Then went out to him Jerusalem, and all Judaea, and all the region round about Jordan,…
When the Baptist opened his commission the Jewish nation was in a woeful state of degeneracy. In connection with his ministry there was a remarkable revival of religion. This may be viewed as a specimen of revivals of religion in general.
I. IT WAS A SEASON OF FAITHFUL PREACHING.
1. Christ was prominent in the sermon.
(1) "Make ye ready the way of the Lord ] ' was the" cry" of the "voice" in the wilderness. "He that cometh" was the grand theme - the Promise of prophecy, the Hope and Expectation of the world.
(2) The sermon set forth Christ in his dignity. "The Lord," equivalent to "Jehovah" in the Hebrew of Isaiah. If amongst men there had not arisen a greater than the Baptist, then who must that Person be whose shoes John was not worthy to bear? Maimonides says, "All services which a servant does for his master a disciple does for his teacher, excepting unloosing his shoes" (cf. John 8:58).
(3) It set forth Christ in his power. "Mightier than I." "God is able of these stones," etc., viz. as he raised up Adam from the dust. "These stones." "John was now baptizing in Jordan at Bethabara (John 1:28), the House of passage, where the children of Israel passed over; and there were the twelve stones, one for each tribe, which Joshua set up for a memorial (Joshua 4:20). It is not unlikely that he pointed to those stones, which God could make to be, more than in representation, the twelve tribes of Israel" (Henry).
(4) It set forth Christ also in his official distinction. "He shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost, and with fire." John, though a priest, did not presume to wield the fire of the sanctuary. That was a Divine prerogative (cf. Luke 24:49; John 15:26). Apostles presumed not to claim it. Sacraments have no efficacy from those who minister them (cf. 2 Kings 4:31; 1 Corinthians 3:6).
2. It insisted upon essential things.
(1) John preached repentance in order to remission of sins. He insisted that true repentance will have meet fruit. Shakespeare well describes it as
And a clear life ensuing." Those are not true penitents who say they are sorry for sin, and persist in sinning.
(2) John also preached faith in Jesus as the Christ. In the text he spoke of him as coming. Afterwards he pointed him out in Person (John 1:29). That is grand preaching which brings the sinner into personal relationship to his Saviour.
(3) John also preached holiness. His baptism was a ceremonial purification, of which the baptism conferred by Jesus is the spiritual complement. John's baptism was "with water," viz. which washes the surface; Christ's, "with fire," viz. which purges the substance. The regeneration of water is outward and ceremonial, that of the Holy Ghost is inward and spiritual.
3. Its lessons were closely applied.
(1) With encouragement. This was in the forefront. John's ministry was "the beginning of the gospel [or,' good news'] of Jesus Christ, the Son of God" (Mark 1:1).
(2) With entreaty. He besought the people to repent of their sins.
(3) With admonition.
(a) The lineage of goodness is no substitute for repentance. The Talmud says that "Abraham sits next the gates of hell, and does not permit any Israelite, however wicked, to go down there." John preached a different doctrine. Visible Church-membership will not save.
(b) "Think not to say within yourselves," etc. Do not attempt secretly to justify impenitence by things that you have not the courage to announce. Hide no lie that will ruin you.
(c) God is not restricted to any law of succession in his Church. "Of these stones - Gentiles, apparently without any covenant life, in opposition to fruitless trees," he could "raise up children unto Abraham" (cf. Romans 4:16-18; Galatians 3:22-29).
(4) With reproof. The Pharisees and Sadducees, who claimed to be children of Abraham, are described as a brood of vipers - the seed of the old serpent. They are also described as "trees" with leaves (of profession), but without fruit of performance. They are described as the "chaff" - light, hollow, hypocritical, having only the semblance of "wheat."
(5) With warning.
(a) The "axe" of judgment lay at the root of the trees (cf. Isaiah 10:33, 34; Daniel 4:11, 20, 23; Luke 13:7-9).
(b) The "fan" to separate the chaff from the wheat was in Messiah's hand (cf. Psalm 1:4; Daniel 2:35; Matthew 13:30, 49).
(c) The "wrath to come," or predicted destruction of Messiah's enemies (Malachi 4:6), was set before them.
(d) The "unquenchable fire" of hell was shadowed in the horrors of the judgments of God upon the city. Gurnell says, speaking of the lost, "Their torment makes them sin, and their sin feeds their torment, one being fuel for the other."
(e) "He that cometh" and "the wrath to come" are nearly associated (see 1 Thessalonians 1:10). It is evermore "wrath to come."
(f) The danger is imminent. "Even now," etc. Fools only can make a mock of sin.
II. IT WAS A SEASON OF STRONG RELIGIOUS EXCITEMENT.
1. Multitudes were deeply moved. This fact is clearly set forth in the text (see also Luke 3:7).
(1) Here was a great honour put upon John. He was a man of retirement. God often confers the greater honour on those who court it least.
(2) These multitudes were not moved solely by John's eloquence. They were "a people prepared of the Lord" (Luke 1:17). The same Holy Spirit who called and qualified John moved the people to wait upon his ministry.
(3) The prayers of the faithful probably had much to do with it.
(a) Like his prototype Elijah, John himself was a man of prayer. This was the moral of his retirement in the wilderness.
(b) There were also those who "looked for redemption in Jerusalem" - those who, like Anna, "departed not from the temple, worshipping with lastings and supplications night and day" (Luke 2:37, 38).
(c) Who can say to what extent blessings come upon the Church and upon the world in response to the prayers of saints dwelling in obscurity (cf. Ezra 10:1)?
2. Notorious sinners were moved.
(1) Such there would naturally be amongst the multitudes.
(2) "Publicans and harlots" appear to have been baptized by John (see Matthew 21:32). None are too wicked to be saved but those who are too wicked to repent.
3. Unlikely sinners were moved.
(1) Of this number were the Pharisees.
(a) They were orthodox Jews, who believed in Church doctrines and traditions.
(b) They were formalists, strict in life, and who prided themselves upon their righteousness. What need could such persons feel for repentance?
(c) Yet many of them, their righteousness notwithstanding, had the viper's venom in their hearts. Formalism may consist with heart-malice.
(2) Of this number also were the Sadducees. They were the opposite of the Pharisees. They rejected Church traditions. They interpreted the Scriptures in the rationalistic spirit. They denied the immortality of the soul and the existence of the angels. They were materialists and deists. Of what use would repentance be to such?
(3) John was astonished to see these coming. He noticed how they came in company. So he treated them alike. Extremes meet.
4. The results of the movement were various.
(1) Some came under true religious conviction. They confessed their sins, i.e. took them home to themselves. With these there was no attempt to throw the blame, in whole or part, upon either God or man (see 1 John 1:8). Those who thus received the baptism of John were prepared to become disciples of Jesus (John 1:35-37).
(2) Some came 'because their neighbours came. Note here the power of
Men, like sheep, are gregarious. Of these some became true disciples. Others went back when the excitement subsided (cf. Ezekiel 33:31-33; John 5:35). Many come to ordinances the power of which they never feel.
(3) Some came from selfish policy. Forming conceptions of the coming kingdom suited to their gross affections, they thought it might offer them advantages of civil distinction. Upon discovering the spiritual nature of the kingdom, they were offended. Such were the majority of the Pharisees and lawyers (cf. Matthew 21:25; Luke 7:27-30). There are still those who join Churches for worldly ends. - J.A.M.
Parallel VersesKJV: Then went out to him Jerusalem, and all Judaea, and all the region round about Jordan,