“Preparing for Emmanuel” – Matthew 3:4-12

September 28th, 2014

Matthew 3:4-12

“Preparing for Emmanuel


Meditation/PreparationThe heart is deceitfully wicked.  Only a firm grasp of the mercy, grace, forgiveness, patience, and love of God will empower and enlighten you to have the courage to face just how infertile your heart really is and how much you need a Savior Who can nurture a noble, fertile heart.


Bible Memory Verse for the Week:  The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure.  Who can understand it? —  Jeremiah 17:9


Background Information:

  • The question might be asked, “If, then, the Baptist was, to a considerable degree, a preacher of hell and damnation, how was it that by divine direction he was called “John” (Lk 1:13), that is, “Jehovah is gracious”? Answer:  Warning people that doom is impending and will certainly overtake them unless they repent and believe, is not this a gracious act?  Does it not indicate that God is not cruel, not eager to punish, but longsuffering?  Did he not show this patience to the antediluvians (Gn 6:3; 1 Pt 3:20); Lot (Gn 63:9; Jer 8:20; Ez 10:19–the lingering of the throne chariot–; 18:23; 33:11); and Simon Peter (Jn 21:15-17)?  Is not that same divine attribute gloriously revealed in the parable of The Barren Fig Tree (Lk 13:8, “Let it alone this year also”); in 2 Pt 3:9 (“God endured with much longsuffering”); in Rv 2:21 (“I gave her time to repent”); and in Rv 8:1 (“silence in heaven for about half an hour”)?  (William Hendriksen, New Testament Commentary: Matthew, 206-07)
  • Of all John’s activities and characteristics, his baptism was the most strikingly unique and reminiscent of his ministry. This one-time baptism as preparation for the arrival of the coming kingdom was so distinctive that it gave him the byname “the Baptist” (see 3:1; Josephus, Ant 18:116).  (Michael J. Wilkins, The NIV Application Commentary: Matthew, 134)
  • John’s salutation is excessively rough and rude. Honeyed words were not in his line:  he had not lived in the desert for all these years, and held converse with God and his own heart, without having learned that his business was to smite on conscience with a strong hand, and to tear away the masks which hid men from themselves.  The whole spirit of the old prophets was revived in his brusque, almost fierce, address to such very learned, religious, and distinguished personages.  (Alexander MacLaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture, St. Matthew 1-8, 42-43)
  • Only in Matthew is John’s preaching summed up in exactly the same formula as that of Jesus (3:2; 4:17; cf. Also the preaching of Jesus’ disciples, 10:7). For parallels in Jesus’ preaching to that of John in vv. 7-12 see

3:7 (“brood of vipers,” escaping judgment) with 23:33; cf. Also 12:34

3:8 (repentance) with 11:20-21; 12:41

3:8, 10 (producing good fruit) with 7:16-20; 12:33; 21:41, 43;

3:9 (children of Abraham) with 8:11-12;

3:10b (fruitless tree cut down and burned) exactly repeated in 7:19;

3:11-12 (judgment by fire) with 5:11; 14:40-42, 50; 18:8-9; 25:41;

3:12 (grain gathered into the granary) with 13:30.

The continuity between John and Jesus is further underlined by Jesus’ later comments on their relationship (11:16-19; 17:12; 21:23-27, and cf. the implications of 21:32).  Their careers run parallel in significant ways:  both are popularly regarded as prophets, opposed by the Jerusalem authorities, eventually rejected and executed, but given burial by their disciples.

So Jesus will take up where John leaves off, and this is just what John has said must happen.  John’s own distinctive ministry of water baptism will give way to a baptism “in the Holy Spirit and fire.”  (R.T. France, The New International Commentary on the NT: Matthew, 98-99)

  • (v. 4) At every orthodox Passover ceremony even today a cup is reserved at the table for Elijah. At the circumcision of orthodox Jewish baby boys a chair is placed for Elijah.  The anticipation is that, if Elijah would ever come and sit in the chair or drink from the cup, the Messiah’s arrival would be imminent.  That belief is based on Mal 4:5-6.  (John MacArthur, The MacArthur NT Commentary: Matthew 1-7, 52)
  • (v. 5) John was the talk of town and country. It has been estimated that at least a million people turned out to hear him.  (John Phillips, Exploring the Gospels: Matthew, 54)
  • (v. 5) He captured the imagination and conscience of the country. He rekindled Israel’s Messianic hopes that had lain in the ashes of neglect for centuries.  (John Phillips, Exploring the Gospels: Matthew, 56)
  • (v. 6) John was sent to Israel, and he called upon them to repent and be baptized. His message would have scandalized the Jews, because the only people baptized prior to this time were those converting from paganism to Judaism.  These converts, gentiles, were considered unclean, so they were required to participate in a symbolic washing of their filth so as to become worthy to join the community of Israel.  The convert baptized himself, as if he were taking a bath before he could join the community of Israel.  (RC Sproul, St. Andrew’s Expositional Commentary: Matthew, 40-41)
  • (v. 6) The description of them as “coming to his baptism” rather than “being baptized” like the crowds in v. 6 suggests such a surveillance role, and the reception they received from John (vv. 7-9) makes it unlikely that any of them actually were baptized. See 21:25, 32 for the refusal of the Jerusalem leaders to accept John’s message.  It is significant that the same grouping of opponents will later confront Jesus (16:1-12), while the “chief priests and scribes” who will be his chief opponents in Jerusalem represent a similar “coalition” of distinct groups.  (R.T. France, The New International Commentary on the NT: Matthew, 110)
  • (v. 7) Vipers are proverbial for their subtle approach and attack, as was the original serpent (Gn 3). These religious leaders have ulterior motives, either attempting to ingratiate themselves with the crowds who are drawn by John or coming to see if they can find fault in this prophetic figure who is outside their circles and is attracting such a following.  (Michael J. Wilkins, The NIV Application Commentary: Matthew, 135-36)
  • (v. 7) John knew the desert. The desert had in places thin, short, dried-up grass, and stunted thorn bushes, brittle for want of moisture. Sometimes a desert fire would break out.  When that happened the fire swept like a river of flame across the grass and the bushes, for they were as dry as tinder.  And in front of the fire there would come scurrying and hurrying the snakes and the scorpions, and the living creatures who found their shelter in the grass and in the bushes.  They were driven from their lairs by this river of flame, and they ran for their lives before it.

But it may be that there is another picture here.  There are many little creatures in a standing field of corn–the field mice, the rats, the rabbits, the birds.  But when the reaper comes they are driven from their nests and their shelters, and as the field is laid bare they have to flee for their lives.  (William Barclay, The Daily Study Bible Series: Gospel of Matthew, 46-47)

  • (v. 7) The implication is that the Pharisees and Sadducees were expecting John’s baptism to be a kind of spiritual fire insurance, giving protection from the flames of the wrath to come. True repentance and conversion do protect from God’s wrath and judgment, but superficial and insincere professions or acts of faith tend only to harden a person against genuine belief, giving a false sense of security.  John would not be party to such hypocrisy and sham.  It was the deceitfulness of their true master, Satan, and not genuine fear of God’s judgment, that led them out to hear John and to seek his baptism as a pretentious formality.  (John MacArthur, The MacArthur NT Commentary: Matthew 1-7, 64)
  • (v. 9) To the Jew Abraham was unique. So unique was he in his goodness and in his favor with God, that his merits sufficed not only for himself but for all his descendants also.  He had built up a treasury of merit which not all the claims and needs of his descendants could exhaust.  So the Jews believed that a Jew simply because he was a Jew, and not for any merits of his own, was safe in the life to come.  (William Barclay, The Daily Study Bible Series: Gospel of Matthew, 47)
  • (v. 9) Somewhere over the years, the Jews erroneously decided that the promise given to the patriarchs was guaranteed to all their descendants, no matter how they acted or what they believed. John explained to them, however, that relying on Abraham as their ancestor would not qualify them for God’s kingdom.  (Bruce Barton, Life Application Bible Commentary: Matthew, 46)
  • (v. 9) Those who remembered Isaiah’s description of Abraham as “the rock from which you were hewn” (Isa 51:1-2) might reflect ruefully on the possibility of God’s substituting different “stones.”  (R.T. France, The New International Commentary on the NT: Matthew, 112)
  • (v. 9) Despite many similar warnings by the prophets, many of the people and most of the leaders were not prepared for John’s message.  What he said was shocking; it was unexpected and unacceptable.  It was inconceivable to them that, as God’s people, they had anything to do to inherit God’s kingdom but simply wait for and accept it.  The Messiah was their Messiah, the King was their King, the Savior was their Savior, the promise was their promise.  Every Jew was destined for the kingdom, and every Gentile was excluded, except for a token handful of proselytes.  That was the common Jewish thinking of the day, which John totally shattered.  (John MacArthur, The MacArthur NT Commentary: Matthew 1-7, 55)
  • (v. 9) Descent from Abraham was not a passport to heaven.  It was a great advantage in knowing and understanding God’s will (Rom 3:1-2; 9:4-5), but without faith in Him that advantage becomes a more severe condemnation.  If Abraham himself was justified only by his personal faith (Gn 15:6; Rom 4:1-3), how could his descendants expect to be justified in any other way (Rom 3:21-22)?  (John MacArthur, The MacArthur NT Commentary: Matthew 1-7, 68)
  • (v. 9) The historical sequence, a reflection of God’s plan from eternity, certainly was “to the Jew first and also to the Greek” (Rom 1:16; cf. Acts 13:46; Rom 3:1, 2; 9:1-5).  This order is also clear from Matthew’s Gospel (10:6; 15:24).  But the beginning of a new day, a day in which there would be “no distinction between Jew and Greek” was dawning.  See Mt 2:1-12; 8:11, 12; 22:1-14; 28:19, 20; Acts 10:34-48; Rom 9:7, 8; 10:12, 13; 1 Cor 7:19; Gal 3:7, 16, 17, 29; 4:21-31; 6:15, 16; Eph 2:14-18; Phil 3:2, 3; Col 3:11; and Rv 7:9, 14, 15.  (William Hendriksen, New Testament Commentary: Matthew, 205)
  • (v. 11) John’s whole attitude was self-obliteration, not self-importance. His only importance was, as he saw it, as a signpost pointing to the one who was to come.  (William Barclay, The Daily Study Bible Series: Gospel of Matthew, 48)
  • “Observe what lowly expressions Abraham and Jacob and Job and David and John the Baptist used about themselves. Study the biographies of modern saints like Bradford and Hooker and George Hebert and Beveridge and Baxter and M’Cheyne.  Mark how one common feature of character belongs to them all—a very deep sense of sin.” (J. C. Ryle;    Holiness; p. 273).


