Matthew 3:1-12: Spirit and Fire
January 5, 2021
TODAY'S BIBLE READING:
“In those days John the Baptist”—so enters, in Matthew’s Gospel, this strange, extraordinary and great figure of biblical history: John the Baptist. He it is who prepares the way for the Lord, making straight his paths in the wilderness, declaring that Jesus is the Christ, is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, and that his baptism is not merely with water but with the Holy Spirit and with fire.
This John the Baptist figure has a “wilderness” ministry. He speaks out of the wilderness (3:1, 3). This is to underline the real situation that Israel found themselves in. They were still wandering in the desert, not having yet entered the Promised Land. And his baptism is a form of Jordan crossing; they must repent—unlike that generation who died in the wilderness—and bear fruit in keeping with repentance, godliness, holiness, obedience to God. And so the Promised One will come, Jesus the Christ, and his baptism will be with the Holy Spirit and with fire. The baptism of the Spirit means that those who follow Jesus have a renewed nature and are given God’s Spirit, in fulfillment of many Old Testament prophecies. The “fire” is connected here to Jesus’ final ministry of judgment: “The chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire” (3:12). So Jesus’ ministry will be characterized by spiritual new life given to those who follow him, and for those who do not, they will be on the path towards final judgment.
John the Baptist really, in a sense, summarizes the whole message of the Old Testament—all of which in one way or another points to Jesus. John the Baptist also points to Jesus, as the greatest of the Old Testament prophets in that sense, and does so in the final moment of being the voice in the wilderness urging God’s people to be ready to hear from God’s Messiah.
His message of repentance is as important for us to hear today. Do we think, “I grew up as a Christian, and therefore I do not need to bear fruit in keeping with repentance?” Beware. Just saying you are “Abraham’s child” means nothing. God can raise up new children from the stones. God is looking for fruit in keeping with repentance.
The word of repentance is also an encouragement, as well as warning. If the call is to repent, it at least acknowledges that those who repent will be received, and underlines that we all need to repent, and if we repent, we will find forgiveness and acceptance.
And then comes the contrast with the Christ, who gives spiritual power, the baptism of the Spirit in regeneration, to follow him. Would we receive Christ and find in him spiritual power, the person of the Holy Spirit, to bear the fruit of the Spirit today? Ask God for more of his Spirit (Ephesians 5:18), and walk in the Spirit that you might bear the fruit of the Spirit of increasing Christlikeness (Galatians 5:22-23).
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Josh Moody (Ph.D., University of Cambridge) is the senior pastor of College Church in Wheaton, IL., president and founder of God Centered Life Ministries, and author of several books including How the Bible Can Change Your Life and John 1-12 For You.
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