Repentance involves confession, contrition, and conversion. This process begins with an admission of sin, leads to a sorrow over sin, and ends with a turn from sin. In this message on Matthew 3:1–17, Pastor David Platt serves the church by defining repentance biblically and wisely.
- Tell the world to repent and be baptized.
- Tell the world to resolve to proclaim this gospel.
If you have a Bible—and I hope you do—I invite you to open with me to Matthew 3 and pull out that worship guide that you received when you came in. Matthew 3 on this New Year’s Day—a day for resolutions. Looking back to things over the last year that went well, or not so well; looking forward to things that we’d like to do a little bit better. In fact, here’s what I’d like you to do. I want you to find a blank space somewhere on your worship guide and I want you to think with me to the beginning of our time in the Word. If you had to nail down one resolution for your life over the next year, what you want to do different in 2012, what would it be? And I want you to write it down somewhere on that worship guide. So think about…Ok, if you had to narrow it down to one resolution that you wanted to do differently in 2012, what would it be?
In fact, I want to do a little audience participation on this. So, no pressure, but I want to see if there’s some folks who’d be willing to share with the rest of us what your resolution might be. So I’m going to start over here on this side. Can I get somebody—just three or four folks total—but to share, alright, one resolution that you’ve got in 2012? Who would be bold enough to share? Ok, don’t make me regret this audience participation. I’ll come up with three or four of my own. All right Andy Underwood, what you got, man?
Audience member: “Well, I’ve been married for a little over 18 years, but there’s always a need to fine–tune things, so I’m resolving to communicate better with my wife this year.”
Good word. And where is your wife? She’s not here, oh ok, well that’s good. Well, you communicate that to her. That’s even…that’s great, that’s great. All right? All right, somebody here in the middle. Anybody willing to share resolution they would have? Ok, here we go.
Audience member: “I would like this year to be…let everyone know how much I care about them. And not be afraid to let them…tell them.”
Hmm, that’s a good one. That’s good, that’s good. Hey, it’s great to see you guys. To care for somebody, to communicate to your wife, to really let people know that you care. All right, somebody on this side, who would be willing to share a resolution for this next year? Anybody? All right, here we go right in the back. Ok, what would it be?
Audience member: “I want to be consistent in learning Scripture.”
That’s good, that’s good, consistent in learning the Word. Ok, so we’ve got resolutions that we think of in our mind. Whether we really want to put it out there and say, “Ok, I want to be held accountable for this,” is another story. Which brings us to Matthew 3, which is an absolutely perfect text for New Year’s Day. Because what happens is we have John the
Baptist coming on the scene to introduce what is literally a new day. An entirely new day in redemptive history and to call people in the span of history to start completely over.
So I want us to read Matthew 3 and then I want us to think about resolutions and how they relate to repentance. Matthew 3:1–17:
In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.” For this is he who was spoken of by the prophet Isaiah when he said, “The voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord; make his paths straight.’”
Now John wore a garment of camel’s hair and a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey. Then Jerusalem and all Judea and all the region about the Jordan were going out to him, and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.
But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father,’ for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham. Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.
“I baptize you with water for repentance, but he who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into the barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”
Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to John, to be baptized by him. John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented. And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; and behold, a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”
So what I want us to do this morning is I want us to think about the ministry of John the Baptist 2,000 years ago and let that lead us to think about the ministry of The Church at Brook Hills in 2012. To see what this text means for each of us individually and then to consider what this text means for us together as a faith family.
The Ministry of John the Baptist: Prepare the Way
So, we’ll start here with ministry of John the Baptist—don’t miss the context here. Remember how the Old Testament ended. In fact, you might turn back just a few pages in your Bible to the left and you’ll come to the very last verses of the Old Testament, Malachi 4:5–6. And I want to remind you how the whole Old Testament came to a conclusion: Malachi 4:5. It’s just…You just take a left—couple pages back in your Bible—you come to Malachi 4:5. And God said through Malachi the prophet, “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.”
So here you’ve got God in the end of the Old Testament promising to send, Malachi says, “Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the LORD comes,” who will turn people back to one another before…will bring “a decree of utter destruction”. So that’s the message at the end of the Old Testament. And then between Malachi 4:6 and Matthew 1:1 you have literally 400 years of silence in these couple pages in your Bible. Four hundred years of God not revealing His Word to His people. And then when Matthew opens up we see this list that recaps all the Old Testament—which we talked about in December—all leading to Jesus, the one born King of the Jews. We see Him worshipped by nations and then we come to Matthew chapter 3 and we’re introduced to a prophet named John the Baptist.
