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Sermon Bible Commentary

Matthew 3

 

 

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Verse 1

Matthew 3:1

I. John was the finisher of one, and the introducer of a new dispensation. His words found an echo in all hearts, for what had stirred in him had been stirring in the Jews, only they could not give it clear expression. The new epoch of thoughts took substance as the Baptist spoke. He threw into words, and in doing so interpreted, the wordless passion of a thousand souls. That it is to be a preacher.

II. Of all the blessed works which God gives to man to do in this life, there is none more blessed than that of the awakener—of the interpreter. It is the work which I would that all who see beyond the present, and whose eyes God has opened, would now undertake in England; for there is a movement abroad in society which ought to be made constant, and which needs an interpreter of its meaning. Old thoughts, old institutions are ready to perish; the old forms do not fit the new thought, the new wants, the new aspirations of men. New wine has been poured into old bottles, and the old bottles are bursting on every side. There is a stirring of all the surface waters of English life and thought, but no one can tell why they are stirred; there is something at work beneath which no man sees, which causes all these conflicting and commingling currents, all this trouble on the upper waters.

III. There is, however, in it all that which is inexpressibly cheering. It tells us plainly that Christ is coming, not in final judgment, but in some great revolution of life and thought. We are waiting for the Sun of Righteousness to rise, and to illumine the new way on which we are entering. Let us be ready for our John the Baptist when He comes; let us pray for the Interpreter and the Awaker, who will come and say to us, "The kingdom of heaven is at hand." Let us live in prayer, and progress, and patient watching for His presence.

S. A. Brooke, Sermons, 1st series, p. 148.



Verse 1-2

Matthew 3:1-2

Morality and Religion.

I. As far as we know of the preaching of John the Baptist, it consisted in what we should call the enforcement of moral duties. Soon after, our Lord Himself began His own ministry, and His public teaching opened with the great discourse which ever since all Christians have known as the Sermon on the Mount. And what is the general tenour of this sermon? Again it consists in the enforcement of what we should call moral duties. And still, through our Lord's teaching to the very end, the same principle ever returns, that whatever else may be needed to be His servant, this, at any rate, is indispensable, that you shall do God's will, that your life's action shall be governed by God's laws, that you shall bring forth good fruits.

II. In order to make it easier to reflect seriously on our lives, and on the true character of them, let us, as it were, gather them up under their chief heads: Principle and Temper. (1) Now we all mean by principle that strong sense of duty which keeps us straight in all cases in which we are not taken by surprise, or misled by mistake, and even in those cases never lets us wander far, but quickly checks the straying feet, and calls us to the path. The characteristic of principle is trustworthiness. The man of principle will live in secret as he lives in public, and will not gratify a wish when it cannot be known, which he would not gratify if it could be known. The man of principle is emphatically the man who loves the light, and comes to the light. Apply this to our own lives. See how much of our lives is right by a sort of happy accident, by absence of temptation, by presence of all manner of aids. See how fitful, uncertain, untrustworthy, we often are. Look to this, and you will assuredly find much to mend. (2) It is quite possible to have right principles, and yet to spoil all by want of control of temper. High principles must of course stand above disciplined temper; but let not any Christian dream that to leave temper unchecked is a light sin in the eyes of the God of love. Not even high principle can be retained for ever against the effect of self-indulged temper on the soul.

Bishop Temple, Rugby Sermons, 2nd series, p. 234.


I. Consider the character, office, and ministry of the Baptist, as preparatory to the setting up of the Gospel Kingdom. He was all ardour, and courage, and uncompromising fidelity. He respected no persons, he spared no vices, he regarded no consequences. We cannot fail to observe the sectional character of John's preaching, the skill with which he addressed himself to the exposure of class errors and class sins. The ministry of the Baptist was, so to speak, a type of the dispensation of the Spirit. Just as it is the twofold office of the Comforter, first to convince of sin, and then to take of the things of Christ and show the way of propitiation; so it was the twofold office of John, first to alarm the conscience by saying, "Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand," and then to kindle faith by saying, "Behold the Lamb of God, that taketh away the sins of the world."

