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God Offers Wisdom To Those Who Are Teachable

Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to John, to be baptized by him. John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented.
(Matthew 3:13-15 ESV)

What’s great about the Bible is that every word matters. Every sentence, no matter how short, teaches us something. The verse we’ll study today is only three words long but it contains an important lesson.

Yesterday we read about Jesus’ baptism. Initially John the Baptist didn’t want to baptize Jesus because he recognized Jesus for who He was – the sinless Messiah prophesied about in the Old Testament. In the original Greek, John’s words are very emphatic; He was certain he was right. He thought he knew what he was talking about.

But then Jesus corrected him and then he consented. This brief verse struck me so much that I wanted to spend a day discussing it.

How often do those of us who are God’s children think we know what we’re doing or thinking when it comes to God but really we don’t? It happens all the time.

John the Baptist was not an atheist. He was a believer – a very strong believer. He knew the Bible better than the Jewish religious leaders who did not recognize Jesus as the Messiah. For three years these men saw Jesus’ miracles and heard Him speak yet they did not believe He was who He said He was. But John knew exactly who Jesus was the moment he laid eyes on Him – before Jesus even started His public ministry.

Yet John got somethings wrong. He understood a lot. But he didn’t understand all.

Notice how Jesus deals with John’s misunderstanding. He does not condemn. He simply points out that it is right for Him (Jesus) to be baptized at the current time, despite John’s seemingly sensible objections.

This is exactly how God deals with His children. He offers us wisdom [James 1:5]. He wants to teach us [Matthew 11:28-29; John 14:26, 16:13-14]. But for that to happen we must be teachable. We must be in communication with God through prayer.

God is very patient with us. If we think or say or do something that is in error He will not whack us over the head. Instead He will gently correct us by providing us the better way of thinking or doing. But that information does not come in the form of a lightning bolt. It comes through prayer.

We must be willing to listen to God when He speaks to us. He will give us the information we need [Proverbs 5:20-22 et. al]. And when He does our response should be like that of John the Baptist who didn’t continue to argue. He recognized Jesus’ as the supreme authority. When Jesus spoke, John listened and acted in accordance with Jesus’ words.

Comments? Questions? I’d love to hear from you. Please feel free to contact me about this post.



God Knows What It Is Like To Live In A Human Body

Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to John, to be baptized by him. John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented.
(Matthew 3:13-15 ESV)

Today we read the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry. Up until this point Jesus had lead a pretty obscure life. The Bible doesn’t tell us anything about His childhood, except for a very brief excerpt when he was twelve [Luke 2:41-51]. The next we see of Him is when He is baptized in this passage at about the age of 30 [Luke 3:23].

Some claim that in these intervening years Jesus spent time in Britain or India. But there is no evidence of this. It is most likely that Jesus simply led a normal life in Nazareth as we see that people recognized Him as being from the area when He began preaching [Mark 6:1-3].

Those who claim Jesus spent time in India like to point out supposed similarities of Jesus’ teachings and Hinduism. But even a rudimentary comparison of these two teachings show they are completely incompatible. For instance, Jesus made it clear that everybody has one and only one life on this earth and when we die He judges our faith [John 5:22]. This is obviously at odds with the Hinduistic teaching of reincarnation and is just one of many incompatibilities between Jesus and Hinduism.

Interestingly, Jesus came (of His own initiative) to be baptized by John. Jesus was God in the flesh and lived without committing a sin. He had no need to participate in an act that testifies to one’s repentance and need for forgiveness [2 Corinthians 5:21]. John recognized this and initially tried to prevent Jesus from being baptized. Jesus seems to agree that for Him baptism was unnecessary but nevertheless appropriate under the circumstances (let it be so now) so as to fulfill all righteousness.

Jesus came into the world to identify with sinners [Isaiah 53:12]. It seems that being baptized, despite being unnecessary for Him, was the first public step in His ministry to redeem mankind. Similarly, Jesus was spent 9 months in His mother’s womb and then lived as an every-day human being for 30 years. None of that was necessary from God’s point of view. God could have easily created Jesus as a full-grown man – similar to Adam – on the spot at the appropriate time.