Now turn one more place real quick; go to Matthew 11 and I want you to see what Jesus says about John the Baptist. Matthew 11…look with me at verse 7. Matthew 11:7–15, and I want you to hear Jesus’ commentary on John. He says,
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, [Jesus says] and more than a prophet. This is he of whom it is written, “‘Behold, I send my messenger before your face, who will prepare your way before you.’
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. From the days of John the Baptist until now the Kingdom of Heaven has suffered violence, and the violent take it by force. For all the Prophets and the Law prophesied until John, [now pay attention close to verse 14] and if you are willing to accept it, he is [who?] Elijah who is to come. He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”
So we realize that Malachi’s prophecy in Malachi 4:5–6 was not a prophecy of a literal reappearance of Elijah. Instead, he was talking about the coming of a prophet like Elijah who would prepare the way for the Lord. And that’s exactly who John the Baptist is.
Matthew 3 Talks about How John is Prophesying Boldly
So he comes, the man, prophesying boldly. Come back to Matthew 3 and Matthew quotes from Isaiah 40:3 where Isaiah talked about a prophet who would come crying n the wilderness “prepare the way of the LORD; make His paths straight.” The whole imagery here in the ancient world was of a herald who would come in advance of a king—who would come to say, “Hey, the king is coming!” And he would make the way straight—make sure the road is smooth and everyone is prepared for the king to come.
It’s clear from Isaiah’s prophecy as well as John’s words here in Matthew 3, “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand,” that this is no ordinary king’s coming. This is the Lord. “Prepare the way of the Lord” (Isaiah 40:3). This is the Lord Himself—the King of the Universe—who is coming.
John 3 Shows Us John Living Simply
So John is prophesying boldly, he’s living simply in the wilderness with a garment of camel’s hair, leather belt around his waist. You may remember 2 Kings 1:8 described Elijah wearing “a garment of hair and a belt of leather around his waist”. And this guy is eating grasshoppers and honey. Nothing elaborate or attractive about him at all.
John 3 Shows John Baptizing Openly
Living simply, prophesying boldly, baptizing openly. This is where he gets the name “John the Baptist”, or “John the Baptizer”. And the picture we have here from the very beginning of the New Testament when it comes to baptism—which is why we baptize the way we do— is immersion in water. John is in a river where people come down into the river to be baptized. It’s what this word “Baptist” or “Baptizer” means, literally “to immerse” or “to dunk.” This is “John the Dunker” coming on the scene, which is why we dunk the way we do.
John 3 Presents John Serving Humbly
So he’s prophesying boldly, living simply, baptizing openly, and serving humbly. John knows his role. Just as we see here in verse 3 (we’ll see it later in verse 11), he knows that he is preparing the way for Jesus the King who is coming and he says, “I’m not even worthy to carry his sandals. That which would be the most menial, servile task. I am not worthy to do.” John’s heart is summarized in John 3:30, when he says, “Jesus must become greater, I must become less.” John knew that the purpose of his life in the pages of human history was not to point people to himself, but to point people to the King and prepare them for His coming.
And his message was clear, “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.” So let’s unpack that, split that up. First, repent.
What does this mean? We’re going to talk about this a little more when we get down to talking about baptism, but we need to pause for a second and realize what it means biblically to repent. This is a word we use often. But if I were to ask you, “Ok what does it mean to repent? What does that mean in Scripture?” And the original word in the Greek for “repent” is literally talking about “a change of one’s mind.” But when we look at all of Scripture we know that this is more than just a mind-change, changing a decision. This is deep. I want you to see that biblically repentance involves confession; repentance involves admission of sin.
This is what these people were coming out to do. Verse 6 says they were coming out to the wilderness to be baptized and they were confessing their sins. And all throughout Scripture God is calling His people to realize, to take responsibility, in confession for their sins. But that alone is clearly not enough. Just to realize your sin—to admit your sin—that alone is useless. You look at Exodus 9:27 and Pharaoh is acknowledging his sin before the Lord.
