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The kingdom is near (Matthew 3:1-12)

Chatswood Baptist Church https://www.chatswoodbaptist.com.au

1. Australia’s national warning system

In Australia over the last year we have had our fair share of natural disasters. We have had floods and storms here on the East coast and on the west coast earlier this year there were severe fires around Perth.

In Australia we are fortunate to have a national system of receiving warnings when they are needed. The government can issue warnings  on the national radio and TV broadcasters alerting people to the dangerous conditions and what they need to do. There is also a national telephone warning system that can be used by the emergency services to send voice messages out to landlines and sms messages to our mobile phones to get us ready.

2. Israel’s warning system

In the reading today when it came to getting Israel, God’s people, ready God had his own warning system. It was one that he had spoken about centuries earlier through  the prophet Isaiah. He had spoken about a voice that would cry out in the wilderness to his people to get them ready for his coming and the coming of his kingdom.

Matthew 3:1-3

In those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the wilderness of Judea 2 and saying, “Repent, because the kingdom of heaven has come near!” 3 For he is the one spoken of through the prophet Isaiah, who said: A voice of one crying out in the wilderness: Prepare the way for the Lord; make his paths straight!

With the birth of Jesus the kingdom of heaven had drawn near. We saw yesterday how some wise men from the East had come to worship the one who had been born king of the Jews and how Herod, who saw Jesus as a threat to his own rule, had tried to kill him. In chapter 3 the story has moved on. It is now more than 25 or so years later. The family, having fled to Egypt to escape Herod’s plot, had returned home. After Herod had died God had brought them back and they had settled in the small village of Nazareth in the region of Galilee. Matthew isn’t concerned to tell the story of that part of Jesus’ life. In chapter 3 Jesus was now an adult and his ministry was about to begin.

3. The Voice

The kingdom was now nearer than ever. It was time to send out the warning to the people. It was time to get them ready for the arrival of their king and so the voice in the wilderness started crying out.

John the Baptist was the voice

The voice we are told in verse 1 belonged to John the Baptist who was preaching in the desert of Judea in those days. The Judean desert included part of the lower Jordan valley that is just north of the Dead Sea and also the land just west of the Dead Sea. It was a hot and largely arid place. It was perhaps the last place that you would expect to get the attention of the nation except for the fact that the prophet Isaiah had made it clear that this was where the voice would appear.

He was the last of the old prophets

John appears as the last of the old prophets who God sent to warn his people about what was coming. He dressed like a prophet and in appearance resembled the prophet Elijah. Elijah had been, one of the great prophets of old who had called God’s people to repent and turn back to the Lord. Elijah had worn a garment of hair with a belt around his waist (2 Kings 1:8) and so did John. The significance of being this Elijah-like echo was that God had promised that he would send Elijah his messenger before the day of his coming (Malachi 4:5). For all intents and purposes the Lord Jesus said that John the Baptist was this messenger from God (Matt. 17:11-13). He was the voice preparing the way for the coming of the Lord. He had come to get his people ready – to make his paths straight. And the people had gone out to John in the wilderness in their droves. We are told that people from Jerusalem and all Judea and all the vicinity of the Jordan were going out to him (v5).

His message was a simple one

His message was a simple one and it is summed up there in verse 2.

“Repent, because the kingdom of heaven has come near!”

A good warning usually tells you what you need to know – what’s to be expected and what you need to do to get ready for whatever it is that is about to happen. John did both of these things.

The kingdom of heaven had come near

John told them what was taking place so that they knew what it was that they needed to be ready for. The kingdom of heaven  was drawing near. “The kingdom of heaven” is just another way of talking about God’s kingdom.  Often Jewish people would avoid any direct reference to God and would substitute “heaven” rather than referring to God directly. Aware of Jewish sensitivities, Matthew has probably adopted this convention in his gospel.

The kingdom of heaven is God’s kingdom or his rule or reign. It was drawing near because the king had come and he was about to appear on the scene and his coming would mean salvation for some and judgment for others.

As I said, a good warning will tell you what you need to do to get ready for what is coming and what to expect. In the case of the warning that John gave the people of God he told them what to expect. He told them of the one who was coming after him (the king who we heard about in chapter 2) and John told them what he would do.

Matthew 3:11-12

11 “I baptize you with water for repentance, but the one who is coming after me is more powerful than I. I am not worthy to remove his sandals. He himself will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 12 His winnowing shovel is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into the barn. But the chaff he will burn with fire that never goes out.”

John told the people that they needed to be ready for the one who was coming after him. The one who was coming after John was more powerful than him. John said that he wasn’t even fit to remove his sandals and that this one would baptise people with the Holy Spirit and fire. For some who are ready for his coming he would be like a refining fire getting them ready for his kingdom. Long ago God had promised his people to cleanse them from their sin and to give them a new heart by pouring out his Spirit on them (Ezekiel 11:19, 36:26). He would purify his people and these would be those that would be gathered into the kingdom. But for others who don’t heed the warning his coming would be like consuming fire. The heat of the fire would spell disaster for them.

