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Confronting Empty Religion Matt. 3:7-12

June 15, 2014 Series: The Gospel of Matthew

Topic: Sunday AM Passage: Matthew 3:7–3:12

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Happy Fathers Day!!

This is my 6th? time in the pulpit. I've already lost track. Too soon to reflect much. I hope in 5 years we can look back.

Pam said something the other night about being mean in my old age. Not really, we were laughing a bit at how my grandmother used to say, "If I ever get like that, just take me out some where and shoot me", and then she got like that. Really like that. Sure enough, we had to shoot her.

It was a bit of levity, but it still made me think about the balance of severity and winsomeness.

I want so much to have just a little bit of the winsome sweetness that Dennis had. And I know that my teaching has a note of severity. I've been praying about that balance.

Here's the thing though. I think I'm seeing something out in the distance on the horizon as I watch the current events flashing before me on TV and in the news.

Men in black clothing with black flags and white crescents that would murder me if they weren't 180 degrees on the other side of the world. Closer to home we live in a Nation that is literally givng the God of Armies the middle finger. And even closer to home a christian baker in Colorado is facing fines that will put him out of business and a court that is requiring sensitivity training to re-program his brain which is defective since he won't make a cake for a same sex marriage couple.

We're just about 5 years out, the same place the jews were at in germany, 5 years before they broke out all their windows and rounded them up. The intolerance of tolerance. Complete financial collapse may get us first though.

Here's my point, I guess. Maybe not today, or next week, but days are coming that are going to require a severe faith. When the flood comes, I want to be surrounded by swimmers. Survivors.

So somehow, I have to learn to be both. Winsome, and Severe. Like Polycarp of Smyrna.

Matt. 3:7-12 But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers, who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? 8“Therefore bear fruit in keeping with repentance; 9and do not suppose that you can say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham for our father’; for I say to you that from these stones God is able to raise up children to Abraham. 10“The axe is already laid at the root of the trees; therefore every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.
11“As for me, I baptize you with water for repentance, but He who is coming after me is mightier than I, and I am not fit to remove His sandals; He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 12“His winnowing fork is in His hand, and He will thoroughly clear His threshing floor; and He will gather His wheat into the barn, but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.”

Last week we were introduced to John the baptizer and we spent a good time looking at his gospel. Repent for the kingdom of God is at hand.

We said there is tension between 2 opposing kingdoms. 2 opposing authority's to reign. God's authority everywhere in the creation and heavens and Satan's authority here on earth that he holds captive. For now.

The earth and everyone born into it are in rebellion against the God of heaven. Sin seperates us from God. We are dead in our trespasses and sin.

But God has graciously been working out His plan of redemption for His chosen ones. First with patriarchs like Job and Abraham. Noah and Enoch.

Then with a nation, Israel. To Israel would come a king who will depose Satan and retake this earth, this planet, for His father, God. But in the wisdom of God, the way that has to happen is for His Son to suffer for every one of us.

In this story, the conflict between righteousness and evil, really heats up. We have two pictures in front of us that are in incredible conflict with each other. And we're introduced to a theme that we'll see over and over again all the way through Matthew and indeed, all of this book.

Here it is; Satan is intelligent. What he has done is to permeate everything God Almighty has done in this world with false that looks just like the real.

It's maddening. False religion! It looks so much like real religion that we get confused. And what makes it worse is, the people in the false systems, I would say many, or most of them are sweet likeable people, they think they're just fine.

In many ways, the folks in false systems have an outward righteousness that looks to the onlooking world, like it surpasses mine.

Where it's the most dangerous is when the corresponding doctrine in the false systems, even sounds right. Satan plays a game where the words are all the same words we would say, but there's this 'wink' 'wink' weasely thing going on where the connection is still with the false.

It's spooky when all the words of the doctrine are so close to all of our words of doctrine but they add up to less than real spirit indwelt believers in what the blood of Jesus accomplished for us.

OK, so come with me on a flight in the Spirit where God gives us a special pair of glasses and just for this 10 minute trip, with our special glasses on we're going to fly over just about any mega-church 101 place in any big city and with our special glasses on, the real believers are going to be red, and the false believers who think they're just fine, are going to be blue.

Would we be shocked? What's the percentage in our current evangelical mega churches of wheat, and tares. American evangelicalism.

I'm not even talking about the Mormons, or the other split off groups who have doctrine distinct enough that they're not a problem. I'm talking about people just like us.

And that's what Satan does. It's so close, and so confusing that Jesus would tell his disciples to let the wheat and the tares grow together. Let the angels sort it out at the judgement.

