“Confirmed & Verified”
Matthew 3:1-17, January 13th, 2019
Sermon by pastor Tim Woodard
Read Statement of Faith
“Hear now these words from the gospel according to Matthew, chapter three, verses one thru seventeen.”
1 In those days John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness of Judea, proclaiming, 2 “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” 3 This is the one of whom the prophet Isaiah spoke when he said, “The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.’” 4 Now John wore clothing of camel’s hair with a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey. 3 Then the people of Jerusalem and all Judea were going out to him, and all the region along the Jordan, 6 and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.
7 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? 8 Bear fruit worthy of repentance. 9 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. 10 Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 11 “I baptize you with water for repentance, but one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 12 His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and will gather his wheat into the granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”
13 Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan, to be baptized by him. 14 John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” 15 But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented. 16 And when Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. 17 And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”
“Having heard the account of John the Baptist and how he was compelled to baptize Jesus, let us now reflect on its meaning to us today.”
“Confirmed & Verified”
The reference to “in those days” suggests many things. One, is of course, that this writing is about what was happening at that time period. Which raises an immediate question! Is this conversation applicable to our time period? The answer is a resounding, ‘Yes!’ I do not think it would be much of a stretch to consider the words of John the Baptist in the present time. Nor is the ‘Good News’ of God’s pronouncement upon Jesus’ baptism confined to the ancient times of John the Baptist! As the central theme of John’s discourse is the need for repentance, one can easily draw a comparison to our need in our time for some ‘behavior modifications’ at many levels of society throughout the world! It is reasonable to consider the real possibility that we whom live in the Twenty-First Century could use a few improvements and changes here and there. It seems that most people believe other people are doing things wrong. Furthermore, every time we point at someone else, we leave open the high possibility that we ourselves could use a bit of correction as well!
Our lesson begins with a call for repentance. There is an urgency in the proclamation, as the Baptizer was anxious for people to get ready, for the coming kingdom of heaven was near. Now, we know that this scene took place approximately two thousand years ago! It is easy, therefore, to get confused with this reference as many would say: ‘well heavens not here yet!’ Despite that, the rhetorical remark was speaking to the event of the coming of the Holy One, the Messiah was near at hand; setting the stage for Jesus to appear at the river Jordan. John goes on – strongly expounding and expanding his message 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.”) /Matthew 3:7&8/ One can only conclude that John had some concern about the religious leaders having a ‘true’ desire to be cleansed of their wrong doing. Rather, he infers that they are still doing wrong! This reference brings up the chasm, the rift, the clear split between the leaders of the people and those such as the Baptizer whom were trying to prepare the people for a better time! A time when God would send the Messiah to right the wrongs within their realm, their monarchy!
Thus, the stage has been set for the appearance of Jesus upon the scene. For John the Baptist’s work was to bring us to this point of preparation. Clearly inferring with his remarks, written down for our examination, to the meaning of repentance and baptism at this point in history. Baptism was a cleansing, but, as we heard his remarks against the Pharisees and Sadducees, cleansing can only be effective if the individual seeking it is truly wanting to repent and atone, as-well-as being remorseful, thereby asking for forgiveness. If one is not ready to do so, then the baptismal act of cleansing was and is without merit! Before one can be forgiven and cleansed, it is essential to acknowledge one’s wrongs, accepting that something needs to change, or be given up, in order to make room for something new to take its place. It is wrong thinking to believe that asking for a sin to be removed is without responsibility. A response is necessary for cleansing to be affective.
Consider this analogy. A child goes out to play and while outside sees a big mud pile leading up to the side of the porch where the child’s mom has placed two pies. One is a freshly baked apple pie destined for the pot luck dinner at the church scheduled for that evening. The other is a cherry pie, also freshly baked, which mother has baked to give to the new neighbors, whom just moved in last week, as a house warming gift. The child knows this, yet, oblivious, and without regard to the consequences over getting his fresh outfit all muddy, as his mom has him ready for the activities to come, he climbs up the side of the porch to have a closer look. Looking leads to smelling, which pushes him to sampling: first the apple then also the cherry pie. Then he retreats, his face smeared with the evidence of his wrong doing. Tracking mud into the house with his hands still splattered with fresh pie drippings, thus causing his mother to discover her pies have been violated, she turns to her son, admonishing his for his bad deed. He ask’s for forgiveness yet has no desire to not do it again – when the opportunity arises! In such a case, the coming bath, while his cloths are washed, has not cleansed his naughty desire. He will get muddy again and endeavor to snatch the next fresh pie, if his attitude is not transformed!
