be there, our heart must be in that heaven

                        which wan opened at the baptism of Jesus to all His true disciples.

                        Heaven was opened over Him at His baptism. It is opened over those

                        who are baptized by His commandment into the Name of the Father,

                        and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. For holy baptism admits us

                        into covenant with God: “In one Spirit were we all baptized into one

                        body” — the mystical body of Christ.  The members of that body are

                        bound by their baptism to obey the laws of the kingdom of heaven,

                        and to live as citizens of the heavenly commonwealth. “If a man

                        abide not in me, He is cast forth.” They who, by His grace, abide

                        in spiritual union with Christ shall one day, like the holy martyr

                        Stephen, see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing on

                        the right hand of God.

 

Ø      The descent of the Holy Spirit. The Lord was conceived by the Holy

                        Ghost. The Holy Ghost was with Him always; for in the indissoluble

                        union of the Divine Persons, the Holy Three are One. But this was a

                        consecration of the incarnate Son, God and Man, to His sacred office -

                        a grand and heavenly anointing, visible to Himself and to the Baptist.

                        “I saw the Spirit,” said John, “descending from heaven like a dove,

                         and it abode upon Him.”  God anointed Him with the Holy Ghost

                        (Acts 10:38). God the Father consecrated His incarnate Son by this

                        Divine anointing. Now He was revealed as the Priest for ever after

                        the order of Melchizedek; the King to whom the Lord God would

                        give the throne of his father David; the Prophet who would declare

                        to the faithful all that we need to know, all that we can know while

                        we are in the flesh, of that God whom no man hath seen at any

                        time. “The Spirit descended like a dove;” it descended on Him who

                        was dove-like, holy, harmless, undefiled. It found a resting-place in

                        the holy heart of Jesus. Still the blessed Spirit is brooding, dove-like,

                        over the face of the world; still He descends, another Comforter,

                        sent by the Father at the prayer of Him on whom He now descended,

                        on those who are learning of the Lord Christ to be themselves pure

                         in heart, gentle, harmless, holy. With such He abides for ever,

                        a gracious, willing Guest. Such men He consecrates with a holy

                        priesthood to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by

                        Jesus Christ.

 

Ø      The voice from heaven. The Father’s voice was heard: “This is my

                        beloved Son.” How the heart of John the Baptist must have thrilled at

                        the sound of the awful, holy words! It was the Christ indeed, the Only

                        Begotten of the Father. John stood in the presence of the Most Holy One.

                        So doth the Christian heart thrill now when the Lord Jesus Christ is

                        revealed to the soul; when the believer feels that he is in the presence of

                        God, alone with God — solus cure solo; when the heavenly voice is borne

                        in upon his heart; when he knows that his Redeemer liveth. “This is my

                        beloved Son,” whom God the Father had loved before the beginning

                        of the world, whom He loved now, always, with an eternal love; in

                        whom He loves all those to whom the beloved Son hath given power

                        to become the sons of God.  (John 1:12)  In that beloved Son God was

                        well pleased — well pleased always, well pleased now in the mysterious

                        self-sacrifice of His incarnation, of His perfect obedience. Those who

                        trust that they, too, being led by the Spirit of God, are in a true, though

                        infinitely lower sense, the sons of God, must try to please Him; it must

                        be their highest ambition, whether present or absent, to be well-pleasing

                        in His sight. As they draw nearer to Him, serving Him with a holier,

                        humbler, obedience, the heavenly voice will grow clearer, more distinct,

                        owning them to be His sons and daughters, THE CHILDREN OF

                        HIS LOVE!

 

Ø      The revelation of the blessed Trinity. At the baptism of Jesus by the

                        hand of John, the Holy Three were present:

 

o       God the Son manifest in the flesh;

o       God the Holy Ghost descending in a dove-like form;

o       God the Father speaking from heaven,

 

                        recognizing in Jesus, God and Man, the only begotten Son of His love.

                        It was a manifestation of the eternal mystery — the mystery before

                        which we bow in the lowliest adoration of loving faith.  In Christian

                        baptism, the sacrament which the Lord Jesus Christ Himself ordained,

                        the Name of the blessed Three is by the Lord’s commandment

                        pronounced over the new disciple: “Baptizing them into the Name of

                        the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.” THE NAME IS

                        ONE, the Persons are Three!  The doctrine of the blessed Trinity is

                        enshrined in holy baptism.

