How Do I Please God With My Life?
John the Baptist: Part 1
When I was called into the ministry I left from college at Auburn and moved to Wake Forest, NC for seminary. I eventually married, started a ministry in MD, had kids, and tried to live out that calling. But it required me being physically separated from my home town and most of my family.
During that time my grandfather on my mother’s side began to experience dementia and as I would travel home on holidays, he would forget who I was. So slowly over the years I went from being his grandson Drew who spent weeks during the summer with him building things and gardening to all he could remember was “preacher.” My whole life condensed down to one word.
This morning we will begin a four-part series on John the Baptist, John was known to be a righteous man, a prophet, and someone that Jesus described as, . . . “among those born of women there has arisen no one greater than John the Baptist.” (Matthew 11:11) John is remembered as the person who baptized people – but why did he do that? Why did so many people come to hear him preach? What was it about John the Baptist that he pleased God with his life?
John the Baptist’s message was to prepare people’s hearts for what God was about to do – so they would not miss it. Mark your calendars for June 27th, 5-7pm we will have a special prayer service. God is about to do a work at Bellevue Baptist Church, and we must prepare our hearts for what is coming.
Prayer – Jesus, we come before you this morning in recognition that you alone are God. We seek your forgiveness for when we, in our pride, put ourselves in your rightful place. We praise your name because you knitted us together in our mother’s womb, and you lay out our lives before us. You alone are sovereign. Please bless the reading and teaching of Your word this morning. Show us how to apply it to our lives so that we may be changed. Amen.
The Promised Prophet (vv. 1-3)
Matthew 3:1 “In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, 2 “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” 3 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.’”
John the Baptist preached in an area known as “the wilderness.” This was a region that was mainly used as pasture land, it was not cultivated, and there were large portions of desert and dry areas. There were occasional watch towers, settled inhabitants, and even cities. It was described by the historian Josephus as “parched, unhealthy, and destitute of water, except the river”
All of John’s preaching is summarized with the word, “Repent.” It means to turn away from sin, which in times leads to a change of the way we think about that same sin. Why should they repent? “for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” – the messianic promised king is here, he is present.
What does repentance and baptism go together? In ancient times when a king would draw near to a town, the people would come out and fix and repair the road so that the king could pass by or through their town. They would prepare their homes and businesses, and put on their best clothing. They prepared for the king’s presence.
John the Baptist’s preaching does not focus on the outward appearance, his is on the heart. John’s message is that the King who is from the kingdom of heaven is here, and the way you prepare for his arrival is to turn from sin, and prepare your heart for his arrival. John’s baptism does not cleanse the soul, but it ceremonially prepares the heart for a word from the Lord.
John doesn’t fit in the world – where he lives is uncivilized, what he wears is unfashionable, what he eats is uncouth, and what he says is offensive. John the Baptist is a picture of self-denial. He runs against the grain of our materialism and consumerism.
The Prophet’s Profile (v. 4)
“Now John wore a garment of camel’s hair and a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey.”
“a garment of camel’s hair” This was a coarse cloth made by weaving camel’s hair, and is still worn today by people in the East who are poor. A belt was essential to the loose, draping, clothing of John’s day – if you were going to be active and move around, one would need to gird it up and secure the material. But, instead of being opulent or luxurious, John’s belt was simple leather. The prophet Isaiah is also described as wearing hairy garments and a leather belt.
The poor in this area would remove the head, legs, and the wings and the locusts were boiled, stewed, or roasted and sometimes dressed with butter. They were eaten both fresh, and dried, and salted. “wild honey” was from the bees in the wilderness region.
The way he dressed and what he ate (locusts) was not unusual if you were a nomadic person who lived in the dessert. But these people tended to be poor and looked down upon by society. Also, the way John dressed was reminiscent of how the prophet Isaiah would have dressed in “hairy” garments with a belt of leather.
Later in Matthew 3:7 it says, “he [John] saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees” – John was living in the wilderness, people were coming to him, in a large crowd, how would he know who was a Pharisee and Sadducee? It was how they dressed.
Numbers 15:38 says, “The LORD said to Moses, “Speak to the people of Israel, and tell them to make tassels on the corners of their garments throughout their generations, and to put a cord of blue on the tassel of each corner.” The Jewish people during prayer time would put a prayer cloth on with the tassels and tie a small wooden box around their head, that contained various Scriptures. The Pharisees would make their boxes larger and keep them on all day. And to show they were holier than everyone else made their tassels so long they would drape them over their shoulder.
Jesus even calls them out on this in Matthew 23:5-7 “They do all their deeds to be seen by others. For they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long, 6 and they love the place of honor at feasts and the best seats in the synagogues 7 and greetings in the marketplaces and being called rabbi by others.”
So there is a stark contrast between John the Baptist (camel hair, leather belt, spirit of Elijah, wilderness living) and the Pharisees and the Sadducees (big boxes on their head, ridiculously long tassels). Jesus later describes John the Baptist in Matthew 11:11, “Truly, I say to you, among those born of women there has arisen no one greater than John the Baptist.”
“manifestation of love in the garb of severity.” His very appearance would cause you to think about the sin in your life.
The Professing People (vv. 5-6)
“Then Jerusalem and all Judea and all the region about the Jordan were going out to him, 6 and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.”
Even if you view verse five as hyperbole, “Jerusalem, and all Judea, and all the region about the Jordan” it would have been thousands of people coming to see, hear, and to be baptized by John and to confess their sins.
The people as a whole were recognizing that they were not keeping the laws of God, and they were seeking forgiveness by confessing their sin. But, God was drawing people to Him that realized they had a sin problem. They continued to sin and break the law even though they tried not to sin, and to keep the law and it bothered them enough to go and see John.