Here is the situation in Israel at the front of Jesus public ministry. The religious leaders in Israel, the movers and shakers, the council of 70, the chief priests and the scribes, the Pharisees and the Saducees, who we'll meet today, were at the pinnacle of false religion.

Here's what Jesus would say about the leaders of religion in the land of God's chosen people; "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to make one proselyte, and when he becomes one, you make him twice as fit for hell as you are! Mt 23:15

Jesus would say a lot more than that, but you get the idea. When the religious leaders are making people fit for hell, the Kingdom of Satan is winning.

And John is a bulldog. He's ferocious!

Vs. 7But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism, he said to them.............

Who are the Pharisees, and who are the Saducees. First, note that they hated each other, usually, but now they have a common enemy and they're on the same team.

The Pharisees are the religious experts, conservatives. They have nothing better to do than work endlessly splitting religious hairs defining and performing Moses law. They are the ones that bind heavy burdens twisting the law of God into a works righteousness and bypassing the weightier matters, like love. Of God.

The Saducees are like our modern liberal theologians. They don't believe in the spiritual component any more at all. No resurrection from the dead. Nothing. What they do believe in is getting as rich as possible in this life, because this is all there is, baby. They live within a prescribed set of outwardly religious rules while they gather as much wealth in this world as possible.

The council of 70 elders, the chief priests and scribes, the movers and shakers of religion in Israel, would be made up of men in both of these groups.

Their source of wealth, is the poeple of Israel. They have a grip on everyone else, through their religious system. Satan has a grip on them.

And, so what we have here, is the people in control, checking out a possible challenge from another Kingdom. If too many people cross over, with hearts broken over a real understanding of their sin and offence to God, that becomes a very real challenge to the religious king pins in Israel. They can lose their grip on some of the people. Power is everything!

Note what we said earlier about confusion. Here come the Pharisees and Saducees . . . for John's baptism.

Satan never skids up in the Satanmobile and just opens fire. He's weasely. Here come the kingpins with long faces, joining in with the 'movement'. It looks so good!

We could take a moment here and talk about strategy. Satan isn't stupid. No prophet in Israel for 400 years. A man with the spirit and power of Elijah has captured the fancy of everyone in southern Israel. He's picked up the dialogue exactly where Malachi left off 400 years earlier, and the people are responding!

Look around you. When the Satanmobile with the machine guns won't work, what does Satan do. "If you can't beat 'em ~ join 'em."

Go back and study the church over the last 2000 years. Every time God begins a real work and it glorifies Him, Satan will join the movement, and he's very patient, and eventually the corruption reaches a critical mass, and the movement is dead.

Think about the Wesley's and Methodism. A movement built on a return to Holiness. How God blessed it! We're still singing the hymns today bourn out of that movement.

And today, they're leading the charge to have sodomy recognized as a viable lifestyle alternative. Christian sodomites. How did that happen? "If you can't beat 'em ~ join 'em."

That's just one example, but that's exactly how Satan works, and we get a front row seat to watch him invade the Kingdom of God this morning.

Except, John the baptist is a bull dog. He'll get a clamp on the enemy's throat and he won't quit shaking until his opponent is dead. That's John. I wish I had 1/100th portion of that backbone! I don't. Although, I'm saying these things to you this morning, and I don't hear anybody else talking this way very often.

So, that's our background for the drama that's going to unfold in these verses. A big movement of the Spirit of God amongst His people, and Satan waltzes right down to join in.

7But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism, he said to them, . . . .
By the way. You think John's a bulldog. Wait until they meet Jesus. This is the very same group, to a person, that within a few weeks, Jesus will drive out of the temple with whips.

When John gets done with them they'll hate him, but when they meet Jesus, they're going to forget all about John.

So, John is going to preach a little 3 point sermon to these folks, and I want to read through it as a whole, first, then consider each point. John must have had a pair of those spiritual glasses on because he isn't fooled for a minute.

You think I'm severe? I'm a wet noodle compared to this guy's preaching. I'm a box full of fuzzy bears. Here's John's sermon . . .

“You brood of vipers, who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? 8“Therefore bear fruit in keeping with repentance; 9and do not suppose that you can say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham for our father’; for I say to you that from these stones God is able to raise up children to Abraham. 10“The axe is already laid at the root of the trees; therefore every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.
11“As for me, I baptize you with water for repentance, but He who is coming after me is mightier than I, and I am not fit to remove His sandals; He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 12“His winnowing fork is in His hand, and He will thoroughly clear His threshing floor; and He will gather His wheat into the barn, but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.”

Point 1) “You brood of vipers, who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?

You are serpent offspring. You're going to say your father is Abraham, but your father is the Devil. Wrath is coming for Satan, and it's coming for you.

