I. The parallel texts are found at Mk. 1:2-8; Lk. 3:3-17; Jn. 1:19-27. Also, Is. 40 ought be read in its entirety. It prophesies the Baptist. Later prophesies of John are found at Malachi 3:1a and 4:5-6. Malachi 3:1b-5 speaks of the Messiah. Lk. 1:5-25 contains the announcement of Gabriel to Zacharias. Vss. 15-17 describe the Baptist's role. After John was born, Zacharias sang of the coming Messiah, Lk. 1:68-75 and then of the role of John in vss. 76-79.
2. The Baptist was a preacher, a herald. He told people what God said. He said: "Repent for the Kingdom of Heaven is here." Jesus said the same thing. See Mt. 4:17. The first of Luther's 95 theses reads: "When our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ said: 'Repent ye' He meant that the whole life of a Christian should be one of repentance." Well said.
3. The description of John in vs. 4 reminds us of the words "not a money-lover" at I Tim. 3:3. Read also I Tim. 6:6-10. John was content with very little. It takes very little in this life for the person who trusts the Lord.
4. Vs. 5 tells us that the people came in droves from everywhere in Palestine to hear John the Baptist. Vs. 6 tells us that they were being baptized as they were confessing their sins. Lk. 3:3 says of John: "He went to all the country around the Jordan (River) preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins." I Jn. 1:9 reads, "If we confess our sins He (God) is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." Confession of sins does not merit forgiveness but it is a necessary prerequisite for forgiveness of sins. An appetite does not feed us but it is a necessary prerequisite for eating.
5. Vss. 7-10 describe the impenitent sinners who came out to the Jordan. The Pharisees were self-righteous and felt that through their own power they could change from evil to good. Therefore, they felt no need for repentance. The Sadducees did not believe in a resurrection of the dead and a judgment. They were known for their moral looseness. They, too, felt no need for repentance. John calls both of them "children of snakes." They were poisoned with sin and impenitence. They did not bring forth the fruits which Christian faith produces. Faith without works is dead. John said to them "Don't say 'We have Abraham as father.'" Read John 8:37-59. They thought that descent from Abraham was sufficient. But Jesus told them that not Abraham, but the devil, was their father. Abraham, of course, is the father of believers. See Rom. 4:11.12. But Abraham is not the father of impenitent Jews although they claim him as father. God can raise children to Abraham from stones. He can cause life where there is none. But these impenitent people cannot produce life. John says that the axe is already at the root of the tree. These dead trees, these dead people, are about to be cut off. Every dead, fruitless, person is about to be cut off and thrown into hell-fire.
6. In vs. 11 John is distinguishing between himself and Jesus. He is not distinguishing between two baptisms. Eph. 4:5 reads "One Lord, one faith, one baptism." In the Nicene Creed we confess: "I acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins." At Jn. 1:31 John says that Jesus appeared to Israel because John came baptizing with water. Jesus came to people through John's baptism. It forgave sins. But John baptized Jews only. At Jn. 3:25-30 when John's disciples complained that Jesus' disciples baptized more than did John's disciples, John said: "He must increase but I must decrease." He was only Jesus' forerunner. At Jn. 4:1-3 Jesus left Judea because His disciples were baptizing more people than were John's disciples. Jesus did not want people to consider, His baptism more valid than John's. The command at Mt. 28:19 is for all nations, Jews and Gentiles. Acts 19:5 does not say that people were baptized a second time. Read the whole passage. It is plain that their first baptism was not a valid one. Paul explained that John's baptism was a repentance baptism in the name of Jesus Christ.
THEME: How The Baptist Worked In Israel
The Baptist is a model for us. He needed little so far as clothing, shelter and food is concerned. He was a voice in the wilderness. So are we. He preached only what God says. So should we. He baptized for the forgiveness of sins. So should we. He forgave repentant sinners and refused to forgive impenitent sinners. So should we.
I. HOW HE DEALT WITH THE REPENTANT IN ISRAEL
A. Vss. 5-6 describe these people for us. It says "They were being baptized, confessing their sins." John said at Jn. 1:31: "In order that Jesus might be shown to Israel, for this reason I came baptizing with water." The water baptism of the Baptist revealed Jesus to Israel. Paul said at Acts 19:4: "John baptized a repentance baptism telling the people to believe in the One Who was to come, namely, Jesus." I Jn. 1:9 reads "If we confess our sins, God is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." How does God love the world? By offering forgiveness of sins. He offers it free of charge, without works, without merits and worthiness.
B. It is the same with us today. We baptize our babies. We baptize adults after they are given instruction. Every Sunday we forgive people their sins in the absolution. The forgiveness of sins is the life-blood of the church.
II. HOW HE DEALT WITH THE IMPENITENT IN ISRAEL
John evidently refused to baptize the impenitent Israelites who plainly came only to make themselves look good. They were hypocrites.
A. How John describes them. He calls them "children of snakes." They were full of the poison of impenitence, of self- righteousness, of moral laxness. There could be no faith in their hearts. He asked them: "Who showed you to escape from the wrath to come?" No one had told them about the judgment which was to go against them because of their unforgiven sin and fruitless life. He tells them that they should make fruit in keeping with repentance. When people repent and believe they become fruitful as Jesus says in Jn. 15. They are branches on Jesus, the Vine. But these Pharisees and Sadducees bear no fruits in keeping with repentance. Furthermore John tells them to quit calling Abraham their Father. Read John 8:30-59. The Jews refused to acknowledge Jesus as the Son of God. The Jews said: "Abraham is our father. That is enough." Jesus answers: "If you were Abraham's sons, you would do the deeds of Abraham." Abraham believed in Jesus. They did not. Jesus tells them that the devil is their father. They tried to kill Him. John tells the Pharisees and Sadducees that God can raise up children from stones if He wants to. These people are as dead as stones. Only God can convert and save them. But they refused.
B. John warns them of what is to come. John says: "Already the. axe is laid at the root of the tree. Therefore, every tree which does not produce good fruit is cut off and thrown into the fire." In the final judgment the fruitless among men will be thrown into hell. Read Mt. 25:41-46. Those who did not produce good works will go away into everlasting punishment. Fruits do not produce a tree but a good tree produces fruits. Works do not save a man but a believing man produces good works. Luther said: "Faith alone saves but faith is never alone." At Gal. 5:6 Paul says that what counts is faith which is active in love. The Bible says many times that we are saved alone by God's grace through faith but such a faith is productive in doing good works.
John gives all glory to Jesus in vs. 11. He says that Jesus will baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire. Baptism, for Jesus' sake, gives us the Holy Spirit Who cleanses our heart from sin.