The 2nd Sunday of Advent

Today’s Gospel reading is from Mt 3:1-12 found in section 21,22,23 of the Harmony of the Gospels which we will find jumps from last week’s reading from Jesus’ last week of life on earth backward in time to about 26 AD.  John the Baptist is ministering in an arid region south-east of Jerusalem calling Jerusalem to repentance and her re-commitment to her covenant with God.


Collect:

Merciful God, who sent your messengers the prophets to preach repentance and prepare the way for our salvation: Give us grace to heed their warnings and forsake our sins, that we may greet with joy the coming of Jesus Christ our Redeemer; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Parsing the Collect, by Fr. Rob Eaton, Episcopal Church of the Good Shepherd, Hemet, CA


Section 21 | His Person, Proclamation, and Baptism

Matthew 3:1-6
1 In those days, John the Baptizer1 came, preaching in the wilderness of Judea, saying, 2 “Repent,2 for the Kingdom of Heaven3 is at hand!” 3 For this is he who was spoken of by Isaiah the prophet, saying, “The voice of one crying in the wilderness, make ready4 the way of the Lord. Make his paths straight.”5 4 Now John himself6 wore clothing made of camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist. His food was locusts and wild honey. 5 Then people from Jerusalem, all of Judea, and all the region around the Jordan went out to him.7 6 They were baptized by him in the Jordan, confessing their sins.8
Mark 1:2-6
2 As it is written in the prophets, “Behold, I send my messenger before your face, who will prepare your way before you: 3 the voice of one crying in the wilderness, ‘Make ready the way of the Lord! Make his paths straight!’ ” 4 John came baptizing in the wilderness and preaching the baptism of repentance for forgiveness of sins. 5 All the country of Judea and all those of Jerusalem went out to him. They were baptized by him in the Jordan river, confessing their sins. 6 John was clothed with camel’s hair and a leather belt around his waist. He ate locusts and wild honey.
Luke 3:3-6
3 He came into all the region around the Jordan, preaching the baptism of repentance for remission of sins. 4 As it is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet,

“The voice of one crying in the wilderness, ‘Make ready the way of the Lord. Make his paths straight. 5 Every valley will be filled. Every mountain and hill will be brought low. The crooked will become straight, and the rough ways smooth. 6 All flesh will see God’s salvation.’ ”

Section 22 | His Message to the Pharisees, Sadducees, Crowds, Tax Collectors, and Soldiers

Matthew 3:7-10
7 But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees9 coming for his baptism, he said to them, “You offspring of vipers,10 who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? 8 Therefore produce fruit11 worthy of repentance! 9 Don’t think to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham12 for our father,’ for I tell you that God is able to raise up children to Abraham from these stones. 10 “Even now the ax13 lies at the root of the trees. Therefore every tree that doesn’t produce good fruit is cut down, and cast into the fire.
Luke 3:7-14
7 He said therefore to the multitudes who went out to be baptized by him, “You offspring of vipers, who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? 8 Therefore produce fruits worthy of repentance, and don’t begin to say among yourselves, ‘We have Abraham for our father;’ for I tell you that God is able to raise up children to Abraham from these stones! 9 Even now the ax also lies at the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that doesn’t produce good fruit is cut down, and thrown into the fire.” 10 The multitudes asked him, “What then must we do?” 11 He answered them, “He who has two coats, let him give to him who has none. He who has food, let him do likewise.” 12 Tax collectors also came to be baptized, and they said to him, “Teacher, what must we do?” 13 He said to them, “Collect no more than that which is appointed to you.” 14 Soldiers also asked him, saying, “What about us? What must we do?” He said to them, “Extort from no one by violence, neither accuse anyone wrongfully. Be content with your wages.”

Section 23 | His Description of the Christ

Matthew 3:11-12
11 I indeed baptize you in water for repentance, but he who comes after me is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you in the Holy Spirit.14

12 His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will thoroughly cleanse his threshing floor. He will gather his wheat into the barn, but the chaff he will burn up with unquenchable fire.”15

Mark 1:7-8
7 He preached, saying, “After me comes he who is mightier than I, the thong of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and loosen. 8 I baptized you in water, but he will baptize you in the Holy Spirit.”
Luke 3:15-18
15 As the people were in expectation, and all men reasoned in their hearts concerning John, whether perhaps he was the Christ, 16 John answered them all, “I indeed baptize you with water, but he comes who is mightier than I, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to loosen. He will baptize you in the Holy Spirit and fire, 17 whose fan is in his hand, and he will thoroughly cleanse his threshing floor, and will gather the wheat into his barn; but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.” 18 Then with many other exhortations he preached good news to the people.

