ďSCARED OF GODíS WRATHĒ
1. Great harm is done to your soul when you ignore what the Bible shows to be true about your sinful nature.
2. One of the great tragedies of this modern era arises from a misconception about the nature of the people we are dealing with.
3. Oh, there are always Christians and Bible teachers who, along with pastors and theologians, declare their fidelity the great doctrines of Godís Word, and voice their convictions about total depravity and the spiritual deadness of the lost.
4. But what difference does it make to have a clearly defined and God-honoring theology if you donít put it into practice? What is the point of saying you believe that sinners are dead in trespasses and sins if you refuse to deal with them as you would deal with those who are dead in trespasses and sins?
5. Again, it is one thing to recite such passages as Jeremiah 17.9, ďThe heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?Ē But it is quite another thing to naively assume that those with desperately wicked and deceitful hearts will tell you the truth when they speak to you.
6. My friends, Godís Word shows that the condition of the lost is desperate. Sin has affected every area of a lost personís mind and personality. It is not possible for the unconverted to see spiritual issues clearly, to react to spiritual crises accordingly, or to respond to the gospel of Jesus Christ savingly.
7. One of the most illuminating passages of Scripture showing us the behavior of sinners, and the way they should be dealt with to bring them to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ, is found in Matthew 3.7, where we are given a birdís eye view of John the Baptist dealing with sinners who have responded to his preaching.
8. Please turn to that verse. When you find Matthew 3.7, stand for the reading of Godís Word.: ďBut when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees come to his baptism, he said unto them, O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come?Ē
9. John the Baptist was the cousin of the Lord Jesus Christ. Their mothers were cousins. John the Baptist was the greatest of all the prophets. And he was filled with the Spirit of God from his motherís womb. His mission? To prepare the way of the Lord.
10. There are many lessons to be learned from the life of John the Baptist; lessons about purpose, lessons about humility, lessons about fearlessness and faith. This morning, wrapped together with the lives of some Pharisees and Sadducees, we will learn from John the Baptistís life some lessons about bringing the lost to Christ.
1A. First, CONSIDER WHAT THE BAPTIST SAW
Keeping in mind that we are examining the observations of a Spirit-filled prophet, the greatest of all the prophets, what John the Baptist saw cannot be contested:
1B. First, he saw the will of God.
1C. Precisely how John the Baptist came to understand the will of God for his life we do not precisely know. How someone can be conceived in sin, as John was, and yet be born Spirit-filled, is a question no one who is not a Calvinist attempts to answer.
2C. Yet John knew that the Old Testament predictions of the Messiahís forerunner not only applied to him, they were fulfilled by him. He knew beyond any shadow of doubt that he was Godís man for the hour, as the Lord Jesus Christ said in Matthew 11.13-15:
13 For all the prophets and the law prophesied until John.
14 And if ye will receive it, this is Elias, which was for to come.
15 He that hath ears to hear, let him hear.
3C. So firm was his conviction, so strong was his faith, so clear was his vision of Godís will for his life. Let me read John 3.25-30 to you so you will see for yourself the Baptistís knowledge of Godís will for his life:
25 Then there arose a question between some of Johnís disciples and the Jews about purifying.
26 And they came unto John, and said unto him, Rabbi, he that was with thee beyond Jordan, to whom thou barest witness, behold, the same baptizeth, and all men come to him.
27 John answered and said, A man can receive nothing, except it be given him from heaven.
28 Ye yourselves bear me witness, that I said, I am not the Christ, but that I am sent before him.
29 He that hath the bride is the bridegroom: but the friend of the bridegroom, which standeth and heareth him, rejoiceth greatly because of the bridegroomís voice: this my joy therefore is fulfilled.
30 He must increase, but I must decrease.
2B. Not only did John the Baptist clearly see the will of God for his life, he also saw the blessings of God on his life.
1C. Keep in mind that John the Baptist was, first and foremost, a preacher. And, boy, did that man preach. He preached Law. He preached gospel. He preached prophesy. He preached repentance. He preached judgment. He preached hellfire. He preached Christ. And he preached the forgiveness of sins.
2C. But keep in mind Johnís understanding of the blessings God poured out on his life. An angel visited his father, predicted his birth, and indicated the name he was to be given. It is likely that the angelís words to his father was the key to John knowing Godís will for his life. Raised by godly parents, the fullness of the Holy Ghost . . . from his motherís womb, John was wonderfully blessed of God.
