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“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished.” Matthew 5:17-18
In His day, people were trying to figure Jesus out. False prophets were not uncommon in Israel in the past [Jeremiah 14:14 & 23:16; Lamentations 2:14; Ezekiel 13:9 & 22:28; Hosea 11:6; Matthew 7:15; Acts 5:26-29 & 13:6]. So was this guy from Galilee really a miracle-working prophet of God? Was He possibly even the promised Messiah?
And if Jesus was a prophet or the Messiah, what was God’s directive? Was He instituting a new order through this audacious preacher-prophet-teacher-healer?
Jesus knew their hearts and minds [Matthew 12:25; Luke 5:22, 6:8-10 & 11:17]. He answered their questions before they could ask them out loud. No, God is not changing His plan of redemption. Yes, the Law and the Prophets still matter in the eternal scheme of human history. Yes, I am the fulfillment of everything that you have studied and heard. No, this world will not last forever. No, God isn’t rewriting the game rules. Yes, everything God said would happen will happen.
The Law of Moses was more than just the ten commandments, though they get the most attention. There were people in Israel whose whole life’s work was to study and interpret the law–experts akin to modern day lawyers. But the Law was meant to show people their sinfulness [Romans 7:7-8 & 8:3]–not to redeem them from it. The Prophets also came to make people aware of their sin, yet they too were powerless to save anyone.
Jesus came to complete the work began in the Law and the Prophets. He came to redeem people from their sin. As long as the Creation endures–and it is going to pass away one day [Revelation 21:1]–the Law and the Prophets will still show people their sin and Jesus will still, by God’s grace through our faith, reconcile the repentant to Himself.
It’s interesting to note that Jesus refers to the alphabet in these verses. When He says the least letter, it is the Hebrew yodh or the Greek iota, both literally the smallest letters in their respective alphabets. And the least stroke refers to the horn a little letter flourish, like the bottom curve of a lowercase j. God didn’t change his mind or His plan on even the smallest detail.
As the author of life [Acts 3:15], God never needs to brainstorm, draft or revise. He never needs to eat His words or print a retraction or buy a bottle of whiteout. He doesn’t backspace or delete.
The Word of the Lord stands forever [Isaiah 40:8; Matthew 24:35; 1 Peter 1:25]. Are you standing on that Word?
“I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me will come one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not fit 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 his wheat into the barn and burning up the chaff with unquenchable fire.” Matthew 3:11-12
Why do we get water baptized?
A few verses earlier we learn that people confessed their sin and were baptized in the river [Matthew 3:6]. John tells us here that repentance was his express purpose for baptizing others in water.
Repentance is thinking again. Understanding our words and deeds through the lens of heaven’s eyes and realizing that we have sinned against God–whether by sinning against others or directly affronting Him. But when we repent–rethink our sinful ways–God begins the mental renovation process within us that ultimately transforms our outward life [Romans 12:2].
Nearly 2,000 years later, we still baptize people by water immersion. And it should still follow the repentant heart.
But it’s not enough.
John was only the harbinger of the Messiah, his cousin, Jesus. Only slaves, household servants, untied or carried their master’s sandals. By saying that he is less than a slave in Christ’s household, John is not belittling himself or bemoaning his station. Rather he is acknowledging that God is transcendent and that none of us or our ministries can in anyway compare to the Almighty.
John was confessing Jesus’ divinity.
John’s baptism made people physically wet. It literally washed the dirt from their skin. It stimulated their senses and connected spirituality to the physical. But it didn’t save anyone. It was a temporary, a fleeting momentary decision and public display incapable of truly changing a person. Just a first step in preparing the heart to receive the Word of Truth and the Holy Spirit.
Jesus’ baptism would surpass imagination and understanding [Isaiah 55:8-9; Ephesians 3:20]. The Holy Spirit. God’s own Spirit would not wash over us, but pour through us. Cleansing not our mortal skin but our immortal spirit-man within.
And fire. Which purifies gold, burning away impurities so that they can never return [1 Peter 1:7; Revelation 3:18]. Fire baptism is an irreversible chemical change. The life that comes out of this process can never be the same as it was.
One way or another, everyone is going to face the fire.
For those of us who acknowledge God and take up the cross of Christ in this life, our fire will be temporary and it will transform us into the holy nation that will inherit the kingdom of heaven. But for those who deny God and His Son Jesus Christ with their physical life, their fire will last for eternity [Revelation 20:14-15]. Nothing will stay it. Nothing will quench it. And it will produce nothing of worth in their hereafter.
Water baptism does have value as a physical act of our faith. In fact, Jesus commissioned us to be baptized and baptize others in His name [Matthew 28:19-20]. Have you repented your sin nature, confessing to God? Are you being transformed by the fiery baptism of the Holy Spirit at work in your whole heart?
“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.” Matthew 3:4-6
John was an ordinary guy. He wore commoner’s clothes and ate desert forage–locusts and wild honey. While his father ministered in the temple, and these foods were in keeping with Jewish dietary law, John was introducing baptism in a whole new way.
