Matthew 3:11-17

I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance: but he that cometh after me is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost, and with fire 12 Whose fan is in his hand, and he will thoroughly purge his floor, and gather his wheat into the garner; but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.  13 Then cometh Jesus from Galilee to Jordan unto John, to be baptized of him. 14 But John forbad him, saying, I have need to be baptized of thee, and comest thou to me? 15 And Jesus answering said unto him, Suffer it to be so now: for thus it becometh us to fulfil all righteousness. Then he suffered him. 16 And Jesus, when he was baptized, went up straightway out of the water: and, lo, the heavens were opened unto him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and lighting upon him: 17 And lo a voice from heaven, saying, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.

Students of Church history are aware that many of the basic concepts of the gospel message have changed with the passing of time. The changes are significant.

Once the gospel was presented in Biblical terms with arresting imagery. Audiences were addressed in an almost shocking manner. Listen to Jonathan Edwards preaching in 1741.

The Date: July 8th

The Place: Enfield, Connecticut

The Result:  The preaching of this sermon became the catalyst for the First Great Awakening.

“Your wickedness makes you as it were heavy as lead, and to tend downwards with great weight and pressure towards hell; and if God should let you go, you would immediately sink and swiftly descend and plunge into the bottomless gulf; and your healthy constitution, and your own care and prudence, and best contrivance, and all your righteousness, would have no more influence to uphold you and to keep you out of hell than a spider’s web have to stop a falling rock…

Were it not for the sovereign pleasure of God, the earth would not bear you one moment; for you are a burden to it: the creation groans with you…

The bow of God’s wrath is bent, and the arrow made ready on a string; and justice bends the arrow at your heart and strains the bow, and it is nothing but the mere pleasure of God, without any promise or obligation at all that keeps the arrow one moment from being made drunk with your blood…”

Much more was said in the sermon, Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God, but the main point is made.

Once the gospel was preached in such a way as to alarm the unconverted soul to the fact that, apart from repentance, there is hostility between the soul of man and the Spirit of God. It was taught that the unconverted was an enemy of the Cross of Christ until there was repentance and confession of sin. It was once preached that the Natural Man, woman, or young person, is at war with God, and it is a war he shall certainly lose. The Bible says God is still angry with the wicked every day. Until the arms of rebellion are laid down in gospel repentance there shall be no peace, says my God, to the wicked.

Such concepts are seldom, if ever, heard in the gospel presentation of today. The modern theology now teaches that God loves everyone, without exception, without distinction, and is angry at no one. It is said that God is trying desperately, to save souls, but the free will of individuals keeps that from happening. As if God does not know how to persuade His own creation. A person always yields to the greatest influence upon the mind.

The modern presentation of the gospel is such that the sovereign God of the Universe does not know how, nor is He able, to blast the heart of stone into submission. The modern gospel message goes out to contend the sons of Adam are not depraved by choice and by nature. Rather, everyone is basically good. Every soul begins as a tabula rasa, a blank tablet. It is nurture, not nature, that writes what is on the soul. There might be an area that needs adjusting, but a little religion will bring forth the innate righteousness of a person. Social and emotional behavior, knowledge, and sapience (wisdom) will follow.

Is it any wonder that our churches are filled to overflowing with the seeds of self-righteousness and self-destruction? The popular gospel of today is the gospel of self-esteem. The self-esteem theology was eloquently articulated by Norman Vincent Peale, and his prodigy, Robert Schuller in his 1982 book, Self-Esteem: The New Reformation. Self-interest is now viewed as a proper motive for embracing Christ.

There are those who will come into the church to use Christ, as they have used everyone and everything else in life. But, if Christ and the Church does not meet the promises of the self-esteem gospel, and of the health and wealth gospel, then Jesus shall be soon forsaken.

The effect of such a message as is now heard is that it leaves the church depleted of spiritual health. There should be concern that our churches are spiritually anemic. There should be concern when worship is viewed as a duty, not a delight, or Bible study is a drudgery.

What is wrong?

The problem is that the gospel is not properly understood or valued. The gospel is not properly understood because there has been a shift from forcing individuals to see their helplessness and their sinfulness before God, and a certain damnation, to appealing to self-interest. The church has gone begging to the world. The church has been conformed into the image of the world, instead of challenging the world, and declaring that this whole system lies under the condemnation of God.

The only hope is to repent, to confess sin, and to flee to the place of refuge, the Lord Jesus Christ.

Let the Word of Truth go forth afresh. Christ receiveth sinful men. Needy men. Men and women and young people who need a Saviour. God is looking and longing to fellowship with those who seek Him with all their heart. The problem is that the pure gospel condemns the Natural Man, the Unconverted Man. It calls upon him to seek first the kingdom of heaven.

The popular gospel of self-esteem and self-interest alarms no one to the eternal danger of hell.

It awakens no one to the serious consequences of sin. The gospel of today converts no one from a self-centered lifestyle. There is a need for Christians to return to the old message of Jesus Christ and Him crucified. There is a need for the world to hear what Christ will do for His own. Listen to John the Baptist as he speaks of this.

