John the Baptist is one of my favorite Bible characters. Here was someone who was totally sold out for God and was willing to call it as he saw it. Actually, he was willing to call it as God saw it. Some people try to be diplomatic and not ruffle too many feathers. And as my friend Corey pointed out in his comment to my last post on Matthew, we should never be abrasive simply to be abrasive. Certainly, that is true. What we see in John the Baptist is a godly example of confrontation not just in these verses but elsewhere in Matthew. He stood for what was right without thought or care for his safety or comfort. His stinging rebuke of these religious leaders is an encouraging example of how he stood up for God.
In verse 7, we have seen how John rebuked the Pharisees for their purpose in coming out to his baptism. He asked them who had warned them to “flee from the wrath to come.” In fact, we find as we read the comparison passage in Luke chapter 3 that he said this to those who had come to him to be baptized. What it seems like happened was he addressed everyone the same way. Those who came out to him with a repentant heart responded by confessing their sins publically and specifically before being baptized. However, the Pharisees did not confess their sins because they did not believe they had sins. Their answer to his question would have been “No one warned us to flee”. God did not inspire the gospel writers to reveal the motivation of these men. However, it was not the same as the motivation of the crowd. Their purpose was not to prepare themselves spiritually for the coming of the Messiah. In fact, we know that they were actually enemies of our Lord.
John continued his rebuke of these godless hypocrites by pointing out that they had no proof of spiritual life within them. Oh, they were very religious. Outwardly, they looked righteous. However, inwardly they were spiritually dead. They could and did fool men but they could not fool God. John admonished them to “bear fruits worthy of repentance”. As I mentioned in my exposition of Psalms 1 verse 3, fruit trees bear fruit because they are fruit trees. It is a result of them being fruit trees assuming they have what they need to live (water, sunlight, etc.). They don’t strain or groan. I have never heard a fruit tree even once grunt with effort trying to produce fruit. They produce fruit in season. Also, they don’t get a choice as to what kind of fruit they produce. A green apple tree does not one day wake up and say “You know, I think today I’m going to produce some red apples just to shake things up a bit.” They produce fruit according to the kind of tree they are. Therefore, since these Pharisees were not good trees they did not produce the good fruits that would demonstrate that they had truly repented. The proof, as they say, is in the pudding.
Finally, John rebuked them because of their pride. Ultimately, that is the root cause of all sin. When Satan rebelled against God, he said “I will ascend” and “I will be like the Most High”. Pride leads to spiritual downfall. Why? Because you cannot get help before you acknowledge there is a problem. These men assumed their spiritual condition was righteous and that they were right with God due to their biology. They believed that because they had descended from Abraham that they were spiritually secure. According to John MacArthur in his commentary on Romans, Abraham actually stood at the door to hell to make sure no Jew accidentally went there after death. However, John tells them not to rely on their relation to Abraham because it did them no spiritual good. In fact, he said that God could “raise up children to Abraham from these stones.” Talk about being replaceable. I mean, the thing that they thought made them so special suddenly was exposed by John to be meaningless. Today, we might say they had no job security. When we depend on anything other than the righteousness of Christ to make us right with God and empower us to live the Christian life, we are taking the same prideful attitude as the Pharisees.
As we see John reveal the hypocrisy of these men, we should be encouraged ourselves to stand up for the truth and to faithfully proclaim God’s word. God’s word is the means that we have to rebuke sin and call sinners to repentance. Let us ask God for the boldness to do just that.
Scripture taken from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission.