“Prepare The Way of the Lord”
Matthew 3:1-17

We are working our way through the Gospel of Jesus Christ from the point of view of Matthew, the tax collector, one of the twelve disciples that followed Jesus when He was here with us on earth in human form. Matthew confirmed Jesus’ genealogy in chapter one and tells of the Magi coming to visit Him as a child in chapter two. Today, in chapter three, Matthew leaps to the ministry of John the Baptist, one of the more colorful characters in the New Testament. We are told in Luke, chapter 1, that John was the only child of Zacharias and Elizabeth, Mary’s cousin. He was a miraculous birth for this too-old couple and was called to be the forerunner of the Messiah. Matthew introduces us to John as he was preaching in the wilderness of Judea, telling people to “Repent!”  
Many people think that repentance is about feeling remorseful for your actions. Which is actually a good thing, however, the Greek word, “metanoia” has a different meaning. It has nothing to do with how one feels. It has to do with how one acts. It is an action word, not a feeling word. John was telling his listeners to make a change of mind, not just to feel sorry for what they had done, but to make a 180 degree turn, a change of direction, not just a sorrow of heart. 

We teach our children to say, “I’m sorry,” when they have done something wrong. I recall working with Lydia and Emily with this concept. Often they would respond with, “But I don’t feel sorry.” I would answer with something like, “That is not the point. Repenting is not a feeling, it is an action. We are going to work on not doing that again.”

But what about repentance and coming to God? Do we have to repent before we can come to God? Yes and no. Repentance isn’t something we must do before we come to God, it is actually the description of what coming to God is like. Let’s see if I can explain it like this. If Sherry is in Iowa and Dan calls her up and says I would like you to come to Maine, Dan doesn’t really have to say, Sherry, you need to leave Iowa to get here. To come to Maine is to leave Iowa. If Sherry doesn’t leave Iowa, she certainly isn’t able to come to Maine. We can’t come to the kingdom of heaven unless we leave our sins and our self-life. 

Repent is a significant word when it comes to the gospel. In fact, it was often the first word. 

> We are looking at Matthew 3:1-2
Repent was the first word
> Look at Matthew 4:14 and Mark 1:14-15
Repent was the first word of Jesus’ gospel

> Look at Mark 6:12
Repent was the first word in the preaching of the
twelve disciples

> Look at Luke 24:46-47
Repent was the first word in the preaching
instructions Jesus gave to His disciples after His resurrection

> Look at Acts 2:38
Repent was the first word of exhortation in the first
Christian sermon

> Look at Acts 26:19-20
Repent was the first word in the mouth of the Apostle
Paul through his ministry

Next Matthew explains why we are to repent. Because the kingdom of heaven was at hand. John wanted people to realize that the kingdom of heaven was not up in the sky somewhere, it was as close as their hand. That meant there was an urgency. The kingdom of heaven wasn’t far away, it was closer than people thought. 

John wasn’t a fire and brimstone preacher. He wasn’t preaching, “You’re a sinner, you need to repent.” No, John’s main message was, “The Messiah the King is coming,” or basically He was already here, and repentance was the appropriate response to the news that the King of Kings and His kingdom was here.   

Matthew continues in verses three and four by identifying John the Baptist, as the he who was spoken of by the prophet Isaiah. 
John the Baptist was prophesied by Isaiah as the forerunner of the Messiah, to prepare people’s hearts for the Messiah by bringing an awareness of sin so those who recognized their sin, could receive the salvation from it offered by the Messiah. 

John the Baptist called to make paths straight, for the Messiah. Again, a quote from Isaiah 40, where the thought was to build a great road for the arrival of a majestic king. In order to do this one had to fill in the potholes and knock down the hills that were in the way. This idea of preparing the way of the Lord was a word picture of what really needs to be done in our hearts. We need to fill in the potholes and smooth out the bumps we have created. 

When you think about it, any great work of God begins with great preparation. We don’t do this preparation on our own. 
Think back on your own road of travel in your faith journey. How many engineers do you recall that helped you fill in the potholes and grade out the bumps? How many times were you so flat out exhausted or so far off the path where you needed someone else to come alongside and lend a hand. Preparing the way of the Lord is a necessity for every Christian. I want to encourage those of us who are further down the road to take time to look back and help those around you with some road maintenance. John the Baptist offers us a wonderful reminder that the Kingdom of heaven is as close as our hand. We have the power of the Holy Spirit to guide us and aid us in not only getting our own faith journeys straightened out but to be an assistant to those around us. 
Prepare the way of the Lord. 

Then Matthew gives us a description of what John the Baptist looked like. He was clothed with camel’s hair and wore a leather belt. Not the most comfortable outfit. His personality, clothing, diet and ministry was like that of Elijah. Both men called Israel to repentance. He was like the “hippy” of his day. I am sure he knew the words that had been spoken to his father, Zacharias, before he was born: 
“And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the parents to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous—to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”

This was who John was destined to be. You might even say he was destined to be this way before he was even knit in his mother’s womb. 