Joshua 7:20, Achan is admitting his sin before the Lord. First Samuel 15:24, an insincere Saul is admitting his sin before the Lord. But there’s not repentance going on in any one of those situations, so clearly there is more than admission of sin involved here. So repentance involves confession, admission of sin, and contrition (sorrow over sin). A deep realization in your heart that you have sinned. Psalm 51 when David in agony of his sin cries out “against You only Lord, against You I have sinned.”
This is different than worldly sorrow over getting caught which Paul talks about in 2 Corinthians 7:10. He talks about worldly sorrow that basically is a selfish sorrow; when you know you’ve done something wrong and you feel bad for yourself and you’re sorry that you got caught doing something wrong. That’s not the kind of sorrow that we’re talking about here. Biblically repentance involves a sorrow that you have sinned against God. This is godly sorrow that leads to godly repentance. Confession, contrition, all of that leading to conversion, a turning from sin. And that’s literally what this word “repent” means.
When John comes on the scene he says, “Repent.” He’s saying, “Be converted. Recognize your sin and renounce it. Turn from it.” In the words of Elijah in 1 Kings 18, “Decide who you’re going to follow.” Turn your heart, turn your life, back to the Lord. Repent! Why? For the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.
…for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.
Now you might circle those three words, “Kingdom of Heaven” because this is the first time of 32 different times that we’re going to see that phrase mentioned in the book of Matthew. Just a side note here, when you go to the other gospels you see them talk more about the Kingdom of God, but it’s really the same thing in Kingdom of heaven here, Kingdom of God there, same thing, not a difference.
So John comes on the scene and he’s saying, “The Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.” The Kingdom of Heaven, the reign and the rule of God is breaking into history into an entirely new way. Which means two things, two realities crystal clear with the Kingdom of Heaven being at hand. One, salvation is here. You tie this…these words from John with what we’ve already seen about Jesus in Matthew 1, that He’s the One who would come and save His people from their sins. Here they’re confessing their sins. So what John is saying is, “Salvation is here, the One who will save you from your sins has come!”
So there’s a hugely encouraging tone in this announcement that the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand, salvation is here! But at the same time there’s a warning that we see throughout this chapter we’re going to talk about more specifically in just a minute. Yes, salvation is here, but also damnation is near. We’re going to talk about this when we get to verse 12, but I want us to realize from the very beginning that this message of the kingdom is good news for all who repent, but it is bad news for all those who do not repent. It is good news for all who will trust in Jesus to be saved from their sins. It is bad news to all those who will turn away from Jesus in their sins. The day of the Lord prophesied all throughout the Old Testament was prophesied as a day of both blessing and judgment. So you have John coming on the scene and he’s urgently calling people to repent because, yes, salvation is here, but also because damnation is near to all who remain in their sin.
So the method that he uses and the picture that clearly illustrates all of this is baptism. So let’s think about it in two ways here in Matthew 3.
The baptism of the Jews…
First, the baptism of Jews and this was hugely important. Little background here, baptism was not common at all among the Jewish people. In fact, the only people who would be baptized leading up to this point would be Gentiles who decide to place their faith in Yahweh and basically become followers of the one true God, the God of Israel. And so when a Gentile decided to do that, they would be baptized as a picture of them renouncing their old ways and saying, “Yes, I’m entering into faith in Yahweh.” And so it’s surprising, we come on the scene here and we see people from Jerusalem and the region of Judea, Jewish people who are coming to be baptized. And in so doing basically what they are saying is, “I need to renounce my old ways. Even my Jewish ways. Confess my sins and place my faith in Yahweh.” Basically, them saying, “My Jewishness doesn’t guarantee me anything before God. I need to personally confess my sins, profess my faith in Him.”
And here—for the first time in Scripture—we see the significance of baptism. The reality that baptism at the core… What happens when someone is baptized? It’s a renouncing of yourself. In baptism, you renounce your dependence on yourself. You acknowledge that there is nothing inherent in you that can save you before God. Including, number one, your family heritage. This was huge! Jewish people believed that simply by being part of the people of Israel, they were right before God. This is why John goes off on these Pharisees and Sadducees in verses 7–10. Pharisees and Sadducees were on many different pages in many different ways, but one place where they were on the same page was in thinking that they could do things in order to earn the favor of God, in order to earn righteousness before God.
