Matthewby Mike Raiter
It is true that God accepts us as we are, but once we have met Him, we cannot stay the way we are. God has always been in the business of change and renewal.
We now fast-forward 30 years from chapter 2. All four gospels begin their description of Jesus' ministry by introducing John the Baptist (Mark 1:1-8; Luke 3:2-17; John 1:6-8, 15-34). After 400 years of silence, God began speaking through a new prophet who, like the prophets of old, called the people to repentance and promised someone greater to come. John even looked like an Old Testament prophet (2 Kings 1:8; Zechariah 13:4).
The Jews knew that one day their king would come and deliver them, and now John announces, ″He's here!″ Jesus' kingdom, however, is not geographical or political. It is not only spiritual but also dynamic. This King rules in people's hearts. This King changes and renews both His people and His creation. Therefore, the Jews must prepare themselves for Him by radically reforming how they think and behave (vv. 8-10). That is repentance, and it must be genuine. Like the prophets of old, John boldly rebuked any hypocritical Jewish leaders who wanted to be a part of what God was doing, but without heartfelt confession and repentance. Just being Jewish was not enough. This King will separate the genuine from the false, the good from the bad.
John announces two things about this King. First, He is ″more powerful than I″ (v. 11). There was a Rabbinic saying which went, ″You are to do anything your master tells you to do, except untie his sandals.″ Yet, says John, ″this King is so great, even that task would be too exalted for me.″ Secondly, He will baptise with the purifying, refining Spirit (v. 11). John's baptism cleansed the outside, but Jesus' fiery baptism cleanses the heart. What John commands, Jesus accomplishes. Jesus both wills and enables renewal. By His Spirit, Jesus burns away anger, greed, and pride, and brings to birth love, peace, and generosity.
The message is still the same: the King has come. The one way to receive Him is confession and repentance. Then He will turn your life around, so you can be the person God wants you to be.
Why is John so harsh with the Jewish leaders (v. 7)? In what respects are they like the ″shepherds of Israel″ of the past?
Fire both purifies and consumes. How does Jesus' baptism ″with the Holy Spirit and fire″ express both of these features of fire? What comfort is there in these words for us? What warning can we take from them?