 

  • LESSONS.

 

Ø      Imitate the Lord Jesus; use all the means of grace; observe all the

                        ordinances of religion. It becometh us to do as He did.

 

Ø      Heaven is opened to the eye of faith; it was opened to the dying

                        Stephen. Steadfastly look up to heaven. See God in all His

                        ordinances.

 

Ø      Pray earnestly for fuller gifts of the Holy Ghost. The dove-like

      Spirit is given to the dove-like heart.

 

                        Seek earnestly to be well-pleasing to God in all things.

 

           

            The Heavenly Attestation of the Sonship of Jesus (vs. 16-17)

 

The singular and thrilling event recorded in these verses is recorded also by Mark

(Mark 1:9-11) and by Luke (Luke 3:21-22) in an equally full manner, while it is

distinctly alluded to by John (John 1:32-33). It is remarkable that, though nothing is

said either way, we are left to conclude that the vision was confined to the two only –

 Jesus Himself and John the Baptist. From that time John, who had personally long

known Jesus, knew Him for certain as the Messiah; and not only heralded the Christ,

but could point to him as the Christ (John 1:29-30). Notice:

 

  • THE CRISIS AT WHICH THIS GLORIOUS ATTESTATION

            OCCURRED. The first profound act of public, spontaneous self-humiliation

            is alighted upon by the visit of a supernatural glorification.  Immediately the

            act of baptism was over, the heavens opened, the Dove sped down, the voice

            of the Majesty Himself of all the universe uttered itself forth, and glory was

            poured on Jesus.

 

  • THE CONSTITUENT PARTS OF IT.

 

Ø      The “heavens opened.” We are certainly entitled by Scripture warrant,

      to say the least, in order to help our weaker understanding and thought,

      to consider heaven as a place, that place being the abode of God. These

      helps to human imaginings of the Unknown will not discredit our faith

      in the Divine omnipresence and in the fact that He is perfect Spirit; but

      they are needful to our present limitations of apprehension of the dim,

      vast, uncomprehended.

 

Ø      The Spirit descended, and in the form of a dove. No doubt it was now

                        that an enormous accession of the Spirit was made to the human nature

                        of Jesus Christ, And the “bodily form” of the dove was to betoken

                        alike the soft flight and that tenderest gentleness of the Spirit, and

                        the peace and love of Him who was now more fully replenished

                        with the Spirit.

 

Ø      A voice from heaven speaks. It is here said “a” voice. But the words

                        spoken prove that it was none less than the voice of Heaven, the

                        voice of the majesty of the Father, of the Glory — GOD HIMSELF!

 

o       Great is the impression of voice.

o       Great may be the absolute charm of voice.

o       Great beside all else is the fixed, distinct certainty of voice, as

                                    e.g. compared with vision or with imagination.

 

                        God speaks in all creation with ten thousand voices, it is true.

                        But when He speaks with that voice which utters words, the

                        ear hears as in its own right.  The words uttered by the voice of

                        God assert:

 

o       the Sonship of Jesus;

o       that He is the object of the Father’s unqualified complacence;

                                    and

o       because that might be the complacence of feeling chiefly, by

      the analogy of human relationship, the voice asserts the

      Father’s perfect approbation as well.

 

  • THE GREAT OBJECT OF THIS ATTESTATION. It appears to

            have been vouchsafed for the absolute warranting of the faith of John the

            Baptist. The simplicity, and what should seem in some light the

            narrowness, of this object invest it to a very large extent with its greatness.

 

Ø      What a testimony of condescending graciousness to that one man!

      He is to live for Christ, to work for Christ, to die for Christ. And

      to furnish him with exactly the enough satisfaction of evidence,

      faith, growing into knowledge, all the grandest apparatus of

      Heaven is brought into use!

 

Ø      What a testimony of real consideration to the world! Is a great trust

                        committed to earthly vessels? Is it a trust of critical and tremendous

                        responsibility? Are men, not angels, the ministers of truth, of life, of

                        salvation to their fellow-men, in the name of Christ? Then alike it is

                        mercy for those who are to be blessed, as for those who are to bless,

                        that into these latter, though they should stand but one by one, and

                        follow one another in narrowest line of succession, the whole force

                        of absolute conviction should be thrown by Heaven’s and God’s

                        own most approved methods. On this occasion we cannot doubt

                        Jesus Himself was refreshed with the vision of open heaven,

                        with the alighting on Him of the holy Dove, with the voice of the

                        Father, and the words that voice spoke. But, in that John was the

                        witness, and presumably the only witness hereof, the significance

                        can be but one; and it is plain and most striking.

