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A Great Man Fearlessly Tells the Truth: John the Baptist (Matthew Sermon 4 of 151)

A Great Man Fearlessly Tells the Truth: John the Baptist (Matthew Sermon 4 of 151)

January 10, 1999 | Andy Davis
Matthew 3:1-12
Preaching, Baptism and the Lord's Supper

Pastor Andy Davis preaches an expository sermon on Matthew 3:1-12. The main subject of the sermon is John the Baptist's boldness and commitment to telling the truth.



I. What makes a person great?

 We are going to be looking at verses one through twelve at one of my favorite people in all the scripture, John the Baptist. What a powerful man he was. What a great man. Speaking of great people, as I was preparing for this sermon, I was thinking about what it is we consider to be great, or what makes a man great or a woman great. I was looking through a book that was loaned to me recently, The Life Millennium: The 100 Most Important People and Events of the Last 1,000 Years. It is a fascinating study on what “Life Magazine” thinks when it thinks of a great person. Do you know who number one was? Thomas Edison is number one, listed as the most influential man. We look around and we see the effects of Edison's genius all around us. “Life Magazine “says that because of Edison and what he did, we're entering the third millennium bathed in light and not clothed in darkness. And he had a great impact. Second was Christopher Columbus who stumbled into the New World, didn't even know it was there, and had a tremendous impact on the rest of history after that. And on the list goes. I summarized this. I saw 18 scientists on this list, 17 statesmen and national leaders, 10 military conquerors, 10 inventors, seven philosophers, seven explorers, seven writers, five artists, and only four theologians. I was disappointed about that. There were four composers and two entertainers. Do you know who the two were? PT Barnum and Walt Disney. What an interesting thing. And I think it was interesting for me not just to see the list, but to read the criteria and how it was they went about making that list. Fascinating to see what Life Magazine, as representative of our popular culture, thinks in terms of a great man.

But you see, God's ways of thinking about greatness are so different from ours, aren't they? God's great men and women are different than the world's list of great men and women. Look what it says in 1 Corinthians 1:26, "Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards, not many of you were influential, not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise. He chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong." That's us. God's ways of looking at us are different. 1 Samuel 16:7 says, "The Lord does not look at the things that man looks at, for man looks at outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart."

 So if you're going to be great in the eyes of the Lord, you have to be great in your heart, be great inside. And it is possible to be great in the eyes of the Lord. Now God has an impossibly high standard. "You must be perfect therefore as your heavenly Father is perfect," said Jesus. But yet it's possible for someone to be great in the eyes of the Lord. Abraham was called God's friend. Moses knew God face to face. Job was someone that God boasted about to Satan. "Have you considered my servant Job? He's a righteous man." Daniel was told by the angel Gabriel when he came to him in Daniel 9:23, that he was a man highly esteemed. We're coming face to face today with the man that Jesus Christ himself said was the greatest of all the Old Testament saints. In a way, he was an Old Testament figure. An Old Testament prophet coming and preparing the way for Jesus Christ. For our Lord Jesus Christ, looking with that clear eye over all of history, scanned over it all, and stopped on John the Baptist in Matthew 11:11, saying, "I tell you the truth, among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist.” Now why did Jesus say that about John the Baptist? I think, as we look through John's life, we may learn some things. John the Baptist was great because he wholeheartedly obeyed God, who sent him. John the Baptist was great because he was totally humble before Jesus Christ, as we'll see in the text today. John the Baptist was great because, by faith, he recognized who Jesus was in His person and what Jesus had come to do in His mission, when he said in John 1:29, "Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world." What an incredible eye of faith John had, to be able to see that Jesus had come to die as a sacrificial lamb. That was John.