Pharisees & Sadducees:

  • The word Pharisee means “separated ones,” and members of the sect diligently tried to live up to their name. Admission to the groups was strictly controlled by periods of probation lasting up to one year, during which the applicant had to prove his ability to follow ritual law.  They separated themselves not only from Gentiles but from tax collectors and any others whom they considered to be base “sinners” (Lk 7:39).  They even looked with disdain on the common Jewish people, whom a group of Pharisees in Jerusalem once referred to as “accursed” (Jn 7:49).  After leaving the marketplace or any public gathering, they would as soon as possible perform ceremonial washings to purify themselves of possible contamination from touching some unclean person.  (John MacArthur, The MacArthur NT Commentary: Matthew 1-7, 61)
  • The Pharisees’ single loyalty was to themselves, to their traditions and to their own influence and prestige. By their strict adherence to those traditions they expected to reap great reward in heaven.  But they were the epitome of religious emptiness and hypocrisy, as Jesus often pointed out (Mt 15:7; 22:18; 23:13, 23, 25; etc.).  The Pharisees “outwardly [appeared] righteous to men, but inwardly [were] full of hypocrisy and lawlessness” (Mt 23:28).  (John MacArthur, The MacArthur NT Commentary: Matthew 1-7, 61)
  • The Sadducees claimed to accept the law of Moses as the supreme and only religious authority, and they scorned the legalistic traditions of their antagonists, the Pharisees. In NT times they were still closely associated with the priestly class (see Acts 5:17), to the extent that the terms chief priest and Sadducee were used almost synonymously (as were the terms scribe and Pharisee).  But they cared little for religion, especially doctrine, and denied the existence of angels, the resurrection, and most things supernatural (Acts 23:6-8).  Consequently they lived only for the present, getting everything they could from whomever they could–Gentiles and fellow Jews alike.  They believed in extreme human autonomy and in the unlimited freedom of the will.  They considered themselves masters of their own destinies.

The Sadducees were much fewer in number than the Pharisees and were extremely wealthy.  Among other things, under the leadership of Annas they ran the Temple franchises–the money exchanging and the sale of sacrificial animals–and charged exorbitantly for those services.  It was therefore the Sadducees’ business that Jesus damaged when he drove the moneychangers and sacrifice sellers out of the Temple (Mt 21:12-13).  (John MacArthur, The MacArthur NT Commentary: Matthew 1-7, 62)

  • They (Sadducees and Pharisees) had one other common religious and spiritual ground. The Pharisees expected their reward in heaven, while the Sadducees expected theirs in this life, but the trust of both groups was in personal works and self-effort. Both emphasized the superficial and nonessential, and had no concern for the genuine inner spiritual life or for the welfare of their fellow man.  That was “the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees,” the hypocritical, self-serving, dead externalism about which Jesus warned His disciples (Mt 16:6).  (John MacArthur, The MacArthur NT Commentary: Matthew 1-7, 62)
  • One is conservative and the other is liberal, but the hope and trust of both groups is in themselves, in what they can perform or accomplish by their own actions and wills. (John MacArthur, The MacArthur NT Commentary: Matthew 1-7, 63)
  • In light of John’s unorthodox dress and style and his prophetic and authoritative exhortations, it is hard to imagine why the self-righteous and proud Pharisees and Sadducees would ask to be baptized by him. Some of them may simply have been curious.  It seems more probable, however, that they suspected that John might indeed be a prophet, as many of the people believed (Mt 14:5), and that they wanted to check him out as thoroughly as they could.  If he were a genuine prophet perhaps they could gain his approval, parade the pretense of repentant spirituality, and capitalize on or even take over the movement–in the way religious opportunists still do today.  Whatever their reasons were, they were wrong, wicked reasons.  They were not seeking God’s truth or God’s working in their own lives.  They were not repentant; they had not confessed their sins; they had not changed at all–as John well knew.  (John MacArthur, The MacArthur NT Commentary: Matthew 1-7, 63)


The question to be answered is . . . John the Baptist was sent to prepare the hearts of mankind for the coming of the Messiah.  What does that mean?


Answer:  Like a seed that flourishes in the prepared soil, so too will the Word of God flourish in prepared hearts.    


The Word for the Day is . . . Prepare


What does John tell us about fruitful, prepared hearts?:

I-  John the Baptist had a prepared heart and was the real McCoy.  He proved this through the fruit of his harsh lifestyle and faithful performance of his divine calling.  (Mt 3:4-12; see also: Mt 11:1-19; 17:10-13; 21:32; Lk 1:17; 7:16-35; Jn 5:31-40)


There is no more pathetic figure in Scripture than that of the forerunner of our Lord.  Lonely and ascetic, charged to fight against all the social order of which he was a part, seeing many of his disciples leave him for another master; then changing the free wilderness for a prison cell, and tortured by morbid doubts; finally murdered as the victim of a profligate woman’s hate and a profligate man’s perverse sense of honor: he had indeed to bear “the burden of the Lord.”  But perhaps most pathetic of all is the combination in his character of gaunt strength and absolute humility.  How he confronts these people whom he had to rebuke, and yet how, in a moment, the flashing eye sinks in lowest self-abasement before “Him that cometh after me”!  How true, amidst many temptations, he was to his own description of himself: “I am a voice”–nothing more.  (Alexander MacLaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture, St. Matthew 1-8, 49)


II-  The Pharisees and Sadducees were hypocrites who failed to produce any fruit in keeping with repentance because their hearts were hard and unprepared.  (Mt 3:7-10; see also: Mt 6:1-5, 16-18; 7:3-5; 15:3-20; ch 23; Lk 6:40-49; 12:1-5; Acts 26:20; Rom 2:28-29)


He addresses directly the Pharisees and Sadducees, and at the same time, addresses, through them, a warning to all, not to hold out a hypocritical appearance of repentance, instead of a true affection of the heart.  Besides, it was of great importance to the whole nation to know what sort of people the Pharisees and Sadducees were, who had miserably corrupted the worship of God, wasted the church, and overturned the whole of religion;–in a word, who had extinguished the light of God by their corruptions, and infected every thing by their crimes.  (John Calvin; Commentary on a Harmony of the Evangelists, Matthew, Mark, and Luke, 187)


John called them a brood of vipers (Jesus also used this term, see 12:34; 23:33).  The term literally means “snakes.”  It conveys how dangerous and cunning these religious leaders were and suggests that they were offspring of Satan (see Genesis 3; Jn 8:44).  (Bruce Barton, Life Application Bible Commentary: Matthew, 44)


Those who refuse to repent will face judgment; those who repent will escape judgment; however, true repentance is seen by the fruit (actions and character) it produces.  The Pharisees and Sadducees thought they had a corner on righteousness, but their fruit revealed their true character.  Only if they could produce fruit in keeping with repentance–if they truly repented and lived for God–then and only then would they be able to “flee from the wrath to come” (3:7).  (Bruce Barton, Life Application Bible Commentary: Matthew, 45-46)


“Faith that does not act is a faith that is just an act.”  (Lois Evans and Jane Rubietta, Stones of Remembrance)


There is always need of a warning that we cannot live on the spiritual capital of the past.  (William Barclay, The Daily Study Bible Series: Gospel of Matthew, 47)


John the Baptist stands squarely in the prophetic tradition–a tradition in which the Day of the Lord points much more to darkness than to light for those who think they have no sin (Amos 2:4-8; 6:1-7).  “You brood of vipers!” also belongs to the prophetic tradition (cf. Isa 14:29; 30:6; cf. CD 19:22); in Mt 12:34, Jesus uses these terms to excoriate the Pharisees.  (Frank E. Gæbelein, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Vol. 8, 103)


They did not wish to lose their hold on the multitudes who were flocking to John to be baptized.  If this was the place where the action was they wanted to be part of it, in order, if possible, to assume leadership.  But did not submission to the rite of baptism imply confession of sin?  Well, if necessary they were even willing to “stoop to conquer.”  Of course, they were not sincere, not really penitent at all nor actually desirous to undergo a radical change of mind and heart.  They were deceitful, hypocritical.  Cf. Mt 16:1; 22:15.  (William Hendriksen, New Testament Commentary: Matthew, 203)


Fruitless, taking up space, and causing the soil around it to deteriorate: A classic description of the average person who hangs around a church unconverted. Who comes Sunday by Sunday by Sunday without any fruit in their lives at all.   They are fruitless, they take up space and their impact is to deteriorate the soil around them.  So while it was forbidden (by Jewish law) to destroy a fruit bearing tree, it was clearly within the line of duty to chop down a barren or an empty tree. (Alistair Begg in a message from Luke 13:5-9 entitled Mercy and Judgement – Pt 1)


III-  John’s message was to prepare hearts through confession, repentance and baptism for salvation and fruit that will survive the coming fiery wrath of the judgment of God.  (Mt 3:11-12; see also: Isa 1:25; 4:4; 41:15-16; Jer 4:4; Mal 3:2-4; Mt 7:16-20; 13:24-30; ; Jn 15:1-16; Lk 16:3-9; 1 Cor 3:13; Heb 10:27-29; 2 Pt 3:4-7)  


Messiah’s coming will separate grain from chaff.  A winnowing fork tossed both into the air.  The wind blew the chaff away, and the heavier grain fell to be gathered up from the ground.  The scattered chaff was swept up and burned and the threshing floor cleared (cf. Ps 1:4; Isa 5:24; Dan 2:35; Hos 13:3).  The “unquenchable fire” signifies eschatological judgment (cf. Isa 34:10; 66:24; Jer 7:20), hell (cf. 5:29).  (Frank E. Gæbelein, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Vol. 8, 105)


We live in a culture where no one is afraid of the judgment of God, but the biblical portrait is of a God who will judge the earth, a God who will call every living creature to account.  If we do not bring forth fruits worthy of repentance, we will be cast into the fire, where we belong.  (RC Sproul, St. Andrew’s Expositional Commentary: Matthew, 43)


The final separation and the ultimate judgment will be only at Christ’s second coming, when the unsaved “will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life” (Mt 25:46).  That scene is dramatically presented by our Lord in the parable of the tares (Mt 13:36-43) and the parable of the dragnet (Mt 13:47-50).  (John MacArthur, The MacArthur NT Commentary: Matthew 1-7, 72)


The “fire” into which the unfruitful trees are cast is evidently a symbol of the final outpouring of God’s wrath upon the wicked.  See also Mal 4:1; Mt 13:40; Jn 15:6.  Jesus spoke about “the Gehenna of fire” (Mt 5:22, 29; 18:9; Mk 9:47).  This fire is unquenchable (Mt 3:12; 18:8; Mk 9:43; Lk 3:17).  The point is not merely that there is always a fire burning in Gehenna but that God burns the wicked with unquenchable fire, the fire that has been prepared for them as well as for the devil and his angels (Mt 3:12; 25:41).  (William Hendriksen, New Testament Commentary: Matthew, 206)


Fire is a frequent biblical symbol of the torment of divine punishment and judgment.  Because of their exceptional wickedness, Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed by “brimstone and fire from the Lord out of heaven” (Gn 19:24).  After Korah, his men, and their households are swallowed up by the earth and “went down alive to Sheol…fire also came forth from the Lord and consumed the two hundred and fifty men who were offering the incense” (Mn 16:32-33, 35).  In His role as a righteous Judge, God is frequently called “a consuming fire” (Ex 24:17; Dt 4:24; 9:3; etc.).  in the last chapter in the OT, Malachi speaks of the coming day that will be “burning like a furnace; and all the arrogant and every evildoer will be chaff; and the day that is coming will set them ablaze” (Mal 4:1).  John’s preaching picked up where Malachi left off, and Jesus Himself often spoke of the fires of hell (Mt 5:22, 29; Mk 9:43, 47; Lk 3:17; etc.).  (John MacArthur, The MacArthur NT Commentary: Matthew 1-7, 70)