You must repent

As I said, a good warning system will not only tell you what to expect and what the conditions will be like, but what you need to do. If there is a fire you might get told to clean your gutters, fill them with water and if the conditions are too severe to leave everything and flee or if it is too late for this and the fire is too close you might be told to stay where you are – to take shelter and wait until it passes over. The one word summary of what God’s people were to do in the face of the coming kingdom was “repent”. You must repent. It’s the only way to be ready for the kingdom of God. Nothing else you can do prepares you for its coming.
Repenting is how you prepare for the kingdom of heaven. You aren’t ready for the kingdom of God if you haven’t repented. This was how people were to prepare the way for the coming of the Lord. It was how they were to make their paths straight for him. When the king comes you repent! You stop pretending that you are the king and you fall before the true king and pledge yourself to him asking him to forgive you and make you clean. It is a complete turn around. For those who came to hear John it involved them confessing their sins and being baptised. Baptism is an outward sign of what needs to happen on the inside.

In the NT water baptism is associated with repentance and the forgiveness of sins. In Luke and Mark’s gospel it is referred to as a “baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins”. Baptism is an outward sign of what happens on the inside. It is a public testimony that a person has turned from their sin and turned back to God for the forgiveness of sins. It’s a statement to ourselves and to others that the only way that we can be saved from the coming wrath is if we acknowledge the true king and God forgives us and cleanses us and makes us clean. God’s kingdom is coming. It has drawn near with the coming of Jesus and one day when he returns it will fill the earth. It will be all there is and if you aren’t ready for it, you will miss out on all that God is doing. People who hold on to their own rule and what they are doing miss out. What is happening now is people are being given the opportunity to repent – to turn from their mistaken belief that they are better at ruling their life than God and turn back to God so that through Jesus they can be forgiven and be part of the kingdom of God.

4. Ignoring the warning

One of the most dangerous things to do in a crisis is to think that you are ready when you really aren’t. It’s the sort of overconfidence in oneself that prevents you from doing the one thing that you ought to be doing. Overconfidence will stop you from heeding the warnings. or only addressing them in a very superficial way. In verse 7 to 10 of chapter 3 we meet such people, the Pharisees and Sadducess. John the Baptist called them out.

Matthew 3:7-10

7 When he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them, “Brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? 8 Therefore produce fruit consistent with repentance. 9 And don’t presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you that God is able to raise up children for Abraham from these stones. 10 The ax is already at the root of the trees. Therefore, every tree that doesn’t produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.

Confidence in the wrong things

People often put their confidence in the wrong things. They are often overly confident in themselves. The guy who goes out into the surf when the beach has been closed because the surf is dangerous believes that he is not going to get caught out the way that others might. Because of his familiarity with the beach or because he believes himself to be a strong and experienced swimmer he thinks he is going to be able to handle whatever comes his way.
The Pharisees and Sadducees were such people and only responded superficially to the warning. They thought that they were prepared for the kingdom because they had Abraham as their father. Deep down they didn’t feel that they really needed to repent because of who they were. If they were being baptised it wasn’t because they were truly repentant it was probably because they wanted to be seen to be doing everything right. They were confident in themselves. To them John said “produce fruit which is in keeping with repentance” (8).

Repentance has to be genuine

Repentance has to be genuine or real. It can’t be faked or superficial. It ought to aect every aspect of our lives. If we continue to live a life of sin then we haven’t really turned back to God at all. We are still living as though we have the right to do whatever we want to do with our lives. This is to continue in sin for it is to reject the Lord Jesus as King. We haven’t truly repented. Unfortunately people fool themselves about this all the time. They pull the wool over their eyes convincing themselves that they will be OK with God even though they go on living life for themselves.

There is no place for such confidence. It is a false confidence that believes that one can be OK with God without truly repenting in our hearts. It is a false confidence that sometimes believes that by the mere act of performing some sort of outward sign that we can be right with God.

We need to repent

In the case of the Pharisees and Sadducees they were coming to be baptised not to repent. Baptism doesn’t save us. It’s what baptism points to that saves us – the forgiveness and cleansing of God that comes through the death of His Son for us. We can do all the external things as though we have repented and yet not have truly turned back to God. This morning we all need to seriously think about whether we are doing all the external things but as yet have not done the one necessary thing that is necessary to be ready for the kingdom of God, repent.
Being a nice person doesn’t mean that you are ready for God’s kingdom. Coming along to church doesn’t get you ready. Having a Christian upbringing or heritage doesn’t mean you are part of the kingdom of God. The Pharisees and the Sadducees were religious people and they were used to doing religious things. They had grown up that way. But John pointed out that as yet they had not truly repented. They had not turned from their sin and turned back to God. There was no fruit of this in their lives.
As it is often said, God has no grandchildren. Every generation needs to recognise that they are sinners and turn from their sin. Don’t put your confidence in the things that you do or the kind of person that you are. There is no way that we can prepare ourselves for the kingdom of God. We need to confess our sin and turn back to God for forgiveness. We need the greater one who will baptise us in the Holy Spirit and fire.

5. Heed the warning

Today if you are going to receive an extreme weather warning you will hear it over the radio or the TV. If our national warning system is working properly you will get a message on your phone.
Today God’s warning continues to be sounded and the message continues to go out wherever the gospel is preached. It is the message of the nearness of the kingdom of God and it demands repentance and it promises judgement for those who don’t.
Today I want to encourage you not to go on ignoring the warnings. We all must repent to be prepared for what’s coming. There is no way that you can be prepared for what is coming without surrendering to the Lord Jesus and turning back to God. You need the greater one that God has sent into the world to forgive you and cleanse you. Heed the warning that is going out today. The message from God is repent because the kingdom of heaven has come near.