Matthew 3

Matthew 3: Repentance

In today’s lesson we will meet John the Baptists, who appears briefly on the scene as the prophesized ‘voice’ of one calling in the desert. He was to have an important ministry of preparing the way for the Lord.  We will look at the significance of John’s baptism, which Paul called the ‘baptism of repentance’. What we are about to begin studying is God’s plan He devised whereby mankind can be delivered out of their sin and failure and be made not only citizens of heaven, but God’s own children! This is the beginning of the gospel.

Jesus said of John the Baptist, ‘ of men born of women, none is greater than John the Baptist. We have no record of John the Baptist preaching and teaching in the synagogues or the temple. He was an open air preacher who preached along the Jordan River in the wilderness part of Judea. The Jordan River ran from the Sea of Galilee down to the Dead Sea.  Jews would follow along the Jordan River from Jerusalem and Jericho when traveling up to Tiberias, Capernaum, and the Sea of Galilee area to avoid crossing over into Samaria. So it was a busy route.

A period of 30 years has passed since the birth of John the Baptist and the arrival of the Lord Jesus as the babe in  a Bethlehem manger. Except for the encounter with the teachers of the law, which he amazed when he was 12 years old we know nothing of those years of Jesus growing up in Nazareth. Of John the Baptist we read how he is dressed and his diet and now he appears in this account of Matthew’s as a  herald, a voice crying in the wilderness. He was drawing large crowds who came to hear this  voice in the wilderness.

John the Baptist comes to make an announcement like a herald would come and announce the arrival of the king. He would also tell them how to prepare for the coming of the ‘kingdom of heaven, which was near.’ To prepare- they had to repent.  He appears first in the wilderness of Judea. He comes  preaching.  Preaching is God’s way of setting up the kingdom of heaven.

Repentance prepares one to meet the Lord.

Repent in the original Greek is metanoia, meaning  ‘ to change your mind; to change your direction.’ Change your thinking and you will change your direction, your way and behavior. The Jews had been taught to justify themselves with the keeping of the law, the sacrifices, the keeping of rituals and rites.  John the Baptist is teaching them to accuse themselves of their sinfulness. The kingdom of heaven is the rule of heavens over the earth. Jesus is the king of this kingdom. When John said the kingdom is near, or at hand, he was referring to the presence of this kingdom’s king, the Lord Jesus was near.  The Kingdom of Heaven was at hand in the presence of its King, the Lord Jesus. The Kingdom of Heaven has not come to rule on this earth yet, except in the hearts and minds of believers. Jesus confirmed this to Pilate when he said- ‘my kingdom is not of this world.’ When the Lord Jesus comes again, He will establish His kingdom and will rule over the earth. He will put down the rebellion that has been carried on since the fall in the Garden.

John the Baptist is the voice of one crying in the wilderness. As the voice crying out- John the Baptist got men’s attention, he aroused them. Then the Lord Jesus, who is the Word, instructs and teaches mankind after the voice aroused them.

The prophecy of the voice in the wilderness goes back to Isaiah whom was quoted by Malachi. Listen to this prophecy from Isaiah. “ A voice of one calling : In the desert prepare a way for the Lord, make straight in the wilderness a highway for our God. Every valley shall be raised up, every mountain and hill made low; the rough ground shall become level, the rugged places a plain. And the glory of the Lord will be revealed, and all mankind together will see it. For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.: ( Isaiah 40)  This speaks metaphorically of what preparation took place when a king was visiting an area.  Just as President Obama visited Chattanooga last week, you can be sure the city officials looked at his route to the Amazon facility and made sure all potholes were filled in for a smooth ride without any bumps.  This speaks of preparing the way for the King of Kings, the Lord Jesus to come into your life, or into the life of a nation.

The enemy of our souls had made the way crooked. The way of sin and Satan is a crooked way and the paths must be made straight. “Strait is the gate and narrow is the way, which leads unto life, and few there be that find it.” The mountains and hills that needed to be made low in John the Baptist’ day are the same ones today.  The Jewish people were proud of their heritage and privileges and held high opinions of themselves.  John the Baptist’s doctrine was a doctrine of repentance and humiliation to bring one to the recognition of their sinfulness and confession of such sinfulness.