For the chopping down of a tree as a metaphor for God’s judgment on pagan nations cf. Isa 10:33-34; Ez 31; Dan 4:14; now Israel, too, faces such judgment.  In 7:19 Jesus will take up the metaphor with specific reference to the failure to produce fruit (see on v. 8); cf. also the parable of Lk 13:6-9.  Cutting at the root indicates a final removal of the tree rather than pruning.  Burning the tree is a natural extension of the metaphor, but fire is also in itself a common OT metaphor for judgment (cf. 13:30, 40-42, 50; 18:8-9; 25:31), and will recur (without reference to a tree) in the next verse, as well as in the comparable agricultural imagery of v. 12.  The basis of judgment is not failure to belong to the natural family of Abraham, but the lack of the “good fruit” which comes with true repentance.  (R.T. France, The New International Commentary on the NT: Matthew, 112)


At the end of the season the keeper of the vineyards and the fig trees would look at his vines and his trees; and those which were fruitless and useless would be rooted out.  They only cumbered the ground.  Uselessness always invites disaster.  The man who is useless to God and to his fellow-men is in grave peril, and is under condemnation.  (William Barclay, The Daily Study Bible Series: Gospel of Matthew, 48)


A heart resistant to repentance is going to find heaven hell.  — Pastor Keith


Man’s natural inclination is to unknowingly create hell.   It is only the image of God in man and the Spirit of God restraining man that prevents Satan’s will from being done here on earth as it is in hell.    — Pastor Keith


Confession of sin was commanded in the law, not only as part of a priest’s duties (Lv 16:21), but as an individual responsibility for wrongs done (Lv 5:5; 26:40; Nm 5:6-7; Prv 28:13).  In Israel’s better days this was carried out (Neg 9:2-3; Ps 32:5).  In the NT (cf. Acts 19:18; 1 Jn 1:9) confession is scarcely less important.  (Frank E. Gæbelein, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Vol. 8, 102)


First, this wrath or settled indignation, rests upon unregenerate man by nature (Eph 2:3).  It pertains even to the present (Jn 3:18, 36; Rom 1:18).

Secondly, the final outpouring of this wrath is reserved for the future (Eph 5:6; Col 3:6; 2 Thes 1:8, 9; Rv 14:10).

Thirdly, this final manifestation of wrath (Zeph 1:15; 2:2) is connected with the (second) coming of the Messiah (Mal 3:2, 3; 4:1, 5).

Fourthly, without genuine conversion man cannot escape it: “who warned you to escape…?”  This probably means, “Who deluded you into thinking that it is possible to evade God, and encouraged you to try it?”  Cf. Ps 139; Jonah 1:3.

Fifthly, for the true penitent there is indeed a way of escape: 8. Bear fruit therefore in keeping with conversion.  As pointed out earlier (see on verse 2), repentance, if it is to be genuine, must be accompanied by fruit-bearing.  A merely outward confession of sin will never do.  A mere desire to be baptized, as if this rite were a wonder-working charm, has no positive value.  There must be that inward change which expresses itself outwardly in God-glorifying conduct, fruit-bearing in keeping with conversion.  (William Hendriksen, New Testament Commentary: Matthew, 204)


The kingdom of God is not going to come in some distant time. The woodsman has penetrated that tree down to its very core, the root, so that one more swing of that ax and the tree will come crashing down. That is how close things are, John is saying.  (RC Sproul, St. Andrew’s Expositional Commentary: Matthew, 42-43)


Did you ever see a blast-furnace?  How long would it take a man, think you, with hammer and chisel, or by chemical means, to get the bits of ore out from the stony matrix?  But fling them into the great cylinder, and pile the fire and let the strong draught roar through the burning mass, and by evening you can run off a golden stream of pure and fluid metal, from which all the dross and rubbish is parted, which has been charmed out of all its sullen hardness, and will take the shape of any mold into which you like to run it.  The fire has conquered, has melted, has purified.  So with us.  Love “shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost given unto us,” love that answers to Christ’s, love that is fixed upon Him who is pure and separate from sinners, will purify us and sever us from our sins.  Nothing else will.  (Alexander MacLaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture, St. Matthew 1-8, 61)


How does Jesus tell us we can encourage our hearts to be fruitful?:

1-  Keep your heart soft by obedience.  Or do not allow your heart to become hard or callous by your regular disobedience and rebellion against God’s Word.  A broken, contrite and repentant heart is a noble, soft and fertile heart.   (Mt 13:19; Rom 1:18-32; Eph 4:17-19; 1 Tm 4:1-2)


Real prayer is the breathing of God’s own Spirit in the heart; have you this?  It is communion and fellowship with God; know you what this is?  It is brokenness, contrition, confession, and that often springing from an overwhelming sense of his goodness and his love shed abroad in the heart; is this thy experience?  (Octavius Winslow, Personal Declension and Revival of Religion in the Soul, 95)


Let us not forget that it is broken and contrite hearts which God will not despise; therefore, any ministry which fails to produce them, no matter how acceptable, is nevertheless in the sight of God a failure.  (John D. Drysdale; The Price of Revival, 33)


Faithful men flourish at the fertile reception of the preached Word.  They’re made all the more bold when their people give ear to the Lord’s voice and give evidence of being shaped by it.  As church members, we can care for our pastors and teachers and help to prevent unnecessary discouragement and fatigue by cultivating the habit of expositional listening.  (Thabiti M. Anyabwile, What is a Healthy Church Member?, 21)


2-  Encourage your heart to be fertile and fruitful through regular use of the means of grace.  (Jer 31:31-34; Ez 36:26-27; Mt 13:20-21; Jn 15:1-16; Rom 10:17; 2 Tm 3:14-17)


The Means of Grace in Christian theology are those things (the means) through which God gives grace. Just what this grace entails is interpreted in various ways: generally speaking, some see it as God blessing humankind so as to sustain and empower the Christian life; others see it as forgiveness, life, and salvation.  –– Augsburg Confession,


In Methodism, the means of grace are ways in which God works invisibly in disciples, quickening, strengthening and confirming faith. So, believers use them to open their hearts and lives to God’s work in them.

According to John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, the means of grace can be divided into two broad categories, with individual and communal components:

Works of Piety, such as: Individual practice, prayer, fasting, searching the Scriptures, healthy living, communal practices, holy communion, Baptism, Christian Conferencing (or “community”) and works of mercy, such as: Service focused toward individual needs, good works, visiting the sick, visiting the imprisoned, feeding & clothing those in need, earning, saving, & giving all one can, service focused toward communal/societal needs, the seeking of Justice; Opposition to Slavery.

Careful attention to the means of grace are, for Methodists, important in the process of sanctification as one is moved on toward Christian Perfection through the work of the Holy Spirit


Lutherans teach that the Means of Grace are the ways that God the Holy Spirit creates faith in the hearts of Christians, forgives their sins, gives them eternal salvation and causes them to grow spiritually. The efficacy of these means does not depend on the faith, strength, status, or good works of those who proclaim the Word of God or administer God’s sacraments; rather, the efficacy of these means rests in God alone, who has promised to work through God’s gift of these means to God’s church.

For Lutherans, the Means of Grace include the Gospel (both written and proclaimed), as well as the Sacrament of Holy Baptism, and the Sacrament of the Eucharist. Some Lutherans also include Confession and Absolution as sacraments and as such a means of grace, although they are not counted as such by others because no physical element is attached to Absolution, as is the case in both Baptism and the Lord’s Supper.  This section requires expansion.


“One thing essential to growth in grace is diligence in the use of private means of grace.  By these I understand such means as a man must use by himself alone, and no one can use for him.  I include under this head private prayer, private reading of the Scriptures, and private meditation and self-examination.  The man who does not take pains about these three things must never expect to grow” (J. C. Ryle; Holiness, 89)


The means of grace (prayer, sacraments, fasting, worship, praise, etc.)  ARE NOT CAUSAL to our receiving the “sense” from God to be spiritually discerning.  WHY?  Because there is a trap here that WE are the reason for our spirituality.  It is a gift from God.  Not from ourselves.

(Jonathan) EDWARDS says:  your sanctification is a work of God.  There are no steps to do this.  God just does it.  Means are not causal, but they are necessary.  God normally uses these means to do His work.  BUT THEY ARE NOT CAUSAL!

Most people are trying to sanctify themselves by means of grace. In reality, we use the means of grace and allow God to do His work.  God comes when He comes.  Our task is to expose ourselves to the means of grace and WAIT!  There is an element of mystery of this in allowing God to be God.  We (in the Western nations) like a cause and effect religion.  Do this and this will happen.  God says no!   He does His work when He wants.  He is like the wind blowing.  We do our job and wait for the wind to blow.  Usually the light comes when we are using the means.  Usually the taste of the honey comes to us when we are using the means of grace.   But we must wait on God.  Let God be God.

We do what we can and leave it to God.  He is not safe but He is good.  We must trust God.

Edwards was GOD-CENTERED.  No one comes to me unless the Father draws him.  ALSO, if anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink.

In other words, we are like a ship.  We hoist the sails (the means of grace) and wait for God to send the wind.  We don’t hoist the sail, and blow in them.

God always worked through means.  Whether he sent an earthquake or a shortage of available land, God was still acting to remind humans of their spiritual needs.  Through such forces God provided the soil for revival.  God, through the Holy Spirit, also provided the means of grace, such as preaching the Word and the ordinances of the church, as means of tending the spiritual vineyard, as one biblical image put it.  (Marsden; Edwards, 152)


“Whatever pretenses men make of thankfulness for the Word of God, however they speak of it as a privilege to have light and the means of grace, if they do not yield obedience to the light and conform themselves to the commands of it, they are practically unthankful and do in effect cast it behind their backs (Nehemiah 9:26).  (Robert Owen Roberts; Sanctify the Congregation, 127)


A single sin, however secret, when indulged, diffuses its corrupting influence over the whole soul; it depraves the conscience; it alienates from God; it strengthens all other principles of evil, while it destroys the efficacy of the means of grace and the disposition to use them.  It is no less true of any community, that any one tolerated evil deteriorates its whole moral sense.  (Charles Hodge; Commentary on the First Epistle to the Corinthians, 86)


The flame illumines.  Fire cleanses.  The Spirit does both. Nevertheless, it would appear from the context (both before and after; see verses 10 and 12) and from Joel’s Pentecost prophecy (Joel 2:30; cf. Acts 2:19), considered in its context (see Joel 2:31), that the ultimate fulfillment of the Baptist’s words awaits Christ’s glorious return to cleanse the earth with fire (2 Pt 3:7, 12; cf. Mal 3:2; 2 Thes 1:8).  (William Hendriksen, New Testament Commentary: Matthew, 208-09)


3-  Be pro-active to insure that you love God more than anything.  Do not allow the cares of this world (wealth, status, power, material things, sensual desires) to choke out the greater longing of your heart . . . to have a relationship with the God of the Universe.  (Dt 6:5; 11:13; Josh 22:5; Mt 10:37-38; 13:22; 19:16-26; 22:37; Mk 4:19; 10:17-27; 12:30; Lk 16:13-14; 18:18-27; 1 Tm 3:3; 6:9-10, 17; 2 Tm 2:3; Heb 13:5; 1 Jn 3:17)


I place no value on anything I have or may possess, except in relation to the kingdom of God.  If anything will advance the interests of the kingdom, it shall be given away or kept, only as by giving or keeping it I shall most promote the glory of Him to whom I owe all my hopes in time or eternity.  —David Livingstone.


