Prepare Ye the Way of the Lord
Matthew 3:1-17; Isaiah 40:3
A. The Days of Elijah
1. We sang this song at the beginning of the service today and it is clearly a great song that speaks to the times in which we live.
a) Do you hear those words? Prepare Ye the Way of the Lord
b) Today’s message is about that need which we have to prepare our own hearts for the Lord’s coming so that we can prepare the hearts of others for Jesus’ return!
2. Take your Bible and turn with me to Matthew 3:3
a) Matthew 3:3: “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; make his paths straight.’”
3. We are going to look at as the KJV says, “Prepare ye the way of the Lord.”
I. Was John the Baptist Elijah?
A. The Last Words of the Old Testament – Malachi 4:5-6
1. The very last words of the Old Testament are found in Malachi 4:5-6
a) 5 “Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the LORD comes. 6 And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the land with a decree of utter destruction.
2. For 400 years, people had been waiting for Messiah to come and for Elijah to come and prepare the way for his coming.
a) So when people came to see John the Baptist as he preached in the wilderness they asked him if he was Elijah.
b) John stated very clearly that he was not Elijah returning: John 1:19-23
(1) 19 This is the testimony of John, when the Jews sent to him priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?” 20 And he confessed and did not deny, but confessed, “I am not the Christ.” 21 They asked him, “What then? Are you Elijah?” And he said, “I am not.” “Are you the Prophet?” And he answered, “No.” 22 Then they said to him, “Who are you, so that we may give an answer to those who sent us? What do you say about yourself?” 23 He said, “I am A VOICE OF ONE CRYING IN THE WILDERNESS, ‘MAKE STRAIGHT THE WAY OF THE LORD,’ as Isaiah the prophet said.”
3. John the Baptist confessed that he was NOT the fulfillment of Malachi 4.
a) But he said that his ministry was the fulfillment of a different prophecy found in Isaiah 40:3 – a “voice crying in the wilderness” announcing the Messiah’s first coming.
b) Jewish teaching said that Elijah must return before the Messiah arrives, so everyone was looking for Elijah.
c) But the Jews had overlooked Isaiah 40:3, which foretold another, unnamed forerunner who would come before Messiah.
d) That forerunner was John the Baptist.
e) So John testified that he was not Elijah; he was the unnamed forerunner of Isaiah 40:3.
B. Elijah’s Ministry
1. Elijah the prophet will have a ministry similar to John’s when he returns.
a) Elijah is also announcing the coming of Messiah, but Elijah announces the Lord’s Second Coming and John announced the Lord’s first coming.
b) Malachi 4:5 says “Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the LORD comes.”
c) So Elijah will return before the Tribulation (before the great and awesome “day of the Lord”) and he will announce that the Lord’s Second Coming is near.
d) The Lord’s purpose in bringing Elijah back will be to restore the hearts of Israel, to bring Israel back to true obedience to the word of God.
2. Then, Jesus was asked directly if John was Elijah and in Matthew 11:14 Jesus said this about John the Baptist,
a) 14 “and if you are willing to accept it, he is Elijah who is to come.”
b) Jesus says that for those who were willing to accept what John preached, then John was Elijah.
c) In other words, Jesus says for the one willing to accept Jesus as Messiah, John becomes that person’s “Elijah” in the sense that John was a herald announcing Jesus’ first coming like Elijah announces the Second Coming.
d) Jesus was telling us that you do not have to wait for Elijah in order to have the Messiah!
e) You can accept John’s testimony and then John becomes your “Elijah.”
3. Jesus was confirming that John was a type of Elijah, though not the actual Elijah who is coming.
a) If John were the actual Elijah, then Jesus would not have needed to add the statement, “if you are willing to accept it.”
b) If John were truly Elijah, then Jesus would have said John was Elijah whether someone accepted his message or not.
C. The Coming of the Lord
1. Isaiah 40:3 “A voice cries: “In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD; make straight in the desert a highway for our God.”
a) That’s where Matthew 3:3 comes from.
2. But in Malachi 4:5: “Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the LORD comes.””
3. Both of these passages are talking about the coming of the Lord.
a) Isaiah is talking about the first coming of Messiah.
b) Malachi is talking about the second coming of Messiah.
c) Both times He comes to be Emmanuel, God with Us.
d) Both times He comes as our Savior who was named Jesus because “He shall save his people from their sins” – Jesus, meaning Jehovah is Savior.