Jesus will revisit this exact argument in John 8:43, 44 "Why do you not understand what I am saying? It is because you cannot hear My word. 44"You are of your father the devil, and you want to do the desires of your father. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth because there is no truth in him.

In Matthew 12:34 Jesus uses the exact language John uses here. You brood of vipers, how can you who are evil say anything good? For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of. He has the same foundation for his argument as John does in point 2. Good tree = good fruit. Bad tree = bad fruit.

Point 2) “Therefore bear fruit in keeping with repentance; 9and do not suppose that you can say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham for our father’; for I say to you that from these stones God is able to raise up children to Abraham. 10“The axe is already laid at the root of the trees; therefore every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.

Religious show, religiosity, religion devoid of God, family membership, even long history that has God's involvement like Israel's, but now devoid of God, is false religion, and it's worthless.

Another way to say it; religion that does not bear fruit for the Glory of God, is of no value. It is chaff to be burned up.

John says the proof of your religion does not rest in history, or creeds or dogmas or family, or anything else that your faith may rest in.

The Pharisees were all out counting out their mint and cumin. 9 mints for me, one mint for God. Nine cumin for me, 1 cumin for God. Meanwhile they're evicting widows and taking their houses away from them.

Their faith was in the fact that God had made promises to Abraham and they were in fact, his descendents. Kings X on me. I'm a child of Abraham.

And John says; for I say to you that from these stones God is able to raise up children to Abraham. 10“The axe is already laid at the root of the trees; therefore every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire

Let's consider John's argument for a moment in view of what Paul says within just a few dozen years.

Romans 11 picks up exactly where John leaves us in vs. 10 All of it is a fascinating comparison to what John is warning the jews about right here. Except Paul is talking after the fact! It happened just as John said.

John the baptist is not often thought of as a prophet that was stating future events. But the connection here is amazing. I'm struggling for how much to include. I don't want to wear you out. Let me read just a few verses, and I encourage you to read the entire chapter later at home in view of John's prophecy! It's eye opening!

Let me read you John's prophecy again, and then listen to Paul's commentary on it. Amazing!

for I say to you that from these stones God is able to raise up children to Abraham. 10“The axe is already laid at the root of the trees; therefore every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire

Paul says; 17But if some of the branches were broken off, and you, being a wild olive, were grafted in among them and became partaker with them of the rich root of the olive tree, 18do not be arrogant toward the branches; but if you are arrogant, remember that it is not you who supports the root, but the root supports you. 19You will say then, “Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in.” 20Quite right, they were broken off for their unbelief, but you stand by your faith. Do not be conceited, but fear; 21for if God did not spare the natural branches, He will not spare you, either. 22Behold then the kindness and severity of God; to those who fell, severity, but to you, God’s kindness, if you continue in His kindness; otherwise you also will be cut off. 23And they also, if they do not continue in their unbelief, will be grafted in, for God is able to graft them in again. 24For if you were cut off from what is by nature a wild olive tree, and were grafted contrary to nature into a cultivated olive tree, how much more will these who are the natural branches be grafted into their own olive tree?

25For I do not want you, brethren, to be uninformed of this mystery—so that you will not be wise in your own estimation—that a partial hardening has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in;

26and so all Israel will be saved; just as it is written,
“THE DELIVERER WILL COME FROM ZION,
HE WILL REMOVE UNGODLINESS FROM JACOB.”

27“THIS IS MY COVENANT WITH THEM,
WHEN I TAKE AWAY THEIR SINS.”

Again, I encourage you to read all of Romans 11. It's the sad and terrifying story of how God made His own people deaf and dumb because of their unbelief, and poured out His grace on the gentiles instead.

Point 3) “As for me, I baptize you with water for repentance, but He who is coming after me is mightier than I, and I am not fit to remove His sandals; He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 12“His winnowing fork is in His hand, and He will thoroughly clear His threshing floor; and He will gather His wheat into the barn, but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.”

The King is coming in five minutes and He is going to seperate the waste from the fruit. The wheat goes in the barns. The waste gets burned up with unquenchable fire.

That term unquenchable there, lets us know we are talking about ultimate judgement here. God's time is not our time. Compared to eternity, our lives are 5 minutes long.

John says, the King Eternal is coming. The comparison of might is that of creation to Creator.

John was the mightiest man that ever lived up until his time. So mighty that he's literally mowing the most powerful men of Israel down with the words of this short sermon. He made mincemeat out of them. These men are the equivalent of President, Supreme Court, and all the Senators and Congressmen. The political rulers of Israel.

Make no mistake, and John turns them into minced meat. Canned spam. That's John! God annointed him with that kind of Spiritual power. He blows them out like candles on a 9 year olds birthday cake. "Truly I say to you, among those born of women there has not arisen anyone greater than John the Baptist!"