II. Observe the appropriate connection between evangelical repentance and any part or lot in the kingdom of heaven; between spiritual conviction of sin and the realized advent of Him who is to deliver us from its guilt and power. "Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." As the ministry of John generally was to prepare for the coming of Christ, so we should expect the chief object of that ministry would be to prepare men's hearts for the receiving of Christ. And these requisitions are met in that first trumpet-blast which the Baptist sounded in the ears of a slumbering world, "Repent, repent."

III. Then look at some of the resulting fruits of such preaching, as they actually followed on the stern wilderness message. First we see there were, among those who came to him, deep and humiliating convictions of sin; and these expressed openly, aloud, in the face of their friends and of the whole world. Here we find excited in the heart the very first pre-requisite for bringing Christ within reach, the very condition which disposes to appreciate the great Physician's medicines, as well as to become the subjects of an effectual cure. John's preaching exhibited the moral order of the soul's conversion. His first care was to ensure conviction of sins. No love of Christ, and no professed care about Christ, could be of any avail without that. This done, however, then may Christ be held up; and just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness did the Baptist direct all eyes to the Crucified, and proclaim to those smitten with a sense of sin, and trembling with a consciousness of their soul's danger, "Behold the Lamb of God."

D. Moore, Penny Pulpit, No. 3,219.

I. Repentance is not a formal or technical thing. It is simply an operation of the human mind in regard to evil things—putting spurs to the zeal of men, in going away from evil and towards good. Repentance, therefore, is merely an abandonment of evil things, in order that one may reach after better and higher things. The degree of repentance essential is just that which is necessary to make you let go of mischief and evil. Just as soon as you know enough of the evil of sin to let it alone, or to turn away from it with your whole strength, you have repentance enough. Deep and abundant convictions are beneficial in certain natures, because in these natures only such sensuous and wrestling experiences will avail, since they are coarse-fibred, since they rank low morally, and since, therefore, they need rasping. But if they are more nobly strong, if their moral nature is more sensitive, if they can turn from evil on a slighter suggestion, is it not better? For men ought to repent easily. It is a sin and a shame for them to repent reluctantly and grudgingly.

II. The highest form of repentance is a turning away from bad to good on account of the love which we bear to others; in other words, on account of that imperfect love which belongs to us in our physical and earthly relations; for we seldom find men who have the pure and spiritual impulse of love toward God so strong as to act as a dissuasion from evil and a persuasion toward good until they have actually been drawn into a divine life.

III. Repentance may be, as it respects either single actions or courses of action, a secondary impulse for some special intent or struggle, or it may become a dominant influence, acting through long periods, and renewing and refreshing itself continually.

IV. From this great law no one can escape. There is not a man who does not need this primary experience, this turning to a higher life from the animal life; and there is no man who has a power of reasoning so high, no man who was born with such qualities, with such a balance of all the attributes of the soul, that he stands disengaged from the great law of repentance of everything that is evil, and of aspiration toward all that is good.

H. W. Beecher, Christian World Pulpit, vol. x., p. 100.


References: Matthew 3:1, Matthew 3:2.—J. C. Jones, Studies in St. Matthew, p. 53; F. D. Maurice, Sermons in Country Churches, p. 110. Matthew 3:1-3.—New Outlines of Sermons on the New Testament, p. 6. Matthew 3:1-6.—Parker, Inner Life of Christ, vol. i., p. 70. Matthew 3:1-12.—Homiletic Magazine, vol. vi., p. 25; vol. x., p. 99.