II. John the Baptist’s Message
A. Repent – vv. 1-2
1. If we were to go to Luke’s Gospel, in Luke chapter one, we read that the angel came to the priest, Zachariah, while he was serving in the Holy of Holies in the temple.
a) The Angel came to tell Zachariah that in his old age and his wife Elizabeth’s old age, they were going to have a son.
b) This son would be a great preacher and would be preparing the way for the Lord to come.
c) Of course their son was John the Baptist.
d) Matthew 3:1: “In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea,”
2. John the Baptist is the son promised to Zachariah and Elizabeth.
a) John was born six months before Jesus and they are cousins.
b) Mary and Elizabeth are cousins, so John and Jesus are cousins.
c) We know that they grew up in different parts of Israel because in Luke chapter one Mary goes to visit Elizabeth and it was quite a journey for her.
3. Matthew 3:2 “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”
a) “Repent” because you need to repent.
b) The people of that day in Judea and throughout all of Israel needed to repent.
c) They needed to turn away from their sins.
d) They needed to turn to God.
e) And you know what? In 2023 America, people need to repent.
f) Every person needs to turn away from their sins and they need to turn to God.
4. Our national motto is “In God We Trust”
a) It’s a good motto and one we ought to hold to.
b) And we sing that great song, “God Bless America.”
c) But if we really want God to bless America, then we need to honor God.
d) It makes it difficult for God to bless a nation when we do not honor Him, when we reject Him, when we turn away from His Word, and when we knowingly and purposefully violate His Word.
e) So, if we want God’s blessing, we need to do what John the Baptist said. We need to repent. We need to turn back to God.
B. Kingdom of Heaven – v. 2
1. Then in verse 2 John said, “Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”
a) That statement “kingdom of Heaven” is only found in the Gospel of Matthew.
b) There are 66 books of the Bible, and the other 65 books do not have the statement “kingdom of Heaven.”
c) Often you see “kingdom of God” and similar phrases, but you will not see those exact words “kingdom of Heaven” except in the Gospel of Matthew.
d) Matthew wrote his Gospel in particular to the people of Israel to tell them that the Messiah was coming and has come and is going to come again.
e) That’s what the Gospel of Matthew is all about. And there is so much evidence in the Gospel of Matthew that Jesus is indeed the Messiah.
f) John says the kingdom of Heaven is at hand so you need to repent, turn back to God, and get ready because the Lord, the Messiah, the Christ, the Savior is coming.
C. John’s Singleness of Purpose – v. 4
1. Matthew 3:4 “Now John wore a garment of camel’s hair and a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey.”
a) Picture that if you can.
b) John’s clothing was made out of camel hair – thick and coarse and not like most garments.
c) Camel hair clothing, and a great leather belt.
2. But notice something else there, “his food was locusts and wild honey.”
a) I’ve eaten wild honey, but I’ve never eaten locusts.
b) But John did and I think he did it because he was living purely off the land.
c) He was living a life of poverty, not because he had taken a vow of poverty, but he didn’t come to do anything in his life but to prepare the way of the Lord!
d) That is the only thing that mattered to him.
3. Later on, near the time of John’s death, Jesus said that John was the greatest man who ever lived!
a) What made him a great man? Singleness of purpose.
b) He had one purpose, he had one goal in mind, and that was to “Prepare the way of the Lord”
c) What John wanted more than clothes or food or recognition was to get people ready for the coming of the Messiah.
D. Jerusalem – v. 5
1. Matthew 3:5 “Then Jerusalem and all Judea and all the region about the Jordan were going out to him,”
a) All these people came from all the surrounding areas out into the wilderness to hear John preach.
b) Has anything like that happened since then? Yes!
c) In the colonial days of this country, lots of people came to hear a man named George Whitfield preach.
d) George Whitfield was a close associate of John and Charles Wesley and Benjamin Franklin.
(1) He and Benjamin Franklin were close friends!
e) But Whitfield was a powerful preacher and hundreds of thousands of people came just to hear him preach the gospel.
2. John the Baptist was preaching in the wilderness, and huge crowds of people would come out to listen to what he had to say.
a) Why? Because they knew, through Daniel’s prophecy, that it was about time for the Savior to come.
b) They wanted to hear about the Savior who was coming.
c) Some of them even asked him if he was the Savior, and he said that he was not.
d) He said that he was not even worthy of bowing down and loosen his shoes.
E. They Were Baptized – v. 6
1. Matthew 3:5-6 “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.”
a) That is so important!
b) They were baptized as they confessed their sins.
c) That was the requirement for them to be baptized – that they confess their sins.
2. You can go to the Jordan River today and be baptized – but you do not have to confess that you are a sinner!
a) But if you have not been baptized, then you need to confess your sin and be baptized, too!
b) With John, you had to confess your sins before you could be baptized, and they did.
F. Fruit in Keeping with Repentance – vv. 7-9
1. Matthew 3:7-9 “7 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? 8 Bear fruit in keeping with repentance. 9 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.”