But God wanted us to know that He identifies with us. That means going through all that we have gone through including gestation, life, and death. There is nothing that we have experienced that Jesus, who was God, did not experience. He knows exactly what it is like to live in a human body on this earth.

Comments? Questions? I’d love to hear from you. Please feel free to contact me about this post.


We All End Up Somewhere In Eternity

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.”
(Matthew 3:12 ESV)

In an agricultural society, such as the one in which the New Testament took place, farming metaphors painted vivid pictures of reality. And this is just what John the Baptist uses in his final comments to the hypocritical Jewish leaders to describe to them the future actions of the coming Messiah.

Various grain seeds, such as wheat, are encased in husks. The seeds are desirable because they are edible. These husks are undesirable because they are indigestible by humans. So farmers have to separate them using a process known as threshing.

Essentially, this entailed placing the wheat stalks on a threshing floor where the husks could be broken by using animals. The farmer would then use winnowing fork to pick up batches of the wheat and toss them into the air allowing the wind to carry away the broken husk (now known as chaff) but allowing the heavier seed, which the farmer wanted to keep, to fall back down to the ground.

In a similar way Jesus will someday separate those people who belong to Him from those who don’t. This will take place at the end of the world.

Notice John the Baptist used the present tense when talking about Jesus and His metaphorical winnowing fork – is in his hand. Like the prophets of the Old Testament, John the Baptist understood that the Messiah would judge all people. But like these prophets, he failed to understand that the Messiah would first come to be a sacrifice and that He would come back a second time to judge.

When Jesus came to earth 2,000 years ago He did not come to condemn; He came to save [John 3:17]. But He will return a second time [John 14:1-4; 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17]. When He does He will establish a worldwide government over which He will preside. This government will last 1,000 years during which He will reign with absolute fairness and honesty – the first, and only, ruler ever to do so. After those 1,000 years (which is known as The Millenium) the earth will be destroyed and it will be time for judgement [Revelation 20:1-5; 12].

Notice that Jesus will clear his threshing floor. There will be no one who falls through the cracks. Every human being who ever lived will end up either in the barn or end up burnt with unquenchable fire. Those who think they will end up annihilated, or in purgatory or in some other not-quite-heaven-but-not-so-bad place are mistaken.

Those who belong to Jesus are His and end up in the safety of the metaphorical barn (heaven). The rest, who found Jesus undesirable, and who He in turn will find undesirable, end up removed from the blessing of His presence forever (we call that “hell”), like the chaff carried away by the wind.

Comments? Questions? I’d love to hear from you. Please feel free to contact me about this post.


We Can Choose How We Handle The Truth About Ourselves

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 fire.
(Matthew 3:11 ESV)

Over the past few days we’ve been studying the words of rebuke spoken by John the Baptist towards the religious leaders of Israel. John called them out for being filled with pride and self-assurance of their own salvation simply because they were descendants of Abraham. In today and tomorrow’s verses John turns from rebuke to hope.

John tells them that someone is coming whose baptism is more powerful than the one he was performing. John was baptising truly repentant people in water – a symbolic gesture. Jesus, though, would baptize [people] in one of two different ways: either with the Holy Spirit or with fire.

God had promised back under the Old Testament to send His spirit to His people [Joel 2:28; Ezekiel 36:25-26]. After Jesus ascended into heaven 40 days after rising from the dead, proving He had paid the penalty for sin, God did fulfill that promise by baptizing the initial believers with the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost [Acts 2:1-4].

Since that day every person who truly repents of their sin and accepts Jesus’ death as 100% necessary and complete for the forgiveness of their sins likewise receives (i.e. is baptized with) the Holy Spirit.

