People get ready



As 2021 dawns there is a sense of expectation. The new year offers a new start. Lay your hopes and fears for 2021 before the Lord.

Bible passage

Matthew 3:1–12

John the Baptist prepares the way

3 In those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the wilderness of Judea and saying, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.’ This is he who was spoken of through the prophet Isaiah:

‘A voice of one calling in the wilderness,
“Prepare the way for the Lord,
    make straight paths for him.”’

John’s clothes were made of camel’s hair, and he had a leather belt round his waist. His food was locusts and wild honey. People went out to him from Jerusalem and all Judea and the whole region of the Jordan. Confessing their sins, they were baptised by him in the River Jordan.

But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to where he was baptising, he said to them: ‘You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not think you can say to yourselves, “We have Abraham as our father.” I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. 10 The axe has been laid to the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.

11 ‘I baptise you with water for repentance. But after me comes one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptise you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 12 His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing-floor, gathering his wheat into the barn and burning up the chaff with unquenchable fire.’

Collecting wheat


John’s audience knew hope and fear. Subject, once again, to a pagan emperor, they had waited 400 years for the prophet promised by Malachi (see Malachi 4:5). They were desperate to hear from God, longing for a new beginning. 

John’s wilderness preaching stirred their hope (v 3), bringing to mind God’s promises to come in power to save his people (v 3; Isaiah 40:3–5; Malachi 3:1). John even dressed like the prophet Elijah (2 Kings 1:8). 

John’s message, however, was sobering: God’s King is coming to judge (vs 10,12; Malachi 3:2–4), so get ready. How do we get ready for our holy God? Quite simply – ‘repent’ (v 2). True repentance starts with the act of acknowledging and confessing our rebellion (v 6) and continues as we redirect our lives towards what matters to God (v 8). John understood that if the people were to be true citizens of heaven’s kingdom, they needed more than good resolutions or even symbolic water baptism (vs 8,11). Truly holy lives are only possible when we are bathed with God’s Holy Spirit. Only one person can do that (see John 14:16,17). Cue Jesus.

Penny Boshoff


Spend time acknowledging and confessing your sin. Ask the Holy Spirit, given to you when you first believed (Ephesians 1:13), to equip you for the year ahead.

Deeper Bible study

Ask for the help of the Spirit to be able to hear the words of Matthew’s Gospel afresh as good news for our broken world.

The opening phrase, ‘In those days …’, is important. What kind of days were these? The answer is found in the previous chapter, where we are told of the earlier actions of political rulers, King Herod and Archelaus, who had ruled with the permission of the Roman Caesars. It is a story of the abuse of power, of repressive violence inflicted on the common people and of the flight of refugees, among them the holy family. Already we discover an analogy with our own world: the good news is announced, not in tranquil, romantic scenes beloved of Christmas-card artists but in a context of suffering, terror and insecurity.

John the Baptist bursts into this disordered world with a message of prophetic power and boldness. He stands between two ages; his appearance and language recall the Hebrew prophets, especially Elijah, and the description of his clothes in verse 4 is almost identical to that found in 2 Kings 1:8. Yet his message looks forward to the arrival of a new age and the appearance of the Messiah. John preaches, not in the urban centre of Jerusalem but in the ‘wilderness’ (v 1), close to the very spot where the ancient tribes of Israel first crossed the River Jordan and entered the Promised Land. Everything about him – his appearance, location and above all his message – was subversive of the world ruled by the powers described in the previous chapter. For that reason he is a man under surveillance by the religious police sent down from the capital.

John made it very clear that his task was to prepare the way for the one ‘whose sandals I am not worthy to carry’ (v 11). Still, we should not underestimate his greatness, since Jesus later paid a moving tribute to his relation, saying he ‘was greater than all the prophets’.  

Take a moment to read Matthew 11:18,19 and reflect on the difference between John the Baptist and Jesus.    

1 Matt 11:1–19

David Smith

Bible in a year

Read the Bible in a year: Genesis 1,2; Matthew 1

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