Verse 11

Matthew 3:11

I. The Holy Spirit is fire. Fire all over the world has been taken to represent the Divine energy. Even in heathendom, side by side with the worship of light, was the worship of fire. Though the thought was darkened and marred, wrongly apprehended, and ferociously worked out in ritual, it was a true thought for all that. And Scripture has from the beginning used it. There is a continuous chain of symbolism, according to which some aspect of the Divine nature, and especially of the Spirit of God, is set forth to us as fire. The question then is, What is that aspect? The fire of God's Spirit is not a wrathful energy, working pain and death, but a merciful omnipotence, bringing light, and joy, and peace. The Spirit which is fire is a Spirit which giveth life. So the symbol, in the special reference in the text, has nothing of terror or destruction, but is full of hope, and bright with promise.

II. Christ plunges us into this Divine fire. I presume that scarcely any one will deny that our Version weakens the force of John's words, by translating "with water, with the Holy Ghost," instead of in water, in the Holy Ghost. Christ gives the Spirit. In and by Jesus you and I are brought into contact with this cleansing fire. Without His work it would never have burned on earth; without our faith in His work it will never purify our souls.

III. That fiery baptism quickens and cleanses. (1) Fire gives warmth. Christ comes to kindle in men's souls a blaze of enthusiastic Divine love, such as the world never saw, and to set them aflame with fervent earnestness, which shall melt all the icy hardness of heart, and turn cold self-regard into self-forgetting consecration. (2) Fire purifies. That Spirit, which is fire, produces holiness in heart and character, by this chiefly among all His manifold operations, that He excites the flame of love to God, which burns our souls clear with its white fervours. This is the Christian method of making men good—first, know His love, then believe it, then love Him back again, and then let that genial heat permeate all your life, and it will woo forth everywhere blossoms of beauty and fruits of holiness, that shall clothe the pastures of the wilderness with gladness.

A. Maclaren, Sermons Preached in Manchester, 2nd series, p. 227.


References: Matthew 3:11.—Homiletic Magazine, vol. x., p. 99. Matthew 3:11-16.—S. A. Tipple, Expositor, 1st series, vol. ix., p. 81.


Verse 12

Matthew 3:12

I. The disciples of John were to learn (1) that their hearts were under another tillage-cultivation than their own. They could not winnow the grain, they could not separate corn from chaff. If there was no one more skilful than they were to do that, the labour had been thrown away; the corn would not supply bread to the eater, or seed to the sower. (2) They were to be sure that this discipline, if it was indeed Divine discipline, would be thorough. "He will throughly purge His floor." (3) Those who heard John speak, and understood him, must have received two lessons, at first sight inconsistent. They must have been sure that He who was conducting the sifting discipline, of which the prophet testified, over them and over the whole nation, was the Lord of the spirits of all flesh. And yet they were told of a Man standing among them, who claimed the floor as His, and could prove it to be His by purging it.

II. John the Baptist's words were fulfilled when Jesus Christ came in the flesh. They have been fulfilling themselves in every age since He ascended on high. In every age men, who have been led to discover their own great necessities, have asked indeed for one who should forgive their sins; but quite as earnestly for one who should destroy their sins, who should put an everlasting barrier between that in them which they knew to be their enemy often their triumphant enemy—and that which cleaved to a Friend, and sought fellowship with Him, likeness to Him. They have learned to welcome sufferings when they found that they were designed for this object. The fires were good which denoted that they were baptized with the Spirit, and that He would not leave them till He had made them what they were created to be. And so, too, the course of history and the trials of nations interpret themselves. As long as there is any strength, vitality, faith in a people, so long is there wheat, which Christ will assuredly gather into His garner; and so long that nation will be subjected to frequent fires, that its chaff, all its untruth, and baseness, and heartlessness may be burnt up; nay, it may be said, always be in such fires, for the time of our wealth, as well as the time of our tribulation, is a searching time. That is the time in which it is hardest for us to separate the chaff from the wheat, and therefore in which we have most need to recollect that there is a Lord who is doing it, and will do it thoroughly.

F. D. Maurice, Lincoln's Inn Sermons, vol. iii., p. 267.


References: Matthew 3:12.—Bishop Huntington, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xxix., p. 403; J. Keble, Sermons from Advent to Christmas Eve, p. 290.