The presence of the Holy Spirit in the earthly body of a believer is proof that a person has been freed from the penalty of their sin and is the guarantee that that person will go to heaven [2 Corinthians 1:22, 5:5]. Such a person will not have to face judgement for their sins because the penalty for those sins has already been paid-in-full by Jesus.

On the other hand, anyone who sins have not been paid by Jesus – because they refused to repent and accept the forgiveness God offers – will not be baptized with the Holy Spirit. Instead that person will face baptism of fire. That is, they will face God’s judgement.

John the Baptist’s message of truth towards the Pharisees and Sadducees is applicable to everyone living today. We are sinners. We cannot save ourselves through our own so-called good deeds, heredity, or rituals.

Likewise, the choice John the Baptist presented to the Pharisees and Sadducees is also applicable. It is the very same choice every man and woman faces with our own lives.

We can either repent (i.e. agree with God that we are sinners who don’t deserve to be in God’s presence) and escape God’s judgement. Or we can hold onto our pride and our sin and face that judgement.

This would not be a wise decision, however. Anyone whose sins have not been paid for by Jesus will have to face the consequences of their sin which is separation from God for all eternity with no hope of reconciliation. We call that hell.

Comments? Questions? I’d love to hear from you. Please feel free to contact me about this post.


Someday The Harvest Will Be Over

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.
(Matthew 3:10 ESV)

We are currently studying the words of John the Baptist which he directed towards the hypocritical Jewish leaders, the Pharisees and Sadducees, when they wanted to be baptized by him.

These men had not truly admitted their sinful nature (i.e. repented) as is the requirement to receive God’s forgiveness. John knew this because they did not exhibit any behavioral changes that one would expect with the humble act of true repentance [Matthew 3:8]. Using another agricultural metaphor, John today warns them about their future.

John believed that the Messiah (who we’ll find out is Jesus) would imminently (even now) take an axe to the roots of the trees and cut down every tree that does not bear good fruit and throw them into the fire. At the end of every harvest season the farmer would go through his fields and uproot any tree that did not bear fruit in the previous season so next year it would not steal any nutrients from the soil at the expense of those trees that did produce fruit.

But Jesus did not do this during His first presence on earth. While John was well aware that the Messiah was about to come on to the world scene [Matthew 3:2], he, like all the prophets before him, failed to understand that the Messiah would come twice: first to be killed and then subsequently to reign as King.

When Jesus came to earth the first time He came to be killed as a sacrifice for the sins of mankind with the promise to return. When He does return it will be to separate humanity into two categories: those whose sins have been forgiven and those whose sins have not.

Those people who have truly repented (i.e. turned away from their sinful nature) and have received God’s forgiveness will be taken to heaven. Those who have not will be separated from God forever. We call that hell.

Right now, in between Jesus’ advents, we are in the time of harvest [Luke 10:2]. Believers are sowing seeds of the gospel all around the globe and people are being “harvested” into God’s kingdom by repenting and receiving God’s forgiveness. They are then filled with the Holy Spirit and will “bear fruit”, proving they are a true child of God [John 1:12-13; Galatians 5:22-23].

But some day Jesus will return and the harvest will be over. No one knows when that will be [Mark 10:32]. It can happen at any moment. And when He does it will be too late for those who have refused to repent and take advantage of God’s free offer of forgiveness.

The Bible often refers to hell as fire not because (I don’t think) it will be engulfed in flames but because it will be pure agony to be separated from God and instead be solely in the presence of sin and sinners for all eternity. It will make Ferguson, Iraq, and Hiroshima will look like a toddler’s birthday party.

Comments? Questions? I’d love to hear from you. Please feel free to contact me about this post.


Put Your Ideas About Eternity To The Test

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.
(Matthew 3:9 ESV)

Today we continue reading about the confrontation between John the Baptist and the religious leaders who came to him to be baptized. Yesterday John exposed them for being hypocrites who had not really repented of their sin as is necessary for forgiveness.

