Read Matthew 3 at Bible Gateway.
Mat 3 outline:
Mat 3:1-6, The preaching of John the Baptist
Mat 3:7-12, Warning to the Pharisees and Sadducees
Mat 3:13-17, The baptism of Jesus
Mat 3 chiastic structure:
1a) Mat 3:1-3, John, the prophet of God;
1b) Mat 3:4, John was clothed with camel’s hair;
1c) Mat 3:5-6, Jerusalem and all Judea went out to him to be baptized by him;
1d) Mat 3:7, Who warned you, Pharisees and Sadducees, to flee from the wrath to come;
1e) Mat 3:8, Therefore bear fruits worthy of repentance;
central axis) Mat 3:9, “and do not think to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I say to you that God is able to raise up children to Abraham from these stones;”
2e) Mat 3:10, Every tree which does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire;
2d) Mat 3:11-12, He will gather His wheat, and burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire;
2c) Mat 3:13-14, Jesus also came from Galilee to be baptized by him;
2b) Mat 3:15-16, Jesus was clothed with righteousness and the Holy Spirit;
2a) Mat 3:17, Jesus, the Son of God.
What struck me in today’s reading, is that biological descent from Abraham will not save a person in that day. Being a professional pastor or theologian will not save a person in that day. Being an expert on God will not save a person in that day. But only true repentance, evidenced by bearing its fruit, will save a person in that day.
Is John preaching a gospel of works in order to earn salvation? No, he is saying, that the one who recognizes that God is King of the coming kingdom of heaven, recognizes that as King He has the right to command obedience and be obeyed. What king does not command obedience and is obeyed? If even human kings, then surely God, the King of heaven.
The one who recognizes God’s right to command obedience and righteousness, also recognizes their own violations of those commands and their own shortcomings of that righteousness. This realization of our sinfulness, and also of the LORD’s kindness in being patient with us in leading us into that realization, is what leads men to repentance (Rom 2:4).
Repentance means, turning away from the way we have been walking, and walking in a different direction. Repentance means turning away from our own way, from human precepts, and from sin, and now walking in God’s ways, according to His precepts, and in righteousness (Hos 5:11).
So fruit worthy of repentance comes from a repentant and changed heart. Fruit worthy of repentance is just outward evidence of the inward change of heart. That inward change might be faked for a short time, but fruit consistently borne cannot be faked. Therefore fruit will be what is judged, but this is not a gospel of works. This is the gospel of grace by faith. Salvation has always been a free gift to those who trusted in God, that He would forgive them, at their point of repentance.
For further reading:
baptism by water and fire: parallel translations and commentary (off site)
matthew 3, baptism for repentance and the mikvah (2011)
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