Verse 13

Matthew 3:13

The baptism of Christ was—

I. The proclamation of His human relationship to man, and of His human relationship to God. His development had reached its height. He was clearly conscious of His Divine nature. He was clearly conscious of His complete union with our nature. But His Divine nature, so far as its omnipotence, omnipresence, and omniscience—so far as all that could separate Him from sharing perfectly in our humanity—was concerned, was to remain uncommunicated as yet to His natural, growing humanity; while the perfect holiness, the perfect spiritual character of God, were to be exhibited unmarred, through the medium of His humanity. Hence His baptism was the formalized proclamation of His sinless human nature. He declared by that act that, as man, He submitted Himself to the will of His Father, as shown in the mission of the Baptist.

II. John's baptism prepared those who underwent it for admission into the kingdom which was at hand; it consecrated them to the new work of the new kingdom. In their case two conditions had to be fulfilled—repentance and a sense of sin. But these conditions were impossible to Christ. He had no sense of sin. He needed no repentance. The import of the rite was then different in His case. It consecrated Him King of the theocratic kingdom, and proclaimed to all men that His organization of that kingdom had begun. Thus, while the historical meaning of the rite varied with the subjects to whom it was administered, there was an element of preparation in it which was common to both. It consecrated the people to be members of the theocratic kingdom; it consecrated Christ to be the theocratic King; but it marked for both the commencement of a new course of life, in which the subjects of the Kingdom were to receive pardon and life; in which the King was to accomplish the work of salvation, and to bestow life upon His followers.

S. A. Brooke, Sermons, 1st series, p. 236.


References: Matthew 3:13-17.—Homiletic Magazine, vol. x., pp. 65, 224; Parker, Inner Life of Christ, vol. i., p. 90.


Verse 15

Matthew 3:15

I. We see from the text how faithfully Jesus observed the forms and duties of religion. Nothing invests the ordinary means of grace with such importance as to see our Lord, like one of ourselves, observing them. He was independent of all means, and stood in no need of such aids. Yet, able to walk without these crutches, He stoops to our condition, that He may teach us, by His own example, the devout, diligent use of all the means of grace. (1) He prayed. (2) He punctually attended worship in the house of God.

II. Let me exhort you to the diligent use of these means of grace. Can anything be plainer than this, that if our blessed Lord did not neglect the means of grace, much less should we, can we, afford to do so?

III. Let me exhort you to a devout use of these means of grace. For true religion does not lie in them. If religion be not in the heart it is nowhere. Trust not in mere outward duties, the most scrupulous and punctual attention to them. We are to use the means of grace diligently, yet devoutly, in dependence on the grace of God, that, bringing us into His presence and under His sanctifying power, we may be saved, not only from the punishment, but from the thraldom and love, of sin.

IV. In setting Christ before you as your pattern as well as propitiation, I am not calling you to a hopeless task. It is not by fits and starts that men become holy. It is not occasional, but prolonged, continuous, and lifelong efforts that are required; to be daily at it, always at it; resting but to renew the work; falling but to rise again. It is not with a rush and a spring that we are to reach Christ's character, attain to perfect saint-ship; but step by step, foot by foot, hand over hand, we are slowly, and often painfully, to mount the ladder, that rests on earth and rises to heaven.

T. Guthrie, The Way to Life, p. 175.


References: Matthew 3:15.—J. E. Vaux, Sermon Notes, 3rd series, p. 74. Matthew 3:16.—Spurgeon, Evening by Evening, p. 63. Matthew 3:16, Matthew 3:17.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xvi., No. 909; A. Barry, Cheltenham College Sermons, p. 243. Matthew 3:17.—Clergyman's Magazine, vol. iii., p. 289. Matt 3—Homiletic Quarterly, vol. ii., p. 79.



 


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Nicoll, William R. "Commentary on Matthew 3:4". "Sermon Bible Commentary". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/sbc/matthew-3.html.

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