Our evangelist gives a vivid picture of the asceticism of John, which was one secret, as our Lord pointed out, of his hold on the people.  The more luxuriously self-indulgent men are, the more are they fascinated by religious self-denial.  A man “clothed in soft raiment” would have drawn no crowds.  A religious teacher must be clearly free from sensual appetites and love of ease, if he is to stir the multitude.  John’s rough garb and coarse food were not assumed by him to create an impression.  He was no mere imitator of the old prophets, though he wore a robe like Elijah’s.  His asceticism was the expression of his severe, solitary spirit, detached from the delights of sense, and even from the softer play of loves, because the coming kingdom flamed ever before him, and the age seemed to him to be rotting and ready for the fire.  (Alexander MacLaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture, St. Matthew 1-8, 40-41)


The one who would have God’s power must lead a life of self-denial.  There are many things which are not sinful in the ordinary understanding of the word sin, but which hinder spirituality and rob men of power.  I do not believe that any man can lead a luxurious life, overindulge his natural appetites, indulge extensively in dainties, and enjoy the fullness of God’s power.  The gratification of the flesh and the fullness of the Spirit do not go hand in hand.  “The flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other” (Gal 5:17).  Paul wrote: “I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection” (1 Cor 9:27; see ASV, Greek; note also Eph 5:18).  (R. A. Torrey, The Baptism with the Holy Spirit, pgs. 75-76)


As William Wilberforce once said, “Prosperity hardens the heart.”  (Francis Chan, Crazy Love, 90)


Our search for God will be most meaningful when we realize the utter barrenness of a soul separated from Him.  (James P. Gills, M.D., The Dynamics of Worship, 8)


For those who seek their highest happiness in material things and fix their thoughts thereon above all else, the coming of the Son of Man will be fraught with fatal consequences.  Therefore everyone should take care to be free at heart from earthly things and should give to the kingdom of God the first place in his heart and life.  (Norval Geldenhuys, The New International Commentary on the New Testament: The Gospel of Luke, 441)


John’s very dress, food, and life-style were in themselves a rebuke to the self-satisfied and self-indulgent religious leaders of Israel–the scribes, Pharisees, Sadducees, and priests.  It was also a rebuke to most of the people, who, though they may not have been able to indulge in the privileges of their leaders, nonetheless admired and longed for the same advantages.

John’s purpose was not to turn the people into hermits or ascetics.  He called on no one, not even his disciples, to live and dress as he did.  But his manner of living was a dramatic reminder of the many loves and pleasures that keep people from exchanging their own way for God’s.  (John MacArthur, The MacArthur NT Commentary: Matthew 1-7, 57)


Confession is more than simply acknowledging one’s own sinfulness; it is agreeing with God’s verdict on sin and expressing the desire to get rid of sin and live for God.  Confessing means more than verbal response, affirmation, or praise; it means agreeing to change to a life of obedience and service.  (Bruce Barton, Life Application Bible Commentary: Matthew, 43)


Love to God will expel love to the world; love to the world will deaden the soul’s love to God.  “No man can serve two masters”:  it is impossible to love God and the world, to serve him and mammon.  Here is a most fertile cause of declension in Divine love; guard against it as you would fortify yourself against your greatest foe.  It is a vortex that has engulfed millions of souls; multitudes of professing Christians have been drawn into its eddy, and have gone down into its gulf.  (Octavius Winslow, Personal Declension and Revival of Religion in the Soul, 56)


Elijah wore such clothing as a protest against the Phoenician luxury that in his day was sapping Israel’s character.  John wore it as a protest against the pervading influence of Greek culture, which had wrought such havoc, especially in the Hellenizing of the upper crust of Israelite society.  (John Phillips, Exploring the Gospels: Matthew, 53-54)


John’s days were spent in fasting and prayer, and such food as he ate–the humble fare of the very poor–was another protest against the opulence of the ruling class.

John lived for only one thing: to be a voice thundering at the conscience of his age.  There was such a ring of genuineness to his voice and such evidence of sincerity in his life that people responded.  (John Phillips, Exploring the Gospels: Matthew, 54)


Both Elijah and John had stern ministries in which austere garb and diet confirmed their message and condemned the idolatry of physical and spiritual softness.  “Even the food and dress of John preached” (Beng.).  (Frank E. Gæbelein, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Vol. 8, 102)


The Baptist’s rough robe matched his message.  Imagine a man “clothed in soft raiment” (Mt 11:8) being a “Bussprediger”!  Coarse apparel befitted this stern preacher.  (William Hendriksen, New Testament Commentary: Matthew, 199)


The main point is that by means of his simple mode of life, evident with respect to both food and clothing, he was a living protest against all selfishness and self-indulgence, hence also against that frivolousness, carelessness, and false security with which many people were rushing toward their doom, and were doing this with the judgment so near at hand (see verses 7, 10, 12; cf. Mt 24:37-39; and Lk 17:27-29).  (William Hendriksen, New Testament Commentary: Matthew, 200)


Jesus was putting forth the need to let go of the world’s possessions, so we can put our full trust in him.  The constant hedging of one’s life with things–home, investments, retirements–trying to keep one’s life–is a sure way to lose it.  (R. Kent Hughes, Preaching the Word: Luke, Vol. Two, p. 181)


As in the time before the Deluge, the great masses of people will, even up to the moment of His advent, be completely engrossed in earthly, material and evanescent affairs and will not take heed to be prepared for His coming.  Owing to their foolish attachment to worldly things, the judgment will overtake them suddenly and unexpectedly, and there will no longer be any time for deliverance.  The time of grace will be forever past and the judgment will overtake them.  (Norval Geldenhuys, The New International Commentary on the New Testament: The Gospel of Luke, 441)


It is not scientific doubt, not atheism, not pantheism, not agnosticism, that in our day and in this land is likely to quench the light of the gospel.  It is a proud, sensuous, selfish, luxurious, church-going, hollow-hearted prosperity.  (Frederic D. Huntington, Forum Magazine, 1890)  (Francis Chan, Crazy Love, p. 65, 177)


To choose to associate with humble things might also imply a rejection of the materialism in our world gone crazy over luxury and self-indulgence.  To accommodate ourselves to humble ways flies in the face of the upward mobility of our culture, and it certainly sets the Christian community apart as an alternative society following the downward pattern demonstrated by Christ.  (Marva J. Dawn, Truly the Community:  Romans 12, 247-48)


A person that eats and drinks too much does not feel such effects from it as those do who live in notorious instances of gluttony and intemperance; but yet his course of indulgence, though it be not scandalous in the eyes of the world nor such as torments his own conscience, is a great and constant hindrance to his improvement in virtue; it gives him eyes that see not and ears that hear not; it creates a sensuality in the soul, increases the power of bodily passions, and makes him incapable of entering into the true spirit of religion.  (William Law, A Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life, 191-92)


“There are the things that make it hard to die.”  (Dr. Samuel Johnson looking at a rich man’s luxurious house.)


All human things are trivial if they exist for nothing beyond themselves.”   The real value of anything depends on its aim.   If we eat simply for the sake of eating, we become gluttons, and it is likely to do us far more harm than good; if we eat to sustain life, to do our work better, to maintain the fitness of our body at its highest peak, food has a real significance.  If a man spends a great deal of time on sport simply for the sake of sport, he is at least to some extent wasting his time.  But if he spends that time in order to keep his body fit and thereby to do his work for God and men better, sport ceases to be trivial and becomes important.  The things of the flesh all gain their value from the spirit in which they are done.”   (William Barkly; Commentary on John: Vol. 1, 227)


An ancient adage says “If you want to defeat them, distract them. (Lauire Beth Jones; Jesus Ceo, Using Ancient Wisdom for Visionary Leadership, 13)



What does John’s message tell us in 21st century America?  There are three questions every person should ask themselves about their relationship with the God of the Universe:

A-  Do I truly trust in God for my righteousness and salvation or have I deceived myself into thinking that my actions or works can save me?  (Lk 18:9-14; Acts 13:39; Rom 3:20-26; 4:1-25; 1 Cor 3:18-23; 2 Cor 5:21; Gal 2:16, 21; 3:6-11, 21; 6:3; Phil 3:4-9; Ti 3:5)


Here is a spiritual principle regarding the grace of God; To the extent you are clinging to any vestiges of self-righteousness or are putting any confidence in your own spiritual attainments, to that degree you are not living by the grace of God in your life. ( Jerry Bridges; Transforming Grace; Living Confidently in God’s Unfailing Love, 33)


Obviously the doctrine of justification by faith only is absolutely essential.  There has never been a revival but that this has always come back into prominence.  This doctrine means the end of all thinking about ourselves and our goodness, and our good deeds, and our morality, and all our works.  Look at the histories of revivals, and you will find men and women feeling desperate.  They know that all their goodness is but filthy rags, and that all their righteousness is of no value at all.  And there they are, feeling that they can no nothing, and crying out to God for mercy and for compassion. Justification by faith.  God’s act.  ‘If God does not do it to us,’ they say, ‘then we are lost.’ (D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones; Revival, 55)


The Law is a divinely sent Hercules to attack and kill the monster of self-righteousness and to show us every day just how desperate we need God’s grace.  (Martin Luther as quoted by Tullian Tevidgjian, Life Without God – Pt 7)


To presume that we can crucify our own flesh is vanity.  If we were to crucify ourselves, all that we would have left is self-righteousness.  We do not crucify ourselves, but rather we are crucified “with Christ.”  (Rick Joyner, There Were Two Trees in the Garden, 145)


God save us also from self-righteous judgmentalism…There is a universe of difference between the motivations behind legalism and discipline.  Legalism says, “I will do this thing to gain merit with God,” while discipline says, “I will do this because I love God and want to please him.”  Legalism is man-centered; discipline is God-centered.  ( J. I. Packer; Rediscovering Holiness, 114)


