Matthew 3:1-12

Second only to Jesus, John the Baptist is one of the first and greatest figures to leap from the pages of the New Testament. Similar to Jesus’ nativity and second coming, John’s arrival was anticipated in the Old Testament. In Matthew 3:1, his geographic location has a familiarity to the people of Israel as they wandered in the wilderness before entering the Promised Land.

Jesus was preparing to escort the people of God into a new “promised land”—and as was the case with Moses—John did his part to prepare the way for the people. Matthew 3:3 is an Old Testament prophecy fulfilled (Isaiah 40:3). Matthew 3:4 shows that John the Baptist drew comparisons with Elijah, at least when it comes to fashion (2 Kings 1:8)! So, the arrival of John the Baptist was an anticipated event throughout history because his arrival and message would be a prequel to the coming Messiah.

The Gospel Calls You to Repent
John the Baptist’s message was simple: Repent. The message was echoed by Jesus (Matthew 3:17) and was a theme throughout his teaching ministry. Yet, John’s definition of repentance is expanded in these verses and combines an Old Testament foundation with a New Testament twist.

The Hebrew word for “repentance” focuses on a change of action. The Greek word translates into a change of mind and attitude. John combined the two definitions and meshed them into his own interpretation: Repentance is a heart change that results in a lifestyle change. Repentance incorporates mind, soul and body. It is about attitude and actions. Repentance brings about true life change inside and out.
Matthew 3:5-6 give us an outline of the different aspects of repentance. The repentance process includes a point in which a person realizes his or her separation from God, makes public a personal decision to follow God and changed lifestyle and follows this subconscious decision with an outward show of obedience (baptism).

What Happens When You Repent:
John was an equal opportunity baptizer. He didn’t care if you were Jewish (child of Abraham), politically liberal (Sadducee) or conservative (Pharisee). He didn’t care if you had a religious background; if your parents were good, religious people; if you had been sprinkled as a kid; or how deep your lineage was in the church. His view was that when a person experienced true repentance, his or her life would be changed.
James later agreed with this view of repentance and salvation as he addressed the church (James 2:14-26). In simple terms, “no fruit, no root.” So many churches believe salvation is counting people at the altar, the number of baptisms each year or even the names written on the church role. John instead says look at a person’s life and see if he or she is following Christ.

Ultimately, John dealt with a large population of religious people who did not see the need for things such as repentance, making religion personal and doing a self-evaluation of motives and relationship with God. He fulfilled his calling by preparing the way for the main attraction: Jesus. In Matthew 3:11, John said he wasn’t worthy of holding Jesus’ sandals. Slaves were often given menial responsibilities such as holding the shoes and clothes of their masters. In case anyone thought John was the coming Messiah, he made it clear that he wasn’t even worthy of being the Messiah’s slave!

Prepare the Way for the King:
Living in New Orleans during the months and years after Katrina, it was typical to see Air Force One flying into the airport and Marine One hovering over the cityscape. When the president came to town, city officials did everything they could to make the city look clean, safe and show that progress was being made.

When the king visited a city in biblical times, one thing the people would do to prepare for his coming would be to repair the roads the king would travel on to make his journey more enjoyable.

John’s role was similar. He prepared the way for the coming King. He urged people to examine their lives. What moral potholes do you have that need to be repaired? What trash is littering your life and keeping you from following Christ? Repent, examine yourself and prepare your life for the coming of the King.

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