4 December 2016Matthew 3:1-12
“But when he saw many Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism, he said to them, ‘You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruit worthy of repentance. Do not presume to say to yourselves, “We have Abraham as our ancestor”; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham.’” (vv. 7-9)
Psalm: Psalm 72:1-7, 18-19
The importance of the presence, message and ministry of John the Baptist is underlined by the fact that his story is recorded (in some form) in each of the four Gospels whereas the 'nativity stories' so beloved of Christmas appear in just two. The quotation (in verse 3) from the prophet Isaiah (Isaiah 40:3), not only set the context of the revealing of Jesus as the promised Messiah, but also served to confirm the status of John as the 'prophet-bridge' between the Old Testament hope and the gospel reality of the Messiah. He forms a bridge between those prophets who spoke of the coming of Jesus and the people who will see him active in the world.
The Matthew account differs from that of the other Gospels in that the writer specifically has "Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism". In this Gospel, written particularly for Jewish readers, and focused particularly in demonstrating how Jesus fulfilled the messianic prophecies, Matthew has the Jewish religious establishment making an early exploration of this unfolding story of Jesus and the challenge to repentance preached by John. We note of course that the writer has these 'establishment figures' confronted by the real possibility of divine judgement, if their confidence rested on notion of having "Abraham as our ancestor" alone. The Baptism by John (as indeed the gospel (the good news) of Jesus) was never about a status received from a parent or validated by mere words: it was about personal commitment to God lived out day by day. So the writer issues a challenge to "bear fruit worthy of repentance". John's Baptism for repentance was not simply about water or words, but about living the way of God.
John's task was to "prepare the way for the Lord" (v. 3). He was to prepare the ground of people hearts to receive the Lord Jesus when he came.
- What is there in your life or in the life of the Church that might make it hard for Jesus to be seen and received by others?
- How can you "prepare the way of the Lord" and "make his paths straight"(v. 3)?
- What might "fruit worthy of repentance" look like in your life today?