2. John was saying “Don’t come to me to be baptized unless you are willing to repent of your sins.”
a) “unless you are willing to repent” – why did John emphasize that?
b) It was because they didn’t think they needed to repent!
c) They thought they were righteous people.
d) They didn’t see any reason to confess their sins.
e) They didn’t think they had any sins and that is like a lot of people today.
3. If you were to go out in our country and talk to a lot of people, they’d say, “I don’t need to hear about all this repent of sin stuff. I’m a good person. I’m probably a better person than you.”
a) If somebody says, “I’m a better person than you,” you know what I don’t do?
b) I don’t argue with them. I don’t try to tell them that I’m better than them because maybe I’m not.
c) I’m standing up here preaching to you not because I am better than you, but because God has called me to do this!
d) I am a sinner saved by grace, and I’m nothing more than that.
e) What John is saying to all of us is that you need to repent of your sins.
G. Baptize by Fire – vv. 10-12
1. Matthew 3:10-11 “10 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. 11 “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.”
a) John’s baptism is a symbol of repentance.
b) “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.
c) John is talking about the one who is coming. And the one who is coming is coming with His baptism of the Holy Spirit and fire.
d) He’s talking about the power of the Holy Spirit, which as we see in Acts 2, comes upon and indwells believers.
2. Matthew 3:12: “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.”
a) John is saying that Jesus will come with his winnowing fork in His hand and clear the threshing floor!
b) He will keep the wheat “but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”
c) With all this story so far, John the Baptist coming in his rough clothes and with his strange diet and preaching in the wilderness with people coming and listening to him, and people getting baptized, and John rebuking the self-righteous.
d) And He talks of the coming of the Messiah, the Savior, and the day of judgment and then what happens?
III. Then Came Jesus! – vv. 13-17
A. Why? – vv. 13-14
1. We’ve been talking all this time to come up to this simple phrase. “Then came Jesus.”
a) Why? Because John had spent his entire life preparing the way for the Lord.
b) Don’t you think that’s what He wants you and me to do, prepare the way for the Lord?
c) Prepare the way for people to come to the Lord.
d) Prepare the way for people to see that He is coming so that they can put their trust and faith in Him and be saved.
e) It’s what John did.
2. Matthew 3:13-14 “13 Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to John, to be baptized by him. 14 John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?”
a) Jesus came to John and said that He wanted to be baptized.
b) John said, “No, I need to be baptized by you!
c) John knows who Jesus is.
B. Why Did Jesus Get Baptized? – vv. 15-16
1. Jesus didn’t get baptized to wash away His sins – He didn’t have any sins.
a) Of all the people in this story, Jesus is the only one who didn’t have any sins.
b) Why did He get baptized?
c) This is towards the end of John the Baptist’s ministry and it is at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry.
d) Why did He come? He came to be the Savior. So, Jesus, at the beginning of His ministry, says this, verse 15:
e) Matthew 3:15 “15 But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.”
f) Then he consented and John baptized Him.
2. Matthew 3:16 “16 And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water”
a) John was baptizing by immersion – taking people, placing them under the water, and bringing them up again.
b) Jesus, at the beginning of His ministry, is showing people what He is going to do.
c) That approximately 3-1/2 years later, He was going to be crucified, die for our sins, be buried, and rise again.
d) That is why Jesus got baptized!
3. Why do people get baptized today?
a) It is the same thing – not to wash away our sins.
b) All the water in the world cannot wash away your sins.
c) Just like the old hymn writer says, “What can wash away my sin? Nothing but the blood of Jesus.”
d) We do not get baptized to wash away our sins, and we don’t get baptized to go to Heaven.
e) We get baptized to show that we identify with Christ in His death, burial, and resurrection.
4. Why did you get baptized?
a) Because you are showing people who see your baptism that you believe Jesus died on the cross for your sins, He was buried and rose again.
b) We die to our old self, we are buried in Christ, and we are raised to walk in newness of life!
C. The Trinity – vv. 16-17
1. Matthew 3:16-17 “16 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; 17 and behold, a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”
a) There is the Trinity!
b) The Son who has been baptized, The Holy Spirit coming down upon Him, and the Father speaking directly out of Heaven.
2. John 6:47 “47 Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes has eternal life.”
a) These are the days of Elijah, Declaring the word of the Lord
And these are the days of Your servant Moses, Righteousness being restored
b) And though these are days of great trial, Of famine and darkness and sword
Still, we are the voice in the desert crying, “Prepare ye the way of the Lord!”
c) Behold, He comes riding on the clouds, Shining like the sun at the trumpet call
Lift your voice, the year of jubilee, And out of Zion’s hill, salvation comes