John: The Herald of Jesus Matthew 3:1-12

[Play A Knight’s Tale video clip – 2:25] – This clip shows a funny/fancy introduction for Sir Ulrich

That is how you do an introduction, right?! Don’t you think I should be introduced like that each week before I preach? That movie is called A Knight’s Tale, and the it is the story of a peasant who pretends to be a knight in the world of medieval jousting. What makes his introduction funny (in addition to none of it being true) is that just before the scene you saw, the other jouster is introduced by his herald in a much less inspiring fashion. The reason this herald went to such extremes to introduce Sir Ulrich was that Sir Ulrich was not a “sir” at all, but a peasant. So, the herald goes over the top in his explanation of Sir Ulrich’s lineage in hopes that no one would dare to question it.

John’s Identity

Today, in chapter 3 of Matthew we are going to study perhaps the most famous herald of all time – John the Baptist. What you will see today is that just as Jesus had been prophesied about, there were also prophecies that spoke of someone that would come before the Promised Messiah – a forerunner of sorts, and the Jews had been waiting for this person. However, the Jews thought this person was going to be Elijah because of what God had said at the very end of the Old Testament.

The last book of the Old Testament was Malachi, it is a small book, only four chapters long, and in the last chapter, the last two verses say this, “See, I will send you the prophet Elijah before that great and dreadful day of the LORD comes. 6 He will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers; or else I will come and strike the land with a curse.” So, the Jews expected Elijah to come before the Messiah. In fact, at every orthodox Jewish Passover ceremony, there was a cup at the table reserved for the prophet Elijah. At the circumcision of a Jewish child, a chair was placed for Elijah, anticipating that if Elijah would ever come and sit in the chair or drink the cup, that would be the sign that the King was arriving.

What the Jewish people failed to see though, was that while John was not Elijah, he was the fulfillment of the prophecy that Elijah would come. John the Baptist was the Elijah of the New Testament that had come to prepare the way for the Messiah. How do we know John fulfilled that role? Chapter 1 of Luke, tells of John the Baptist’s father Zechariah being spoken to by an angel in the Temple. The angle tells him that despite their old age, he and his wife are going to have a child, and then the angel explained what this child would be like. Luke 1:13-17 says,

“Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to give him the name John. 14 He will be a joy and delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth, 15 for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He is never to take wine or other fermented drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit even from birth. 16 Many of the people of Israel will he bring back to the Lord their God. 17 And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous—to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”

Let me give you another proof that John the Baptist is the Elijah Malachi spoke of. Look up Matthew 17. This is the story of the Transfiguration of Jesus. In Matthew 17:5-13 we read,

“While he was still speaking, a bright cloud enveloped them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!” 6 When the disciples heard this, they fell facedown to the ground, terrified. 7 But Jesus came and touched them. “Get up,” he said. “Don’t be afraid.” 8 When they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus. 9 As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus instructed them, “Don’t tell anyone what you have seen, until the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.” 10 The disciples asked him, “Why then do the teachers of the law say that Elijah must come first?” 11 Jesus replied, “To be sure, Elijah comes and will restore all things. 12 But I tell you, Elijah has already come, and they did not recognize him, but have done to him everything they wished. In the same way, the Son of Man is going to suffer at their hands.” 13 Then the disciples understood that he was talking to them about John the Baptist.

So, we now know that John the Baptist is the Elijah that Malachi 4:5 refers to, but what else can we learn about John and why he needed to come before Jesus?

John’s Message

First, it’s important that we recognize his message, we see it in verse 2. John preached the same message that the Old Testament prophets preached, the same message Jesus would later preach, and the same message the apostles would preach, so it must’ve been a pretty important message. What was it? Verse 2 – “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.” What does that message mean? Why did the Old Testament prophets and John and Jesus and the apostles all preach this message? Because it is the way of salvation! This is the message that we each need to hear, that our world needs to hear, and the message is this – YOU MUST TURN AWAY FROM YOUR SIN.

Every human being needs to understand that they are separated from God by their sin and the only way we can be reconciled to Him is for our sin to be dealt with. You cannot simply accept the King and begin to worship Him, you must first get rid of your sin and be made righteous. The bad news is that that is not something we can do by ourselves. The good news is not only that God can make us righteous, but that He has already made it possible through Jesus. Romans 3:21-24 explains this good news when it says, “But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. 22 This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.” Verse 22 says that this righteousness from God comes through faith to all who believe. Notice that it does not come to all, period. It comes to all who believe.

This is John’s message. He was warning people that they must turn away from their sin and put their faith in the Savior that he was about to introduce them to. Friends, please don’t hear and study this as a message that was given historically to Jews – this message is for you. If you want to have a right relationship with God, if you want to be forgiven of your sins, if you want to have eternal life with go in heaven, you must turn away from your sin and place your faith in Jesus. John’s message is the most important message you will ever hear.