II. A Great Man and His Mission

But I think what I'd like to focus on here is that John the Baptist was great because he told people what they needed to hear and not what they wanted to hear. As a prophet of God, his words poured out from his inner relationship with God like fire on those who heard. He was the dead opposite of the tickling ear preacher we met in 2 Timothy 3. That was the greatness of John the Baptist. Listen now to Matthew 3:1-12 as we look at a great man and his mission. "In those days, John the Baptist came preaching in the desert of Judea, and saying, 'Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.' “This is he who is spoken of through the prophet Isaiah, 'A voice of one calling in the desert, make straight the way for the Lord, prepare paths for him.' John's clothes were made of camel's hair, and he had a leather belt around his waist. His food was locusts and wild honey. People went out to him from Jerusalem and all Judea and the whole region of the Jordan. Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River.

But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to where he was baptizing, he said to them in Matt. 3:7-12 "You brood of vipers, who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce fruit in keeping with repentance and do not think you can say to yourselves, 'We have Abraham as our Father,' I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. The axe is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire. I baptize you with water for repentance, but after me will come one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor, gathering up the wheat into his barn and burning up the chaff with unquenchable fire." Such was the preaching of John the Baptist, a great man of God.

Now, today, I'd like to look at what made John great. We have an excerpt of some of John's preaching, and I think in that comes the transformation for any who want to hear God's message today. ‘Now, John, the man was great in the eyes of the Lord from his birth,’ so said the angel Gabriel. John's father, Zechariah, was a priest, and he was offering incense in the temple. The story is told in Luke chapter 1. “And while he was offering incense, the angel Gabriel appeared to him, and he told him that he and his wife, Elizabeth, would have a child in their old age.” And this is what Gabriel said about him. He said, "He will be great in the eyes of the Lord." That's a prophecy. The very thing that Jesus had said, the angel said too. Jesus and his angels are in total harmony all the time. "He will be great in the eyes of the Lord. He is never to take any wine or other fermented drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit even from birth. Many of the people of Israel will he bring back to the Lord their God. And he will go on before the Lord in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous, to make ready a people prepared for the Lord." That's what the angel Gabriel said about John. Great in the eyes of the Lord, filled with the Holy Spirit from birth, going out in the spirit and power of Elijah to make ready a way for the Lord. Isn't that wonderful? So John's coming was foretold before he ever entered the world by the angel Gabriel. But actually his coming was foretold 700 years before that. John the Baptist actually is one of the very few people in all history, other than Jesus Christ, whose life and whose actions were foretold in prophetic scripture. One of the very few. Jesus' whole life was laid out in prophetic scripture, but John the Baptist's was as well. 

In Isaiah chapter 40, this is the very thing quoted in verse 3. This is he who has spoken of through the prophet Isaiah. "A voice of one calling in the desert, prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him." Seven centuries before John was born, his mission was laid out in the words of prophetic scripture. Also in Malachi 3:1, this is quoted at the beginning of Mark's gospel. It says, "See, I will send my messenger who will prepare the way before me. Then suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to his temple." In other words, before the Lord comes to his temple, there' is going to be a messenger to come and prepare the way. And then the final word in Malachi 4:5-6 it says this, "See, I will send you the prophet Elijah before that great and dreadful day of the Lord comes. He will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers, or else I will come and strike the land with a curse."

Now, Malachi, many scholars believe, prophesied around 450 BC and was the last prophetic word before the New Testament era. In other words, the final word of the Old Testament prophets was that Elijah is going to come and turn the hearts of the fathers back to the children and the children to the fathers. The Jews picked up on that, and they awaited the coming of Elijah. Now, who was Elijah? Elijah, I believe, was the greatest prophet of that Old Testament era. A powerful and courageous man who suddenly appears just as John did. He suddenly appears in 1 Kings 17 and confronts the idolatrous King Ahab with a threat and a warning. And he says, "It will not rain except at my word." And so it didn't rain for three and a half years. What power God granted to Elijah. And Elijah challenged the nation of Israel to follow God. He had a big showdown with the prophets of Baal. Four hundred and fifty prophets of Baal showed up. Elijah with that spirit and power said to all of Israel who had assembled to see the contest, "How long will you go on limping or wavering between two opinions? If Yahweh is God, then follow him. If Baal is god, then follow him." As you remember, they had a contest in which Elijah through the power of God defeated the prophets of Baal. Ah, the power of Elijah. And Elijah had a spectacular end to his life. When the time came for him to go, he didn't die just like any other man, no. God sent a chariot of fire down to escort him up to heaven. And so up he went up to heaven, one of only two men that we know of in history that entered heaven without dying. And so, I think, just that aspect made people feel that he was going to someday come back down in that chariot of fire and continue his ministry, especially with his prophecy. The last word echoing through 450 years of intertestamental history, ‘Elijah is coming, Elijah is coming. ‘And so they are waiting for Elijah to come, and suddenly John the Baptist came. I don't know if you know this, but Orthodox Jews, even today, at the Passover, leave an empty chair and a cup waiting for Elijah to come. How sad because they missed the coming of Elijah. Jesus said in Matthew 17:11,“But I tell you, Elijah has already come ad they did not recognize him.” And so John the Baptist came and fulfilled this prophecy. He was to come in the spirit and power of Elijah and do that ministry.

 There's a sense of urgency or sense of sudden appearance to John's ministry. But where had John been before we see him in Matthew chapter 3? Where was he before he appeared to Israel and began to preach? Well, Luke 1:80 tells us that he grew up in the desert. He grew up in the desert until the time came for him to be revealed to Israel. Remember that his parents were aged. Zechariah and Elizabeth may have died very early in his age, and so John the Baptist went out and was raised out in the desert. Think about that. Where there's no vegetation, little rain, wild animals, vipers, snakes, other things, dangerous place to grow up. God protected him. God raised him in that rough, rugged environment, where there was heat- terrible heat during the day and bitter cold at night. And I think those circumstances somewhat colored the kind of person he was. He was a rough man. He was not a smooth or soft man. He was aggressive in his speaking and unafraid of anyone, that was John the Baptist.

So he was stripped, I think, in one sense of all social graces. And he preached powerfully the word of God. His words came up from within him and poured out on the hearers like fire, and they produced opposite reactions. Either true and genuine repentance, which produce good fruit, or bitter opposition and hatred toward him which ultimately took his life. And John knew it would. But he was courageous anyway, and he always told the truth. But what ministry was John given? He was given a simple ministry, the simple tools of the minister of God: To preach and to baptize. John did no miraculous signs, nothing spectacular. He just preached, and he baptized. Now, the word “preach” in the Greek language implies a kind of heralding that's done before a king comes. And John saw that, he was preparing the way for the coming king. The king was coming, and the herald went out to prepare the way. Now usually when a king sends out a herald, he's wearing fine clothes, and he looks good. But John the Baptist wasn't that way, he was out in the desert wearing rough clothes, and he went to prepare the way of the king. And he was also sent to baptize. John's baptism was an amazing thing, because he did it to Jews and not to Gentiles. What was John's message as he preached? In Matt.3: 2 , it says that his message was simple. It was, "Repent." "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near." Now the word "repent" means to do a U-turn in your mind. You're going in one direction, and you're going to turn around and head in the different direction in your mind. It's a different way of thinking about matters of sin and righteousness, judgement and holiness. You're going to live a different kind of life now as a result of your repentance. It always begins the same way, it begins with sorrow for sin, a brokenness over sin. And it's not just because you got caught, or you're in trouble over it. It's because it offends a holy God. True repentance has this attitude, that I would be sorry about this, even if I never had to suffer any punishment for it just because it displeases God. That's true in genuine repentance, and that's what he preached. He said, "Repent, change your way of thinking, change your way of living."

"What ministry was John given? He was given a simple ministry, the simple tools of the minister of God: To preach and to baptize."