Matthew then tells us of the success of John’s ministry. He writes “all Judea, and all the region around theJordan went out to him.” The repetition of the word all, twice, in this statement is a Scriptural way of stating that “many” people came out to be baptized by John, not necessarily every person in Judea and Jordan. But there were a significant number and it has been noted, the historian Josephus actually wrote more about John the Baptist than he did about Jesus. The influence of John the Baptist was evident decades after his ministry began. There is evidence of this in the book of Acts, chapters 18 & 19.

John offered a physical representation of the inward turn around, he offered baptism, a ceremonial washing. Baptism means to “immerse or overwhelm.” John didn’t follow the custom of some other Jewish ceremonial washings, where sprinkling of water was administered. 
For John, the body was completely immersed, demonstrating a change of the whole body. 

There was a baptism practice in the Jewish community before this 
which was a ceremonial immersion, but it was typically only among Gentiles who wished to become Jewish.

 John’s baptism may have had a link to this but at the same time, it was seen as unique. So much so that John was named “the Baptizer.” If a lot of people were doing this, John would not have been singled out with such a title. Christian baptism is like John’s in that it also represents repentance, but Christian baptism has a lot more meaning to it. For Christians, baptism means you are baptized into Christ, you accept His death and resurrection, Romans 6:3.

Another first for the Jews at this point was the individual confessing their sins. The Jewish people who came to John to be baptized were very serious about getting right with God. It was like they had had enough of the collective confession on the great day of atonement. They wanted to make things right on a personal level. This was not something Israelites had previously done. Only the high priests could confess their sins, as a group. It must have been an amazing sight to see individuals come forward and confess their personal sins and seek repentance. 

The high priests even came to be baptized to demonstrate that they too were ready for the Messiah to come. John saw their coming to be baptized from a different angle and called them vipers. John didn’t believe for one moment these Jewish leaders had repented so he reminded them that real repentance was not just talking the part, it was also living the part. 
How they behaved from this point forward would show whether or not they had really changed. This change started with not counting on their Jewish heritage to help them avoid the wrath of God. Being a son of Abraham wasn’t going to cut it. In fact, the ax was ready to cut down any tree that did not bear fruit. John admitted that he had been called to baptize with water for repentance, but the Messiah was coming and He would baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire. The outpouring of the Holy Spirit was the promise of the New Covenant found in Ezekiel 37:14 and the baptism of fire meant judgment. Purification by fire was also a prophetic hope found in Isaiah 4:4, Zechariah 13:9; Malachi 3:2; Isaiah 1:25. 

The Jewish leaders believed the Messiah would come with judgment, but not for Israel, the chosen people. The judgment was for those who needed to get right with God. 

What is it about religious leaders? 
Humility goes out the window. 
We could use a John the Baptist today with his words about the ax, the winnowing-fan and the fire. Great tools for preparing the way for the Lord. 

Next, Matthew tells us that Jesus came to be baptized. John knew who he was, it was his cousin, Jesus. They had hung out together at family gatherings. Yet, John’s response to Jesus was different from everyone else. John questioned as to why Jesus wanted to be baptized by him when in reality it should be the other way around. 

Fair question, if you ask me. What was Jesus doing? Wasn’t He perfect? What was He repenting anyway?

It was like John knew Jesus was the Messiah, right? 

Jesus responded back to John by explaining this was the start of what had been set up to happen centuries ago. This was the beginning of Jesus’ purpose for coming to earth in the first place. Jesus was to completely identify Himself with sinful humans. He did so in His birth, His upbringing, and His death. John’s baptizing of Jesus was the point when Jesus “turns 180 degrees,” from His previous life into His Messianic life.

Who was John to argue, he baptized Jesus. 


This baptism was like no other. As soon as Jesus came up from the water, the heavens opened. 

God the Father made it clear Jesus was not repenting of sins, He was righteously identifying with sinners. He was motivated by love and with this demonstration, God was well pleased. 

The Holy Spirit even gets involved here, and descends like a dove, alighting on Jesus. 
Quite the sign, don’t you think? 
Definitely an encouragement to Jesus. The Holy Spirit was coming alongside Jesus and reminding Him, He was not alone. The three of them were in this redemption business together. 

Let us remember that the same Trinity is alongside us today. As we prepare the way for the Lord to return again, we are reminded by the image of the dove, representing the work of the Holy Spirit, that 

Like a dove:
the work of the Holy Spirit should be soft and gentle
the work of the Holy Spirit brings peace
the work of the Holy Spirit speaks love. 
The kingdom of heaven is at hand. Matthew reminds us to prepare the way for the Lord. He also reminds us that while doing so we have the Holy Spirit to guide us, soft and gentle, in peace and love. 

Let’s pray.