As preached by Zach Thompson.
Response this passage requires of us:
1) Repent! Because the kingdom of heaven is near (3:1-12).
2) Believe in Jesus as the beloved, suffering, faithful, and royal Son of God (3:13-4:17).
3) Preach! Because faith comes by hearing and hearing through the Word of God (4:12-25).
Good Morning Christ Fellowship!
If you haven’t turned there already, please turn to Matthew 3. For our sermon today, we will be in chapters 3-4.
If you are able, please stand in honor of the reading of God’s word.
3:1 In those days, John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, 2 “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” 3 For this is he who was spoken of by the prophet Isaiah when he said,
“The voice of one crying in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord;
make his paths straight.’ ”
4 Now John wore a garment of camel’s hair and a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey. 5 Then Jerusalem and all Judea and all the region about the Jordan were going out to him, 6 and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.
7 But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? 8 Bear fruit in keeping with repentance. 9 And do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father,’ for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham. 10 Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.
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.”
In 2014, I was in our apartment putting dirty laundry in the washing machine when Courtney called me. I could immediately tell from her voice that something was urgently wrong. “Zach, my parents' house just burned down. I think everyone is okay, but the house is still burning.”
We dropped everything and drove to Charlotte, Tennessee where her parents lived. And as we stood outside of the house that was still actively burning, we learned that in the middle of the night, Courtney’s mom happened to wake up and had a bad feeling. She left her bedroom and opened the door to the basement where she saw a blazing inferno. Courtney is the oldest of 8, and almost the entire family was home. Usually, there were a few people who would have been sleeping in the basement, but by God’s grace, they were sleeping upstairs that night. She screamed for everyone to get out of the house and she ran to their bedrooms to warn them of the danger.
And at that moment, all of them had a choice. When you wake up in the middle of the night to your mom screaming that the house is on fire, you can’t just ignore that.
That information demands a response. You can heed the warning or you can ignore, but even ignoring it is itself a response.
That night, everyone left the house without a scar. When the house finally stopped burning, almost nothing was salvageable, but everyone was safe.
In our text today, we see realities like this. They demand a response. You can’t simply recognize that Jesus is the Messiah and walk away. The kingdom is here. The beloved and faithful and royal Son has come. His people are commanded to spread his reign to the end of the earth.
These realities demand a response.
In our text for today, I believe that God would have us respond in at least three ways today.
Those 3 responses will be our points today.
And John’s message is our first response.
Repent! Because the kingdom of heaven is near (3:1-12).
Repent. Because the kingdom of heaven is near.
This point isn’t something new or unique, I actually just lifted it right out of our text. This is the summary of John the Baptist’s entire message.
That’s what it says in Matthew 3:2, “Repent, for the kingdom of Heaven is at hand.”
We are going to dig into this a bit, but I want to spend a moment introducing John. In the gospel of John, John the Baptist actually self identifies as this voice. He knew that he was preparing the way for a greater one who would come after him.
He was a prophet sent to prepare the way for the Messiah. That’s why he dressed and ate food similar to Elijah, one of the greatest prophets in the Old Testament. Look in 3:4, he “wore a garment of camel’s hair and a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey.” Matthew doesn’t include this so that we can justify eating bugs or talk about how John the Baptist was a weird dude. He’s drawing a line. We are supposed to make the connection. This man is a great prophet.
And people are actually listening to him! This guys isn’t a crowd pleaser. We just read this in our public reading. Look at what he says to the Pharisees in verse 7, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruit in keeping with repentance. 9 And do not presume to say to yourselves. ‘We have Abraham as our father,’ for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham. 10 Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.”
Your genetic purity doesn’t mean anything to the God who sees your hypocrisy.
He is calling them to repent. But why? Because the kingdom of heaven is near. It’s at hand. It’s coming soon.
And when it comes, God will make a separation between those who will receive his delight and those who will receive his justice.
I’m not just making this up. This is what he says in verses 11-12. He lays out blessing and curse. “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.”
The wheat is gathered and the chaff is burned.
Are you wheat? Or are you chaff?
John puts this out there, and it demands a response.
Think of Courtney’s family. What if someone hadn’t listened to Courtney’s mom? What if they met outside to regroup and found that one of them thought it was all a practical joke and went back to sleep, but the house was already engulfed in flames.
It was never an optional decision. To ignore the decision is to choose a path.
Matthew 7:12-13, “Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. 14 For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.”
I’m not trying to be a buzzkill. I’m literally just saying what the text says.
If you are here, and you aren’t walking with Jesus, don’t act like you can just leave this on the table.
Our souls crave for something more real and more meaningful. Every human on the planet has a god-shaped hole in their heart.
If you talk to a dietician about losing weight, one of the things you almost always hear is that you should drink more water. Do you know why? Because we are horrible at differentiating between our appetites. Our bodies are screaming, “I need something.” And as Americans who love eating food, our first response is, “I need queso. I need to eat something.” When really, our body was crying out for a glass of water.
The same thing is true for us spiritually. We are so bad at distinguishing our spiritual appetites. I can remember times when my soul was crying out for a time of silence and time with the Lord, but I filled it with some mind-numbing entertainment. Maybe you’ve experienced this.
We try to fill our spiritual appetites with another purchase from amazon or we hope that we’ll get just one more compliment. We hope that our kids will be impressive and love us. We do humanitarian work and give to charities and do so many other things but none of that is meant to satisfy your soul.
God is designed you to be satisfied in him.
So turn to him. That’s what repentance really is.
It’s not simply feeling sorry for yourself. It’s turning away from whatever you are facing. It’s turning away from those things that you stuff into your spiritual mouth in an attempt to satisfy your soul. And instead, it is turning to God, the only one who will satisfy you. It’s turning to him and saying, “I’m yours. Make me look like I’m yours. I want to find my satisfaction in you.”
The kingdom of heaven is near, so repent.
But let’s be clear about something here. Repentance for its own sake is not something worth pursuing.
Being morally strict and calling out your own sin and calling others out for their sin. All of these things, if they are done as an act of repentance for its own sake, they are worthless.
Imagine your friend Michael who cares for his car every day. He washes it every morning. He waxes it. He makes sure it’s covered during bad weather. It’s enough that you almost break out in hives from the stress of how much time it takes him. Then one day, Michael invites you to come and look at his car. You go to his house, and you see the shape of what is clearly his car under one of those covers designed to perfectly fit on a particular model of car. He takes off the cover. And you see what might have been a car at some point. Now that the cover is off, you see the rust that has eaten through the hood and most of the exterior. The tires are barely even recognizable as rubber. The interior has literal animals in it. His maintenance routine didn’t matter because the car was already a pile of trash.
He needed a new car.
If we haven’t received a new heart, our moral uprightness won’t be worth anything. We receive a new heart by turning to the king of life.
Biblical repentance is tied to a kingdom. And that kingdom is tied to a king.
And that brings us to our next point.
Believe in Jesus as the beloved, suffering, faithful, and royal Son of God (3:13-4:17).
Believe in Jesus as the beloved, suffering, faithful, and royal Son of God.
Vague belief, just like vague repentance is meaningless.
Our faith is in a specific person who is attested by the Scriptures.
We see these specific things in our text. Jesus is the beloved Son, he is the suffering servant, he is the faithful Son, and he is the royal Son.
We see that he is the beloved son and suffering servant in 3:13-17. He is the faithful son in 4:1-11. And he is the royal sun in 4:12-17
Let’s start with the beloved and suffering son.
Beloved Son and Suffering Servant
3:13-17 records the baptism of Jesus by John. There is plenty we could talk about here, but I want to look a the main point of these verses. Look in verse 16. “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; 17 and behold, a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”
This is an absolutely huge deal. This is a revelation of the trinitarian God. In the gospel of Matthew, he has already made this claim when he wrote the birth narrative that we looked at last time. But this is different. This is public. This is in front of a crowd, and it is right in front of the eyes of John the Baptist, who was the appointed forerunner of the Messiah.
God the Father publicly calls Jesus his Son. And he does it by referring to two different important sections of the Old Testament. “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” These words are not random.
They point to two different important texts about the Messiah. “This is my beloved Son” is a reference to Psalm 2, which is one of the clearest texts about the Messiah in the entire Old Testament. It connects Jesus to the covenant that God made with David.
The next section of this phrase is “with whom I am well pleased.” This is a reference to Isaiah 42. And it connects Jesus to the promises associated with the suffering servant.
These are related to the song we sing that says “He was pierced for our transgressions. He was crushed for our sins. The punishment that brought us peace was upon him. By his wounds we are healed.
Jesus was the beloved son and the suffering servant.
But he was also the faithful Son. Here we can point to the temptations of Jesus in 4:1-11
The Faithful Son
The main point of these verses isn’t to show you exactly how to fight temptation, although we can definitely gather that. The main point is that Jesus was faithful. Specifically, where Adam failed and where Israel failed, Jesus was faithful.
Jesus is the true man who is perfect. Jesus IS what Adam was meant to be and what Israel never was.
Think about it.
Adam was in the presence of God, called the Son of God, then he was tempted by Satan and fell. Israel was ransomed from Egypt, and they were called God’s son. Remember Hosea 11:1 quoted earlier in Matthew, “Out of Egypt I called my Son,” and they were led to the promised land, but they didn’t trust God and they wondered the wilderness for forty years, and in the wilderness, they failed God over and over and over. At every turn, Israel was obstinate and sinful.
But Jesus is the faithful son. Called a son and subjected to temptation, just like Adam and just like Israel, yet without sin. He was tempted in wilderness (just like Israel) for 40 days.
And notice what Satan does. In all of the temptations he casts doubt on what God has revealed through His Word. He tries to get Jesus to doubt whether he is really God’s Son, and he tried to manipulate him into attempting to get out of the call to suffering that God has placed on him.
In all of these temptations, Satan calls God’s word into question, and Jesus responds with God’s word. Should the Son of God really be uncomfortable like this? Just make these stones into bread!
Are you really the Son of God? Then prove it. God promised to protect his son. Shouldn’t you take him up on it by jumping off this cliff?
Do you really think that suffering is the only way to inherit the nations? Just worship me, and I will give them to you.