When my sons do what I tell them to do–and do it with a spirit of gladness and trust in my wisdom and care–I do not call their obedience “filthy rags,” even if it is not perfect.  Neither does God.  All the more because he himself is “working in us that which is pleasing in His sight” (Heb 13:21).  He does not call his own, Spirit-wrought fruit “rags.”  But if my boys had cleaned their room–angry and pouting and slamming doors–I might call that “filthy rags.”  And so does God.  External conformity without internal change brings down some of Jesus’ harshest words (“whitewashed tombs,” Mt 23:27).  This difference should be a great encouragement that our Father in heaven is not impossible to please.  In fact, like every person with a very big heart and very high standards, he is easy to please and hard to satisfy.  We would not want it otherwise.  (John Piper, Future Grace, 152)


Baptism is such a common symbol for many in the church today that if we’re not careful, we’ll miss some of the imagery here.  This is a picture of death.  Dipping (immersion) symbolizes a decisive, even violent, turn from yourself and your way of life, including any dependence on your heritage, your righteousness, or your success.  Baptism indicates that you are going to rely on the mercy of God.  It is a confession, a profession, that there’s nothing you can do to save yourself from your sins; you need the Lord to do that.  That’s the good news John brought in verse 11: “I baptize you with water for repentance, but the One who is coming after me is more powerful than I.  I am not worthy to remove His sandals.  He Himself will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.”  Baptism is a foretaste of a greater reality to come.  (David Platt, Christ-Centered Exposition: Exalting Jesus in Matthew, 54)


You cannot lay God under obligation: recognize that great truth, because it involves our proper relation to him as always receivers and never donors of the benefit.  (Joseph Parker, The Inner Life of Christ, Studies in Matthew 1-7, 67)


Recognition of personal sin is the important first step.  But by itself it is useless, even dangerous, because it tends to make a person think that mere recognition is all that is necessary.  A hardened pharaoh admitted his sin (Ex 9:27), a double-minded Balaam admitted his (Nm 22:34), a greedy Achan acknowledged his (Josh 7:20), and an insincere Saul confessed his (1 Sm 15:24).  The rich young ruler who asked Jesus how to have eternal life went away sorrowful but not repentant (Lk 18:23).  Even Judas, despairing over his betrayal of Jesus, said to the chief priests and elders, “I have sinned by betraying innocent blood” (Mt 27:4).  All of those men recognized their sin, yet none of them repented.  They were experiencing what Paul called “the sorrow of the world” that “produces death” instead of the “godly sorrow” that “produces a repentance” (2 Cor 7:10-11).  (John MacArthur, The MacArthur NT Commentary: Matthew 1-7, 66)


People must come to God as repentant individuals without prior religious claims to advantage with God.  This is, therefore, not a call solely for those living in blatant sin, as if repentance is only for “backsliders” or the “marginal.”  It is a call of repentance for all in Israel, including the religious leaders.  Unfortunately, religious activity and pedigree can often blind a person to the deficiency of his or her own life before God.  (Michael J. Wilkins, The NIV Application Commentary: Matthew, 136)


To be baptized is to renounce your dependence on self and to acknowledge that there is nothing inherent in you that can save you before God, including your family heritage.  Ethnicity was extremely important to Jews, many of whom believed that simply being an Israelite meant that they were right before God.  (David Platt, Christ-Centered Exposition: Exalting Jesus in Matthew, 53)


I find to this day seven abominations in my heart: 1.  Inclinings to unbelief.  2.  Suddenly to forget the love and mercy that Christ manifesteth.  3.  A leaning to the works of the law, 4.  Wanderings and coldness in prayer.  5.  To forget to watch for what I pray for.  6.  Apt to murmur because I have no more, and yet ready to abuse what I have.  7.  I can do none of those things which God commands me, but my corruptions will thrust in themselves, “When I would do good, evil is present with me.”

These things I continually see and feel, and am afflicted and oppressed with; yet the wisdom of God doth order them for my good.  1.  They make me abhor myself.  2.  They keep me from trusting my heart.  3.  They convince me of the insufficiency of all inherent righteousness.  4.  They show me the necessity of flying to Jesus.  5.  They press me to pray unto God.  6.  They show me the need I have to watch and be sober.  7.  And provoke me to look to God, through Christ, to help me, and carry me through this world.  Amen.  (John Bunyan, Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners, 50)


(The Holy Spirit reminded Tim) “Don’t you dare look at any good thing in your life as anything other than a sheer act of (God’s ) grace, . . . undeserved grace.   And as you meditate on these good things as a sheer act of undeserved grace then turn to Jesus and say, ‘Lord, I can’t believe your grace.  Your grace is so great, that I want to adore you, not these things.  I want your smile, your honor, your pleasure should be my joy and crown, and my worth and my significance’.

Because if I put my heart down for anything else when the trouble free stretch is over, and inevitably it will be over, I will perish.  Therefore, Jesus Christ says, “That there is no more important time to repent than when everything is going very well.”

You see and now we know what repentance is.   You say, “How can I repent if I have not done anything wrong?”

Repentance is not so much for doing bad things as for over trusting good things.   Because breaking rules is just a symptom of sin.  But, the disease of sin is being your own savior by trusting in something besides Jesus Christ for your righteousness, your wisdom, . . . your sanctification, and your redemption.  And as my wife likes to say, “The default mode of the human heart is self-salvation.”

And there is no more time for it to happen, no more time for that to go into overdrive, than during the calm times, the safe times, the comfortable times, the prosperous times. (Tim Keller message from Luke 13:1-9, The Falling Tower)


Pride in his good deeds, rather than remorse over his bad deeds, was keeping the older son out of the feast of salvation.  The elder brother’s problem is his self-righteousness, the way he uses his moral record to put God and others in his debt to control them and get them to do what he wants.  His spiritual problem is the radical insecurity that comes from basing his self-image on achievements and performance, so he must endlessly prop up his sense of righteousness by putting others down and finding fault.  As one of my teachers in seminary put it, the main barrier between Pharisees and God is “not their sins, but their damnable good works.”  (Timothy Keller; The Prodigal God, 77)


Some people are full of talk against legal doctrines, legal preaching and the legal spirit.  Yet they may understand very little of what they are talking against.  A legal spirit is far more subtle than they imagine…for as long as a man is not emptied of himself and of his own righteousness and goodness, he will have a legal spirit.  A spirit of pride in one’s own righteousness,  morality, holiness, affection, experience or any other goodness, is a legal spirit…It is even possible to have a self-righteous spirit about one’s own humility. — Jonathan Edwards


Trying to pursue holiness in the flesh is like fighting in quicksand. The more you try, the worse shape you end up in.  (Brad Shaw 3-22-05)

Now, many of you will know that the “flesh” most often shows up in the scripture, not in association with “cigarettes and whiskey and wild, wild women,” but with religious activities.  When Paul in Phil 3:3 says that he too has “reason for confidence in the flesh,” he proceeds to give us a list of religious credentials that is quite overwhelming.  When to the Corinthians Paul talks about carnal Christians, he is referring to people who are disputing about who is the best speaker and leader in the church.  This is a sobering thought when you consider what is routinely done among us today.  The flesh stands, basically, for the natural–the spiritually or divinely unassisted abilities of human beings.  And it is possible in our religious activities to depend entirely upon the flesh in this sense.  (Dallas Willard; The Great Omission, 46)


The reason why so few believers “through the Spirit mortify the deeds of the body,” is, a forgetfulness that the work has to do first and mainly with the root of sin in the soul: “Make the tree good, and the fruit will also be good”; purify the fountain, and the stream will be pure.  Oh, were there a deeper acquaintance with the hidden iniquity of our fallen nature,–a more thorough learning out of the truth,–that “in our flesh there dwelleth no good thing,”–a more heartfelt humiliation on account of it, and more frequent confession of it before God,–how much higher than they now are would be the attainments in holiness of many believers!  (Octavius Winslow, Personal Declension and Revival of Religion in the Soul, 172)


The self-denial of the ascetic is in a subtle way intense self-assertion.  True Christian self-sacrifice signifies hardship, loss undergone, not for its own sake, but for Christ’s sake, and for truth’s sake, at a time when truth cannot be maintained without sacrifice.  But the self-sacrifice of the ascetic is not of this kind.  It is all endured for his own sake, for his own spiritual benefit and credit.  He practices self-denial after the fashion of a miser, who is a total abstainer from all luxuries, and even grudges himself the necessaries of life because he has a passion for hoarding.  Like the miser, he deems himself rich; yet both he and the miser are alike poor:  the miser, because with all his wealth he cannot part with his coin in exchange for enjoyable commodities; the ascetic, because his coins, “good works,” so called, painful acts of abstinence, are counterfeit, and will not pass current in the kingdom of heaven.  (A. B. Bruce; The Training of the Twelve, 279)


Have you not learned that lesson of despair yet?  Is it necessary for the Holy Spirit to make you despair again?  Why not have one good despair and get it all over?  Why despair every few days?  Only because you are still hunting round for something somewhere, some rage of goodness in yourself that you can present to God that will please Him, satisfy Him and answer to His requirements.  You will never find it.  Settle it that “all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags.  Our righteousness, all that trying to be so righteous, the Lord says of it all, “Filthy rags!”  Let us settle this once for all.  If you are looking ahead of what I am saying, you will see what it is leading to.  It is leading to the most glorious position.  It is leading to that glorious issue mentioned by the Lord Jesus in this way, in those days before things became inward: “Learn of me…and ye shall find rest unto your souls.”  That is the end.  But we shall never find rest unto our souls until we have first of all learned the utter difference between Christ and ourselves, and then the utter impossibility of our ever being like Him by anything that we can find in ourselves, produce or do.  It is not in us, in ourselves, in that way. (T. Austin-Sparks; The School of Christ, 14)


We labor in our faith.  We strive in our faith for Jesus to save us.  Like the woman with the issue of blood or the man who was paralyzed and let down from the roof to get to Jesus, we have to strive (work) to enter into our rest.  We have to work to enjoy the fruits of our faith.  Let us strive or work so we can put ourselves in a position to allow Jesus to save us.  (From Charles Midget, letter from prison dated 2-8-11.)


B-  What empirical fruit or proof is evident in my life that verifies my repentance and supposed convictions?  (Isa 1:16-17; Mt 7:16-20; 13:8; Lk 3:10-14; Jn 15:1-17; 1 Cor 3:10-15; 6:9-11; Gal 5:22-23; Eph 5:8-14; 2 Tm 2:22-26; Ti 3:8; Jas 2:14-26)


So how are we to bear good fruit?  God calls us to be “active” in our obedience.  To be productive for God, we must obey his teachings, resist temptation, actively serve others, and share our faith.  (Bruce Barton, Life Application Bible Commentary: Matthew, 47)


Fruitless repentance is worthless and useless; it means absolutely nothing to God.  (John MacArthur, The MacArthur NT Commentary: Matthew 1-7, 70)


Any desire of the heart for Christ, any secret brokenness, any godly sorrow over indwelling sin, any feeble going out of self and leaning on Jesus, is the gracious work of the Holy Ghost in the soul, and must not be undervalued or unacknowledged.  A truly humble view of self, is one of the most precious fruits of the Spirit: it indicates more real fruitfulness, perhaps, than any other state of mind.  That ear of corn which is the most full of grain, hangs the lowest; that bough which is the most heavily laden with fruit, bends the nearest to the ground.  It is no unequivocal mark of great spiritual fruitfulness in a believer, when tenderness of conscience, contrition of spirit, low thoughts of self, and high thoughts of Jesus, mark the state of his soul.  “Who hath despised the day of small things?”–not Jesus.  (Octavius Winslow, Personal Declension and Revival of Religion in the Soul, 163)


Mistake number 1 – Is to think that you can get to heaven by good works.

