The Gospel of Matthew: a commentary & meditation 
 "He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire"

Scripture: Matthew 3:1-12

1 In those days came John the Baptist, preaching in the wilderness of Judea, 2 "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." 3 For this is he who was spoken of by the prophet Isaiah when he said, "The voice of one crying in the wilderness:  Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight." 4 Now John wore a garment of camel's hair, and a leather girdle around his waist; and his food was locusts and wild honey. 5 Then went out to him Jerusalem and all Judea and all the region about the Jordan, 6 and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. 7 But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sad'ducees coming for baptism, he said to them, "You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? 8 Bear fruit that befits repentance, 9 and do not presume to say to yourselves, `We have Abraham as our father'; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. 10 Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.  11 "I baptize you with water for repentance, but he who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry; he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. 12 His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into the granary, but the chaff he will burn  with unquenchable fire."
Meditation:  When the Lord comes "he baptizes with the Holy Spirit and with fire."  Do you want to be on fire for God and for the return of the Lord Jesus when he comes in his glory?  Fire in biblical times was associated with God and with his action in the world and in the lives of his people.  God sometimes manifested his presence by use of fire, such as the burning bush which was not consumed when God spoke to Moses (Exodus 3:2).  The image of fire was also used to symbolize God's glory (Ezekiel 1:4, 13), his protective presence (2 Kings 6:17), his holiness (Deut. 4:24), righteous judgment (Zechariah 13:9), and his wrath against sin (Isaiah 66:15-16).  It is also used of the Holy Spirit (Matt. 3:11 and Acts 2:3).  God's fire both purifies and cleanses, and it inspires a reverent fear of God and of his word in us.

John the Baptist's life was fueled by one burning passion -- to point others to Jesus Christ and to the coming of his kingdom.  Who is John the Baptist and what is the significance of his message for our lives?  Scripture tells us that John was filled with the Holy Spirit even from his mother's womb (Luke 1:15, 41) by Christ himself, whom Mary had just conceived by the Holy Spirit.  When Mary visited her cousin Elizabeth John lept in her womb as they were filled with the Holy Spirit (Luke 1:41). The fire of the Spirit dwelt in John and made him the forerunner of the coming Messiah.  John was led by the Spirit into the wilderness prior to his ministry where he was tested and grew in the word of God.  John's clothing was reminiscent of the prophet Elijah (see Kings 1:8).  John broke the prophetic silence of the previous centuries when he began to speak the word of God to the people of Israel.  His message was similar to the message of the Old Testament prophets who chided the people of God for their unfaithfuless and who tried to awaken true repentance in them.  Among a people unconcerned with the things of God, it was his work to awaken their interest, unsettle them from their complacency, and arouse in them enough good will to recognize and receive Christ when he came. Are you eager to hear God's word and to be changed by it through the power of the Holy Spirit?

John the Baptist was more than a prophet (Luke 7:26).  John was the voice of the Consoler who is coming (John 1:23; Isaiah 40:1-3).  He completed the cycle of prophets begun by Elijah (Matt. 11:13-14).  What the prophets had carefully searched for and angels longed to see, now came to completion as John made the way ready for the coming of the Messiah, God's Annointed Son, the Lord Jesus Christ.  With John the Baptist, the Holy Spirit begins the restoration to the human race of the "divine likeness", prefiguring what would be achieved with and in the Lord Jesus.  John's baptism was for repentance -- turning away from sin and taking on a new way of life according to God's word.  Our baptism in Jesus Christ by water and the Spirit results in a new birth and entry into God's kingdom as his beloved sons and daughters (John 3:5).  Jesus is ready to give us the fire of his Spirit that we may radiate the joy and truth of the gospel to a world in desparate need of God's light and truth.  His word has power to change and transform our lives that we may be lights pointing others to Christ.  Like John the Baptist, we too are called to give testimony to the light and truth of Jesus Christ. Do you point others to Christ in the way you live, work, and speak?

"Lord, let your light burn brightly in my heart that I may know the joy and freedom of your kingdom. Fill me with your Holy Spirit and empower me to witness the truth of your gospel and to point others to Jesus Christ."


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(c) 2002 Don Schwager