First, says John, The Messiah will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire (3:11). Whenever a person is drawn out of the darkness into God’s marvelous light he is baptized with the Holy Spirit and with fire. It is Christ who bestows the Holy Spirit, and it is the Spirit who, like fire, purifies the soul that is saved by removing inbred pollutions.

There is divine certainty of this happening, for the Scripture says the Messiah will baptize you.

Each of the disciples could testify of this inner working of the Holy Spirit. John, one of the Sons of Thunder became the Apostle of Love. Peter, who cursed and blasphemed and denied the Lord, stood up on the Day of Pentecost to preach Christ crucified. Paul, that apostle born out of due time, was a persecutor of the Faith until Jesus baptized Him with the Holy Spirit and with fire.

The church today needs to be baptized afresh with the Holy Spirit, and to be purged with fire.

There are secret sins and sins that are open, such as homosexual pastors. Jesus must come. Jesus will come to baptize His own. Let us earnestly seek the Lord to accomplish this divine work in our lives.

Second, says John, the Messiah will thoroughly purge His floor, and gather His wheat into the garner (3:12). To appreciate what John is saying the agricultural image must be understood. A threshing floor is in view where winnowing takes place. Through this process grain and chaff are separated. The work of winnowing does not cease until the threshing floor has been thoroughly cleared. Once cleared, the wheat is gathered and stored, because, it is valuable. Meanwhile the chaff is collected and burned.

John’s audience understood. The appearance of Jesus would have a dividing effect. Many souls would be gathered to Christ. Other souls would be scattered, only to be collected again and judged with unquenchable fire. The wrath of God will be manifested. It is a terrible scene of judgment that is presented but, there is hope, for the Saviour is willing and able to gather His wheat into the garner.

Multitudes who heard John the Baptist preach were grateful for his message. Many repented and were baptized. It is always a blessing when Divine truth is proclaimed. Those who hear and respond to the gospel will be grateful. One of the greatest things you can ever do here on earth is to tell someone else about Jesus Christ. Do not neglect to preach to one person. Jesus preached to Nicodemus. Philip preached to the African. Paul preached to Felix. 

You and I need to ask God to give us opportunity to witness and win souls to the Saviour, one by one. As John baptized those who came to him, he looked up and noticed that Jesus himself was standing on the banks of the Jordan. Stepping into the muddy water, Jesus moved towards John.

“What are you doing?”

asked John.

“I have need to be baptized of thee and comest thou to me?”

And Jesus answered and said,

“John, yield to me this time, for it is proper for us in this way to comply fully with every righteous requirement.”

Biblical commentators disagree as to why Jesus was baptized.

Some believe Jesus was baptized in order to fulfill the requirements of the Law of Moses, which provided for a cleansing ceremony before a priest was allowed to function in the holy office of the priesthood. According to this argument, Jesus was about to begin His priestly duties, and so needed the ritual cleaning ceremony.

Other Bible scholars suggest what Jesus was doing was simply re-affirming the righteous requirement of baptism that John was proclaiming. To be baptized was to repent, and vice versa.

The truth of the matter is that the ultimate reason for the baptism of Jesus has not been specifically revealed. It may simply be that Jesus was identifying Himself with sinners, even though He was Himself the Lamb of God without spot or blemish. Isaiah reminds us that, “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned everyone to his own way; and the Lord [Jehovah] has laid on Him [the Messiah] the iniquity of us all.”

As Jesus was stepping out of the water, suddenly, the skies were opened. Jesus saw what others did not see, except John. Flying towards Him like a dove was the Holy Spirit. The dove represents purity and gentleness. In the mind of John, the Spirit of God descending and resting upon Jesus was a confirmation that He was the Messiah.

Following the fluttering of the dove to rest upon the head of Christ, there was a voice from heaven saying,

“This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased.”

Here is one of the most illustrious passages in the New Testament to teach the mysterious doctrine of the Trinity.

The Father speaks, the Son is present, and the Holy Spirit descends.

The words of the Father are precious.

The Son is beloved, He says.

Dr. William Hendriksen notes,

“In the quiet recess of eternity, the Son was the object of the Father’s inexhaustible delight.”

Now, God wants the world to know. He loves His Son. And, the Father is well pleased with Him.

This Divine pleasure is based on the fact that the Son was about to engage in the final drama that would bring redemption to fallen mankind. The Son does not draw back, though the path will be difficult to travel. The Son is obedient to the will of the Father, even when it is the Father’s will that the Son should be despised and rejected of men.

Behold, what manner of love is this that the Father who loves His own son should be pleased to give Him up for sinners. Surely, we have in the true gospel a great salvation. And This is the gospel that must be preached.

Many years ago a Welsh minister, beginning his sermon, leaned over the pulpit and said with a solemn air,

“Friends, I have a question to ask. I cannot answer it. You cannot answer it. If an angel from heaven were here, he could not answer it. If a devil from hell were here, he could not answer it. The question is this.

‘How shall we escape if we neglect so great salvation.?’

The answer is that we cannot escape divine judgment. It is a great salvation we are to proclaim to others. This is the gospel that we must preach.”

Like John, go now and call a world to repentance, and tell them that the Messiah will baptize them with fire and with the Holy Ghost. And, if you need this same baptism of purifying fire, then ask God to be your Father, and Christ to be your Saviour, as you come to Calvary for the forgiveness of sins.

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