And so John looks at them—they’re coming out to see what’s going on out here in the wilderness—and he looks at them and he says, “You’re a brood of vipers.” Literally “you are the offspring of snakes.” Not a compliment. He says, “You’re way of living is breeding condemnation for all kinds of people, thinking that there is something you can do, or you have in and of yourself, to merit righteousness before God.” That’s why he says what he says in Matthew 3:9, he says, “do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’” In other words, don’t presume to say, “Well we’re descendants of Israel.” “Big deal!” John says. He says, “The axe is at the root of that tree.” You look at your lives and he says, “There’s no fruit in keeping with repentance in your life. You think your standing before God is based on who you are, your family heritage. You think your Jewishness—being a child of Abraham—is what makes you right before God. But that cannot save you.”
Just because you were born into a certain family—which, on a very important side note, and in all due respect to brothers and sisters from traditions of infant baptism, many of whom are close friends of mine—but don’t miss this! The very first picture of baptism in the New Testament is a clear message to all of us that Jesus came to oppose the idea that someone could be born into His family by physical birth. That’s a dangerous and potentially damning idea that people all across Birmingham and around the world believe. That because they were born into a Christian family, maybe even baptized into a Christian church, that they call themselves Christians when they are not. This is rampant around the world where Christian is a family or social identification or label when the reality of Scripture is nothing in your family heritage can make you right before God. And this is what baptism symbolizes.
Baptism is a definitive sign. That you’ve… Not that you’ve been born into a covenant family.
Baptism is a sign that it doesn’t matter what family you’ve been born into. You’re personally called to repent, confess your sins and put your faith in the Lord.
This is huge. So in baptism you renounce your dependence on your family heritage, you renounce your dependence on your personal righteousness. The Pharisees in particular were known for their extensive study and application of the Law. They based their whole lives around Jewish laws and Jewish traditions, working to attain righteousness before God. And so to be baptized was to confess, “I’m not righteous. I can’t do it. I must renounce my ways.” So baptism involved renouncing dependence on your family heritage, dependence on your personal righteousness and dependence on your worldly accomplishments (worldly successes). And this was more the Sadducees who were known as rich landowners, wealthy beneficiaries of things in the temple, living for present reward or award in this world because they thought that’s all there was to. There was no resurrection from the dead. And baptism is a confession that none of your stuff and none of your successes in this world can ever merit salvation before God.
And all of this is huge in our understanding of baptism. It’s such a common symbol and something we rightly celebrate week after week after week in our worship gatherings. But if we…if we… If it becomes too commonplace we’ll lose the imagery. Baptism is a picture of renouncing. It’s literally a picture of death. Of being plunged—dunked—that’s the whole picture. You’re dying to yourself and you’re rising to an entire new way of life. It’s a decisive turning. It represents all we’ve talked about: confession, contrition and conversion.
Renouncing your sins, renouncing yourself and relying on the mercy of God, that’s the picture. We renounce our dependence on our self and we rely on the mercy of God. Baptism is the confession—a profession that there is nothing you can do to save yourself from your sins, you need the Lord to do that.
And that’s the good news that John brought. You get down to verse 11 and he says, “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.” So John says this baptism is just a foretaste—a foretaste of the reality that the Savior King is coming. The one who will save you from your sins is coming and He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. Now that verse right there can be potentially confusing on a couple of different levels, so hang with me here for a second.
First, when John talks about coming to…Jesus coming to baptize with the Holy Spirit, the Bible’s not saying that water baptism then won’t be that important. We know that because at the end of Matthew, Jesus tells all of His disciples to go and baptize people in all nations (Matthew 28:19). And when we get to the book of Acts, we see people trusting in Christ and immediately they are baptized. So baptism with water would be a standing, outward symbol of an inward reality in Spirit Baptism. Which leads to the second picture. When we see “baptized with the Spirit”—because of some charismatic teachings in our…in the church today—people think, “Well, baptism of the Spirit, that’s something that’s only a few select Christians have and it’s associated with speaking in tongues.”
But that’s not the way Scripture talks about baptism of the Spirit. The majority of the times Scripture talks about baptism of the Spirit, it’s referring to exactly what John said right here. And then when Paul talks about all of the church being baptized with the Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:13), the whole picture in Scripture is that when you trust in Christ for salvation, the Spirit of God comes to dwell in you. What has been promised all throughout the Old Testament becomes a reality in your heart and you are baptized with the Spirit at the moment of your conversion—of placing your faith in Christ. So all who have trusted in Christ have been baptized with the Spirit. And that’s the whole picture. John’s saying,
“Jesus is going to come.” The King is coming and He will transform your hearts. Just like we saw prophesied in Jeremiah and Ezekiel and in Joel. Through Christ God gives us a new heart and He puts a new spirit within us (Ezekiel 36:26). He pours out His Spirit on us (Joel 2:28–29). Jesus the King transformed our hearts and then He purifies our lives, and that’s what he’s saying. He will baptize… Jesus is coming. The King is coming who will baptize you with Spirit and fire.
