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? Bear fruit in keeping with repentance. - Matthew 3: 7-8 (ESV)
There were 400 years of silence in the land. That is 400 years where God no longer spoke to the people of Israel. The Old Testament ends with the Book of Malachi. He is the last prophet of God before the New Testament opens with the birth of Christ and the appearance of a new prophet - John the Baptist. This should not have been a surprise to the people of Israel since Malachi actually concludes with this prophecy:
"Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the Lord comes. And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the land with a decree of utter destruction."- Malachi 4: 5-6 (ESV)
The Gospel of Luke teaches us that John the Baptist operates in the spirit and power of Elijah. He is the next prophet that was prophesied 400 years earlier by Malachi. Before God went silent to His chosen people. Yet here John is now, on the scene, and preaching the same message Jesus would come to preach:
In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." - Matthew 3: 1-2 (ESV)
From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." - Matthew 4: 17 (ESV)
Then forerunner and the Master; both preaching the same message. This is the Gospel message beloved. It is not get your best life now. It is not health wealth and prosperity. It is not throw away the laws of God. It is not this esoteric, experiential false holy ghost chasing. It is repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand. It does not need to be sugar coated, dressed up, watered down, made culturally relevant, massaged, manipulated, or altered in any way shape or form. Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand. Was John a flashy prophet like the wannabes we see today dotting the Christian landscape? No. He wore the simplest of garments and ate whatever the land provided for him; even locusts. Because it was not about him. It was always about who he was proclaiming.
Now a discussion arose between some of John's disciples and a Jew over purification. And they came to John and said to him, "Rabbi, he who was with you across the Jordan, to whom you bore witness--look, he is baptizing, and all are going to him." John answered, "A person cannot receive even one thing unless it is given him from heaven.You yourselves bear me witness, that I said, 'I am not the Christ, but I have been sent before him.'The one who has the bride is the bridegroom. The friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom's voice. Therefore this joy of mine is now complete.He must increase, but I must decrease."- John 3: 25-30 (ESV)
Behold young preacher the secret to successful ministry. Behold the check on our prideful flesh that will allow Jesus to be magnified in all you do. He must increase, but I must decrease. It is not about you. It must always be about Him. The reason why there is so much pastor worship is that many pastors refuse to decrease. The reason why so many fall is because they made their ministry to be about themselves. Sure the name of Jesus is thrown around enough to make everything appear pious but whose face graces the covers of their best selling books? Who is being sold to the masses? Who is being marketed? It is not enough to increase Jesus. Without decreasing ourselves we essentially create a competition. There was no competition between John the Baptist and Jesus because John understood that he was not even worthy of tying His sandals. That humble submission is what is missing throughout pulpits today. There is no more reverence for God. There is no more fear of the Lord. The sugar we have laced the Gospel with has sunk us into a spiritual diabetic coma. There is a way out of it. He must increase. We must decrease.
That simple mantra is not meant just for preachers and pastors but all Christians. It is how we keep humble in our own walk. It is how we work out our salvation with fear and trembling. It is how we assure ourselves that God is in control. It is how He is Lord in our life. John the Baptist is preparing the way for Jesus and we need to do the same in our lives. Then along came the Pharisees and Sadducees in our key verses. With them come more rich theology for us to unpack. John sees right through them and cuts them to the quick! Who told you to come and escape the wrath yet to come? You brood of vipers! We all know these words but sometimes forget the caveat. "Bear fruit in keeping with repentance." John is basically saying - we will see how sincere you were. You cannot merely come to get dunked even by John the Baptist himself. The modern day correlation for us is this new Christian paradigm for counting salvation. This altar call theology. Just like John said to the Pharisees to keep fruit in keeping with repentance, we too must say the same thing for the swaths of unconverted people sitting in pews across this country and world who believe they are saved because of a two sentence prayer in a three minute altar call. We will know if there was a true regeneration based upon the fruit you bear in keeping with the repentance you claim!
I will be the first to admit that I was saved through an altar call process. It can work if the actual Gospel is preached. What Gospel? The same that John the Baptist and Jesus preached - repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand. As we have seen the implementation of the purpose driven church movement over the past decade we have seen a concerted effort to move away from things that the unsaved may find uncomfortable because the goal is not longer to save them but rather to ensure they come back the next week to our church. So sin is out the window. Repentance? Forget about that! The gospel becomes this mesh of self help and motivational principles wrapped up in the faux love of God. I say faux because the true love of God sacrificed His only Son for our sins. The true love of God wants everyone to repent:
The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. - 2Peter 3: 9 (ESV)
What is the fruit of repentance then? There should be a change. We should be a new creation in Christ. The old should fall away and the new should be here to stay. We should be about the Father's business. What bothers God should bother us. The Bible teaches us:
Put to death therefore what is earthly in you:sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. On account of these the wrath of God is coming.In these you too once walked, when you were living in them. But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator. - Colossians 3: 5-10 (ESV)
Instead we have churches just as carnal as the world. Singing Miley Cyrus songs instead of worship. Thinking nothing of mangling the Bible for the sake of a feel good message that has zero biblical truth. There are twenty minutes of "worship" that is all about how great we are followed by a "message" about how much God loves us. No talk about sin. No talk about repentance. We are increased, not Jesus. Then we go for an altar call based on "inviting Jesus into our hearts"; another unbiblical concept. As long as we say the magic words, the preacher welcomes us to the family of God! How arrogantly foolish. If you want to understand why so many will stand before Christ on the last day saying Lord Lord, look no further. No one challenged them with the real Gospel. Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand. So instead all we are left with is - go and bear fruit in keeping with the repentance you claim. Chapter three continues with a stark and frank reminder of what is at stake: