As I have said before, I am studying through the first book of the New Testament of the Bible entitled “Matthew”. I am employing the use of the Inductive Study Method throughout, and I will be communicating to you what I see with the help of the Holy Spirit.
Chapter 3 seems to be about the ministry of John the Baptist, which so happens to be Jesus’ cousin. John was the son of Zacharias and Elizabeth. Elizabeth is Jesus’ mother Mary’s cousin. When Mary was pregnant with Jesus, she came to Elizabeth’s house to visit and help her while she was farther along in pregnancy. As Mary was coming to her, John leapt in Elizabeth’s womb. You can find that in Luke 1:39-45.
John came to make way for the Messiah, which is Jesus. He went about preaching many doctrines. He preached repentance and about the kingdom of heaven being at hand (3:2). In verse 3 of this chapter, Matthew points to an Old Testament scripture that in itself pointing to John. Isaiah 40:3-4 states: “The voice of one crying in the wilderness: Prepare the way of the LORD; Make straight the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be exalted and every mountain and hill brought low; the crooked places shall be made straight and the rough places smooth.” John was to bring to remembrance our need for a Savior, our sinfulness, our self-righteousness. He came to convict us. He was breaking up the fallow ground of our hearts to allow for Jesus to drop into it the seeds of righteousness.
Now, John was no pompous and arrogant prophet resting on the fact that he was Christ’s cousin. He dressed very plainly. In fact, it says that he was clothed with camel’s hair. I did a bit of digging, and one source stated that camel’s hair symbolized his “obedience to a higher calling.” I just think it was signifying that he was not dressed in exquisite attire, but I figured I would add what I found here anyway. Also, the mention of the leather belt around his waist was said to symbolize the truth which was the message he proclaimed. He ate locusts and honey, which meant that he ate the bare minimum that was needed to sustain his strength. This was the opposite of the Pharisees and Saccudees, the authorities in the Jewish synagogues. They dressed in silks and linens that were finely woven. They ate of the finest foods and pastries. While the common people were struggling and being taxed harshly, they lived luxuriously. John was living plainly. And these attributes showed that he was to be trusted. He was the first prophet in 300 years since Malachi. He was preaching and prophesying of Jesus. And these while in the “wilderness of Judea”, which is the more rural area, less populated area. He was in the countryside baptizing those that repented and confessed their sins. He was by the river Jordan, which was a very important river, as it is the one that Joshua led the Israelites across to the Promised Land.
The Jews had been taught to justify themselves, but John teaches them not to rest in the general confession of sin made for all Israel once a year upon the day of Atonement, but to make a particular acknowledgment, every one, of the plague of his own heart. Confession of sin is required in order to find peace and pardon (1 John 1:9). It was usual with the Jews to baptize those whom they admitted as proselytes to their religion, but John’s baptism refers to repentance and peace. It was symbolic and public.
So the Pharisees and Sadducees, as I mentioned before, were these two groups of Jews that were authorities among the Jews. The Pharisees were zealots for ceremonies, for the power and the traditions of the elders. They were self-righteous and zealous Jews who held to the letter of their interpretations of the law and to their own traditions, regardless of whether they nullified the Word of God or not. They were Christ’s bitterest enemies. The Sadducees ran into the other extreme, denying the existence of spirits (including angels) and a future state (resurrection). They were a radical and rationalistic sect who denied the supernatural and held to, more or less, by the Pharisees. John called them vipers. These were no ordinary snakes, but poisonous snakes that lurked under stones, in the sand of the desert, or in cracks of old walls, and are very deadly and aggressive. He purposely chose vipers with which to call them as they would come against him and anyone else against them in attacks of words and deeds. They were vicious to extinguish those in opposition to them.
I was looking up some of the words in Greek. One of the words I looked up of “Repent”. Repentance is one of the main themes of the Bible, being found 110 times from Genesis 6:6 to Revelation 16:11. There is nacham, to sigh, breath strongly, to be sorry (Gen. 6:6; Ex. 13:17; Job 42:6; Jonah 3:10). There is shuwb, to turn back (1 Kings 8:47; Ez. 14:6). There is nocham, regret (Hos. 13:14). Another one is nichum, compassion (Hos. 11:8). There is metanoeo, to change the mind for the better morally, to change the attitude toward sin (Luke 13:3). There is metamellomai, to regret consequences of sin, not the cause (Mt. 27:3; 2 Cor. 7:8). There is metanoia, a real change of mind and attitude toward sin and its cause, not merely the consequences of it (Mt. 3:8, 11; 9:13; Lk. 24:47). And finally, there is ametameletos, irrevocable (Rom. 11:29; 2 Cor. 7:10). The second to last one is the one that is noted here in the 3rd chapter of Matthew. A real change of mind and attitude toward sin and its cause, not merely the consequences of it. It is pointing to the root cause of sin and the condition of the heart.
This kind of repentance is the repentance that I need to do every day. I need to remind myself daily that I am in need of a Savior, that I have sinned and by nature am sinful, and that I truly do not want to displease God. I want to please Him in all that I do. The Greek word metanoia is the type of repentance clearly being needed here in this passage.
Then John goes on with his scathing rebuke of the Pharisees and Sadducees in a dramatic way by saying that they should not rest on the mere fact that they are of the lineage of Abraham. Just because they were see of Abraham does protect them from the judgment that is to come. This judgment is the “axe” that is laid to the root of the trees. The trees that do not produce fruit, which is here fruits of repentance, if they are not good for fruits then they are good for fuel in the fire. The same goes with the winnowing fan on the threshing floor. When the believers will be separated from the unbelievers, the unbelievers will go into the unquenchable fire. The believers were substantial, useful, and valuable. The unbelievers were light and empty, useless and worthless, and carried about with every wind. These are now mixed, but there is a day coming when the floor shall be purged and the wheat and chaff shall be separated. The day of the last judgment will be the great winnowing, distinguishing day, when saints and sinners shall be parted forever. Jesus was coming to baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire. He is burning up the unrepentant, and washing the others with the Holy Spirit. John says that he is unworthy even to hold Jesus’ shoes. John was truly great, great in the sight of God. Those whom God puts honor upon are thereby made humble and low in their own eyes, willing to be abased so Christ may be magnified, to be anything, to be nothing, so that Christ may be all. (Most of this segment came from the Matthew Henry commentary – I didn’t know how to put into words what was in my head, so I read this commentary and it made more sense than the jumbled word scramble in my mind. I hope it helps you, too.)
All in all, in this portion of Matthew 3, I have learned about John’s ministry, his disdain for the hypocrite false teachers, and his adamant message of repentance. Repentance is the key word noted here in this. To apply this in my life is to look at my heart. Just like with the last one, my motives are on trial here. Am I truly repentant because I have sinned and I want to please God? Or am I just afraid of the consequences? What is the evidence of the Holy Spirit’s work in my life? Do I have fruits of repentance? Or am I simply attempting to justify my actions under the guise that I have confessed with my mouth Jesus is Lord?
Gotta go fill up my cup…