And there’s some debate about the picture of fire here, whether or not this is talking about the condemnation that we’re about to talk about in verse 12 or if this is talking about purification. I lean toward the purification picture simply because when you get to Acts 2 and you see the Holy Spirit come down on the people of God at Pentecost and you see tongues of fire resting on them, this is a picture that we see associated with the Spirit’s coming. And all throughout Scripture fire is used to talk about purifying or refining our lives.
And so the reality is when you trust in Jesus the King the Spirit transforms your heart…the Spirit of God transforms your heart and begins to purify your life. An inward reality that is expressed publicly in an outward symbol of physical baptism. Relying on the mercy of God, the Savior King is coming, but then John also says, “The Righteous Judge is close.” Now please listen very closely with me to verse 12. John says of Jesus, “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.”
And this may not be very familiar imagery to us but the picture is of a farmer who would be separating grain which was good, from chaff which was bad. What he would do is he would take a winnowing fork and he would take the grain and chaff and he would toss them into the air. And the grain—which was heavier—would fall to the ground. The chaff—which was lighter—would blow to the side. And this is the process by which grain and chaff would be separated through the use of a winnowing fork. The grain would fall so it would be all together and it would be taken and used for its purposes. The chaff—which was useless— would then be taken, compiled together, and thrown into the fire. And this is the imagery John uses to describe the coming of Jesus. That He is coming to separate those who repent and turn, trust in God for salvation and those who do not. And he says those who do not will be thrown into the unquenchable fire.
So Jesus is coming as Savior, absolutely, but He is also coming as Judge. And as Judge, His wrath is imminent. The winnowing fork is in His hand. The axe is at the tree. And He is cutting down every tree that does not bear the fruit of faith and throwing it into the fire. His wrath is imminent and His punishment is eternal. Do you hear the description here?
“Unquenchable fire,” fire that can never be quenched. Don’t miss this. This is the essence of the gospel of the Kingdom! God is King. He is righteous. He’s wholly set against sin. And we all have sin in our lives, separated from God the King and deserving of death before a Holy God. But the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand; the King has come in the person of Christ to save us from our sins. So turn and trust in Him. Repent and be baptized. Be saved from imminent wrath and eternal punishment. You see it? That’s the good news! The bad news is those who do not turn from their sin and trust in Jesus the Savior King will be thrown into the unquenchable fire and experience the judgment they are due.
So some people take this message and say, “Well it looks like John was the first preacher to preach hellfire and damnation.” But don’t miss it. John was the first preacher to preach grace and mercy and the rescue of God. To a people condemned in sin, destined to receive the imminent wrath of God, John comes on the scene and he says, “There is a way out. The King has come. Turn from your sin and trust in Him and He will save you.” That’s really good news! That’s great news for all who trust in Christ. That is damning news for all who continue to trust in themselves.
The Kingdom of Heaven is at hand. That’s why there’s urgency in John’s voice calling them to repent. Now all of this leads to Jesus showing up in the wilderness. And He wants to be baptized by John.
The Baptism of Jesus…
And all of a sudden the baptism of Jews switches to the baptism of Jesus, the very Son of God. And you see the whole Trinity involved in this thing. You see the Son obeying…the Son obeys. Now based on all we’ve talked about with baptism so far, you can’t help but to wonder, “Well, why does Jesus need to be baptized? He had no need to renounce Himself.
He had no sin to repent of. Why does Jesus need to be baptized?” And that’s exactly what John asks. “I’m not going to baptize You! You need to baptize me!” And Jesus responds, “It is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.”
There’s a lot of discussion about exactly what that means. Some think that it means Jesus is saying one thing, some think another. I think it’s a combination of things; a convergence of a variety of different factors which lead to Jesus being baptized here. On one hand, Jesus is being baptized—at least in part—as a part of His identification with sinners. Remember that Isaiah 53 told us that Jesus would come and He would be numbered with the transgressors (Isaiah 53:12). He would identify with them, ultimately identifying with them in their sin.
And this is primarily what we do in baptism. We identify with Jesus with His life and His death and His resurrection. So it makes sense that baptism is—in a very real sense—His identification with us. He who had no sin took His place among those who had no righteousness (2 Corinthians 5:21). That’s the essence of what Jesus came to do. Illustrated from the very beginning in His being baptized.
So, first, identification with sinners. But then in addition to His identifying with us, it seems that Jesus is also setting an example for us: His baptism and identification with sinners and an example for saints. He is modeling the obedience for His followers that He will eventually command of His followers. From the very beginning, Jesus is validating the importance…essential importance of baptism. He begins His ministry by showing what will be central in our mission. Baptism is not something we’ve made up. Baptism is not some man-made tradition. Baptism is something that God made up and something that God has told every follower of Christ to do. Something that He’s told us to do in every nation. And so Jesus sets the stage for all that with the way He begins His ministry. An identification with sinners, an example for saints and a picture of salvation.
We’ve already mentioned this, but baptism is a very clear picture of death and resurrection to new life. And Jesus from the very beginning is giving us a picture—a foretaste—of what will be the climax of His ministry. His immersion portrays His future death and resurrection so that every person who trusts in Christ in their baptism—in their immersion in and out of water—will show a picture of dying to sin in ourselves and rising to new life in Christ. So for all of these reasons—the Son obeys, the Spirit anoints, heavens open, Spirit of God descending like a dove… This was not the Spirit coming onto Jesus for the first time. We know that because Matthew 1 made it clear to us that before Jesus was even born the Holy Spirit was upon Him. This is a public display of what Isaiah prophesied. Isaiah 61, the Spirit of the Lord will be on Him and will anoint Him to preach good news to the poor and to bind the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty for the captives, to set free the oppressed, the Spirit of the Lord will be on Him for this purpose (Isaiah 61:1).
So we have the Son obeying, the Spirit anointing, and then the Father speaking, the Father speaks. And it’s an incredible scene as we get an unobstructed glimpse into the Father’s relationship with the Son. And as He speaks, He says, “This is my beloved Son with whom I am well pleased.” We don’t have time to turn to these two places, but that’s a clear allusion to two different passages. One—you might make a note in your Bible—one, Psalm 2:7–9 where the Father, speaking of Jesus the Messiah, says, “You are my Son…and I will make the nations your heritage…you shall break them with a rod of iron.” Psalm 2, Jesus is God’s beloved Son, existing in complete and unhindered intimacy with the Father. And Jesus is God’s beloved Son, Psalm 2.
And then Isaiah 42:1 which is the very beginning of the servant songs in the book of Isaiah, prophesying the Suffering Servant Who would come. What happens is the Lord says, “Behold my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights”. The servant who would later—Isaiah tells us—be “pierced for our transgressions and crushed for our iniquities” (Isaiah 53:5). So this picture in the very beginning in Matthew 3 Jesus is yes, God’s beloved Son and He is also our Suffering Servant.
The Ministry of The Church at Brook Hills: Tell the World
So all of this, all loads up Matthew 3 to introduce Jesus and the ministry that He will have, the ministry that will begin next week when we look at Matthew 4 and we see His temptation in the wilderness of His own. But I want us to pause at this point on this New Year’s Day and consider what all of this means, particularly in the next year for The Church at Brook Hills and for you and me in this room. Because there’s a lot of ways that we are similar to John the Baptist. Then there’s also some ways that you and I are very different from John the Baptist. So here’s two take away for you and me.
Repent and be baptized…
Number one, repent and be baptized. This was the message from John. It’s repeated verbatim when you get down to Matthew 4:17 in the mouth of Jesus. He says, “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.” Exact same thing. And then you get to the New Testament…You get to the book of Acts, birth of the early church, Acts 2, first Christian sermon, what does Peter say at the end of that sermon? He says, “Repent and be baptized (Acts 2:38).” So clearly in the mouth of John, in the mouth of Jesus, in all of Scripture, the message of the New Testament—new covenant—is this: repent and be baptized. So without question the message of Scripture for every single person in this room this morning is clear.
Turn from your sin!