Many Jews back then (and even today) believed that hell was only for Gentiles. They believed that they were going to spend eternity in heaven with God simply because they [had] Abraham as [their] father. But this is faulty logic. Abraham was saved by faith [Genesis 15:3-6; Romans 4:1-3]. There was no logical reason to conclude that any of his descendants were saved any other way.

Interestingly Jesus’ story about the rich man and Lazarus addressed this issue [Luke 16:19-26]. Notice that the rich man addresses Abraham as “father” and Abraham addresses him as “child”. This man was clearly a descendant of Abraham. Yet he was not in heaven. He was in hell. His heredity did not save him.

This story would have shocked Jesus’ Jewish audience. A child of Abraham being in hell was inconceivable to them. Hell was for Gentiles – those outside God’s family. In fact, Jews often referred to Gentiles as “dead stones” which may be why John says God can raise up children for Abraham from stones.

In addition, Abraham was not only the father of the nation of Israel but also of several Gentile peoples. Abraham had two grandsons, Jacob and Esau. Jacob was the primogenitor of the Jewish people. In fact, his name was later changed to “Israel” from which the nation derived its name [Genesis 35:10].

Esau, on the other hand, became the forefather of Arabs, Muslims, and other Gentiles through his marriage to Mahalath, Ishmael’s daughter [Genesis 28:8-9]. If being a child of Abraham meant automatic entry into heaven, then the Jews should have considered these Gentiles “heaven bound” too. But they didn’t.

What the Jews didn’t realize was that God was always planning on offering salvation to the Gentiles. We learned this in our study of Ephesians earlier this year. If they had put their own beliefs to the test they would have seen the flaws in their logic.

This very same thing still happens today. People still arrive at erroneous conclusions about God, Jesus, and the Bible because they don’t think enough. They think that good people go to heaven. Or they dismiss the Bible as not being from God. Or they claim the Bible promotes hate. These, and many other misconceptions, are easily proven wrong if one just takes the time to explore them.

Sadly, though, people spend more time decorating their house or watching sports than making sure they have the necessary and correct information about eternity. Just like the rich man in Jesus’ story – relying on faulty information will have terrible eternal consequences.

Comments? Questions? I’d love to hear from you. Please feel free to contact me about this post.


Jesus Is Not An Insurance Policy

But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruit in keeping with repentance.
(Matthew 3:7-8 ESV)

Over the past few days we’ve been reading about the ministry of John the Baptist. John preached a message of repentance because repentance is the prerequisite to receiving forgiveness of sins [Matthew 3:2]. One must truly believe they are a sinner in need of forgiveness before he can actually be forgiven. Baptism was a subsequent ceremony in which that person publicly declared their repentance and the receipt of God’s forgiveness.

But apparently some people who came to John to be baptised had not truly repented. This included many of the Pharisees and Sadducees.

The Pharisees, whose name means “separated ones”, were very exclusive. They believed heavily in keeping certain man-made rules and rituals. The Sadducees, who were fewer in number than the Pharisees, were much more liberal, adhering only to the law of Moses. Neither group had much in common with the other except for the fact that both groups relied on self-effort to win favor with God. Neither group would have believed they had any real need to repent.

John was well aware of their insincerity which is why he calls them vipers. This particular snake has great camouflage; it looks like a stick. This was the same snake that bit Paul when he was gathering wood on the island of Malta [Acts 28:3-5].

John is condemning these men for being hypocrites. Like the viper they appeared to be something they were not. They had not truly repented of their sin even though they appeared to. John recognized this because they did not bear fruit. The term “fruit” in Scripture always refers to manifested behaviors and attitudes [Galatians 5:22-23].

When someone truly repents of their sins it will be noticeable [James 2:17]. Notice that it is not good behavior that saves anyone from the penalty of their sin. None of us are righteous in any way [Ecclesiastes 7:20; Romans 3:10; 1 John 1:8 et. al]. None of us can point to any of our deeds and expect to get into heaven [Matthew 7:21-23]. Rather our deeds (fruit) are a result of being forgiven which is a result of being repentant.