In all of these Jesus trusted God by believing God’s word.
He is the Faithful Son.
And finally, he is the royal Son.
After the temptation account, Jesus moves into his ministry. We’ll talk about this more in the next point, but I want to point out one thing here. The summary of the content of Jesus’ preaching is the same as John the Baptist. But there is a massive difference.
Look in verse 17. “From that time, Jesus began to preach saying, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.’”
These are exactly the same words that summarized John’s message, but the difference is WHO is speaking.
John was the forerunner. He was the one who prepared the way.
Jesus was the fulfillment. He wasn’t foretelling a kingdom. He was bringing it.
Jesus is the king proclaiming his kingdom.
Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.
When John said it was near, he meant that it was coming soon. When Jesus said it is near, he meant that it is upon you. Jesus said, “The kingdom of heaven is right here where I am.”
Jesus was the royal son.
The beloved son, the suffering servant, the faithful son, the royal son.
In this point, I’m aiming to outline specific characteristics of Jesus that are in this text, but the point is bigger than just these words, beloved, suffering, faithful, and royal. This Jesus is a specific person of whom specific realities are true.
It’s important for us to take Jesus as he presents himself–as the Bible presents him.
We don’t worship social work Jesus or sports Jesus or Republican Jesus or Democrat Jesus.
We worship Jesus, the Eternal and uncreated Son of God who is coequal in glory and worthiness of worship with the Father and the Spirit. The one who took on flesh and was faithful to his Father in every respect. He suffered and died under Pontius Pilate, and now he rules and reigns a the right hand of the Father until the day when he returns and all justice is applied and the New Heavens and New Earth are ours.
This is the Jesus of the Bible.
And of this Jesus, we preach. And that is our final point.
Preach! Because faith comes by hearing and hearing through the word of Christ. (4:12-25)
After Jesus emerges from his temptations in the wilderness, he hears that John has been arrested, and he knows that it is time to begin his public ministry, so he goes to Galilee to fulfill the prophecy of Isaiah.
And he quotes Isaiah 9. Look in verse 15.
15 “The land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali,
the way of the sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles—
16 the people dwelling in darkness
have seen a great light,
and for those dwelling in the region and shadow of death,
on them a light has dawned.”
17 From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”
Jesus begins preaching.
And this was never meant to be a quick political takeover. Or a flash in the pan. That’s why he started to call people to follow him in a more dedicated way. That’s what happens in 4:18-22.
By the Sea of Galilee, Jesus calls Peter and Andrew to come follow him, then he calls James and John, the sons of Zebedee to come follow up, and all of them follow Jesus.
Then look in verse 23. “Jesus went throughout all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction among the people. 24 So his fame spread throughout all Syria, and they brought him all the sick, those afflicted with various diseases and pains, those oppressed by demons, those having seizures, and paralytics, and he healed them. 25 And great crowds followed him from Galilee and the Decapolis, and from Jerusalem and Judea, and from beyond the Jordan.”
Jesus began preaching everywhere that he could. He makes disciples and he exerts his divine authority over sickness and demons.
In his work, Jesus was planting the kingdom seed that would grow after his death and resurrection. This is what we’ll see throughout our time in Matthew. Why are we preaching the gospel in Utah 2,000 years later? Because Jesus preached the same gospel that was about himself. And he accomplished it at the end of his earthly ministry by dying on the cross after living the perfect life. Then he was raised to eternal life.
When John was preparing the way for Jesus, his message had urgency. He promised that Jesus would separate the grain from the chaff. He said that Jesus would baptize with the Holy Spirit and with fire.
When Jesus began to preach, that urgency only increased because Jesus was himself the one that would separate the grain and the chaff. He is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.
And this is what I’m getting at. The urgency that accompanied Jesus’ preaching hasn’t been reduced. If anything, it has increased, because we are always getting closer and closer to that final day, whenever it may be.
The message of Jesus is just as urgent today as it was when Jesus was walking through Galilee.
Brothers and sisters, don’t withhold the truth out of a misguided sense of “niceness”
It makes me think of a story from Kim Scott. In her book Radical Candor, she tells a story about an employee who was really pleasant as a person but also very bad at his job. For more than a year, she gave him empty praise without speaking hard words to him because she and everyone else at the office liked him. She didn’t want to be mean, and she didn’t want him or others to despise her, but eventually, she had to fire him and explain what had been happening. After she fired him, There was a long moment of silence, then Bob stood up and said, “Why didn’t you tell me? Why didn’t anyone tell me?”
This man was a developer in Silicon Valley. He was ashamed and angry, but ultimately, he was fine.
But consider this dynamic. I shudder to think that one day someone will stand before God and think of me and say, “Why didn’t you tell me?”
How will they repent unless they believe? How will they believe unless they hear? How will hear unless someone shares the truth with them?
You have been sent. At the end of this same gospel, Jesus sends his people to make disciples in the same way that he had.
Matthew 28:18-20, “And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
Don’t withhold the gospel. Don’t be ashamed of how people might think of you.
Instead repent of your shame, believe in the Jesus, and unashamedly preach his name so that all who hear might have opportunity to believe.