So let this text now just come right into your lap. You renounce your dependence on yourself. Renounce your dependence on your family heritage. Renounce your dependence on your personal righteousness. Renounce your dependence on your worldly successes and accomplishments. All of those things will burn up when it matters most. There are people all across this room this morning who are banking their status before God and their life for eternity based on family heritage or personal acts, works, righteousness before God, or worldly successes. And when you think to the…back to the last year and you think, “Well I’ve done this and this and this and this and this.” Hear this. Ultimately, eternally, none of that matters. Renounce your dependence on yourself. Turn from your sin and trust in the Son. The beloved Son of God Who came to save you from your sin. Turn from your sin and trust in the Son. And as you do, rest in His righteousness.
Now don’t miss the application here of Matthew 3:17 to your life. Jesus is God’s beloved Son in whom He is well pleased. When you place your faith in Him, when you unite your life with Him and the Father looks down on your life, He sees His Son. And you are counted righteous before Him and you are pleasing in His sight, beloved by Him, not based on anything—the wonder of it!—not based on anything you have done or could ever do. But simply based on the fact that your life is united with Christ, you are His beloved child in whom He is well pleased. Do not enter into 2012, Christian, thinking you need to do anything else to earn the favor of God. At this moment on the first day of 2012, if you have hidden your life in Christ, you are righteous in Him, accepted by God in Him and delightful to God through Him. So just rest in that. Just enter 2012—in that sense—very lazy. Not thinking, “What am I going to do?” But thinking, “It’s already been done and I’m right before God. There’s nothing I need to do in 2012 to make myself right before God.” And in Christ, rest in His righteousness.
Take your place in His position and then as you rest in Jesus—so this is where it’s not lazy— as you rest in Jesus, then bear the fruit of faith in Him. To quote from what John was saying to the Pharisees and Sadducees, “Bear fruit in keeping with repentance.” You say, “Well, what does that mean? To bear the fruit of faith in Him?” Well first of all, as a Christian, be baptized! Okay? I’m always shocked to see how many followers of Christ have never been baptized. Why in the world not? Brother or sister in Christ, what are you waiting for? If this is you, tear off that form in the worship guide immediately. Put your contact information on the front, turn it over on the back, put “Baptism.”
This is simple, basic obedience to Christ. You’re living in disobedience and you’re missing out on the joy of identification with Christ before a watching world. We see that it’s important from the very beginning, before Jesus’ ministry even starts! We’ve got this picture of baptism. We’ve got it at the very end of Matthew, “Go and make disciples, baptizing them in all nations” (Matthew 28:19). The New Testament knows nothing of an unbaptized Christian. It makes no sense; they don’t even exist. The only exception would be the thief on the cross and he had a pretty good excuse. He was dead in minutes.
So be baptized, Christian. It’s the fruit of faith in Him. If that has not taken place, let that be your first step. Fruit of faith in Him. And this is why… This is why we don’t focus on other public kinds of professions of faith in the church—whether it’s raising hands or walking aisles or taking stands—because baptism is the biblical, visual, public picture of saving identification with Christ. So be baptized. And then—for all of us…all of us who are in Christ—let’s live our lives this year in overflow of faith in Him. And this is so key. I word that very intentionally because this is so key when we think about resolutions on New Year’s Day. If we are not careful, resolutions—the best resolutions—if we’re not careful in the way we approach them, they can only drive us into deeper dependence on ourselves. What we are going to try to do harder this year, how we are going to change ourselves.
But remember that the essence of following Christ, the essence of what was initially displayed in your baptism was the renouncing of yourself; a death to yourself. A death to your every effort to improve yourself, to obey God in your own strength in your own power in your own resolve. Don’t do that. Trust in Christ. Trust in Christ more this year and ask Him to do these things in you, whether it is in your marriage or in your relationships with others or in your time in the Word. Ask Him to produce faith in you to bring that kind of fruit about. Only He can do it. We know that we can do things, that we can manufacture things in our own flesh and in our own strength. But don’t we want to live lives that are clearly compelled—impelled—by the very Spirit of God in us? Doing immeasurably more than all we could even begin to ask or imagine this next year.
We want Him to do things in and through us that we could never do on our own. This is not a self-improvement, self-help seminar at the beginning of 2012. That would miss the entire point of Christianity. We’ve died to ourselves. Christ lives in us. We want His life to flow through us, so let’s press into Him individually. And then as a church, let’s press into Him. I think about what the Lord has done in our midst over the last few years in ways that we didn’t plan as He’s taken us to new places of faith in Him. Whether it was 2009 when we walked through James, we’re just reading the Bible, studying it together and God takes us to a deeper place of faith.
