What Does it Say?
Matthew 3:1–10 (ESV) In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” For this is he who was spoken of by the prophet Isaiah when he said, “The voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord; make his paths straight.’ ” Now John wore a garment of camel’s hair and a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey. Then Jerusalem and all Judea and all the region about the Jordan were going out to him, and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father,’ for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham. Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.”
What Does it Mean?
Matthew’s gospel introduces us to John the Baptist, a prophet of God who became a forerunner to prepare God’s people for the coming Messiah, Jesus. His message was one of repentance. He preached, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” As a prophetic fulfillment of Isaiah 40:3, John’s message was inspired by the Holy Spirit to turn the people of Israel back to their God. The message of repentance was three-fold. First, repentance is turning away from sin and committing—or recommitting—one’s life to faithfully follow the Lord. In response, the people confessed their sins and were baptized in water, signifying their obedience. Second, repentance involves a commitment to a lifestyle of fruitful service and ministry to the Lord. John said, “Bear fruit in keeping with repentance”(Verse 8). John went on to state, “Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire” (Verse 10). Repentance, therefore, paves the way for fruitfulness. Third, repentance demands a change in one’s thinking. John said to the Pharisees, “Do not presume…” (Verse 9). Wrong thinking is a dangerous roadblock to true repentance. Those who responded to John’s message of repentance were actively participating in a move of God, preparing the way for the coming Messiah to do a mighty work in the earth and in and through their lives.
What Does it Mean to Us?
The call to repentance was not limited to the historical context and ministry of John of Baptist. In fact, the call to repentance was an important message in the ministry of Jesus and the apostles. The Bible records that Jesus began to preach using the very same words of John the Baptist, saying, “Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 4:17). In addition, after the His death and resurrection, Jesus commanded that repentance be proclaimed in His name to all nations (Luke 24:47). Repentance, therefore, is of utmost importance to the Lord, and it is to be a perpetual, prophetic message at all times for all people.
In response, we must turn away from sin and make a new commitment—or recommitment—to follow the Lord. We must also commit to a lifestyle of fruitful ministry and service to the Lord. This is verified by the apostle Paul when he said, “I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision, but declared first to those in Damascus, then in Jerusalem and throughout all the region of Judea, and also to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, performing deeds in keeping with their repentance.” (Acts 26:19–20). Repentance is not only a turning away from sinful action but a turning toward righteous action as well. Last, we must change wrong thinking. This one may be more difficult for us to identify in ourselves because we may not even be aware we have any wrong thinking. For this reason, John the Baptist told the Pharisees, “Do not presume…” It is vital for us to renew our minds and correct wrong thinking consistently. By doing so, we will receive much more from the Lord.
If we are willing to respond to the Lord with this level of repentance, we will find ourselves participating in a move of God, preparing the way for the Lord to do a mighty work in the earth and in our lives.
I want to encourage you to respond to the Lord! Spend time recognizing and confessing any sin in your life. Forsake those things that are displeasing to the Lord and receive forgiveness. Make a commitment to follow the Lord in a fresh new way. Commit yourself also to a lifestyle of fruitful ministry. Call out to God and discover what He is calling you to do in this season—and then do it! Allow the Lord to renew your mind. Bring your thoughts and plans to the Lord and humbly ask for wisdom, clarity, and guidance. Identify and reject all wrong thinking. And finally, as you receive wisdom and direction from the Lord, write it down. Commit to it. Stay faithful. Be fruitful.