And his motive was clear, because the kingdom of heaven is near. The kingdom of heaven is coming, it's coming soon. Now what is the kingdom of heaven? Some scholars believe that the kingdom of heaven is the organizing theme of the entire gospel of Matthew. We've got the king coming, and his kingdom is the place where he rules. It's the realm where he's obeyed. We pray this in the Lord's prayer, "Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come," here it goes, "Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven." That's the realm of God. It's the advancing place where Jesus is obeyed as king. And he said, "Repent, you can't enter the Kingdom unless you repent, unless you change your mind about sin, and you're willing to obey the voice of God. Repent for the kingdom of heaven is near." And so he got everything ready. And that was his mission, wasn't it? To prepare the way of the Lord. That's what it says right here in verse 3, "A voice of one calling in a desert, 'Prepare the way for the Lord. Makes straight paths for Him.'" But in order to understand what that ministry was, you have to look back in Isaiah 40. 

 Quoting in Isaiah 40:3-5, "A voice of one calling in the desert, 'Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight in the wilderness a highway for our God.' "Every valley shall be raised up, and every mountain and hill shall be made low. The rough ground shall become level and the rugged places a plain. And the glory of the Lord will be revealed, and all mankind together shall see it." That's the full mission of John the Baptist. Now, in order to understand it, you have to understand the way that Isaiah uses language. Isaiah frequently uses physical things like mountains and tall trees, etcetera, to speak of spiritual realities. So, for example, in Isaiah 2, anything that's tall and lofty in that chapter, like a tall ship or a high building or a lofty mountain represents human arrogance and pride against God, as revealed in idolatry, and as revealed in self-sufficiency. That high mountain is like human arrogance and pride. And what is John's mission? To level the mountains. Anybody who comes to God arrogant, self-righteous, self-sufficient, who does not feel that they need any repentance, who feels that they're okay in the presence of God; they are like mountains, tall and lofty, and they must be leveled to prepare the way for the Lord. Well if that's what a mountain is, what is a valley? Spiritually I think it could be somebody so crushed and so broken by sin that they feel there is no forgiveness for them, that it's impossible for them to be accepted by God and they've despaired of life itself. They're trampled by sin, they feel they can never get out of it, they are so low they can't even listen to God speak anymore. And John has to raise those people up to get ready for the way of the Lord. And he does that through his baptism. He said there is forgiveness with God if you'll just repent and come and be baptized; God will cleanse you and He will forgive you. And so he levels the mountains when he speaks to the Pharisees and Sadducees, as we'll all see in a minute. And he raises up those valleys when he takes those humble sinners and says, "There's forgiveness from God." And that's the mission, he came to prepare the way of the Lord. What was his manner? He came to speak in the power and the spirit of Elijah.

In verse four it says that John's clothes were made of camel's hair. And he had a leather belt around his waist. Camel's hair is actually pretty unusual. It's unusual in John's day too. Do you know that there was a certain evil king, around 2 Kings chapter one, who sent some messengers to go make an alliance with another king and along the way they met a man, strange looking man, and this man gave a warning to the king. And so they made a U-turn, and went back to the king and said, "A man met us with a prophecy." And he said, "Who was he? What did he look like? What did the man look like?" And this was the description: "He was a man with a garment of hair and a leather belt around his waist," and the king said, "Ah, that was Elijah the Tishbite." That's what he looked like. Is it an accident that John wore the same kind of clothes? No, of course not. He was there in the spirit and power of Elijah. And Jesus commented on John's clothes, he said, "What did you go out in the desert to see? A man dressed in fine clothes? No, you went out to see a prophet, yes, and I tell you and more than a prophet. You went to see John the Baptist." You see he was a rough man, he wore rough clothes and so also did Elijah. And his food was locusts and wild honey.  It's rough desert food but it's on the list of clean foods in the Old Testament, in the old covenant, you're allowed to eat it, so he ate it. But I think it also parallels the way that Elijah was fed by the ravens in the desert. Now this was the kind of man that John was. He went out in the spirit of Elijah but it wasn't just a matter of his clothes and his food, it was how he carried himself, shall I say, in the pulpit. There was a power to his preaching. There was a power to the way he spoke the word of God.