We say, “We want to…we want to take on our county and take care of foster children in need all over our county.” Then a few weeks later we take hundreds of thousands of dollars and give it away for the sake of urgent spiritual and physical need around the world. The Word, faith, Christ, faith in Him, produced that, right? Well okay, what can we manufacture this year? No, this…As we study the Word, this happens. Then the next year we walked through the radical experiment and God takes us to new places of dependence on Him and abandonment to Him and surrender to Him. Then this last year we sent record numbers of brothers and sisters from our midst around the world in so many different capacities. I’ve seen some of them here, been talking with the Browns, with the Nichols who’ve been back and visiting. Then others have been talking with who we’ve sent out to plant churches in…over the last year in Seattle and Kansas City and New York and East Asia and North Africa. Fruit of faith in Him.
So it makes me wonder, “What’s going to happen in 2012?” And I don’t have, like, a big plan for what’s going to happen. This is not like a setup for something’s coming next week that I’m going to tell you about. This is me saying to us as a faith family, “Let’s dive into this Word.” Matthew over the coming weeks, then we’re going to dive into Revelation after that, and whatever we go to after that. And as we do, as we study His Word, let’s ask Him to produce faith in us, to believe Him, to trust in Him, and as the overflow of that there are lives and this church will be a reflection of what only He can do. May 2012 be a fruitful year of faith in Him.
Resolve to proclaim the gospel…
And then, let’s make this our resolve. So here’s one thing, one thing I want to put before you. So I asked in the beginning, “Alright, try and think of one resolution.” I want to bring this back around to one resolution I’d like to put before every member of this faith family for this next year. Not resolution in the sake of “Okay, just try harder, depend on yourself for this.” Talking about in Christ, not on our own effort, but in Christ. Together—individually and as a faith family—let’s resolve to proclaim this gospel this year.
Here’s what I mean. You think about John the Baptist. His entire purpose on the pages of human history was to prepare the way for the coming of Christ. Everything he did was for that purpose—prepare the way, prepare the way. And this is obviously not what we do; we don’t prepare the way for the coming of Christ. We don’t prepare the way; instead, we tell the world. We tell the world that God’s Son has come. We don’t say, “He’s coming!” We say, “He has come.” Good news, Jesus the King has come to save us from our sins. That’s the good news. The bad news…just like John the Baptist warned of impending judgment, we do the same. We tell people that God’s Son has come and we tell people that God’s judgment is coming. We tell people that if they don’t repent and trust in Christ, judgment is coming.
Imminent wrath and eternal punishment. So here’s the deal, leave your notes out here for a second because I want to…I want to come back to something in a second. You say, “I can’t tell people that! Friends, coworkers, acquaintances, I mean I can’t tell people that God’s wrath is coming on the unrepentant. That doesn’t go over well at the water cooler in the office.”
But think about it brothers and sisters. How unloving do we have to be in order not to tell people that? If this is true—this whole thing in here is not just some cultural game we’re playing—if this is true, if people that you and I know will receive eternal punishment before God if they do not trust in Christ, then how can we not tell them that Jesus has come to save them from that punishment? If we love them, will we not warn them of impending judgment? So do we really believe this? Or is it just a game, are we just kind of doing this because it’s what we do in Birmingham? Because people you and I know and live around, work among, at this moment stand under the wrath of God in their sin. They are not guaranteed tomorrow just as you and I are not guaranteed tomorrow. Wrath is imminent.
Eternal judgment, coming. So, let’s resolve to put aside our pride and our insecurities and our hesitancies and boldly proclaim that the King has come. Good news, rescue is here!
And so I would like to challenge every member of this faith family—and I’ll include myself in this—just on a personal level, each of us: let’s pray. That…and again, only God can do this, it’s not something we can manufacture, but let’s pray that you and I might each have an opportunity to lead one person to faith in Jesus this year. Wouldn’t that be a good thing to start 2012 praying and pray it just all year long? Like, what more valuable thing could you do this year? Is this more valuable than getting fit and eating right? Absolutely! You have the healthiest body there is. When you’re talking about eternity, you’re talking about billions of years! So will you pray? Will you press in and you pray, “God use me, use me, use me this year.” Maybe some of us for the first time ever! “Use me to lead somebody to faith in Jesus.” That sounds like a prayer that God desires to answer. This gospel’s pretty good, Spirit’s pretty powerful. This is like a no-lose resolution. We pray that—we press into that— what could happen in 2012? In your life and your life and your life and in our life together.