3C. But significant to us this morning are the blessings he saw resulting from his preaching. Oh, how people responded to that manís fearless and anointed preaching. Look at what Matthew writes in Matthew 3.5-6: ďThen went out to him Jerusalem, and all Judaea, and all the region round about Jordan, And were baptized of him in Jordan, confessing their sins.Ē
4C. Folks, this alludes to thousands walking from all the way from Jerusalem, from surrounding Judea, and from the region around the Jordan River. Walking on unimproved roads and trails through that rocky and mountainous terrain, in the hot desert, was hard. But God was blessing!
5C. What is oftentimes not recognized these days, because it has been so long since people have seen God genuinely move, is that mingled with the blessings of God are other forces at work. They were not only and always genuinely convicted sinners who responded to Johnís preaching.
3B. I mention this because the third thing John the Baptist saw were counterfeits.
1C. Our text begins, ďBut when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees come to his baptism.Ē Please keep in mind that the Pharisees and Sadducees did not come to watch John the Baptist baptize people. Oh, no. The Pharisees and Sadducees came to be baptized by the Baptist.
2C. This is indicated in two ways: First, grammatically. Fritz Rienecker indicates in his ďLinguistic Key To the Greek New TestamentĒ that Matthewís use of the preposition epi indicates purpose. As well, had the Pharisees and Sadducees come as spectators John would not have called them hypocrites. They were hypocrites because they were feigning repentance in order to be baptized. More about this is a moment.
3C. Folks, it was acknowledged by Jonathan Edwards in the First Great Awakening. It was acknowledged by Asahel Nettleton in the Second Great Awakening. We see it in the case of Simon the sorcerer in Acts chapter 8. With genuine conversions come counterfeits.
4C. Why do many preachers these days not acknowledge even the possibility of counterfeit responses to their preaching? Why is it that everyone who comes forward is counted as a conversion? Why is there no suspicion about those who profess Christ without any corresponding change in life?
5C. I suspect that there are three causes: First, ignorance; not being as familiar with scripture as preachers ought to be. Second, pride; thinking themselves somehow better at reaching the lost than John the Baptist. Third, greed; not wanting to chase off an unconverted person who puts money in the offering plate.
6C. John the Baptist was an anointed preacher, filled with the Holy Spirit of God from his motherís womb. Yet he saw counterfeit responses to his preaching. I should expect the same thing, as should every other preacher. Expecting counterfeits, a preacher should develop a strategy for dealing with them.
2A. Next, CONSIDER WHAT THE BAPTIST SAID
ďO generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come?Ē
This is not all he said to the Pharisees and Sadducees, but it is what I want you to focus your attention on.
Keep three things in mind as we consider John the Baptistís comments to those men.
1B. First, his words were inspired words.
Not everything John the Baptist said was inspired. But the words he spoke that were recorded in Scripture, including these words, were inspired. That is, they were words that were breathed out by God. He was a holy man of God who spoke as he was moved by the Holy Ghost. What John said to those men is exactly what God wanted them to hear.
2B. Next, his words were spiritual words.
1C. It is obvious that the words God gave to John the Baptist to utter were spiritual words. But what I more particularly mean is that the words he spoke came from the bosom of a man whose entire life was devoted to Godís glory, spent in Godís service, seeking the conversion of sinners to Godís Son.
2C. Where am I going with this? My friends, we live in a day when everything is evaluated in terms of ďnice.Ē Yet John the Baptist, who was a Spirit-filled man, whose words were spiritual words, did not utter what most people would consider ďniceĒ words to the Pharisees and Sadducees who came to be baptized by him.
3C. What kind of words were they? They were spiritual words that were words of rebuke, that were words of correction, that were words of right doctrine. John the Baptist spoke the truth to those men.
3B. It needs to be recognized that Johnís words to those men were insightful words.
1C. You see, our text provides us with two vital pieces of information about those Pharisees and Sadducees. Oh, we know what Pharisees believed and were like, and we know what Sadducees believed and were like, that they were at opposite ends of the theological spectrum.
2C. But John said to both Pharisees and Sadducees, ďO generation of vipers.Ē The Lord Jesus Christ later called Pharisees and Sadducees the same thing. To what was John, and later the Lord Jesus Christ, alluding? I think he was alluding to the Garden of Eden and the serpent that tempted Eve.