 

 

                        The Baptism of Jesus by the Holy Ghost  (vs. 16-17)

 

After receiving John’s baptism, Jesus “went up straightway from the

water.” He did not remain to make confession of sin, and for the obvious

reason that He had none. He went up “from the water,” or ascended the

outer hank of the Jordan; for John appears to have ministered his baptism

within the double bank of that river. Then “lo, the heavens were opened

unto Him,” etc. An interval is here clearly marked between the baptism of

John and that of the Holy Ghost, to show that the baptisms are distinct.

The latter was the true baptism of Jesus.

 

The scene manifested the Holy Trinity.  Jesus is declared to be the Son of God

by the voice of the Father.  This is a Messianic title (see Psalm 2:7; also II Samuel

7:14, cited in Hebrews 1:5; and Luke 1:35.  John, when speaking of the pre-existence,

uses the title “Word;” but when he comes to treat of the Incarnation, then he uses

this title (John 1:1-14).  Nevertheless, as a title of the Incarnation, it expresses the

Divinity of Christ. It sets forth Messiah as of the same nature with the Father

(see ch. 26:63-65; John 1:18; 5:18; 10:36; 19:7; Romans 1:3-4; Hebrews1.).

 

This voice was probably like thunder (compare John 12:29; also Job

40:9; 37:4-5;  Psalm 18:13; 29:3-4).  Yet was it distinct from thunder, for

it came in articulate phrase. It was therefore supernatural. It resembled the

 voice in which the Lord spake to Moses or answered the high priests who

consulted Him by the Urim and Thummim.

 

The Spirit of the Father rests upon the Son.  It came from the cloven heavens —

from the “excellent glory.” It was “the Spirit of glory and of God.”

 “It abode upon Him” (John 1:32-34). The gift of the Spirit as a

Spirit of wisdom and power is to be distinguished from the indwelling of

the same Spirit as a Spirit of holiness. The apostles are repeatedly said to

be “filled with the Holy Ghost;” but of Jesus it is said once for all that He

was “full of the Holy Ghost” (Luke 4:1).  Out of His fullness we receive

the measures of grace (John 1:16; 3:34-35).

 

The Spirit of God came upon Him. This is the indispensable

qualification. When He descends upon the preacher, the light of heaven

comes into his soul. Without the Spirit of God there can be no effective

spiritual teaching.  The  Spirit came upon Him as a dove. The Holy Spirit

came upon the apostles in tongues or flames, of fire. There was something

to be purged in them.  Christ had nothing that needed cleansing. The dove

is the emblem of innocence, purity, and meekness (see Isaiah 42:1-2). These

qualities should be sought and cultivated by all preachers (compare ch.10:16).

 

Christ’s baptism was the first act in the consecration of Him to His priesthood.

In the complete consecration the baptisms are three.

 

  • There was the baptism of water. “Moses brought Aaron and his sons”

            to the door of the tabernacle of the congregation and “washed them with

            water.”

 

  • This was followed by the baptism of oil. “Moses poured of the

            anointing oil upon Aaron’s head, and anointed him to sanctify him.”

 

  • The baptisms were completed in that of blood. “Moses took the blood”

            of the ram of consecration, “and put it upon Aaron’s right ear, and upon

            the thumb of his right hand, and upon the great toe of his right foot.”

 

These baptisms had their counterpart severally in the consecration of

Christ, viz.:

 

Ø      at the Jordan;

Ø      on the Mount of Transfiguration; and

Ø      in Gethsemane and Calvary.

 

We are here concerned with the first of these.

 

Ø      As Moses the Levite washed Aaron with water; so John, also a Levite,

                        washed Jesus with water, to mark Him as the Antitype of Aaron.

                        But the baptism which really inaugurated Jesus was that of the Holy

                        Ghost, which followed the baptism of John. “It is the Spirit that beareth

                        witness” in this case, not the “water” (compare I John 5:6, 8-9).

 

Ø      The attesting voice comes now with fresh meaning. “My beloved Son,

                        in whom I am well pleased.” Jesus came to do the will and fulfill the

                        pleasure of God, which the Law failed to do or fulfill (compare

                        Hebrews 10:5-10).

 

 

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