Matthew 3:1-12 (ESV)
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.’ ” 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. 5 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. 7 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. 11 “I baptize you with water for repentance, but he who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 12 His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into the barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”
In chapter 3, Matthew transitions to a new character, John the Baptist, the forerunner of Jesus. John was known as “the Baptist” because he preached repentance, and his work included baptizing people in response to his message. In fact, it’s hard to read the words of John without feeling convicted and challenged by his bold preaching. Although common belief locates John in the desert, he preached in more of a harsh wilderness than a true desert. In a true desert, it would have been tough to find water for baptism. John was quite straightforward with the religious Jews to whom he preached. They needed to prepare their hearts for the coming Messiah. He let them know that their behavior needed to align with their beliefs and called them to be publicly immersed in water as a symbol of their desire to turn from living sinfully and selfishly to living obediently before God. In verse 9, he sternly warns the religious leaders not to put their hope in their spiritual ancestry, but rather to repent and do things God’s way. This was a brand new way of thinking. The religious leaders always assumed that their Jewish heritage automatically qualified them for inclusion in God’s kingdom.
Clearly, John taught that God looks at people as individuals. But we can make the same assumption the Jewish leaders did. We can look at the spiritual achievements of our parents, our grandparents, the church we attend, or even our nation, and assume we are good with God as a result. It is critical to remember that in the end each one of us is accountable to God as a unique and responsible soul. Even if we come from a family of dedicated Christians, God does not issue group passes to heaven. Instead, God is going to assess each woman’s personal walk with him. Let us each cautiously consider her own relationship with Jesus. Are we putting our hope in our family heritage, or are we making sure that we, as individuals, are right with Christ? Conversely, if we do not come from Christian homes, let’s be encouraged that we lose no points with God on that basis. Choose to hear the message of John and live not in the past but in the present, careful to do what God is calling you to do this very day.