Mistake number 2 – Is to think that you can get to heaven without good works.  (Alistair Begg sermon, Living with Significance – Part 2)


“The antithesis of worldly behavior, and the cure for conformity to the world, is set forth particularly in the “upside-down kingdom” of the Sermon on the Mount.  The lifestyle of the kingdom is not proud but poor in spirit, not self-confident but meek and sensitive to conviction of sin, not self-righteous but repentant, not praise-seeking but God-obeying even to the point of suffering persecution, not vengeful but forgiving, not ostentatious or laborious in piety but secretive and simple, not anxious or acquisitive but content in serving God, not judgmental but merciful.  If these patterns can be nurtured in the church, they will affect the moral structure of the rest of humanity.”   (Richard Lovelace; Renewal as a Way of Life; 97)


The repentance, which is attested by words, is of no value, unless it be proved by the conduct: for it is too important a matter to be estimated lightly, or at random.  (John Calvin, Commentary on a Harmony of the Evangelists, Matthew, Mark, and Luke, 189)


It ought to be observed, that good works (Ti 3:8) are here called fruits of repentance: for repentance is an inward matter, which has its seat in the heart and soul, but afterwards yields its fruits in a change of life.  (John Calvin, Commentary on a Harmony of the Evangelists, Matthew, Mark, and Luke, 189-90)


“Like Uncle Aaron said,” Joe piped in, “you can’t tell wheat from tares just by looking at it.  You have to grab, squeeze and crush it to find out whether it’s real or not.  I think that’s true of the spiritual life.  Some people can look really good on the outside–they can seem more mature or look like they really know their Bible–but when it comes to the pressures of life and getting crushed, that’s when the fruit really shows.”  (Margaret Feinbert, Scouting the Divine, 97)


Repentance must be validated as being real through fruit in one’s life.  Talk is cheap.  Hypocrisy is real.  John will not tolerate any religious game–playing simply to gain a following.  He articulates a theme that will characterize Jesus’ ministry as well.  The evidence of real inner spiritual life is always the fruit of a changed external life.  The arrival of the kingdom will bring with it real spiritual life that produces change from the inside out.  Jesus says later that false disciples are those who do not have the life of the true vine.  They are dead branches, good only to be thrown into the fire (Jn 15:6).  The decisive identifying mark of a living tree is the fruit that it bears.  The decisive identifying mark of the kingdom of God is a life that has repented from sin and bears the fruit of repentance (cf. Paul’s message in Acts 26:20).  (Michael J. Wilkins, The NIV Application Commentary: Matthew, 136-37)


If there is no fruit there has been no fundamental change of heart.  (Robert H. Mounce, New International Biblical Commentary: Matthew, 24)


John’s baptism required repentance; Jesus’ baptism tests the reality of that repentance (cf. 1 Cor 3:13).  (Robert H. Mounce, New International Biblical Commentary: Matthew, 24)


You are not to touch the Bible as literary men, you are not to come to church as clever men, you are not to sit bolt upright as those who have a claim to judge in God’s sanctuary.  The true attitude is abasement, the spirit is contrition, the desire is a yearning for a purer and broader life.  “To this man will I look–the man that is of a humble and contrite heart, and that trembleth at my word” [see Isa 66:2].  The haughty he will bow down, the wise he will confound and disappoint.  He will look to the eager heart, the gentle, simple yearning spirit whose one object is to know God’s will and to try to do it.  (Joseph Parker, The Inner Life of Christ, Studies in Matthew 1-7, 63)


The imagery of bearing fruit will also be deployed in Jesus’ teaching (7:16-20; 12:33-37; 13:8, 22-23) until it reaches its climax in the condemnation of the Jerusalem leadership as the tenants who have failed to deliver the produce of God’s vineyard (21:43), a situation which has been vividly illustrated by the destruction of the fruitless fig tree outside Jerusalem (21:18-19).  It is by what we do in response to God’s demands rather than by what we hear or say that we will be judged (7:15-27; 21:28-32).  (R.T. France, The New International Commentary on the NT: Matthew, 111)


The nearness of God’s kingdom leaves no room for doubt.  They must get everything out in the open.  They must show God by their actions and by words that they are indeed putting their old ways behind and are ready for the arrival of his kingdom.  (Michael J. Wilkins, The NIV Application Commentary: Matthew, 134)


Faith is not faith until it is acted upon.  That is the litmus test.  Faith without works is dead.  So is love without energy.  (Mark Batterson, Primal, A Quest for the Lost Soul of Christianity, 142)


C-  How can I know that I am not deceiving myself in this evaluation?  (Psa 51:17; Isa 57:15; 66:2; Jer 17:9; Mt 7:21-23; ch 25; Lk 6:40-49; Jn 15:1-17; Rom 16:17-18; Eph 5:3-20; Col 1:6; 2 Tm 2:15-26; Heb 12:11; Jas 1:19-27; 1 Pt 1:3-25; 1 Jn 4:19-21)


Nothing is easier than self-deceit.  For what each man wishes, that he also believes to be true.  (Demosthenes quoted by Patrick Morley; The Man In The Mirror, 286)


Of all forms of deception self-deception is the most deadly, and of all deceived persons the self-deceived are the least likely to discover the fraud.

The reason for this is simple.  When a man is deceived by another he is deceived against his will.  He is contending against an adversary and is temporarily the victim of the other’s guile.  Since he expects his foe to take advantage of him he is watchful and quick to suspect trickery.  Under such circumstances it is possible to be deceived sometimes and for a short while, but because the victim is resisting he may break out of the trap and escape before too long.

With the self-deceived it is quite different.  He is his own enemy and is working a fraud upon himself.  He wants to believe the lie and is psychologically conditioned to do so.  He does not resist the deceit but collaborates with it against himself.  There is no struggle, because the victim surrenders before the fight begins.  He enjoys being deceived.  (A.W. Tozer, Man: The Dwelling Place of God, 88)


Self-deception is “corrupted consciousness,” says Lewis Smedes.  Whether fear, passion, weariness, or even faith prompts it, self-deception, like a skillful computer fraud, doubles back to cover its own trail.  “First we deceive ourselves, and then we convince ourselves that we are not deceiving ourselves.”   (Cornelius Plantinga, Jr., Not the Way It’s Supposed to Be, 107)


It is quite difficult to break the power of religious self-deception, for the very nature of faith is to give no room for doubt.  Once a person is deceived, he does not recognize that he is deceived, because he has been deceived!  For all that we think we know, we must know this as well: we can be wrong.  If we refuse to accept this truth, how will we ever be corrected from our errors?  (Francis Frangipane, The Three Battlegrounds, 30)


In your old days and before this “living” thing had happened to you, your immediate reaction would have been to decide to do good works and to say, “I am going to turn over a new leaf.  I am going to do this, that and the other.”  But the moment there is true repentance, all that stops.  You renounce your own works, you admit that there is no good thing in you, that all your righteousness is as “filthy rags,” and that obviously there is no point in your deciding to live a better life, or, by a great effort of the will, to serve God, because all you do will still be polluted and therefore useless.

So you do not do that.  You renounce your good works, your self-reliance, and every attempt at self-justification.  This is a part of the obedience of faith.  You accept the pronouncement of the Scriptures that none of us can ever justify ourselves before God, that “by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight” (Rom 3:20).  You accept it completely, and you prove it in action by not attempting to do anything to save yourself.

Then you accept the teaching concerning the Lord Jesus Christ and His way of salvation.  You accept, you believe this message concerning the Lord Jesus Christ as your Sin-bearer, as the One sent by God to reconcile you to God.  And not only that, you are ready to confess this.  You are ready to acknowledge that He is thus your Savior and your Lord, that He has bought you with a price, that you are not your own, that you have no right to yourself.  (D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Romans, Exposition of Chapter 10, 336-37)


The Spirit enables men to recognize God’s truth when they see it.  When the Spirit enters our hearts, our eyes are opened.  The prejudices which blinded us are taken away.  The self-will which darkened us is removed.  The spirit enables a man to see.  (William Barclay, The Daily Study Bible Series: Gospel of Matthew, 49-50)


The noonday devil of the Christian life is the temptation to lose the inner self while preserving the shell of edifying behavior.  Suddenly I discover that I am ministering to AIDS victims to enhance my resume.  I find I renounced ice cream for Lent to lose five pounds.  I drop hints about the absolute priority of mediation and contemplation to create the impression that I am a man of prayer.  At some unremembered moment I have lost the connection between internal purity of heart and external works of piety.  In the most humiliating sense of the word, I have become a legalist.  I have fallen victim to what T. S. Eliot calls the greatest sin: to do the right thing for the wrong reason. (Brennan Manning; The Ragamuffin Gospel, 131)


To comprehend more fully his design, we must understand, that none are more stupid than hypocrites, who deceive themselves and others by the outward mask of holiness.  While God thunders, on all sides, against the whole world, they construct a refuge for themselves in their own deceitful fancy; for they are convinced that they have nothing to do with the judgment of God.  (John Calvin, Commentary on a Harmony of the Evangelists, Matthew, Mark, and Luke, 186)


Self-righteous service picks and chooses whom to serve.  Sometimes the high and powerful are served because that will ensure a certain advantage.  Sometimes the low and defenseless are served because that will ensure a humble image.  True service is indiscriminate in its ministry.  It has heard the command of Jesus to be the “servant of all” (Mk 9:35).  Brother Francis of Assisi notes in a letter, “Being the servant of all, I am bound to serve all and to administer the balm-bearing words of my lord.”