We seem to think today, this old-fashioned type of preaching is just- that – old fashioned. Old fashioned, open air, outdoor preaching to unbelievers. Consider what the Lord says:  “ Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls. But you said I will not walk in it. I appointed watchmen over you and said, listen to the sound of the trumpet! But you said we will not listen. Therefore hear, O nations; observe what will happen to them. Hear,O, earth; I am bringing disaster on this people, the fruit of their schemes, because they have not listened to my words and have rejected my law.” ( Jeremiah 6) Jesus is the Way where you will find rest for your souls. Come unto me you who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest. ( Matthew 11).

The people at the time of John the Baptist and the coming of the Lord Jesus were at a crossroads, just as we are today. I believe in every generation there are crossroad decisions for individuals, families, churches, communities and countries. And in every generation, there have been watchmen sounding the trumpet, preachers who came preaching – repent the kingdom of heaven is at hand. It is the solution to your problems. It is the good way, and if you walk in it, you will find rest for your souls. But when individuals and nations say we will not listen and we will not walk in it- the results are inevitable and disastrous.

Israel had not heard a word from God in over 400 years. They were a  spiritually dry and thirsty land, no wonder John the Baptist first appeared in the wilderness, the deserts of Judea, it was symbolical of where they were as a nation and as individuals.  And there were many who were thirsting and hungering for righteousness.   They were realizing under this convicting preaching they were spiritually bankrupt. They were poor in spirit.  “Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River. “  This baptism was a symbol of cleansing. This baptism testified to their repentance and confession of sins.  Paul referred to John’s baptism as the baptism of repentance. ( Acts 19)


Repentance prepares one to meet the Lord. This was the emphasis of John the Baptist’s teaching.  Here in Matthew 2, we will hear the first word of the Lord Jesus in this Gospel and it  explains everything he is about to do.  For the Lord Jesus will tell John the Baptist,  ‘ it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness’ In fact when Jesus came preaching after his 40 days in the desert being tempted- what is the first word of his first sermon?  “ Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.” ( Matthew 4:17)

Listen to these verses: “ I tell you, unless you repent  you likewise will all perish.” (Jesus speaking , Luke 13: 3&5)

“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” ( John 3:16)

“ For God did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel- not with words of human wisdom, lest the power of the cross of Christ be emptied of its power. For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to those who are being saved it is the power of God.” ( I Cor. 1: 17,18)

Perishing is what happens to you if do not have eternal life. Eternal life, salvation begins with repentance. The word perish refers to the terrible judgment unbelievers  who have not repented of their sins will face after they die.  ( Luke 12 – Fear Him who, after the killing of the body has power to throw you into hell.)

“ God is not willing that any should perish, but all would come to repentance.” (2 Peter 3: 9)

“ This is good and pleases God our Savior who wants all men to be saved and come to the knowledge of truth.” ( I Timothy 2)

Repentance involves believing God rather than the claims and lies of the devil that more joy can be found in sin and away from the rule of Gods’ kingdom.

Repentance is the response to the Gospel when the hearer is convicted of sin and righteousness by the Holy Spirit. Our responsibility is to proclaim the Gospel. The Holy Spirits’ role is to convict.

Listen to these instructions of the resurrected Lord Jesus in Luke 24:  “ This is what is written – the Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached to all the nations, beginning at Jersualem.

“ Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift  my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.” ( Acts 1- final instructions for the Resurrected Lord before his ascension.)

In Luke 15, we read a 3 part parable taught by Jesus with the most famous part being the prodigal son.  However the theme is –  the rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents.

When a person is saved- they believe on and in the Lord Jesus Christ. This implies a change of mind, in that before that had not believed on and in Him and now they have changed their mind and turned to Him, which means they also turned away from something- which is their sins. Repentance is a part of confession and a part of believing faith. This change of behavior results in fruit keeping with repentance.

When the self-righteous Pharisees and the unbelieving Sadducees show up- John the Baptist does not mince any words- he calls them a brood of vipers. Remember what God said to the serpent, the devil in the Garden of Eden – ‘ I will put enmity between your seed and the seed of the woman.’ Jesus calls them a brood of vipers also in Matthew 12 and  in John 8, he tells them their father is the devil. You are descendants of that original viper, you are a brood of vipers descended from the old serpent, the viper who first appeared in the Garden.