We don’t know the motive the Pharisees and Sadducees had in coming to John. Perhaps they were looking for an “insurance policy”. I once knew someone who said he was a follower of Jesus. But he was also a follower of Allah and Buddha and whoever else he could think of. He didn’t see himself as a sinner in need of the forgiveness Jesus offered. Instead he just wanted to cover his bases in case Jesus turned out to be the “right” god.

True repentance is always sincere. It’s not enough to simply acknowledge that one makes mistakes. Everyone does that. To receive God’s forgiveness one must agree that they have sinned against God and they need to be cleansed from that sin.

Comments? Questions? I’d love to hear from you. Please feel free to contact me about this post.


The Purpose And Meaning Of Baptism

Then Jerusalem and all Judea and all the region about the Jordan were going out to him, and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.
(Matthew 3:5-6 ESV)

Today we read about John the Baptist’s ministry. His ministry had a wide reach. People from Jerusalem, Judea and all around the Jordan went to him. As we learned a few days ago, this was a considerable inconvenience. Therefore we know that John’s message was powerful.

The result was that people were baptized by him which is why he is called John the Baptist. This is interesting because baptism was not unknown by the Jews. But it was never practiced by the Jews themselves. Instead, it was a ceremony in which a Gentile baptised himself in order to become Jewish (a male would also be circumcised). Baptism represented an outsider coming into God’s family.

But Jews believed that they were already a part of God’s family. So for a Jew to be baptized was an amazing admission that their heritage and place as God’s chosen people was not enough to save them from the penalty of their sins.

It would have taken a lot of humility for a Jew to be baptised because baptism was a public declaration that a person repented, confessed they were a sinner incapable of earning their way to heaven, and instead trusted in God to save them. Baptism has the same purpose today.

The actual act of baptism – being submerged into water and then brought out again – symbolizes the death and burial of the old self, and the rising up to walk in newness of life [Romans 6:4-6; 2 Corinthians 5:17]. During baptism a person is symbolically cleansed of sin. Notice that unlike Gentile baptism which is self-enacted, biblical baptism is performed by another person. Just like we need someone to baptise us, we need Jesus to remove our sins; we cannot save ourselves.

If anyone is a child of God through faith in Jesus Christ [John 1:12-13] then God wants you to be baptised. He wants you to be willing to proclaim publicly that you are a sinner in need of His grace and mercy [Romans 1:16]. This is a great testimony to others. Baptism like this often takes place in a church but can also take place in a pool, a lake, or the beach.

Note that we can do nothing to earn salvation [Ephesians 2:8-9] and, hence, baptism does not save anyone or guarantee anyone admission into heaven. This is in direct contrast to the false-teachings of some churches including the Catholic Church. A person is saved from their sins first by repenting and accepting God’s only path to forgiveness – the death of His Son [John 14:6]. Baptism is a subsequent, voluntary (although highly encouraged by God), public declaration that such repentance and forgiveness has already taken place.

Comments? Questions? I’d love to hear from you. Please feel free to contact me about this post.


What Our Lives Should Be About

Now John wore a garment of camel’s hair and a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey.
(Matthew 3:4 ESV)

Matthew provides us with some interesting information about John the Baptist today. We already learned that he lived in the wilderness, away from society [Matthew 3:1]. Today we get more of a glimpse into his lifestyle and purpose for living.

From this description of John’s clothing and diet we know he was very poor. Camel’s hair was woven into fabric by people who could not afford wool. Likewise, leather was not worn by people of means but by people who could not afford better.

Since he lived in the wilderness John did not have access to much food so he lived off of locusts and wild honey, which were plentiful and nutritious and would have cost nothing. Even today locusts are eaten by bedouins in the Middle East. The honey John ate was probably not bee honey as bees don’t live in the desert. It was most likely honey made from a fruit such as dates.

