MATTHEW 3:1-12 THE HERALD OF THE KING
The King has been in concealment long enough, and it is time for his herald to appear and proclaim his coming. This chapter tells us of the champion who came in advance of the King.
1. IN those days came John the Baptist preaching in the wilderness of Judea and saying, Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.
While Jesus still remained at Nazareth, his kinsman, the Baptizer, made his appearance: the morning star is seen before the sun. John came not to the court, but to lone wildernesses: places left to sheep and a handful of rural folk. The mission of Christ Jesus is to the moral wastes and to the desolate places of the earth. To them the Lord’s harbinger makes his way, and there he fitly preaches the command, “Repent ye. ” Give up your thorns and briars, O ye wildernesses; for your Lord is coming to you! See how John announces the coming kingdom, how he bids men make ready for it, and he v he urges them to be speedy in their preparation: “For the kingdom of heaven is at hand. ” Let me be ready for my Lord’s coming, and put away all that would grieve his Holy Spirit!
3. For this is he that was spoken of by the prophet Esaias, saying The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the lord, make his paths straight.
Matthew keeps to his custom of quoting from the Old Testament. The prophets not only described the King, but his forerunner also. They mention the character of this harbinger: he was a “voice ”; (Jesus is “the Word”); his tone, “crying ”; his place, “in the wilderness ”; and his message, which was one of announcement, in which he required preparation for the coming king: “Prepare ye the way of the Lord. ” Men’s hearts were like a wilderness, wherein there is no way; but as loyal subjects throw up roads for the approach of beloved princes, so were men to welcome the Lord, with their hearts made right and ready to receive him.
O Lord, I would welcome thee if thou wouldst come to me. I have greet need of thy royal presence, and therefore I would prepare a way for thee.
Into my heart my desires have made for thee a path most short and smooth.
Come, Lord, and tarry not! Come into my wilderness nature and transform it into a garden of the Lord.
4. And the same John had his raiment of camel’s hair, and a leather girdle about his loins; and his meat was locusts and wild honey.
He was rough and stern, like Elijah. His garments betokened his simplicity, his sternness, his self-denial. His food, the product of the desert where he dwelt, showed that he cared nothing for luxuries. His whole bearing was symbolical; but it was also fit, and suitable for his office. The plainest of food is best for body and mind and spirit, and, moreover, it fosters manliness. Lord, let not my meat, or drink, or garments, hinder me in thy work!
5, 6. Then went out to him Jerusalem, and all Judea, and all the region round about Jordan, and were baptized of him in Jordan, confessing their sins.
The people were expecting a Messiah, and so they went en masse to John as soon as his shrill voice had startled the solitudes. Baptism, or the washing of the body in water, most fitly accompanied the cry, “Repent ye.”
The “Confessing their sins “which went with baptism in Jordan gave it its meaning. Apart from the acknowledgment of guilt, it would have been a mere bathing of the person without spiritual significance; but the confession which went with it made it an instructive sign. John must have inwardly wondered to see the multitudes come; but his chief thought ran forward to his coming Lord. He thought more of him than of “all Judea. ” 7. But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees come to his baptism, he said unto them, O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come?
It was strange to see the proud Separatists and the skeptical Moralists come to be baptized; and therefore, as a test, John addressed them with scorching words. He saw that they, were serpentine in their motives and viperish in their tempers, and so he calls them “Progeny of vipers ”: thus would he see whether they were sincere or not. He asks who suggested to them to flee from that wrath of which he was the forerunner, according to the closing words of the Old Testament. This inquiry was not complimentary; but it is no business of the Lord’s servants to make themselves pleasing: they must be faithful, and especially so to the great and learned. Thus faithful was John the Baptist, and he was honored for it by him that sent him 8. Bring forth therefore fruits meet for repentance.
Act as a change of mind would lead you to do: above all, quit the pride in which you enwrap yourselves, and leave the serpent motives which now actuate you. Lord, save us from a fruitless repentance, which would be only an aggravation of our previous sins.
9. And think not to say within yourselves, We have Abraham to our father: for I say unto you, that God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham.
Do not imagine that God needs you in order to fulfill his promise to his servant Abraham; for he can make each stone in Jordan into an heir of grace. Do not presume upon your ancestry, and think that all the blessings of the coming kingdom must be yours because you are of the seed of the father of the faithful. God can as easily make sons of stones as of a generation of vipers. He will never be short of means for fulfilling his covenant, without bowing his gospel before the caprice of vainglorious men. He will find a people in the slums if his gospel is rejected by the respectable. Let none of us, because we are orthodox, or exceedingly Scriptural in our religious observances, dream that we must therefore be in the favor of God, and that we are under no necessity to repent. God can do without us; but we cannot do without repentance and the works which prove it true. What a blessing that he can transform hearts of stone into filial spirits! Wonders of grace to God belong!
10. And now also the ax is laid unto the root of the trees: therefore every tree which bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire.
He means, the King is come: the Cutter-down of every fruitless tree has arrived. The Great Woodman has thrown down his ax at “the root of the trees. ” He lifts the ax; he strikes; the fruitless tree is felled; it is cast into the fire. The sketch is full of life. The Baptizer sees forests falling beneath the ax; for he whom he heralds will be the Judge of men, and the Executioner of righteousness. What an announcement he had to make! What a scene his believing eye beheld! Our vision is much the same: the ax is still at work.
Lord, cut me not down for the fire. I know that the absence of good fruit is as fatal as the presence of corrupt fruit: Lord, let me not be a mere negative, lest I be “hewn down , and cast into the fire. ”
11. I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance: but he that cometh after me is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear: he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost, and with fire.
John could plunge the penitent into water; but a greater than he must baptize men into the Holy Ghost and into fire. Repentance is well attended by washing in water; but the true baptism of the believer by the Lord Jesus himself brings us into spiritual floods of holy fire. John considered himself to be nothing more than a household slave, unworthy of the