John the Baptist tells them to produce fruit in keeping with repentance.  Repentance takes place in the heart. If there is a root of repentance it will produce fruit in keeping with its root. Fruit bearing is a result of having the right kind of tree. The root and the fruit go together- the fruit we bear tells exactly what type of root we have.   John the Baptist says – you cannot rely on your heritage, for being a descendant of Abraham does not mean you are saved.  A tree is known by its fruit.  In Luke 3, he explains what the fruits of repentance are.

John the Baptist then explains his role:  “ I baptize with water for repentance. But after me comes one who is more powerful than I , whose sandals I am not fit to carry. He(Jesus) will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear the threshing floor, gathering his wheat into the barn and burning up the chaff with unquenchable fire. “

John’s baptism was for the repentance of sins. It was an outward sign of an inward act. It was symbolic of a person’s repentance in order to be forgiven.  Repentance is a preparatory act necessary for salvation.

John the Baptist inferred the Lord Jesus would baptize them  with the Holy Spirit and with fire. Jesus after his resurrection and prior to his ascension told the disciples : “do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you heard me speak about. For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit. “ ( Acts1)

This promised baptism into the Spirit occurred on the day of Pentecost. This refers to the spiritual baptism which is the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit wherein we are placed in Christ. I am in Him and He is in me. This is a once and forever occurrence that takes place at the moment of salvation.  Thus water baptism is  also an external symbol of what has taken place internally.  As a Baptist, we believe it is an act of obedience.  It is not a means of salvation, but a result of salvation.  You can be saved and not baptized and baptized and not saved. When the Philippian jailer asked what he must do to be saved- Paul told him:  “Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved.- you and your household.”   Paul did not say believe and be baptized and you will saved- he just said believe.  They were baptized later.    In Acts 10, Peter discovered Cornelius and his household had already been saved and received the Holy Spirit and yet had not received water baptism, which he then performed after the fact.

“For by grace are you saved through faith, and that not of yourselves, it is a gift of God, not of works, lest any man should boast.”  ( Ephesians 2: 8,9)  Condemnation comes  as a result of unbelief, not the lack of ritual activity.

This is the Gospel.  It is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes. ( Romans 1)

Now notice John also states the Lord will baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire.  Remember on the Day of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit came there appeared above their heads as it was a ‘ tongue of fire.’ Fire enlightens. Fire warms as in- didn’t our hearts burn within us ? ( Luke 24)  Fire consumes- it burns away the chaff, and the dross of impurity in our lives. And in the end those who do not believe it will be a fire of judgment.

Why did Jesus get baptized?  He knew no sin, so it was not to wash away sins or for repentance. Here is all the answer we need, Jesus said: “ Let it be so now, it is proper to do this to fulfill all righteousness.” When Jesus came up out of the water- heavens opened and the Spirit of God descended like a dove lighting on the Lord Jesus and a voice from heaven said: “ This is my beloved Son , in whom I am well pleased.”

So as we come to Matthew 4, the beginning of Christ’ ministry of a little over 3 years  will start following his baptism by John.  From there Jesus will go into the wilderness to be tempted by Satan.  In order to qualify as our Redeemer, Jesus had to be tested and tempted as we are , yet without sin. Look again at Jesus’ explanation to John as to the reason for His baptism, after all He had no sins to repent from- no sins to confess.  He said : “ Let it be so now; it is proper to do this to fulfill all righteousness.”

And as we come to know Him, we will come to conclude:

  1. God wants everyone to be saved. “ This is good, and pleases God who wants all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of truth.” ( 1 Timothy 2: 3,4)
  2. He is not willing that any should perish but all would come to repentance.  ( 2 Peter 3:9)
  3. God sent His Own Son, Jesus to pay for our sins and the sins of the world. (I John 2;1,2)
  4. God has given us, His Church, the responsibility to tell the world. ( Matthew 28)

So faith and repentance are not two separate things. They are the two sides of the coin of salvation. The turning of repentance means turning from trusting other things to fulfill your life to turning to trusting in God. You become a new creature, a new creation. You now have God as your Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. You have a new life, it began with REPENTANCE.  Spread the Good News!

Copyright © 2010 Linda Benthal
Last modified: 08/12/14