Transformation is the heart of repentance. When one desires to be changed and to begin living in the sun light of good deeds, rather than in the deceitful darkness of wrong doings, then the individual is ready to be cleansed! Only God can confirm when one is truly ready. The ‘John the Baptists’ of the world, can only go through the motions of baptism, leaving the true transformation to be completed by the grace and mercy of God. John knew this as he speaks of the coming of Jesus whom is more powerful than himself. “I baptize you with water for repentance, but one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.” /Matthew 3:11/ John the Baptist, he knew that the baptism he used, the custom of cleansing and purification did not go deep enough to fully transform those who came to him. He knew that – that would only come with the Holy Spirit and fire. Pastor Nancy Rockwell explains for us what this phrase, this saying using the reference to ‘fire’ means. “The unquenchable fire, which is of God and is God, is not hellfire, but the fire of redemption through re-creation.” /Nancy Rockwell/ Recreation, as Nancy speaks of, is a rebirth, and this is of course – transformation! This is what is needed in the lives of those of us whom seek to give up our wrong behaviors and attitudes! Ultimately, this is what John the Baptist was striving to prepare us for!
I am ready to talk about how Jesus was baptized, are you? But first, we need to be ready – for this is more than just a history lesson. The scriptures were written to speak to us. They were intended to transcend the expanse of time and continue to be relevant to ‘we’ who now seek to glean its message. “What would it look like if you and I were to actually ‘practice the drill’ John pushes us to now?” /Janet H. Hunt/ The theologian, Janet Hunt, whom posed this question, she is pushing us to grapple with the implication for each one of us – personally. A preacher, like myself, like John the Baptist, we can only put the message out there. It has no value to you unless you now tackle and struggle with it, thereby seizing its meaning in your life. Preachers, pastors, know not what is in your heart. Sure, there are often signs, but only you, all of us who are hearing this message, we are the only ones whom can apply its meaning – thereby allowing the Spirit of the Living God to transform and change us from the inside out!
Even the man Jesus, who came to be baptized at the river that day, he desired to be baptized, he was ready to be fully immersed into his destiny as the ‘Messianic One’ – ‘The Son of God’. Jesus insisted, despite John’s hesitation, as he had recognized that Jesus was indeed the Chosen one by God. Jesus confirmed this even as he was baptized. What occurs as Jesus is baptized is nothing short of mystical. (And when Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”) /Matthew 3:16 & 17/ The voice indeed confirmed and verified all which John the Baptist believed that day. Will our reading of this passage today, do that for each of us? That is something each one of us must decide for ourselves.
We may wish to ponder this question as we also may be questioning whether biblical events, like this one we are discussing, occurred exactly as transcribed. Having struggled with this question myself, I now conclude that the question misses the mark. We need to be cautious here, as we do not want our doubts to take us away from the power of our traditions, nor the sacredness of our theology as Christians. Yet, at the same time we must honor our ability, as adults, to engage in cognizant reasoning and our ability to think for ourselves. So, let’s do that – one lesson at a time!
The author of the accounts contained in the gospel according to Matthew, he is striving to help us understand what was going on at the time of John the Baptist as Jesus prepared to begin his ministry. Our writer wanted us to know something mystical happened as Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist. It is our responsibility to take the Spirit of this lesson to heart! The early Christians, whom Matthew represents, came to believe that this is how it began. Let us allow the work of the Living Spirit, to help us now, to take this message as it was intended!
The Baptizer, John, confirmed that the power of God was at hand! Those that witnessed the events that day brought Matthew to write it down in this manner. Surely, he has caught the rhythm, the very heart, the Spirit of what occurred that day. As did the authors of the Gospel accounts contained in the writings attributed to Mark, Luke and John, for they concurred – as they wrote in like fashion! John the Baptist was preparing us for the ministry of Jesus, with his proclamations to cleanse ourselves through repentance and to be baptized. We know that Jesus spoke of righteousness many times, not just at his baptism. Jesus was a man whom biblical history records as blameless, and he was an honest man.
As we prepare to continue to review and examine his life and most certainly his ministry, we shall frequently look to the examples of how he lived; as-well-as his many teachings and his understandings of how we are to comprehend and realize our place within the kingdom of heaven. Let us pray, we shall not miss the Spirit of all that is offered to us as we continue to explore the Bible.