3C. Those two groups were poles apart theologically, but they were really the same inwardly. Bragging about being the offspring of Abraham, they were really spawns of the serpent. One group was conservative, the other what we would these days call liberals. But despite their superficial differences, what they had in common was a spiritual heritage that was first seen in the Garden of Eden, and is directly tied to a fallen and sinful nature that bore greater resemblance to the devil than to Abraham.
4C. Men tend to look on the outward appearances, while God looks on the heart. But a very spiritual man, a Spirit-filled man like John the Baptist, not surprisingly discerned the true nature of those counterfeits who had come to be baptized by him.
5C. You see, though they were lost men, though they were spiritual vipers, spiritual heirs of the devil himself, they really were afraid. They were scared of Godís wrath. Whether from the Law and judgment preaching of John, himself, or from the witness of others, those Pharisees and Sadducees had come to be baptized by John the Baptist in the hopes of escaping Godís wrath. They really were, you see, fleeing from the wrath to come.
6C. So, John the Baptist, who had seen such blessings from God in his life, and who had seen such counterfeits before, spoke very revealing truths to those men. And what he said to them was needful so that others present would not be tricked by their deception into thinking they were genuinely converted. Therefore, it was appropriate for John to clearly identify their spiritual heritage. As well, it was appropriate for John to clarify exactly what they were doing. They were seeking only to escape Hellfire. They had no interest in the forgiveness of their sins. They had no interest in being reconciled to God. They were not genuinely converted.
3A. Finally, WHAT ARE WE TO CONCLUDE?
My friends, from our text, and from Johnís dealings with these individuals, we do not learn anything that is not taught elsewhere in Godís Word. But we do find truths that are illustrated here in such a way that we can better understand them.
1B. First, we see in our text the depraved nature of man illustrated.
1C. The Pharisees and Sadducees were two groups of religious men in their day. One group more conservative, while the other group more liberal. But from each group come individuals who are seeking to be baptized by John the Baptist in the hopes that it will somehow benefit them.
2C. Let us be clear about John the Baptist: He preached the gospel. There was no muddying of the spiritual waters by him, so that there would be confusion about conversion. There is no way a sincerely mistaken man could come to John thinking that baptism would somehow deliver him from his sins and reconcile him to God.
3C. So you see, these are two groups of men who are both acting the same way, thinking that they will somehow benefit from religious behavior that falls short of real conversion. Is that not what we see today? Is that not what happened with Simon the sorcerer? And why do lost people think that making a false profession and getting baptized will do them any good? Theyíre depraved. Theyíre self-deceived. What else should you expect from unsaved people?
2B. Additionally, we see lost men, some who publicly acknowledge the existence of Hell like the Pharisees, and some who would likely secretly deny the existence of Hell like the Sadducees, both seeking salvation from the wrath of God.
1C. Do you see it, folks? Do you see what is in front of your eyes? Many do not. What we have here are two groups of unsaved men, some who testify that they believe the Bible and some who would waffle on the reliability of the Bible. Yet they are both fleeing from the wrath to come . . . while they are still lost and in rebellion toward God.
2C. This establishes that unsaved men will flee danger even if they have no interest in getting saved, even if they have no concern about being reconciled to God, even though they seek no deliverance from their sins.
1. What are the implications to preachers? Preachers need to expect bogus responses to their preaching. Preachers need to quit this nonsense of presuming that everyone who responds to their preaching has an interest in getting saved. Some do and some do not. Thatís the way it was with John the Baptist, and thatís the way it will be with any preacher. To pretend otherwise is dangerous and delusional.
2. Finally, what are the implications to you? From this single verse we see that if you sit under preaching and get scared of going to Hell you are reacting the way those who get converted behave, and also the way those who do not get converted behave.
3. ďPastor, I am scared of going to Hell.Ē That sentiment is shared by those who are sorry for their sins and also those who are not sorry for their sins, by those who end up getting saved as well as those who do not end up getting saved.
4. Fearing the wrath of God, being scared that God will toss you into Hell, is not sufficient to get saved. It was not good enough for the Pharisees and Sadducees, and itís not good enough for you. If you want to be truly born again, if you want to be forgiven of all your sins, if you want to be reconciled to God, then my advice is for you to give thought to fearing the God of wrath more than the wrath of God.
5. You see, the fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom. When you are more scared of the God of wrath than you are scared of the wrath of God you will likely end up getting saved.