40 Miles/7 Stairs
Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Matt. 3:12b Holman But the chaff He will burn up with fire that never
A threshing floor was a cleaned off space of rock or hard dirt, preferably on a hill, where it could be exposed to as much wind as possible. Threshing, done by an animal pulling a heavy sled, pulverized a wheat stalk into pieces that were lifted from the threshing floor with a winnowing shovel and tossed into the air. Hulls, husks, straw, and chaff, being light, would blow away. The valuable kernel, which was heavier, fell to the ground.
Wheat, which John mentioned first in verse 12, was valuable because it achieved the farmer’s purpose. It produced food. We Christ-followers are our best when we produce the kind of fruit God meant for us to yield.
In contrast to wheat, chaff could be used only as kindling for flames. Notice how the symbol behind the word “fire” changed. In verse 11, fire symbolized God refining from sin. In verse 12 the same fire is destroying sin. God’s fire either burns sin away from us, or burns us with the sin.
Universalists hate this doctrine that God separates between the lost and the found. They would love to wring the winnowing fork out of Jesus’ hands, but cannot. He continues to use a winnowing shovel, separating good from evil. He has the ability and authority to distinguish, and does so.
Matt. 3:13 Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan, to be
baptized by him.
At a time when John’s popularity was peaking at a fevered pitch, in about 26 A.D., Jesus made His public appearance by walking over 40 miles to be baptized. It makes the seven steps into our baptistery seem measly.
Jesus willingly left obscurity behind when sins were being exposed and renounced. God’s people were genuinely repenting, taking sin seriously.
They were for the first time in centuries realizing their true sinfulness and their absolute need to trust in God. It was a time of spiritual revival. The voice had cried in the wilderness; the way had been prepared; paths had been straightened. Something afresh was astir. Jesus knew this was His moment. The Kingdom was being constituted. The King needed to come, to identify with the most significant movement of God in generations. Jesus chose to step on the public stage during a season of revival among His own people.
The desperate need of our churches today is repentance. Maybe our frustration over losing our culture to ungodly forces is blinding us to our own failures. I do not trivialize the unprecedented level of sin that is being let loose in our land; sin is multiplying. I just think we need to pause long enough to consider the possibility that the main problem in our country may be not the lost, but the found. Pray for God to forgive our sins, and heal our land through us. Let’s quit saying, “Love the sinner, and hate the sin.” We have proved we are better haters than lovers. Maybe we should more often quote our college minister, Daniel Hood, “Love the sinner, and hate my sin.”
Matt. 3:14a But John tried to stop Him,
The two greatest men of all time now stood face to face for one of the greatest moments ever. The number two man had no illlusions of grandeur. Knowing he was outranked, John didn’t dare put his hand on Jesus.
John somehow knew he was looking into the blameless eyes of sinless perfection. He was one of the first to recognize unflawed holiness in Jesus.
Peter showed reluctance when Jesus tried to wash his feet (JN 13:8). The centurion said he was not worthy to have Jesus be under his roof (MT 8:8). The Prodigal Son (LK 15) said he was not worthy. He spoke truth. His father brushed it aside but never said it was not true. “Until a man reaches rock bottom, he has little chance of reaching the Rock of Ages” (Powell).
John felt unworthy to baptize Jesus. He knew he did not deserve this privilege. It was too high an honor. John did not want to be presumptuous.
John jealously guarded Jesus’ honor. Are we jealous for Jesus? Do we want to make Him famous? Are we bothered if He does not receive His due?
John was in awe of Jesus. “Faith is nothing else but a long-continued astonishment, which knows not how to utter itself” (Hacket, in B.I.).
Don’t miss the deja vu here. John’s mother had felt unworthy to be visited by Jesus’ mother (LK 1:43). Now their sons repeated the moment.
Matt. 3:14b . . .saying, “I need to be baptized by You, and yet You
come to me?”
Even John, the great one who was filled with the Holy Spirit from the womb (LK 1:15), knew he was a sinner who needed repentance and more holiness. This realization grows stronger the more we grow like Jesus.
Matt. 3:15a Jesus answered him, “Allow it for now, because this is the
way for us to fulfill all righteousness.
Why did Jesus submit to a baptism of repentance? Incongruity seems to scream at us? Since Jesus had no sins to repent of, why was He baptized?
He explained, “To fulfill all righteousness.” Jesus desired to leave nothing undone, to discharge every duty. Jesus wanted there to be no doubt He had sought perfection before the Father in every detail. What details?
One, Jesus identified Himself with sinners He came to save. Sinners were repenting and being baptized. Jesus wanted them to know He was one with them. Though sinless, He numbered Himself with our fallen race. He committed Himself to our cause. He was willing to take on a servant’s role. Like washing feet, baptism was a strong demonstration of His incarnation.
Two, Jesus identified Himself as needing the baptism of the Holy Spirit. Jesus’ sinless life was possible due to His absolute surrender to the inner working of the Holy Spirit. John talked about the Holy Spirit before the baptism; the Holy Spirit came in the form of a dove after the immersion; the baptism itself was a statement of Jesus’ need for the Holy Spirit baptism.
Three, Jesus identified Himself with John. He was the only one Jesus would let baptize Him. John needed support and encouragement. As Jesus went under the water, He was saying, “I believe in John. Listen to him.”
Jesus numbered Himself with the lowly ragamuffin John the Baptist crowd, rather than with the highfalutin religious leaders. Is anyone in this crowd unwilling to be identified with us, the ridiculed, unpopular crowd?
Loyalty to one another as brothers and sisters in Christ is fast becoming one of the main issues of our day. Which side are you on?
We fight this battle often. When Moses came down from the mountain and saw the golden calf, he demanded, “Who is on the Lord’s side? Let him come to me”, and all the Levites hurried to his side (EX 32:26). Joshua told the leaders of Israel to choose that very day whom they would serve, whether pagan gods or the true God. He laid down the gauntlet, “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord” (JS 24:15). On Mt. Carmel, Elijah divided the crowd. “How long halt ye between two opinions? If YHWH be God, follow Him: but if Baal, then follow him” (1 K 18:21).
Being baptized is another crowd-dividing activity. It entails being identifed with believers. I wish we could put a baptistery on the sidewalk by Battlefield Road so the whole city could watch our baptisms. First Baptist Church New Orleans built a glass baptistery that could be seen from outside the building so that people passing by could see immersions. I once gladly baptized a medical student at his wedding rehearsal because he wanted his friends to know he had committed his life to Christ. We need to be identified with each other more now than at any other time in my ministry.