Yet, when the King arrives, John is not worthy to do the lowest task in all of Israel. Even slaves who were Israel born were not required to take their masters sandals off. You had to have foreign slaves to get that low. That base. And yet John says I am not fit to untie the lace on His sandals.

And then he says; As for me, I baptize you with water for repentance,
He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.

What does that mean?

In view of the rest of what John will say, I think we need to visit the apostle Paul again for clarity. Ephesians chapter 4. Paul says; 4There is one body and one Spirit, just as also you were called in one hope of your calling; 5one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6one God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all.

This is an area that can get controversial and I don't want to get bogged down. Paul says there is one baptism. And in Romans 6 he says 3Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death? and in 1st Corinthians he says; 13For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free, and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.

When John says He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit, he's talking about our salvation experience. We are all baptized INTO the body of Christ. We become christians when the Holy Spirit of God quickens us from the dead and makes us alive together WITH Jesus Christ by His indwelling Holy Spirit.

Again, and this is the verse that the Lord used to quicken ME from the dead over 40 years ago, Paul says; However, you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. But if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him. Romans 8:9

So the baptism of the Holy Spirit is not some second blessing you go looking for. It is the point at which the Holy Spirit indwells you, quickens you from the dead, and makes you alive together with Christ.

We become wheat for the Master's barn, right here.

If you have been baptized into the Body of Christ by His Holy Spirit, quickened from the dead, made alive together with Him, by His Spirit, you are wheat!

If you are devoid of the spirit, you are in the same group as the Pharisees and Saducees. Without the Holy Spirit, all we can make is more chaff. More stubble.

Before we go onto vs. 12 in John's sermon, I want to get us re-grounded though. John says; He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.

Do you see anything there that says those of us who have the Holy Spirit will not be subject to the fire part?

No. Neither do I. In fact Peter tells us in 1st Peter 4:17 For it is time for judgment to begin with the household of God; and if it begins with us first, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God?

It's funny how much doctrine both Paul and Peter build from the words of John the baptist. Peter says judgement will begin with the household of God. And Paul agrees!

In 1st Corinthians 3:11-15 Paul talks about our visit with this fire John speaks of. I'll wait for you to turn there. This is so important to us;

11For no man can lay a foundation other than the one which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. 12Now if any man builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, 13each man’s work will become evident; for the day will show it because it is to be revealed with fire, and the fire itself will test the quality of each man’s work. 14If any man’s work which he has built on it remains, he will receive a reward. 15If any man’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire.

This is the baptism with fire. All the junk. All the baggage. All the sin. All the wasted time playing with old cameras and Model A's. All the stuff of this life . . . that isn't fruit for God's glory done through the power and help of His Spirit . . . is wood, hay, and stubble.

The passage in Malachi that introduces us to the "messenger who will clear the way" speaks of this same refining fire. Mal. 3: 2“But who can endure the day of His coming? And who can stand when He appears? For He is like a refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap. 3“He will sit as a smelter and purifier of silver, and He will purify the sons of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, so that they may present to the LORD offerings in righteousness. 4“Then the offering of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasing to the LORD as in the days of old and as in former years.

It's all going to get left on the threshing floor after the wheat is seperated out. Now look at John's final verse in his sermon.

Vs. 12“His winnowing fork is in His hand, and He will thoroughly clear His threshing floor; and He will gather His wheat into the barn, but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.”

How sad for us that we don't make better use of our alotted time. I'm preaching to myself. 40 years went by. BAM! Gone like a firecracker. I can't get it back. And I'm not much the wiser. I'm begging God to grant me 5 years of fruitfulness for His glory before it's over.

Bad as that is, at least I'll be saved, by His grace and mercy.

For the larger part of John's audience, for those who are in Satan's kingdom doing his bidding, there is only unquenchable fire.

What a sermon! What a preacher! I had planned to go to the end of this chapter this week, and we're out of time.

Epilogue

John was a preacher. You can see his doctrine repeated by Jesus and it's all over Pauls and Peter's and John the apostles' letters. James is perhaps the most famous New Testament writer when it comes to defining faith without works. Faith without fruit. And the writer of Hebrews has a clear theme throughout his book of calling people who's faith has stopped short of fruit back. Jude talks of clouds without rain.

We'll see this theme over and over and over. Religious people who do not have a connection to God through re-birth. Tares growing with the wheat. Waiting for the winnowing fork, and the flames.

John was a prophet. He said the axe was at the root of the trees. Ever met a Pharisee? How about a Saducee. They were swept away in the flood of 70AD. Vanished. Cut down.

And he said God could make children of Abraham out of stones. Pinch yourselves. Here we are!