In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” For this is he who was spoken of by the prophet Isaiah when he said,
“The voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord; his paths straight. ’”
When John came in the spirit and power of Elijah (Malachi 4:5) to prepare God’s people the Israelites for the first coming of the Messiah, he did not preach about God’s love but rather repentance from sin. Today God’s people have been taught much about God’s love. The message they rarely hear today is repentance. But it is only the message of repentance which will prepare us for the great and terrible day of the Lord.
Now John wore a garment of camel’s hair and a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey. Then Jerusalem and all Judea and all the region about the Jordan were going out to him, and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.
But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father,’ for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham. Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.
To the hypocritical Pharisees and Sadducees John preached the coming wrath of God. He stressed that to prepare for the coming day of wrath God’s people had to produce good fruit in keeping with genuine repentance. Just as the Jews could justify themselves by saying that Abraham was their father, Christians today can justify themselves by saying that they are saved by grace through faith and not by works. But Jesus warned us that if we are truly saved, we will bear good fruit for the kingdom of God. It’s not enough simply to say that one is a Christian and therefore saved by grace. There must be good fruit as evidence of one’s salvation. If a “Christian” does not bear good fruit, he or she is cut down and thrown into the fire.
“I baptize you with water for repentance, but he who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into the barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”
Those who are truly saved—“his wheat”—will be baptized with the Holy Spirit and gathered into his barn. But those who are not saved—“the chaff”—will be burned with unquenchable fire. Those who are saved are like trees which bear good fruit, while those who are not saved are like fruitless chaff.
Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to John, to be baptized by him. John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented. And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; and behold, a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”
Although he was the perfect Son of God who descended from heaven, he humbled himself by having himself baptized by John in order “to fulfill all righteousness.” Of course Jesus was already righteous and did not have sin to be washed away through baptism, but he needed to set an example for us as the Son of Man. By his humbling himself through baptism he showed himself obedient to the Father. (Later he would show himself obedient unto death on the cross.) In response to such obedience the Father glorified him with words spoken audibly from heaven: “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”
When we obey the Father and produce good fruit for Him, He is pleased with us. And there will be a reward for us.