Sermon: The Kingdom of Heaven is at Hand Matthew 3:1-12

The Kingdom of Heaven is at Hand

Matthew 3:1-12

Truth Taught- We are called to repent and believe because the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.

 

Introduction

It is very fitting that as we leave the Christmas season we also leave baby Jesus. We love to hear about and sing about the birth of our Savior but now is the time for transition. In our text today, Jesus is all grown up. No more a baby in the manger, no more an infant who needs care and protection. Jesus is just about to burst onto the stage of human history.

We have one introductory figure before we get to meet Jesus and hear Him preach. We need to meet John the Baptist. John the Baptist is Jesus’ cousin and very close to His age. In fact, if you remember from Luke…

Luke 1:39–44 (ESV)

39 In those days Mary arose and went with haste into the hill country, to a town in Judah, 40 and she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. 41 And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the baby leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit, 42 and she exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! 43 And why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me? 44 For behold, when the sound of your greeting came to my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy.

Now Jesus and John are about 30 years old and beginning their ministry as preachers.

For many, John the Baptist is about as hard to understand, as he is peculiar among first century figures. We know John the Baptist is a messenger/forerunner. He the one who would prepare the people by stirring up the consciences of those around Palestine, preaching a message of repentance of sin. His preaching consisted of two basic elements. He preached repentance from sin and he preached that repentance was essential because God’s Kingdom was at hand.

So, if we were to summarize John’s purpose we might say his job was to go before the people ahead of Jesus telling them that the Messiah was about to come and the Messiah would usher in God’s Kingdom so you had better repent while there is time.

Prayer

Matthew 3:1–12 (ESV)

In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” For this is he who was spoken of by the prophet Isaiah when he said,

       “The voice of one crying in the wilderness:

       ‘Prepare the way of the Lord;

make his paths straight.’ ”

Now John wore a garment of camel’s hair and a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey. Then Jerusalem and all Judea and all the region about the Jordan were going out to him, and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.

But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father,’ for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham. 10 Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.

11 “I baptize you with water for repentance, but he who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 12 His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into the barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”

  1. John’s Preaching

In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” For this is he who was spoken of by the prophet Isaiah when he said,

       “The voice of one crying in the wilderness:

       ‘Prepare the way of the Lord;

make his paths straight.’ ”

Now John wore a garment of camel’s hair and a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey. Then Jerusalem and all Judea and all the region about the Jordan were going out to him, and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.

John preached in the wilderness of Judea, literally the desert regions. He was a fiery preacher and somewhat of an oddity. His message was plain for all to hear and understand. God’s Kingdom is about to dawn and you are not ready when it comes. Repent of your sin and begin living for God because He is coming.

Matthew then quotes from Isaiah 40:3

Isaiah 40:3 (ESV)

   A voice cries:

       “In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord;

make straight in the desert a highway for our God.

Notice first that this Isaiah text is a text about the Messiah. One thing different is it tells us the Messiah, God’s King will be God Himself…

Prepare the way for the Lord

Make a straight path for our God

So, John the Baptist is the fulfillment of the Isaiah text and he prepares the way for God Himself. This speaks volumes about the deity of Jesus the Messiah-King.

We have another prophecy about John found in Malachi…

Malachi 3:1 (ESV)

“Behold, I send my messenger, and he will prepare the way before me. And the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple; and the messenger of the covenant in whom you delight, behold, he is coming, says the Lord of hosts.

Malachi 4:5–6 (ESV)

“Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the Lord comes. And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the land with a decree of utter destruction.”

Then we have Jesus’ words about John the Baptist…

Matthew 11:7–11 (ESV)

As they went away, Jesus began to speak to the crowds concerning John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken by the wind? What then did you go out to see? A man dressed in soft clothing? Behold, those who wear soft clothing are in kings’ houses. What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. 10 This is he of whom it is written,

       “ ‘Behold, I send my messenger before your face,

who will prepare your way before you.’

11 Truly, I say to you, among those born of women there has arisen no one greater than John the Baptist. Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.

Next we are given John’s appearance…

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

What makes John’s appearance so important is because he looked a lot like Elijah the Prophet from the Old Testament.

2 Kings 1:7–8 (ESV)

He said to them, “What kind of man was he who came to meet you and told you these things?” They answered him, “He wore a garment of hair, with a belt of leather about his waist.” And he said, “It is Elijah the Tishbite.”

  1. John’s Boldness

But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father,’ for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham. 10 Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.

John preached like Elijah. Elijah didn’t care who you were, whether you were a king or a peasant it didn’t matter he told you God’s Words. This is what we see in John the Baptist. He was a bold preacher and spoke the same truth to everyone.