III. Fearlessly Telling the Truth: A Sample of John’s Preaching

And they came to hear. John was no reed swayed by the wind, moving back and forth with popular opinion — he didn't care, he had a message to preach and he preached it. In this way he was bold and powerful. And the masses went out to see him, verse five, "People went out to him from Jerusalem and all Judea and the whole region of the Jordan confessing their sin. They were baptized by him in the Jordan River." Huge crowds went out to see John and why? Because there'd been a four and half century, I believe, break from prophecy. There would have been no word of prophecy. And now here was a prophet coming from God. And people went out to hear him.

"John was no reed swayed by the wind, moving back and forth with popular opinion — he didn't care, he had a message to preach and he preached it. "

So there are all kinds of different people going to hear John’s message, along with the masses, came some people who did not come to repent, a group of people called the Sadducees and another group of people called the Pharisees. Now in one sense these two groups had very little in common with each other. You see the Sadducees, they were the modern, or the equivalent in modern days, of liberals. They rejected the word of God, they rejected supernatural things, they did not believe in angels, for example. They did not believe in the resurrection of the dead and therefore they didn't believe in judgement. So therefore they lived for today, for this moment. They were pragmatists, good businessmen, they were able to make powerful deals with the Romans for example, and they were in positions of power. They lived through human achievement and an exultation of human will. The Pharisees, on the other hand, were very different in one sense. They did believe in a judgement to come but they went about preparing for it all wrong. They took the law of Moses and they said, "Okay, we've got to figure this thing out, we've got to obey it line by line by line and if we do, we'll be accepted by God." And guess what? They felt that they did. They felt that they succeeded and so in that way they were very much like the Sadducees, relying on human striving and effort to accomplish something in this world. And when John saw them, he began to preach to them. He said, "Welcome, I'm so glad you're here. Why don't you have a nice seat over here, you're our honored guest today." Is that what he said? No. No he didn't. Was John a hateful man do you think? Do you think he was an angry kind of man, maybe uptight or something? No, he was a prophet of God and God had a message for the Pharisees and Sadducees and it began this way, "You brood of vipers. You nest of snakes." John grew up with the snakes, he knew what they looked like. "You nest of snakes, you brood of vipers, who warned you to flee from the coming wrath?" Now that is what we would call in modern language, a wake up call. It's a cold slap in the face and why? Because unless you enter the kingdom of Heaven like a child, you'll never enter it. You've got to have a humbled spirit. We'll get to that in the Sermon on the Mount.: blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of God, every high and lofty mountain must be leveled. And so the Pharisees and Sadducees came self-righteous, self sufficient, satisfied with their lives and they got leveled by John the Baptist. "You brood of vipers, who warned you to flee from the coming wrath?" Now what is the coming wrath?

Well, the coming wrath is a wrath that's not here yet. It's a wrath that's yet to come. It's simple isn't it? Biblical interpretation is simple. The coming wrath is a wrath that's not here yet. It's coming. And it's coming soon. Now you say, "Soon? It's been waiting for 2,000 years." Well they said that right before the flood but it's coming. What is the wrath of God? It's God's righteous anger against sin. He is angry about sin. His anger ripped up the life of Jesus on the cross in your place. God doesn't just dislike sin, he's angry about it. He's a righteous judge and sin makes him angry. And he said, "Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath?" There is a wrath to come and Jesus warned about it a great deal. He spoke about it often. Mathew 10:28 he said, "Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” “Yes, I tell you fear him." And Jesus said this many, many times.

Well there is a solution to the wrath of God. We don't have to suffer the wrath of God. And John begins to get into it at this point. He says, "Produce fruit in keeping with repentance." I've already told you what repentance is. What is fruit in keeping with repentance? It means you've changed your mind about something. God has convicted you of a sin and you've turned your back on it and you're living differently now. It's a change. And John says you have no fruit in keeping with repentance. Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. What kind of fruit are we talking about? Well we're talking about a transformation in the heart first, where you begin to think and feel what God thinks and feels about everything. And it inevitably shows itself in your life, in everyday life. People often ask me, what about habitual sin? What about a sin pattern that you just can't get out of it. I can say this about it, it shows you haven't truly repented. If there's some sin pattern and you're just not out of it, you've not yet repented. When you repent, then the change comes. I'm not saying you can't be a Christian and have these kind of patterns, I'm just saying it just means you have not repented over that sin. And if there's enough of that attitude then I do ask, on what are you basing your confidence?