John’s Way of Life

So, we’ve seen that John is the Elijah of the New Testament that was preparing the way for Jesus, we’re heard his massively important message, and now, in verse 4 we get to see how he lived his life as we look at his clothing and his food. Verse 4 tells us that, “John’s clothes were made of camel’s hair, and he had a leather belt around his waist. His food was locusts and wild honey.” Now, why does Matthew tell us this information? Why should we care what he wore or what he ate? Well, garments of woven hair were often worn as a protest against luxury and as a symbol of distress or self-affliction. So, John’s garment of camel hair would’ve visualized the message that he was preaching – that people needed to stop conforming to the culture around them. His food was similar – it wasn’t abnormal for desert people to eat insects, but it certainly wasn’t a filling meal. John was living out what he was preaching, namely, that he was a man who had rejected the luxuries of life and was focused on the things of God and pleading for others to focus their lives as well.

John’s Baptism

John was the last of the Old Testament prophets. He was used by God to warn people to turn from their sin before it was too late, and if they chose to repent, John would baptize them as an outward sign of the inward decision they had made. We see how people responded to John and we hear him explain how his baptism was different than the baptism Jesus would bring in verses 5-12.

READ Matthew 3:5-12

Verse 5 tells us that people from Jerusalem and Judea left the cities and traveled out to him in the desert and when they heard his warning to turn from their sins, many of them responded in humility by confessing their sins and being baptized. But we also see that some religious leaders went out to hear what John had to say. However, when he saw them approaching he had some harsh words for them. The reason for John’s harsh reaction was that the religious leaders refused to truly submit to God. They thought that they were good enough to please God, so John confronted them and told them that they needed to produce fruit in keeping with repentance. That is, their lives needed to match their words. We cannot fool God by pretending to be religious but trying to live life on our own terms.

John’s message was a warning of coming judgment. Israel had sinned and needed to repent, and the religious leaders should have been leading the way. When John said in verse 10 that the ax was lying at the root of the tree, he was warning the people of Israel that if they didn’t turn away from their sin they were going to face God’s judgment. If they did not bear good fruit, the nation of Israel would be cut down. John wanted to tell them the good news – that if the nation repented, God would relent and forgive them, but in order to do so it was crucial that they understood their need to repent first.

John clearly understood his role of preparing the way for Jesus. He knew that when Jesus came He would bring either judgment or reconciliation for all people, so John was trying to convince people to repent so they could receive reconciliation through Jesus rather than judgment. John explained this by talking about His baptism versus Jesus’ baptism in verses 11-12. John began by saying, “I baptize you with water for repentance.” What he meant by this was, “If you listen to my message and turn from your sin, and are baptized – publically proclaiming that you are turning your life over to God – you will be prepared for your Master when He shows up.”

On the other hand, John wanted them to know what Jesus’ baptism would be like. He explains that Jesus would baptize them with either the Holy Spirit or fire. In other words, Jesus’ coming would force people to make a decision. How people respond to Jesus would either lead to salvation through faith in Jesus, where they would be forgiven of their sins and begin a new life as Spirit-filled follower of Christ or their lack of faith would lead to the judgment of God which would result in the eternal fires of Hell. John was trying to warn the people of what Jesus would say in Matthew 10:32-34 when he stated, “Whoever acknowledges me before men, I will also acknowledge him before my Father in heaven. 33 But whoever disowns me before men, I will disown him before my Father in heaven. 34 “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.” Jesus came to save mankind from sin, but for those who would choose to deny Him, there is nothing left but judgment and death. The choice is clear and salvation is offered freely, yet so many choose to attempt to be God themselves by refusing to submit.

Making the choice to submit to Jesus is a big decision, and it costs us, there is a price that we must pay to follow Him. Jesus described it as taking up our cross daily – it is dying to self so that we can submit to Him. It’s a very real cost and we need to consider it. But we also need to consider the cost of not submitting to God and in the style of John the Baptist I want to warn you to repent while you still have the chance.

There is a very scary passage of Scripture that I want to use to warn you. It’s Romans chapter 1, verses 18-24. It says,
“The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness, 19 since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. 20 For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse. 21 For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles. 24 Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts…”

What is being said here is that God has revealed Himself to humanity, but much of humanity has chosen not to submit to Him and glorify Him as they were created to do. And here’s the scary part – He let them! Even though it’s the worst thing we could possibly do – to turn our backs on God – He will allow us to do that. He allows us to worship worthless things like our jobs and money and sex and fame and ourselves…but there is a high price that we will have to pay if we do so. In the very next chapter of Romans, chapter 2, verses 5-8, Scripture explains,

“But because of your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath against yourself for the day of God’s wrath, when his righteous judgment will be revealed. 6 God “will give to each person according to what he has done.” 7 To those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honor and immortality, he will give eternal life. 8 But for those who are self-seeking and who reject the truth and follow evil, there will be wrath and anger.”

So, fellow believers – don’t try to pretend like you’ve got it all together when you don’t. Don’t try to hide your sin and put on a good face. Repent of your sin, talk about it with others, ask for help, confess and move forward in obedience.

Fellow backsliders – Recommit to your first love. Refocus your life on Jesus. Live with Him as your first priority. Repent of your wandering and turn back to Him.

Those of you who have never connected your life to Jesus – turn away from your sin and your pride today and submit to Him. Confess your sins, pray and admit your need for forgiveness and surrender control to Him today.

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