[Verse-by-Verse Comments, Matthew 3:1-12, continued]
7But when he saw many Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?
(1) The words of Mr. Potter in the Christmas classic--"Oh, confound it, man, are you afraid of success?"--suggest themselves when I read about John's reactions to the Pharisees and Saducees interspersed among the crowds who came to see them. Most preachers would probably lap up the success that John enjoyed. But John wasn't about success; his mission was to prepare a people to welcome the arrival of the long-promised King of kings! He doubted the sincerity of the Pharisees and Saducees.
(2) In calling the Pharisees and Saducees a "brood of vipers," John was clearly suggesting a link between them and the serpent who tempted Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. Luke 3:7 quotes John as calling them, "children of vipers." This is a bit like Jesus' words to his fellow Jews in John 8, where he accuses them of being not children of Abraham, but of the "father of lies," Satan.
(3) Brian Stoffregen points out that there is a debate among scholars over what the motives of the Pharisees and the Saducees were for coming out to the banks of the Jordan where John was doing his ministry. Here's how he explains that debate:
The NIV has "coming to where he was baptizing," using epi in its more common meaning to denote a place "on" or "upon". Thus they came to the place of his baptisms, but not to be baptized. More likely they came for critical observation.Our translation, the New Revised Standard Version translates the passage differently, saying that there were "many Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism."
Carter (Matthew and the Margins) goes a step further and notes that epi can mean "against". Thus the Pharisees and Sadducees are coming against his baptism. Thus Matthew already sets these religious authorities against God's purposes.
Who's right? I don't know. But clearly, John doesn't think that the Saducees and Pharisees (and maybe others) were genuinely repentant, wanting to prepare for the coming of the Messiah.
8Bear fruit worthy of repentance. 9Do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our ancestor’; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. 10Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.
(1) Back to the tree imagery of the Isaiah passage and the verses in that book immediately preceding it. Repentance is more than sorrow for sin and it's meant to be an ongoing feature of our lives, a constant return to God, Who fills us with life that results in God's presence evidenced in our living.
(2) Being a child of Abraham has nothing to do with genetics. It has everything to do with faith. As both Genesis and Romans says of Abraham, "Abraham believed and God reckoned it to him as righteousness."
11I baptize you with water for repentance, but one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.
(1) John draws a distinction between his baptism and the one that Christ will institute. There will be more on this in my sermon, which I hope to publish tomorrow.
12His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and will gather his wheat into the granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”
(1) Jesus is no Mister Rogers in a bathrobe. He will allow those who have walked away from Him to keep walking. But those who are repentant--who turn back to God--will be with Him forever.