The Announcement of John (Matthew 3)

Published on Friday, 27 October 2017 04:03
John had a ministry of preparation as well as proclamation. As far as preparation for the coming of the Messiah was concerned, John told his listeners that they had to respond inwardly and outwardly. Inwardly, they had to repent and outwardly they had to be baptised.

John’s baptism is not the same as Christian baptism. Christian baptism connects us to the Christian church, but the baptism of John did not do so. Years later, Paul met some disciples of John the Baptist in Ephesus and when they believed in Jesus Paul baptised them. Those men had been baptised by John or one of his followers, but it is obvious that Paul did not regard John’s baptism as a Christian rite.

When a person was baptised by John they accompanied the ritual with personal confession of sin. The combination of baptism and confession was an indication that they believed the Messiah was about to appear. Christian baptism accepts the fact that Jesus has come.

John’s message of repentance has obvious applications for us, because it is how all sinners should respond to God. Repentance is always suitable and essential, whatever the stage in the development of God’s kingdom. What is repentance? It is sorrow for sin, it is turning away from sin, and it is always accompanied by personal trust in Jesus. The gospel invites us to repent, indeed commands us to do so. Perhaps we may find it hard to find in our hearts. In that case, we should ask Jesus for it because one of the consequences of his exaltation is that he can give repentance to sinners as a gift.

John also predicted what the Messiah would do when he came. Because of who he is, he would be able to do far greater things than John could do. While we do not know what his readers thought of the details he mentioned, we can see that his words cover what Jesus would do throughout his reign. Some of his actions would be gracious and others would be severe.

The gracious actions include giving the Holy Spirit and purification by fire. This is what Jesus does for each person who turns to him for mercy. John was stating that Jesus would turn his converts into saints. In contrast, John had many followers, but he by himself could not turn them into anything.

Another gracious activity that Jesus will engage in as King would be to gather his people into heaven (‘gather his wheat into his barn’). He partially fulfils that prediction when each of them dies, and he will completely fulfil it when he brings all of them into the new heavens and new earth.

The severe activity is the judgement he will engage in when the end comes. We are told many times in the Bible that Jesus will the judge of everyone, and that he will impose it without alleviation (‘burn with unquenchable fire’). That future situation is as guaranteed as the outpouring of the Spirit. It will be an activity of the King before the new heavens and new earth comes.

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