Matthew 3:1 In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, 2 "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." 3 For this is he who was spoken of by the prophet Isaiah when he said, "The voice of one crying in the wilderness: 'Prepare the way of the Lord; make his paths straight.'"
4 Now John wore a garment of camel's hair and a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey. 5 Then Jerusalem and all Judea and all the region about the Jordan were going out to him, 6 and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. 7 But when he saw many
of the 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 in keeping with repentance. 9 And do not presume to say to yourselves, 'We have Abraham as our father,' for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham. 10 Even now the axe is laid to 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 he who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. 12 His winnowing fork 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 unquenchable fire."
Let's look at the message John the Baptist came preaching.
vs 2 He announced the Kingdom of Heaven was at hand. The primary meaning of kingdom is "the sovereign rule of a king". The rule of heaven or God was coming to be established on earth. God is a just God and must punish sin. God's justice is the most misunderstood characteristic of sin. Love without justice on the school ground would let every bully have his way. The teacher would love the bully but not punish him, that is , bring him to justice.
vs 2 He called the people to repentance. Repent means to "change the way you think". John called the people to change the way they thought about sin. Sin is not doing what God says or doing what He says not to do. If God began to rule, He would need to punish sin because He is a just God. Because God loves people He sent John to warn the people and call them to repent of their sin, to turn away from sin.
vs3 God had prepared and announced John's job 700 hundred years earlier.
vss 4-6 John was out in the wilderness and drew a crowd of people who believed what he was preaching, repented of their sins and were baptized as a public testimony of their repentance.
vss7-10 When John saw the religious leaders of the day, Pharisees and Sadducees, come out to see what he was doing, he called them vipers. Why? The Pharisees and Sadducees claimed to have the truth but didn't live the Scriptures they proclaimed. Instead of leading the people to life, they led them to death, just like a viper's bite is deadly. Note that John asks them if they are fleeing from the wrath to come. What is wrath? Wrath is the justice of God that must be satisfied by a penalty. The penalty for is death, not mere cessation of life, but eternal torment (see Luke 16:19-31). God knew that beliefs are revealed by actions. He had John call people to prove their repentance by their fruit (lifestyle). If a person continues in sinful behavior and attitude after repenting, there was no real repentance. The truly repentant person will be really trying to change attitude and actions. Mere talk with no attempt to change will not save a person from the penalty of sin, the Lake of Fire (see Revelation 21:8)
vss 11-12 John was called to prepare the way for Jesus and distinguishes his assignment and power from that of Jesus. John came to baptize with water for repentance to make people aware of their sin and be prepared to listen to Jesus who came to save the people from their sin (Matthew 1:21) Jesus will baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire. The Holy Spirit is God. God comes to live in us when we believe in Jesus (Ephesians 1:13-14). The Holy Spirit teaches us the truth and enables us to live it. Jesus also baptizes with fire. Fire is judgment. The judgment for sin is the Lake of Fire, eternal torment (Matthew 25:46; Revelation 21:8).
What we are to do with what we have learned:
1. We need to repent of our sin and believe the gospel (Mark 1:15). Real repentance and belief is characterized by a desire to live according to the Word of God by faith in Jesus.
2. We need to be testifying to the people around us, calling them to repent of their sin and believe the gospel, that Jesus died on the cross to pay the penalty for their sin, that He rose from the dead on the third day and is Lord over all (1 Corinthians 15:3-4; Romans 10:9).
3. We need to be like Christ and doing the works of Christ. We learn what to be and do by reading the Bible. We become like Christ and do His works by faith, that is, we attempt to obey the Bible fully expecting the Lord to fulfill our attempt with His power.