He was angry with the Jewish leaders because while they were among the most evil in Jerusalem they thought that they didn’t have any sin and that they were ready to be baptized.

Do you see what John tells them? You are coming for baptism and there has not been any repentance or concern for sin. You just think you can be baptized and that you’re ready for that. You think you are among God’s people because you are Jewish and children of Abraham. Understand God is not impressed with your lineage because you are in deep sin and don’t even know it.

To call the religious leaders in Jerusalem sinners was very bold. John is in line with the message of the OT prophets who spoke boldly against Israel and Judah. The subject of God’s harsh words was the fact that they were in grave sin and they either didn’t know it or pretended that they were alright with God because of who they were.

How quickly is God’s judgment coming? God’s Kingdom appears when Christ begins preaching. He is around the bend in the River Jordon heading this way and John knew it. With Jesus comes God’s Kingdom and judgment on all who stand far off and do not repent of their sin.

With the coming of Christ, the kingdom begins not in the coronation of a mighty king but in the birth of a crying baby. Yet as Jesus’ ministry begins, He announces, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:15). What Israel had long awaited, Christ had now inaugurated.

Where the king is, there is the kingdom. This is precisely why Jesus says to the Pharisees, “The kingdom of God is in the midst of you” (Luke 17:21). As Graeme Goldsworthy teaches, Jesus embodies the kingdom motif of God’s people in God’s place under God’s rule. Jesus is both the faithful ruler and the righteous citizen of the kingdom.

John the Baptist knows this and He is preparing the people by preaching repentance, the Kingdom of God and Baptizing those whom God has saved.

  1. John’s Prophecy

11 “I baptize you with water for repentance, but he who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 12 His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into the barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”

First, our Church of Christ friends latch on to this verse to say, see baptism saves you. Is that really what John is getting at? What he is really doing here is contrasting his symbolic baptism with the greater baptism Jesus will administer. He says something like this…I’m baptizing you because of your initial repentance and encouraging you to continue to walk in repentance but when the Messiah King comes He will not baptize you with water but His baptism is with the Holy Spirit.

John who was a very famous preacher at the time also realizes the greatness of the One who was coming… but he who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry.

Jesus’ greatness will far overshadow John’s greatness. John knows his role is to simply prepare the people to hear from and experience the forgiveness and purification Jesus will bring to those who would believe.

Jesus’ baptism is not just for repentance but when a person is baptized with the Holy Spirit and with fire (symbolic as an element of purification) the person is born again and will continue in repentance for the rest of their lives. Jesus’ Spirit-fire baptism will be received by all His people as He saves us from our sin.

When the Messiah-King comes not only will he baptize with the Holy Spirit and with fire for those whom He saves but He will also bring eternal judgment as well.

12 His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into the barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”

Jesus came to separate the wheat from the chaff, the sheep from the goats, His people who believe from unbelievers.

The nearness of the Kingdom calls for our belief and repentance.

Application

We must understand that John the Baptist’s message is the message we still need to hear today.

Repent because the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand…
We must turn from our sin to follow Jesus Christ. This message was true in John’s day and true in ours as well.

In Luke’s Gospel he goes in to a little more detail about what repentance looks like.

Luke 3:10–14 (ESV)

10 And the crowds asked him, “What then shall we do?” 11 And he answered them, “Whoever has two tunics is to share with him who has none, and whoever has food is to do likewise.” 12 Tax collectors also came to be baptized and said to him, “Teacher, what shall we do?” 13 And he said to them, “Collect no more than you are authorized to do.” 14 Soldiers also asked him, “And we, what shall we do?” And he said to them, “Do not extort money from anyone by threats or by false accusation, and be content with your wages.”

A life of true salvation will live differently. These people who were coming to John were being drawn by God. God was at work in their hearts and minds. They were turning from their sin because God was saving them.
We too must live lives of repentance. God calls all Christians everywhere to turn from sin and follow Him in love and humility and contentment.

We must ask ourselves the same question the people were asking John the Baptist, namely, based on God’s work in my heart, now what does God want me to do? What then shall we do?
1 Thessalonians 5:12–18 (ESV)

12 We ask you, brothers, to respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, 13 and to esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Be at peace among yourselves. 14 And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all. 15 See that no one repays anyone evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to everyone. 16 Rejoice always, 17 pray without ceasing, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.

 

 

*Resources Used:

Matthew by D A Carson in the Expositor’s Bible Commentary

A Theology of Matthew by Charles Quarles

A Gospel of Matthew by France

Matthew by Craig Bloomberg

Matthew by Doriani

Matthew by Charles Price

Matthew by Leon Morris

Blue Letter Bible

 

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