In this passage, John the Baptist enters the scene as the forerunner of Jesus. The very first thing he says sets up a big theme in Matthew’s gospel – the kingdom of heaven is at hand. The kingdom literally means the rule and reign of God and John was announcing that the kingdom is here now with the coming of Jesus.
The Kingdom Requires Repentance (v.1-6) – John’s announcement of the kingdom was framed in a call for people to repent (exactly the same as how Jesus announced the kingdom in Matt 4:17). The idea of repentance literally means a change of direction. Jesus bringing God’s rule and reign into the world demands that we turn from whatever other rule we had been living for and realign our lives to follow Christ and live under his authority. The kingdom is not just an add-on to life but it revolutionises everything.
Kingdom Repentance Bears Fruit (v.7-10) – John was a fiery preacher and when he saw Pharisees and Sadducees turn up to be baptised he had strong words for them. Repentance is not about words alone or simply a decision in the mid but it is shown in living a kingdom lifestyle. Throughout Matthew, we see Jesus highlight some of the issues that John is referring to (chapter 23 is full of this). Living under the authority of the kingdom means bearing godly fruit in our lives.
Kingdom Living Is In the Power of The Spirit (v.11-12) – John’s whole message was about Jesus. The kingdom is not some abstract concept but is tied up in the coming of the king. Where John would baptise with water, Jesus would baptise with the Holy Spirit. By pouring out his Spirit on his people, Jesus enabled us to live with the presence of God dwelling within us and gave us the power to live out our new kingdom lives.
- A Call to Repent – John’s simple message was that because the kingdom was at hand people should repent. This call still applies today. Living for the kingdom of heaven means putting it as the central priority in our lives over whatever else we have been living for.
- Baptism – The response of those who heeded John’s call was to get baptised as a symbol of their repentance. You could invite those who have repented of their sin but have not been baptised to do so.
- Pray to Be Filled With the Spirit – The promise that Jesus baptises with the Holy Spirit still applies today. You could offer prayer for those who want to be filled with the Holy Spirit (whether for the first time or the thousandth!).