Conversely, the religious leaders at this time dressed and ate well and traveled in sophisticated social circles. They looked down upon people who were not like them. John’s intentional living was a rebuke of these leaders who claimed to know God but really didn’t. John’s lifestyle was also a rebuke of the materialism and economic framework of society in general.

We are all too apt to chase after possessions or success or money, all of which have their utility in society but none of which have any eternal significance. None of these things can save someone from the penalty of their sins [Romans 6:23], which is our greatest need.

John the Baptist dressed and lived strangely. His ministry was public speaking but he was far from polished. Nevertheless his life had meaning and purpose: to draw people away from the world, spiritually speaking, and into a relationship with God through His son, Jesus.

God still has this purpose for His children – those of us who have accepted Jesus’ death as necessary and complete for the forgiveness of our sins [John 1:12-13]. While God does not call anyone to life of asceticism – John the Baptist lived this way by choice – He does warn us against the temptation of materialism and worldly pleasures.

The religious leaders of the day did not draw people to God. They actually drew people away from Him by their lifestyle (and false teachings). Likewise, if a child of God is too tied to this world that person will not represent God well in this life.

John the Baptist did not own a home. He did not have lots of money. He associated with the poor, not the wealthy. He wasn’t interested in climbing the corporate ladder or driving the slickest car. His life was all about serving others by telling them of the necessity of repentance and forgiveness.

This is what our lives should be about too.

Comments? Questions? I’d love to hear from you. Please feel free to contact me about this post.


Clearing Away The Impediments That Prevent Repentance

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.’”
(Matthew 3:3 ESV)

As we learned in our introduction to Matthew’s Gospel, Matthew wrote to a Jewish audience who would have been familiar with what we call the Old Testament. Matthew demonstrates how the events of Jesus’ life fulfill Old Testament prophecy about the coming Messiah. Today he applies a statement from the prophet Isaiah to John the Baptist [Isaiah 40:3-5].

Isaiah predicted that in the future (relative to Isaiah’s time) there would be one who would herald the coming of the Lord. The word “Lord” in Hebrew (the language of the Old Testament) is אֱלֹהִים (pronounced: ‘elohiym). This is the word Jews used for God. Matthew says that the voice is John the Baptist. The means he is also saying that “the Lord” is Jesus. Matthew is clearly equating Jesus with God here. This is more proof that early Christians believed that Jesus was God and that such a belief did not originate hundreds of years later as some mistakenly claim.

When kings went on a journey in ancient times they would send people ahead of them to make preparations and to herald their arrival. John the Baptist, who lived in the wilderness, performed a similar function. He came onto the scene to prepare people for Jesus’ arrival.

While the ancient forerunners of the king would prepare roads and accommodations, John prepared people’s hearts. As we read yesterday, John called people to repentance because the Messiah (who turned out to be Jesus) was arriving shortly. Jesus offers forgiveness of sins which is necessary for entering heaven.

But before one can experience forgiveness, one has to believe they need to be forgiven. They need to repent. They need to stop thinking they are good enough to enter heaven and instead believe that they are sinful and therefore ineligible for citizenship in heaven. Repentance is the preparation for receiving forgiveness.

The passage in Isaiah referenced by Matthew speaks of clearing a road of impediments that would prevent the king from arriving. In a similar, yet metaphorical way, each human being needs to clear their heart of anything that would impede them from accepting Jesus’ forgiveness.

Things like pride and materialism can, and will, prevent someone from receiving God’s forgiveness. Not because God won’t offer it. But because a person who is holding onto such things will not seek it. They are too tied to the things of this world and are therefore incapable of seeing the truth.

It is incumbent upon each person to make sure that doesn’t happen to himself/herself. We each need to prepare the way for Jesus to enter our lives. This entails recognizing that we are sinners in need of forgiveness. It also entails forsaking each and every world system (i.e. religion) that teaches that we don’t need such forgiveness. The only truth is the truth that Jesus Himself taught [John 14:6].

Comments? Questions? I’d love to hear from you. Please feel free to contact me about this post.


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