Self-righteous service is affected by moods and whims.  It can serve only when there is a “feeling” to serve (“moved by the Spirit” as we say).  Ill health or inadequate sleep controls the desire to serve.  True service ministers simply and faithfully because there is a need.  It knows that the “feeling to serve” can often be a hindrance to true service.  The service disciplines the feelings rather than allowing the feeling to control the service.  (Richard J. Foster, Celebration of Discipline, 129)


John Wesley says of those “who imagine themselves Christians and are not.”: “These abound, not only in all parts of our land, but in most parts of the habitable world. That they are not Christians is clear and undeniable if we believe the oracles of God. For Christians are holy; these are unholy. Christians love God; these love the world. Christians are humble; these are proud. Christians are gentle; these are passionate. Christians have the mind which was in Christ; these are the utmost distance from Christ. Consequently they are no more Christians than they are archangels. Yet they imagine themselves so to be, and they can give several reasons for it. For they have been called so ever since they can remember; they were christened many years ago; they embrace the Christian opinions, vulgarly termed the Christian or catholic  faith. They use the Christian modes of worship, as their fathers did before them. They live, what is called a good Christian life, as the rest of their neighbors do. And who shall presume to think or say that these men are not Christians? – though without one grain of true faith in Christ or of real, inward holiness; without ever having tasted the love of God or been ‘made partakers of the Holy Ghost.’ Ah, poor self-deceivers! Christians ye are not. But you are enthusiasts in a high degree” (Wesley’s Work, vol. 1, 332 quoted by B.T. Roberts; Fishers Of Men, 75-76)


The heart with a works-orientation may also express its love of independence and self-direction and self-achievement by rebelling against courtesy and decency and morality (cf. Gal 5:19-21).  But it’s the same self-determining, self-exalting works-orientation that also gets disgusted with boorish behavior and sets out to prove its superiority through self-denial, courage and personal greatness.  In all of this the basic satisfaction of the works-orientation is the savor of being an assertive, autonomous and, if possible, triumphant self.  (John Piper, Future Grace, 278)


True repentance only begins when one passes out of what the Bible sees as self-deception (cf. Jas 1:22, 26; 1 Jn 1:8) and modern counselors call denial, into what the Bible calls conviction of sin (cf. Jn 16:8).  (J. I. Packer; Rediscovering Holiness, 123-24)


To do its worst, evil needs to look its best.  Evil has to spend a lot on makeup.  Hypocrites have to spend time polishing their act and polishing their image.  “Hypocrisy is an homage that vice pays to virtue.”  Vices have to masquerade as virtues–lust as love, thinly veiled sadism as military discipline, envy as righteous indignation, domestic tyranny as parental concern.  And this is so whether the masquerade takes the form of putting on an act or making up a cover story.  Either way, deceivers learn how to present something falsely, and they exert themselves to make the presentation credible.  Even Satan, who looks heroic to rebels, must masquerade “as an angel of light” (2 Cor 11:14) in order to look merely plausible.  This infernal embarrassment (Satan must appeal to our God-given appetite for goodness in order to win his way) suggests a significant feature of evil: to prevail, evil must leech not only power and intelligence from goodness but also its credibility.  From counterfeit money to phony airliner parts to the trustworthy look on the face of a con artist, evil appears in disguise.  Hence its treacherousness.  Hence the need for the Holy Spirit’s gift of discernment.  Hence the sheer difficulty, at times, of distinguishing what is good from what is evil.  (Cornelius Plantinga, Jr., Not the Way It’s Supposed to Be, 98)


Worship Point:  Cheer up!  You are a whole lot more sinful and the soil of your heart is more infertile than you ever thought.  But, cheer up!  God is infinitely more gracious and forgiving than you ever dreamed or imagined.  He can give you a noble, fertile heart.


He says: ‘Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners of whom I am chief’, as if to say there are big sinners and lesser sinners and little sinners.  He did not mean that, however; he cannot possibly mean that, for that would be to contradict his essential doctrine. What he does mean is that the nearer a man gets to God the greater he says: ‘I am the chief of sinners’; and it is only a Christian who can say that.  The man of the world will never make such a statement.  He is always proving what a good man he is.  But Paul seems to be saying more than that, as I have just been saying. (D. Martyn Lloyd- Jones,  Spiritual Depression: Its Causes and Cure, pg. 70)


Sin God can deal with.  That is what the cross is all about.  It is stiff-necked, hard-hearted, unrepentant religious, pious, do-gooders who are lost and without hope.


When a man is humbled by the law, and brought to the knowledge of himself, then follows true repentance (for true repentance begins at the fear and judgment of God), and he sees himself to be so great a sinner that he can find no means how he may be delivered from his sin by his own strength, endeavor and works.   (Martin Luther; Galatians, 94)


The true way to Christianity is this, that a man first acknowledges himself by the law to be a sinner, and that it is impossible for him to do any good work.  For the law says: You are an evil tree, and therefore all that you think, speak, or do, is against God.  You cannot therefore deserve grace by your works: which if you are about to do, you double your offense; for since you are an evil tree, you cannot but bring forth evil fruits, that is to say, sins.  “For whatsoever is not of faith, is sin” (Rom 14:23).  So he who would merit grace by works going before faith, goes about to please God with sins, which is nothing else but to heap sin upon sin, to mock God, and to provoke His wrath.   When a man is thus taught and instructed by the law, then is he terrified and humbled, then he sees indeed the greatness of his sin, and cannot find in himself one spark of love of God; therefore he justifies God in His Word, and confesses that he is guilty of death and eternal damnation.  The first part then of Christianity is the preaching of repentance and the knowledge of ourselves.”    (Martin Luther; Galatians, 92)


Jews were to see their inability to keep the Law and, because of this, look to the Messiah all the more.  God designed the Law this way.  Moreover, even if by some miracle a Jew was able to keep EVERY SINGLE tenet of the Law, he would likely still fail in one—his attitude.  The Law, after all, creates a horrible “Catch-22” almost by necessity.  The better you “keep” the Law, the more you think yourself basically “good” and the less you humble yourself before God.  You quickly become self-righteous and prideful.  Thus, though you may be able to keep many outward tenets of the Law (as the Pharisees did), your motivation for doing so would have shifted from love of God to love of self.  All the outward piety in the world cannot cover a sick and twisted heart.  Period. —Chris Scripter


Gospel Application:  It is not your faith that saves you.  It is your faith in the work of Christ.  A truly noble heart will never forget you can do nothing to save yourself.  Jesus does it all.


It is ever the Holy Spirit’s work to turn our eyes away from self: to Jesus: but Satan’s work is just the opposite of this, for he is constantly trying to make us regard ourselves instead of Christ.  He insinuates, “Your sins are too great for pardon; you have no faith; you do not repent enough; you will never be able to continue to the end; you have not the joy of his children; you have such a wavering hold of Jesus.”  All these are thoughts about self, and we shall never find comfort or assurance by looking within.  But, the Holy Spirit turns our eyes entirely away from self: he tells us that we are nothing, but that “Christ is all in all.”  Remember, therefore, it is not your hold of Christ that saves you—it is Christ; it is not your joy in Christ that saves you—it is Christ; it is not even faith in Christ, though that be the instrument—it is Christ’s blood and merits; therefore, look not so much to your hand with which you art grasping Christ, as to Christ; look not to your hope, but to Jesus, the source of your hope; look not to your faith, but to Jesus, the author and finisher of your faith.  We shall never find happiness by looking at our prayers, our doings, or our feelings; it is what Jesus is, not what we are, that gives rest to the soul.  If we would at once overcome Satan and have peace with God, it must be by “Looking unto Jesus.”   Keep your eye simply on him; let his death, his sufferings, his merits, his glories, his intercession, be fresh upon your mind; when you wake in the morning look to him; when you lie down at night look to him.  Do not let your hopes or fears come between you and Jesus; follow hard after him, and he will never fail you. (Alistair Begg quoting Charles. H. Spurgeon in Pathway to Freedom, 228-29)


Our Lord Jesus Christ, with all the concern, compassion and love which he showed to mankind, made some very vivid portrayals of man’s condition.  He did not mince words about the gravity of human sin.  He talked of man as salt that has lost its savor (Mt 5:13).  He talked of man as a corrupt tree which is bound to produce corrupt fruit (Mt 7:7).  He talked of man as being evil: “You, being evil, know how to give good things to your children” (Lk 11:13).  On one occasion he lifted up his eyes toward heaven and talked about an “evil and adulterous generation” (v. 45).  In a great passage dealing with what constitutes true impurity and true purity he made the startling statement that out of the heart proceed murders, adulteries, evil thoughts and things of that kind (Mk 7:21-23).  He spoke about Moses having to give special permissive commandments to men because of the hardness of their hearts (Mt 19:8).  When the rich young ruler approached him, saying, “Good Master,” Jesus said, “there is none good but God” (Mk 10:18)…

Jesus compared men, even the leaders of his country, to wicked servants in a vineyard (Mt 21:33-41).  He exploded in condemnation of the scribes and Pharisees, who were considered to be among the best men, men who were in the upper ranges of virtue and in the upper classes of society (Mt 23:2-39).

The Lord Jesus made a fundamental statement about man’s depravity in Jn 3:6: “That which is born of the flesh is flesh.”  He saw in man an unwillingness to respond to grace–“You will not come to God” (Jn 5:40), “You have not the love of God” (v. 42), “You receive me not” (v. 43), “You believe not” (v. 47).  Such sayings occur repeatedly in the Gospel of John.  “The world’s works are evil” (Jn 7:7); “None of you keeps the law” (v. 19).  “You shall die in your sins,” he says (Jn 8:21).  “You are from beneath” (v. 23); “Your father is the devil, who is a murderer and a liar” (vv. 38, 44); “You are not of God” (v. 47); “You are not of my sheep” (Jn 10:26); “He that hates me hates my Father” (Jn 15:23-25).  This is the way in which our Lord spoke to the leaders of the Jews.  He brought to the fore their utter inability to please God.

Following another line of approach he showed also the blindness of man, that is, his utter inability to know God and understand him.  Here again we have a whole series of passages showing that no man knows the Father but him to whom the Son has revealed him (Mt 11:27).  He compared men to the blind leading the blind (Mt 15:14).  He mentioned that Jerusalem itself did not know or understand the purpose of God and, as a result, disregarded the things that concern salvation (Lk 19:42).  The Gospel of John records him as saying that he that believed not was condemned already because he had not believed on the Son of God (Jn 3:18).  “This is the condemnation, that…men loved the darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil” (v. 19).  He said that only the one who has been reached by grace can walk not in darkness but have the light of life (Jn 8:12).  The Lord Jesus emphasized that it is essential for man to be saved by a mighty act of God if he is to be rescued from his condition of misery (Jn 3:3, 5, 7-16).  Even in the Lord’s Prayer the Lord teaches us to say, “Forgive us our debts” (Mt 6:12).  And this is a prayer that we need to repeat again and again.  He said, “The sick are the people who need a physician” (Mt 9:12).  We are those sick people who need a physician to help us and redeem us.  He said that we are people who are burdened and heavy-laden (Mt 11:28).

The people who were most readily received by the Lord were those who had this sense of need and who therefore did not come to him with a sense of the sufficiency of their performance.  The people he received were those who came broken-hearted and bruised with the sense of their inadequacy.  (Roger R. Nicole, “The Doctrines of Grace in Jesus’ Teaching”)


You say you feel overwhelmed with guilt and a sense of unworthiness?  Well, indeed you cannot be too aware of the evils inside of yourself, but you may be, indeed you are, improperly controlled and affected by them.  You say it is hard to understand how a holy God could accept such an awful person as yourself.  You then express not only a low opinion of yourself, which is right, but also too low an opinion of the person, work, and promises of the Redeemer, which is wrong.  You complain about sin, but when I look at your complaints, they are so full of self-righteousness, unbelief, pride, and impatience that they are little better than the worst evils you complain of.  (John Newton, The Works of the Rev. John Newton, Vol. VI, 185)  (Timothy Keller, King’s Cross, 90)


All John can do is urge upon his hearers the necessity of conversion.  As to baptism, he can supply the sign, but it will take One mightier than John to supply the thing signified.  (William Hendriksen, New Testament Commentary: Matthew, 207)


John’s baptism was uniquely associated with repentance (see Mk 1:4; Lk 3:3; Acts 13:24; 19:4).  But as unique as it was, it was only preparatory to the baptism associated with the Coming One.  He will inaugurate a baptism that brings both eschatological blessing and judgment (both “wheat” and “chaff”; cf. also Joel 2:28-29).  (Michael J. Wilkins, The NIV Application Commentary: Matthew, 137-38)


*Self-righteous service comes through human effort.  True service comes from a relationship with the divine Other deep inside.