Group Dialog:

  1. What was John’s message?
  2. How did John compare himself to the one who would come after him?
  3. When have you heard God calling you to repentance and abiding in him?
  4. What benefits has repentance brought about in your life?
  5. What fallout has happened when you’ve chosen not to repent?
  6. How have you personally been transformed by the Gospel of Jesus?
  7. As the ministry of John the Baptist is focused on repentance, give space at the close of today’s study for a silent confession, and perhaps shared affirmation of faith using the Nicene creed.

Notes:

  1. This is John the Baptist, the one born to Zacharias and Elizabeth (Sections 4, 8a, 8b, 8c)
  2. John called people to repentance – far more than feeling bad about your sin, repentance is an action – which challenges us to re-frame our thinking, change our trajectory and our feelings and the providence thereof.
  3. While some scholars and preachers see a uniqueness to the terms “kingdom of heaven” and the “kingdom of God” (seen more in Mark and Luke), it is also quite possible that Matthew was simply using a term that would appeal to his Jewish audience to whom he was writing. Among those who teach a difference it is that the “kingdom of God” is the now-present spiritual kingdom, while the “kingdom of heaven” refers to the new millennial kingdom – the thousand-year reign of Christ specifically mentioned in Rev 20:1-6.
  4. John was not aiming to create a sense of guilt but urge everyone to be prepared for the coming of the long awaited Messiah. Download “Messianic Prophesies Fulfilled by Christ“. Josephus actually wrote more about John the Baptist.
  5. John is quoting Isa 40:3. Given Jesus’ perfect sacrifice this preparation in our own lives begins by our acceptance of God’s grace and our allegiance to his will – “Thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven.” Any great work of God begins with great preparation.
  6. Those who doubt the authority of Scripture may like to read Josephus who wrote about John the Baptist – see “A Baptism of Purification“. However, we must remember that though a historian, we have no original manuscripts of Josephus’ works so they themselves should be under more scrutiny than the Gospels themselves.
  7. John’s message had a great response rate! People then as now, feel and know the destructive and binding power of their sinfulness, and they wanted to ready themselves for the Messiah, a change of life, a better life – and they committed themselves to take the first step.
  8. Baptism was practiced in Jewish communities not just for ceremonial purposes, but especially for Gentiles who converted to Judaism. Churches today who perform Christian baptism (believer baptism) do so with in keeping with John’s practice, while infant baptism offered by Anglicans and Catholics demonstrates more than repentance, resolve and humility – but also the universal love and grace of God, oneness in Christ, and the identification (sense of self, freedom and power) that the individual will have with Jesus in his death, burial, and resurrection.
  9. This is the first mention of the Pharisees and Sadducees in our chronological study. Within Judaism they hold both religious authority and some degree of political authority. While many scholars consider the teaching of the Sadducees to be more secular it is perhaps easier to understand that they were more concrete and pragmatic, rather than sacramental and supernatural. However both groups taught from the OT Scriptures, the Sadducees focused their teaching on the Pentateuch. In this manner they considered themselves to be the “conservatives” even though the Pharisees had more laws (oral). Both groups began around the time of the destruction of the second temple. This article provides more information about the Scribes, Pharisees, Sanhedrin, and Sadducees.
  10. We see Jesus stating the same about a year and a half from now (see week 52). Perhaps John called them vipers because they seek to trap people, and they teach law, which brings death
  11. Read John 15:1-8; Gal 5:22-23; Eph 5:9; 2 Cor 7:10-11
  12. CR Gal 3:27-29
  13. CR Jn 15:2
  14. John is speaking about the promise that comes at the time of the New Covenant Eze 37:14, which was first fulfilled in Acts 2, and can -and should- be experienced by every believer today.
  15. This winnowing and threshing is not just sanctification (cleansing and devotion) of one self but of God’s people and creation. The Judgment will purify those in Christ, but it also has the power to fulfill the prophetic story of (Isaiah 4:4; Zechariah 13:9; Malachi 3:2; cf. Isaiah 1:25). See Jesus’ Baptism in Section 24.