The Pharisees of his day immersed themselves in water to remove ritual impurity [Matthew 15:2; John 2:6]. The Old Testament did in fact set this precedent, especially for priests [Leviticus 15, 16:4 & 24]. All Jews had to observe these ritual baths to be pure so that they could enter the temple and participate in its services during major festivals [Numbers 9:10; John 11:55; Acts 21:24-27]. But the Pharisees practiced regular immersion out of religiosity–following the rules to look good to men, rather than living from a heart for God.
John took baptism out of the temple. But just like the temple, people came from all over Israel to be ministered to. They came from Jerusalem where the temple was. From Judea, the whole region surrounding the city of Jerusalem and the temple of God. From the whole Jordan river region which extends north to south through the land of Israel.
John took baptism into the Jordan. This was the river that God parted so that the Hebrews could pass through on dry land and enter the Promised Land [Joshua 3-4]. A river analogous to the river of life that flows through the New Jerusalem in heaven [Revelation 22:1-2].
John baptized without priestly garments. But he led people to recognize and confess their sins to God. In effect, John launched the self-as-priest-without-need-of-a-Levitical-mediator ministry, preparing hearts for Jesus’ ministry, and people responded to it in droves!
And John baptized by immersion, which meant that a person’s whole body passed through the water. This is symbolic of the days of Noah. Before the flood, people did not confess their sins to God, many no longer even recognized right from wrong. Everyone just did as they saw fit. The floodwaters purified the world of the sin that had grown so rampant, wiping the proverbial slate clean for righteousness to start again.
Noah’s ark is an archetype for Jesus. By faith, Noah and his family were saved in the ark. By grace, we are saved through faith in Christ. When we confess our sins and are baptized, it should come from a heart to live for God. It should truly represent a change from living however we want to wiping our hearts clean, clothing us with Christ Himself, so that we can start anew and live righteously.
Have you confessed your sins to God? Have you been baptized by immersion in the name of Jesus? Is your faith purifying your heart?
“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 was 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.'” Matthew 3:1-3
As we’ve already mentioned, family trees are incredibly important in understanding scripture. Not just the genealogies, but also knowing who is related to whom and how. The prophets foretold a forerunner that would do as John did [Isaiah 40:3 & Malachi 3:1]. But the gospel of Luke explains the miraculous details surrounding John’s cousinhood to Christ [Luke 1:5-25, 39-45 & 57-80].
Yes, John’s birth was also announced by an angel visiting his father, Zechariah, in the temple. As a sign for the unbelieving Zechariah, he was struck mute until the baby was born, and he obeyed by naming him John.
Surely John was raised on bedtime stories of God’s hand in his very own life from infancy. How he leapt with excitement in his mother, Elizabeth’s womb, in the presence of his savior Jesus who was in his mother Mary’s womb at the same time.
But we don’t know much else about John’s early years. Just that we he grew up began to baptize people in the Jordan river. He proclaimed the need for repentance. Why? Because the kingdom of heaven is near.
Some debate surrounds the phrase, the kingdom of heaven is near. What did John mean by this? Obviously, he lived and preached nearly two thousand years ago and the human race is still here. Not only that, but God did not come down and restore theocracy as the world government system. So why did John proclaim this message? Was he wrong?
Absolutely not. It wasn’t an end time message. He was called.
Called to let people know that heaven was walking among them at that time. That heaven had bent low and touched the earth in the form of his half-cousin Jesus Christ. People then, just as now, needed to get their hearts prepared to receive their savior. In so doing, we become the kingdom of heaven even while we still live here on earth.
The kingdom of heaven is still at hand. It comes to us in God’s Word, through the Holy Spirit and the accepting of Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior. When we prepare our hearts to receive Him, He can come and restore them. He reinstates our heavenly citizenship so that we can live eternally with Him.
Just like John, you and I have also been called to carry this message. Are you? Do you live and speak like the kingdom of God is at your fingertips and in your heart?
“For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 6:23
God is sovereign. Period. There is no other authority in all Creation and no other god who created all that is. Still, people reject His existence. They reject His ordinances. They reject His Word. They reject His Son and His people. They reject His supreme authority and power and dominion in their lives.
But they cannot reject the consequences of their own sin. Everyone will die once and will stand in judgment before God whether they accepted Him or not [Hebrew 9:27]. And everyone will spend eternity somewhere–either in heaven or in hell [Matthew 25:31-46].
Moreover, everyone has the freewill–in this life–to choose their eternal destination, but the offer expires when we do. And refusing to acknowledge God before this world and live according to His Word, does not in anyway nullify the consequence of our rebellion. It’s completely futile.
Even the world considers it foolish to act without considering and heeding the consequences.
Yet many people live as if that might be the case. If I don’t look at God, then He won’t see me. If I imagine this world came from a cosmic burp, then I can live as my own god with a clear conscience and claim ignorance when I meet the real God. If I pursue inner and world peace, then I will be good enough just in case there really is a Big Guy Upstairs to contend with in the hereafter. Or how about, If I can fault God for being unloving and unjust, then He can’t hold it against me when the time comes–that wouldn’t be just!