*Self-righteous service is impressed with the “big deal.”  True service finds it almost impossible to distinguish the small from the large service.

*Self-righteous service requires external rewards.  True service rests contented in hiddenness.

*Self-righteous service is highly concerned about results.  True service is free of the need to calculate results.

*Self-righteous service picks and chooses whom to serve.  True service is indiscriminate in its ministry.

*Self-righteous service is affected by moods and whims.  True service ministers simply and faithfully because there is a need.

*Self-righteous service is temporary.  True service is a life-style.

*Self-righteous service is without sensitivity.  It insists on meeting the need even when to do so would be destructive.  True service can withhold the service as freely as perform it.

*Self-righteous service fractures community.  True service, on the other hand, builds community.  (Richard Foster; Celebration of Discipline, “The Discipline of Service”)


The Bible teaches that justification is by faith alone, yet ultimately there is only one way anybody is ever saved in the presence of God, and that is through works.  The question is not whether we are going to be saved through works; the question is whose works.  We are saved through the works of the one who alone fulfilled the terms of the covenant of works.  That is why it is not just the death of Christ that redeems us, but it is also the life of Christ.  (RC Sproul, St. Andrew’s Expositional Commentary: Romans, 178)


If you feel the call of the spirit, then be holy with all your soul, with all your heart, and with all your strength.  If, however, because of human weakness, you cannot be holy, then be perfect with all your soul, with all your heart, and with all your strength.

But if you cannot be perfect because of the vanity of your life, then be good with all your soul…Yet, if you cannot be good because of the trickery of the Evil One, then be wise with all your soul…

If, in the end, you can neither be holy, nor perfect, nor good, nor wise because of the weight of your sins, then carry this weight before God and surrender your life to his divine mercy.

If you do this, without bitterness, with all humility, and with a joyous spirit due to the tenderness of a God who loves the sinful and ungrateful, then you will begin to feel what it is to be wise, you will learn what it is to be good, you will slowly aspire to be perfect, and finally you will long to be holy.  (Peter van Breeman; Let All God’s Glory Through, 134)


Faith in faith has displaced faith in God in too many places.  (A.W. Tozer, Man: The Dwelling Place of God, 65)


Spiritual Challenge:  See the faithfulness of God to forgive hard-hearted sinners like you and me.  Comprehending God’s love and grace through the means of grace empowers you to be brutally honest with yourself and confess your sin and face your infertile heart and repent to make progress towards REAL sanctification and God producing in you a noble, fertile heart and not outward show.


The great weakness in the North American church at large, and certainly in my life, is our refusal to accept our brokenness.  We hide it, evade it, gloss over it.  We grab for the cosmetic kit and put on our virtuous face to make ourselves admirable to the public.  Thus, we present to others a self that is spiritually together, superficially happy, and lacquered with a sense of self-deprecating humor that passes for humility.  (Brennan Manning, Ruthless Trust, 122)


Paul had written several epistles before he wrote, “I know that in me, that is, in my flesh, dwelleth no good thing” (Rom 7:18).  In one of his earliest writings he rated himself as number twelve or thirteen, saying, “I am the least of the apostles” (1 Cor 15:9).  Later in his ministry he classified himself as number 500,000 or thereabouts, writing, I “am less than the least of all saints” (Eph 3:8).  But as an old man in prison and about to die, he wrote to young Timothy, “Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief” (1 Tm 1:15).  (Donald Grey Barnhouse, God’s Remedy/God’s River, 202)


I don’t know about you, but I cannot simply muster up more love.  I can’t manufacture patience just by gritting my teeth and determining to be more patient.  We are not strong or good enough, and it doesn’t work that way.  None of us can “do goodness” on our own, much less all the other elements that make up the fruit of the Spirit.

But despite our inability to change ourselves in this way, to simply become more peaceful or joyful, we expend a great deal of effort trying.  We focus on what God wants us to do and forget the kind of people He wants us to be.

Instead of mustering up more willpower, let’s focus our energies and time on asking for help from the One who has the power to change us.  Let’s take the time to ask God to put the fruit of His Spirit into our lives.  And let’s spend time with the One we want to be more like.  (Francis Chan, Forgotten God, 148)


I pray that we will have nothing to fear from the future judgment of God.  But if I assume that about each of us, I would be absolutely foolish.  Statistically there have to be those among us who are not in Christ, who have nothing to face in the future except the punishment of God.  If that is you, you need to flee to the Savior and to the cross so that He will clean you, and change you, and make you His own.  (RC Sproul, St. Andrew’s Expositional Commentary: Matthew, 44)


The Devil’s Beatitudes

If the Devil were to write his Beatitudes, they would probably look like this:
BLESSED are those who are too tired, too busy, too distracted to spend an hour once a week with their fellow Christians in Church…they are my best workers.

BLESSED are those Christians who wait to be asked and expect to be thanked…I can use them.
BLESSED are the touchy; with a bit of luck, they may stop going to church…they are my missionaries.
BLESSED are those who are very religious, but get on everyone’s nerves…they are mine forever.
BLESSED are the troublemakers…they shall be called my children.

BLESSED are those who have no time to pray…they are easy prey for me.

BLESSED are the gossipers…for they are my secret agents.

BLESSED are those critical of church leadership…for they shall inherit a place with me in my fate.

BLESSED are the complainers…I’m all ears for them.

BLESSED are you when you read this and think it is about other people and not yourself…I’ve got you. (Unknown)


Quotes to Note:

Christianity must reverse its current image and become dynamic, genuine, and real.  If we can prevent the message from being watered down by casual Christians, outsiders will begin to experience believers who have been (and are being) transformed by their faith and who are working in humble and respectful ways to transform the culture.  In the Bible Paul puts it this way: “This should be your ambition: to live a quiet life, minding your own business and working with your hands, just as we commanded you before.  As a result, people who are not Christians will respect the way you live.” (1 Thes 4:11-12).  There is nothing more powerful than the Christian life lived out in obedience; there is nothing worse than a flat, self-righteous form of faith that parades around in Christian clothes.  (David Kinnaman, Unchristian, 83)


The OT promised a time when God would demonstrate his purifying power among people (Isa 32:15; Ez 39:29).  The prophets also looked forward to a purifying fire (Isa 4:4; Mal 3:2).  This looked ahead to Pentecost (Acts 2), when the Holy Spirit would be sent by Jesus in the form of tongues of fire, empowering his followers to preach the gospel.  (Bruce Barton, Life Application Bible Commentary: Matthew, 48)


No evil is more marked among the Christian Churches of this day than precisely the absence of this “spirit of burning.”  There is plenty of liberality and effort, there is much interest in religious questions, there is genial tolerance and wide culture, there is a high standard of morality, and, on the whole, a tolerable adherence to it–but there is little love, and little fervor.  “I have somewhat against thee, that thou hast left thy first love.”  (Alexander MacLaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture, St. Matthew 1-8, 59)


John reminds one of the OT prophet who, in speaking about the last days or the Messianic age would at times look upon the future as a traveler does on a distant mountain range.  He fancies that one mountain top rises up right behind the other, when in reality the two are miles apart.  The two comings of Christ are viewed as if they were one.  Thus we read “A shoot shall come forth out of the stock of Jesse…and he shall smite the earth” (Isa 11:1-4).  “Jehovah has anointed me to preach good tidings to the meek.  He has sent me to bind up the broken-hearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and…the day of vengeance of our God” (Isa 61:1, 2).  “I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions…The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before the great and terrible day of Jehovah arrives” (Joel 2:28-31).  Cf. Mal 3:1, 2.  This has been called “prophetic foreshortening.”  (William Hendriksen, New Testament Commentary: Matthew, 205-06)


Just how John baptized people is not certain.  The fact that he chose a permanent and deep river suggests that more than a token quantity of water was needed, and both the preposition “in” (the Jordan) and the basic meaning of the verb “Baptize” probably indicate immersion.  In v. 16 Matthew will speak of Jesus “coming up out of the water.”  The traditional depiction in Christian art of John the Baptist pouring water over Jesus’ head may therefore be based on later Christian practice.  But we need not assume that the actual method was always the same, nor that John’s method was necessarily the same as that of later Christian practice, especially where the latter took place away from a major river such as the Jordan.  (R.T. France, The New International Commentary on the NT: Matthew, 109)


Is it possible that there are men and women amongst us today squabbling with one another about the matter of baptism?  I am really not concerned by what method of baptism you were baptized–if you have been sprinkled by hands prelatic, or archiepiscopal–or if you have been completely immersed.  Either method of baptism is meaningless, if it has not been followed by the true baptism of blood and fire.  Into what baptism, then, have we been baptized?  I believe that a sound argument can be set up in favor of the suggestion that in Christian baptism since the apostolic days there is no water at all.  It does not say that you must have water in order to have baptism, but, my friend, if you want immersion, have it: if a few drops sprinkled on your forehead will suffice you, take it, but they are both nothing but ritualism, ceremonialism and superstition if you do not seize the inner meaning, cry for the layer of blood, and mightily implore God to visit you with the baptism of fire.

See that the baptism controversy does not freeze upon you, and encrust you as with ice, and make a bigot of you.  The one baptism of which all other baptisms were indications, types and symbols, is the baptism of blood and the balm of fire.  (Joseph Parker, The Inner Life of Christ, Studies in Matthew 1-7, 61)


Acts 19:1-5 makes it clear that John’s ministry of baptism looked forward to the coming of the savior, while Christian baptism looks back in identification with Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection.” (Wiersbe’s Expository Outlines on the New Testament)


We see, then, the importance of repentance.  Without it there can be no salvation.  A Christian character that is not built upon it, though the greatest pains may have been taken in its formation, and years may have been employed in its construction, will not stand before the storms of the last day.  It will certainly fall; and the higher it is, the greater will be its fall.  Paul places “repentance from dead works” as the bottom tier of stones in the foundation of the edifice which every Christian builds for himself to all eternity.  See Heb. 6:1. (B.T. Roberts; Fishers Of Men, 124)


“To be preoccupied with getting theological knowledge as an end itself, to approach Bible study with no higher motive than to desire to know all the answers, is the direct rout to a state of self-satisfied self-deception.  We need to guard our hearts against such an attitude, and pray to be kept from it.”   (J. I. Packer,  Knowing God, 17)


Produce fruit in keeping with repentance.

Matthew 3:8




Prepare to Meet



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