People were realizing that God was coming close to them and they needed to straighten out their lives, to prepare their hearts for the King was coming. So, you have many people, coming to John to be baptized to show that they recognized that they had a sin problem, and they wanted to prepare their hearts, through repentance of sin, and baptism so that they would not miss “the kingdom of God” when it was “at hand.” It was a baptism of repentance.
The law of the Old Testament shows us that no matter how hard we might try to live a good and live a straight life, our sin nature betrays us, we stumble over the sin hole in our lives, and we break the law.
The Presuming Phonies (vv. 7-10)
“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? 8 Bear fruit in keeping with repentance. 9 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. 10 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.”
The Pharisees and the Sadducees were the descendants of Abraham and therefore believed that they were not going to have to experience the coming of God’s judgement. They felt little need to repent. One Rabbi in the Midrash even says, “In the age to come Abraham sits beside the gates of Gehenna, and suffers no circumcised Israelite to go down.”
The Pharisees and Sadducees sin is one of presumption. They thought they could have a sinful nature and just catch Abraham on the other side. It’s the same presumption that believes that because we said some sinner’s prayer, when we were ten at a summer camp, and we cried and were emotional that that means we are saved. But there has been no change, no repentance of sin, no change of heart. Because there is no heart change, there is no spiritual fruit.
The coming Messiah “takes away the sin of the world,” not just those related to Abraham. But it’s not because of how religious we are, nor who we are related to.
“Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees.” If I am a peach tree then my purpose is produce the fruit of peaches. If I am an apple tree, then my purpose is to produce the fruit of apples. If I do not do what I was created to do, I will be judged, cut down, and thrown into the fire.
So what is the purpose of mankind? – because if we miss it, then we will be judged. John says, “bear fruit in keeping with repentance.” “repent” means to turn from sin. It is to change our mind in how we regard sin. So when we repent of sin, we change how we think about sin. What once was alluring and thought to be fun, we now know it is catastrophically destructive and evil.
Repentance fundamentally changes our relationship with God. We draw closer to God, as we turn from sin. This is what God wants – He loves you, He sent His Son to die for you, and God wants a closer and more meaningful relationship with you – our sin gets in the way of that happening.
John is angry with this group of people because there are vast amounts of people wanting to draw close to God, they are broken over their sin, and they are about to meet God in the flesh – but there is a chance that this other group of religious people with keep them from understanding the true meaning of salvation and why they were created.
Ephesians 1:3-4 “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, 4 even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him.”
There are two powerful words in this Ephesians passage. The words “that we” are given to show our correct response to every spiritual blessing and being chosen for salvation. We were given these unfathomable gifts and blessings so that we can stay close to God. The only thing God is really concerned about is our relationship with Him (and the closer the better).
You were not saved before the creation of the world, and given every spiritual blessing, so that you may work yourself to death to perhaps earn God’s favor, maybe He will love you if you work hard enough for Him, maybe He will forgive you if you work years as penance.
The Pharisees and the Sadducees were two groups of extremely religious and smart people. But they offered a belief that they could have a relationship with God because of who they were related to, and how they washed their hands, took so many steps on the Sabbath, and hundreds and hundreds of other manmade rules – They believed that God would love them because of all the rules they kept.
John’s baptism was an outward expression of what was occurring in a person’s heart – repentance. The Pharisees and Sadducees were only focused only on the outward appearances.
John is angry (and we should be as well) because these groups of religious people were offering a false gospel. Christ died on the cross, and paid our full sin debt. He did everything that was required so that our sin could be taken care of forever. Yet religious people say thank you Jesus for dying on the cross, and all that, but I got it from here.
I will make things right, when I mess up. I will dress a particular way because that will make God love me more. I will serve all these hours so that God will love me more. I can make up for my sin, by working harder.
We must turn from our sin in repentance, and grow closer to Him daily – but we do not carry the burden for the sin – Jesus already did that on the cross. We rob God of His glory, when we act religious – as if what Jesus did on the cross was not enough.
Our life’s purpose is “Bear fruit in keeping with repentance.” We receive salvation from our sin through Jesus Christ, and Him alone. Then every day we are blessed to open our eyes, we are to turn from sin, and to walk before God as a holy and blameless person – to simply be His child.
What does your relationship with God look like this morning? If you have never received Christ, you can do that right now. I will be standing here, we can go sit down and talk. If you have already been saved, but know your focus has become outward appearances and your heart has grown cold and dark to the things of God – repent and turn back to Him this morning. Get rid of whatever is in the way of you and your relationship with God.
 “In those days” is used several times to show a segment of time has passed, ex. Ex. 2:11; Isa. 38:1. In this passage it is jumping from his birth to him preaching in the wilderness, approximately 30 years. Broadus, 35.
 John is the last of the prophets.
 Psalm 65; 12; Joel 2; 2 Chronicles 26:10; Judges 1:16; Joshua 15; Isa. 42:11
 John A Broadus, An American Commentary on the New Testament, Matthew (Valley Forge, Pennsylvania; Judson Press, 1886) 33.
 Matthew is writing to a Jewish audience, so he may be sympathetic toward their desire to not use the name of God, therefore he substitutes “heaven” for “God.” Broadus 35.
 Douglas Sean O’Donnell, Matthew, All Authority in Heaven and on Earth (Wheaton, Illinois; Crossway Publishing, 2013) 71.
 2 Kings 1:8
 Broadus, 37.
 Did John the Baptist dress like Isaiah or did Isaiah because of his prophetic vision of John dress like what he saw?
 Broadus, 47.
 O’Donnell, 78.