Sermon: The Kingdom of Heaven Has Come Near

Say these words after me: All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, reproof, correction, and training in righteousness. Again, All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, reproof, correction, and training in righteousness. In this passage, 2 Timothy 3:16, God proclaims that every word of Scripture is breathed of God and all of it is useful. All means all. Not only the clear and easy parts, but the difficult and confusing passages are given to us by God.

One of the ways we recognize the truth of 2 Timothy 3:16 is to let it be our guide when we read Scripture. If God says that every passages teaches us, reproves us, corrects us, and trains us in righteousness, then we should read the Bible expecting each of these things to happen. This morning, we will be practicing our trust in Scripture as God’s word by reading expecting God to do what he promised. We will be listening together to Matthew, chapter 3, with 2 Timothy 3:16 as our guide. If you brought a Bible with you, turn there with me. Matthew 3, beginning in verse 1. If you don’t have a Bible with you, grab one from the pew in front of you and leave it open as we read and study God’s word together. Matthew 3, beginning in verse 1. But before we hear Gods’ word this morning, please take a moment to pray with me.

Father, may your Word be our rule. Your Holy Spirit our teacher, and the glory of Jesus Christ our single concern. Amen.

If you are able, I invite you to stand as we hear God’s word.

Listen closely and listen well, for these are the very words of God.

In those days John the Baptist appeared, preaching in the wilderness of Judea and saying, “Repent for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” This is he who was spoken of through the prophet Isaiah:

‘A voice of one calling in the wilderness,

‘Prepare the way for the Lord,

make straight 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 all the 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: “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 tree and every tree that does not bear good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.”

“I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me comes one who is greater than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and 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.”

Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to be baptized by John. But John tried to deter him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you and do you come to me?”

Jesus replied, “Let it be so now, for it is proper to do this to fulfill all righteousness.” Then John relented.

As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment, heaven was opened and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love, with him I am well pleased.”

This is the Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God. (You may be seated)

TEACHING

Say these words after me: All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, reproof, correction, and training in righteousness.

All Scripture is useful for teaching. What does Matthew 3 teach us?

The King is coming and we must be ready. In those days, John the Baptist appeared, preaching in the wilderness of Judea and saying, “Repent for the kingdom of heaven has come near. In each of the four gospels, John the Baptist’s ministry prepares the way for the ministry of Jesus. John is like a first-century Paul Revere, heading through the countryside shouting, “The Kingdom is coming! The Kingdom is coming!” His voice wakes us from sleep so that we might be ready for the coming of Jesus.

My parents do not host people often, but when they do, it is a fairly big production. Someone coming into our home was a special occasion and an honor, so they spent hours cleaning, straightening, dusting, more cleaning, more dusting, vacuuming the bottom of the dining room chairs, the whole nine yards. Do you know anyone else who does this? Maybe it was because we wanted people to think well of us, but it is also a way of honoring our guests. My parents acted like this when their friends are coming over, but imagine if our congressman was expected to come into our home or a foreign dignitary. The house must be prepared.

John’s message is that the king is coming and we must be ready. Repent for the kingdom of heaven has come near. God is coming and our houses, our lives, our bodies, our hearts, must be made ready. There will be no shoving of dirty clothes under the bed in hopes that no one sees. The coming of God’s kingdom requires us to evaluate our lives and whether we live in love and obedience to God.

John also teaches us that the coming of the kingdom of God brings division. All people are like trees – those whose lives bear good fruit will receive blessing and life, those whose lives bear no fruit or poor fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire. All people are like grain in the field. The good wheat will be gathered into the barn, while the useless chaff is thrown into the fire. Every person will be baptized by the coming of the kingdom of God, either with the sanctifying Holy Spirit or with the fires of judgment. There is no middle ground. Either we experience the coming of God as blessing while on our knees or experience it as burning while we turn our backs. The coming of the Messiah begins a division that will be finalized at his return – a division between the righteous and the unrighteous or, more properly, between the repentant and the unrepentant.

Which means, and this is the last thing John teaches us, that a decision is urgent. John’s message is not ‘repent later’ or ‘repent when you get around to it’ or ‘repent whenever it seems convenient,’ but Repent for the kingdom of heaven has come near. Delay could be disastrous.

REPROOF

Say these words after me: All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, reproof, correction, and training in righteousness. The second useful work of Scripture is that is reproves us. God’s Word can be a bit like a cattle prod, jolting us (even painfully) to keep us from heading in the wrong direction. Matthew 3 does this in one general way and one very specific way.

In the broadest way, the LORD prods us through the word we have been hearing over and over again this morning: Repent. Repent for the kingdom of heaven has come near. Repent is the word for turning around, a change of direction. It is heading one way, then making an abrupt one-eighty and heading in the opposite direction. Interestingly, John doesn’t tell us where we need to turn our lives around. He simply says ‘Repent.’ He assumes we already know where our lives are off-track. He rightly states that every single one of us needs to hear the same message. Repent.

Maybe for you, it is bitterness. You had hopes and dreams for the way things were supposed to work out and it hasn’t been happening and you are filled with bitterness. Repent for the kingdom of heaven has come near.

Maybe for you, it is pride. In your heart, you say with the Pharisee, ‘LORD I thank you that I am not like the rest of those sinners.’ You look down on people who don’t have the virtues or values you hold dear and are suffering. Repent for the kingdom of heaven has come near.

Maybe for you, it is selfishness. You have worked hard for what you have and feel you deserve to treat yourself. ‘Everyone else should learn to take care of themselves, not go after my hard earned money.’ Repent for the kingdom of heaven has come near.

Maybe for you, it is gossip, or envy, or lust, or adultery, or hatred, or indifference, or idolatry, or vanity. Whatever it is, whatever in your heart or in your walk that leads you in disobedience to God. Repent for the kingdom of heave has come near.

This message is for all of us and every day. However, John tells us that the farther we get into the church, the harder it can be, at times, to hear it. People went out to him from Jerusalem and all Judea and all the 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: “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 tree and every tree that does not bear good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.”

The people flocked to hear John. Those who knew how much they had messed up were eager to fall on their knees and repent. They knew that the only way to deal with sin was not to hide it, ignore it, or hope it goes away, but to speak it aloud and acknowledge it before God. They knew that the only way to turn their lives around was to acknowledge how much they had wandered before the very one whose power can change any heart.

But the Pharisees and Sadduccees, the super-serious Christians and the hip and relevant clergy, didn’t get it. John seems to think they only came to watch all these poor souls who didn’t get it and had to come to John and repent. But John reveals that it was they, not the repentant, who truly didn’t get it.

This is where John’s word cut deeply for me. My sinful heart bends in the direction of the Pharisees. I can be rigorous and disciplined, but also impatient and prideful and harsh with others. Ironically, it can be our desire to be holy, to do the will of God, that can blind us to our ever-present neediness of God’s grace. The people who knew they had sinned got what John was about. It was the people who thought they were beyond that, who thought they were righteous and secure and comfortable, that miss out.

We never stop needing repentance. As Martin Luther said, ‘the whole of the Christian life is repentance.’ We are constantly in need of turning from ourselves and our sins to the living God. We must daily die to ourselves and live to God. Repent for the kingdom of heaven has come near.

CORRECTION

Say these words after me: All Scripture is God-breathe and is useful for teaching, reproof, correction, and training in righteousness. God’s Word corrects us. It is like a splint that sets our broken leg in the proper place so that it can heal. God’s promise splints our hearts in place so that they can heal and grow in the ways of God.

After John’s fiery message, Jesus comes. Jesus comes humbly, submitting himself to baptism. John is shocked. Jesus does not need to repent, he is the one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit and with fire. John should be receiving baptism from Jesus, not giving it to him. Yet, Jesus replied, “Let it be so now, for it is proper to do this to fulfill all righteousness.”

Jesus comes, the King has arrived, and demands holiness and perfection. Jesus comes, in all the ways that John promised, winnowing fork in his hand. But Jesus comes not only to demand righteousness, but to give righteousness. Jesus comes and submits to a baptism he does not need, becoming like us, so that he might give us exactly what we need.

John said, I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me comes one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. Without lessening the demand of holy living, Jesus provides us with the only way we can even make a beginning in righteousness. He provides his life and pours out the Holy Spirit on us. It is only by being filled with the Spirit of God that we can turn from disobedience and destruction toward life in God.

The promise of God which sets our hearts toward the LORD is the promise of the Holy Spirit. The holy life is no longer set before us only as a law which condemns, but as a grateful path of joyous obedience. When filled with the Holy Spirit our hearts are made ready for the presence of God by the presence of God himself – God the Holy Spirit.

TRAINING IN RIGHTEOUSNESS

One last time, say these words after me: All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, reproof, correction, and training in righteousness.

Training in Righteousness. When we read Scripture, we should expect to growing in righteousness. Much of how this passage trains us in righteousness will depend on the area of our lives that needs repentance. However, John does tell us how to know when we are growing in faithfulness to God. Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. Genuine repentance, a true turning of our lives over to God, will produce changes in us, however small. Just as we know an apple tree is healthy if it produces good apples, we know we are growing in Christ when our lives begin to look more like Christ. Maybe it is seeing that person who frustrates us and, just for a moment, not feeling anger in our hearts. Maybe it is just once refraining from sharing that juicy piece of gossip, or maybe it is the next time, choosing to help a neighbor instead of walking on by.

Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. My prayer for each of us is that our lives might bear good fruit through the work of the Holy Spirit. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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