The problem with each of these viewpoints is that they all put the human in control. We give ourselves the authority to preside over God’s authority, and it will never work. Satan already tried it, and he didn’t gain control or power, he got banished and condemned. Adam and Eve already tried it, on Satan’s say-so, and they got banished and condemned too. But the difference is this, by grace, Adam and Eve and every one of their descendants have the choice to repent of their self-usurped authority and have the opportunity, through faith, to be reinstated into the kingdom of God with full rights of God’s own children.
Is there any authority in your life that you heed more than God? Is there any portion of God’s Sovereignty that you have rejected? Have you assumed God’s throne in your own heart?
“These all were commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised, since God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect.” Hebrews 11:39-40
So many times people demand to know, if Jesus is the only way to heaven then what about everyone who lived before Jesus’ life? Could they be saved? If not, then they conclude that God isn’t just or merciful. If so, then they say there must actually be another way to get saved and, again, God isn’t who He says He is.
I remember wondering about this question a lot in my growing up years, especially as peers and teachers in public school pressed the issue. These same people often see the God of the Old Testament as different than the God of the New Testament–a huge misunderstanding–and they often have not studied either testament for genuine understanding.
But let’s focus on the question at hand rather than the questioners.
The scriptures make plain that whether a person lived before or after Christ’s incarnation–birth, death and resurrection–all receive salvation the same way–by grace through faith [Ephesians 2:8-9]. Remember, from the moment sin conceived God instituted His plan of redemption [Genesis 3:!5]. As A.W. Tozer puts it, those who lived before Christ–by God’s grace and through their faith–looked forward to the redemption to come when God sent His Son. And everyone who has lived after His ascension–by God’s grace and through our faith–looks back at the redeeming work of Christ on the cross.
Both sides of history, everyone who has and everyone who ever will live on the earth has access to God by the same grace. Jesus’ sacrifice covered everyone’s sins for all times [Isaiah 53:5-6; Hebrews 10:10 & 12-14] whether they believed in advance of His time on earth or after the fact.
See, God is not bound by time. He is eternal. Time is not linear to God as it is to us. He knew each of us before time began [Psalm 139:13-16; Romans 8:29; Ephesians 1:4]. He knows every moment. All is as it has already happened, though we are still physically passing through the film strip panes one by one. God didn’t write our script, but He has foreseen the choices of our free will.
In the beginning, His grace made a way for all people in all times to reconcile to Him. And He will still be holding out that grace until the very end of this Creation [Matthew 20:1-16]. But our opportunity to accept His grace expires when we do.
Do you know that the God of the Old and New Testaments are one in the same? Are you intimately familiar with the nature and integrity of His character? What will you do with His grace in your life?
“Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for His compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. I say to myself, ‘The Lord is my portion; therefore I will wait for Him.'” Lamentations 3:22-24
God is merciful–He doesn’t return our sinful rebellion with hostility. Instead, He patiently shows us kindness, lovingly dispenses goodness and faithfully offers grace.
Each day that we have His breath of life in our lungs [Genesis 2:7], the Holy Spirit knocks at our hearts, offering to breathe eternal life into our soul [John 20:22; Revelation 3:20].
Have you ever wondered why we as human beings consider midnight the end of the day? From the Creation, morning culminated the day, not night [Genesis 1:5, 8, 13, 19, 23 & 31].
Darkness is not the end of the story.
Each morning that the sun rises from our darkened world, God’s mercies–His compassions–are right there with it.
After Jesus’ crucifixion, they laid Him in the tomb. Three days later, on the first day of the week, very early in the morning, the women went to the tomb and found it empty [Luke 24:1-3]. Like the sun, our Savior rose with the morning’s light, God’s mercies made new at the close of the heavenly day.
On another occasion after His resurrection, Jesus appeared to His disciples while they were fishing. Prime fishing time is often associated with falling and lifting darkness. At the close of the fishing day, early in the morning, Jesus stood on the shore calling to them [John 21:4]. Though they’d returned to their old way of life, He mercifully multiplied their catch. And though Peter’s courage had failed him at Jesus’ arrest, our Lord mercifully renewed Peter’s calling.
Being made in God’s image, no wonder He commanded us not to let the sun go down on our anger, which gives the devil a foothold [Ephesians 4:26]. It binds up our mercy so that we don’t shine in the darkness. So that the contempt we hold for others through the night holds onto us when the day ends with morning’s light.
One day soon, though, Jesus is coming again to our darkened world [Revelation 22:7 & 12]. He will come as the light of the morning when the sun rises, a morning without clouds [2 Samuel 23:4]. He will rise as the sun of righteousness with healing in its rays [Malachi 4:2]. And we will dwell in the house of the Lord forever, in that restored Eden where darkness will never fall on us again [Psalm 23:6 & 27:4]. Where God Himself will be our light, the bright and Morning Star at the close of the eternal heavenly day [2 Peter 1:19; Revelation 2:28, 22:5 & 16].
Does God’s mercy shine through you? Have you chosen for your story to end in sin and darkness? Or heaven’s merciful morning light?