 "Produce fruit in keeping with repentance," that's what John said. And then he sought to remove a pillar of their trust, to pull out from them something false that they were trusting on. It’s a little bit like a reed that you're leaning on, putting your weight on it and it splinters and pierces your hand because it can't bear your weight. He said, "Do not think you can say to yourselves, we have Abraham as our father. I tell you that out of these stones, God is able to raise up children for Abraham." They said, "We're Jews, we're the chosen people. God loved our father Abraham, and God loves us too. We don't need to deal with this repentance thing or produce fruit, any of that, we are just Abraham's children, we're confident, and we're secure and we don't need any of that." John is saying that you're going to be shocked and stunned on judgement day, when God says to you, ‘Away with you, I never knew you, I never knew you, because you never repented.’ Don't have a false confidence that your ancestors are righteous and therefore you are righteous. And then he intensifies the warning when he says, "The axe is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be chopped down." It's just that simple, judgement is coming. Now Martin Luther, in talking to young preachers, people who were training for the ministry, when they asked him, "What do you think is the most important job of a preacher?" He said, "When you get up to preach to the people, you're trying for this, you're trying to disturb the comfortable, and comfort the disturbed." Do you hear that? Disturb the comfortable and comfort the disturbed. Isn't that John's mission, every high mountain shall be leveled and every valley raised up. It's the same thing. John... Martin Luther just re-arranged it. Well, these people came comfortable, they came at ease, they were confident, they had their badges, we're Sadducees, well we're Pharisees, this kind of thing. And he sought to disturb them, to get them to seek and to question again whether they really were in the family of God.

And so he disturbed them, but then he preached the gospel to them. He got them ready to hear it, when he said, "A judgement is coming and you need to be ready because the tree is getting chopped down, it's going to get thrown into the fire." What is the fire? The fire is hell, the fire is eternal judgement, as will be clear in a moment, there's no question about it, there is a judgement coming and unless you're ready for it, you're going to have to stand under the power of the penalty of sin and that is hell. And so he preached the gospel, saying, "I baptize you with water for repentance." In a way he's minimizing his ministry compared to what's coming. So this is just a symbol, it's a symbol of turning around, and that's what baptism was.

Gentiles, when they were going to become Jews had to undergo baptism. It's not mandated in the law of Moses, it's was just a cleansing ritual where they turn their back on their old way of life. What was John the Baptist saying to Jews, he was saying, "You need to do the same thing." When you get baptized, you have to be cleansed just like a Gentile, you are, in effect, a Gentile. And that's what his baptism meant. You have to be humble in order to enter the kingdom of God. And so he's preaching, saying, ”I baptized you with water for repentance, but after me will come one who's sandals I'm not worthy to carry." Do you see John's humility?

Now a servant serves his master doesn't he? He does his master's beck and call, but he won't touch his master's feet, that's below the level of a servant to do that. John said, "I'm not even at that level, I can't even touch his feet, I can't pick up his sandals, that's how much higher Jesus is to me." Jesus said that John was greater than anyone that had ever lived up to that point. John said, "I can't even touch his feet. That's how great He is, He's the son of God. Do you realize who you're dealing with? He's coming, be ready for him, he will give you the repentance and the fruit that comes. He will baptize you; I’ve baptized you with a water baptism but there are other baptisms that he brings. He brings you the baptism of the Holy Spirit." Now baptism is a total immersion under something, that's what the Greek word means, a total immersion under something. "I baptize you with water, totally immersing you into repentance. He will totally immerse you in the Holy Spirit and the Holy Spirit will flow through you and it will produce in you the fruit in keeping with repentance. He will give you the Holy Spirit. He also has another baptism to offer, the baptism of fire. You choose, baptism of the Holy Spirit, or baptism of fire. You are going to be baptized with one or the other. He brings two baptisms, and he will clear his threshing floor. Everyone will be baptized with one or the other. His winnowing fork is in his hand," I was in on the mission field in Pakistan and I saw a threshing floor. All it was, was just some dirt where all the wheat was, and they clear it out and they pounded it down till it was hard and then the brought the wheat and they started to flail at it and break it apart. And then they took the winnowing fork, and they would pitch it up in the air and the breeze would come and blow the chaff away but the wheat heavier would fall down. You do this enough and you end up with wheat. And what John the Baptist is saying is that Christ is going to come and He's going to clear it all away. And He's going to gather the wheat up into his barn. What is that? Well that's everyone that is broken over sin, that's everyone who cries out to God and says, "Be merciful to me the sinner," and who asks for God's forgiveness through Jesus Christ. You're the wheat, and you'll be gathered up into the barn.

But for anyone who says, "I don't need that, I don't need to hear this message, I don't need to repent, I don't need any of this." Chaff, and the chaff gets burned up with, scripture says, "Unquenchable fire”. Hell is eternal, it's unquenchable, it never ends, and Jesus said in Matthew 25 when he said to the goats, to those on his left, he said, "Depart from me you who are cursed into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels." It's a fire that never ends, it's a fire of God's righteous judgement against sin. And so in a way he's saying, "You choose. He is coming, He is powerful and He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit will produce in you fruit in keeping in with repentance. Or He will baptize you with fire on judgement day, and you must choose."

IV. Modern Application: What Are You Trusting In?

Now, is that "soft tickling of the ear" preaching? Of course not. Is that what the Pharisees and Sadducees needed to hear? Yes it is. Is that what we need to hear today? Yes it is, because hell is still a reality. It's unquenchable fire; it's not been quench, God won't quench it, we can't quench it, it's still there and we are to be afraid of it, and we're to prepare for it, and there's only one way, and that's by standing behind the savior of God who took the wrath of God in our place on the cross, that's it.

Now is there something that we're leaning on that will not bear the weight? I don't know, you have to search your hearts. Do not think you can save yourselves, well we wouldn't say, "We have Abraham as our father”. What would you say? Don't think you can say to yourselves, "My great grandfather did such and such," or, "My grandmother was such and such a person," or, "My father was a pastor or a minister." Don't have a false confidence. Look in yourself, have you repented over sin? Is there fruit in keeping with repentance in your life? Check your fruit and see, are you living a life godly, and obedient to God, are you growing in grace in the knowledge of Jesus Christ? Do you feel His spirit in you? Convicting you of sin and yet assuring you of God's forgiveness in Christ? Produce fruit in keeping with repentance says John the Baptist.

Some of you may be feeling that you've never given your life to Christ, The rest of you will be wrestling with what I've said. I say to you, if you think you don't need to hear this message then I'm worried about you. I need to hear this message, I had John the Baptist preach to me all week long, asking me to produce fruit and keeping with repentance. If you listen to this and you say, "I don't need to hear this, I was baptized 20 years ago, I come to church regularly, I don't need to deal with repentance and I don't need to deal with the mercy of God, I'm set." I worry about you, I'm concerned about you. 

 So whether you come forward or whether you don't, wrestle inwardly and check your fruit and see, but if you know for a fact you've never given your life to Jesus Christ, today is the day of salvation, it's another day, the sun came up today, no guarantee the sun will come up tomorrow, no guarantee for you. Today is the day of salvation, now is the time of repentance. Come to faith in Christ. be Jesus died on the cross for sinners just like you and me, he took the wrath of God and on the third day he was raised again, God showed us that His sacrifice was acceptable. If you put your faith in Him you need never fear the eternal judgement, but if you don't, you do.

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