Monday, January 26, 2015

Mt 3:7-4:16

In Mt 3:7, John the Baptist tells "many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism" what to do because they are fleeing from the wrath to come, not what to do, because they are not.

This is the great principle of God's way of fruitfulness: first the good root, then the good fruit.   As Jesus says later, "there is no good tree which produces bad fruit, nor, again, a bad tree which produces good fruit " (Lk 6:43; cf. Mt 12:33).

Mt 3:8, similarly, is forward-looking, not backward-looking.  In other words, it's not an accusation, but a direction for them to go.  As was the baptism of John itself.  The baptism of John was not backward-looking, either as accusation or commendation.  The baptism of John was not for the righteous, but for those "as they confessed their sins," including the "brood of vipers" -- many of the Pharisees and Sadducees he saw.

To man, that doesn't sell.  You don't sell many books on diet, if the pictures that go in the books are only of those needing to diet.  But God is not judging ... yet.  In the same breath John categorizes them by their past sins, with "brood of vipers" (3:7), he tells them that God has warned them to flee the wrath to come.  He then, with a rhetorical question, asks them who warned them, and therefore to keep going. As if to say "who warned you?  God?  Tremendous, take heart from that, and bring forth fruit in keeping with it.  Keep going, don't set back."

1 comment:

Larry said...

we can also see that John draws the inference to bring forth fruit in keeping with repentance. You cannot bring forth fruit in keeping with repentance, if there is not yet repentance. The fruit is to be in keeping with what it is the fruit of.

The repentance, this newness of the heart, is to be contrasted with the following thing John says. He says "and do not suppose that you can say to yourselves, 'we have Abraham for our father." Repentance is a newness, not a standing pat. To stand pat on what one thinks they already have is shunned here, in favor of bringing forth something in keeping with a new source, which John tells them to infer from who it is who warned them to flee from the wrath to come.

Speaking of fleeing from the wrath to come, that phrase in itself is support. To flee from "the wrath to come" is to flee from God's wrath, and to flee from it implies having warned by the one who will bring it. So John is giving them support for what he exhorts, in using the phrase "wrath to come." People will flee from present wrath, but it takes God to warn a person about fleeing from something that is future.

Therefore his exhortation, therefore bear fruit, really does mean "therefore," since a certain thing is true ... Since it is true that they have been warned by God to flee from the wrath to come, use that to bring forth fruit in keeping with repentance. Their repentance is going to be what they need to use to bring the fruit forth, not a reliance on what they "have."

John goes on to that next. He mocks people's self-support talk: "do not say to yourselves ..." xyz. Before something new gives us an opportunity to bring forth fruit in keeping with repentance, we tend to say things to ourselves about what we already have. This is what John says to them: "do not suppose that you can say to yourselves, 'We have Abraham for our father'." Does he deny that they have Abraham for their father? No. But, besides directing them to go from their repentance, he a) brings up a new thing for them to consider: his input! ("for I say to you" -- somebody besides themselves, talking to themselves is here....); b) then John brings up something that God is able to do: "from these stones God is able to raise up children to Abraham."

There are many contrasts here, between this idea and their self-talk. First, their self-talk is about their origins. Since God is able to raise up children to Abraham from stones, what would be what the children would be from? Stones! So if you're banking on origin, thinking descendants can be exalted due to their origin, then the ability of God to raise up the same thing as they are, from stones, is proof that descendants cannot exalt themselves due to origin.

Another picture of origin not settling anything is in the next picture "the axe is already laid at the root of the trees." The trees originate from the roots in the ground, but it is the very roots where the axe is ready to cut the trees down in certain cases. What cases? Whenever the tree "does not bear good fruit," it will be "cut down and thrown into the fire."

This axe illustration is to bring in the whole issue of urgency. It's no longer the season for planting, but for harvesting fruit. When John had told them "therefore bear fruit," there is a sense of urgency attached to it, because it's not tree planting time, and not origin-boasting time.

The "in keeping with" is encouraging language, because that fruit he is encouraging them to bear is not something made from old origins, but new, that have already come. They flew! God warned them! That means there is repentance, for them to bear fruit in keeping with. How cruel it would be to be told by John to bear fruit in keeping with repentance, if they had no repentance. But he doesn't do that.


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