If you read verse 6 of chapter 5 in Matthew, you will see a glorious picture of people coming to repentance as a result of the call of the Holy Spirit working through the preaching of John the Baptist. The true repentance of these people was evidenced by the public and specific confession of their sins. However, while their motives were pure, there were people who would come to the Jordan whose motives were not so godly. As we see John’s reaction, we are reminded that religious hypocrites still exist and we must be on guard for them even today.
Matthew records that while John was baptizing the truly repentant, “…he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism…” We should mention something about these two groups. As John MacArthur notes in his study bible “The Pharisees were traditionalists, the Sadducees were liberals. The Pharisees were separatists, the Sadducees were compromising opportunists.” Also, as noted elsewhere in scripture, the Sadducees rejected all scripture other than the 5 books of Moses and totally rejected anything supernatural. Furthermore, they did not believe in the resurrection of the dead. Basically, they lived life for the “now” and were probably what we would think of as theologically liberal. The Pharisees, on the other hand, were conservative to the point of being legalistic. They viewed law and tradition as a means to attain righteousness and strived to live a life separated from sin. However, as we will see over the coming months of studying this wonderful gospel, their blindness to the truth of God’s purpose in the law led them to the greatest sin off all-the rejection of Jesus Christ. Needless to say, it was highly unlikely that these men came to the baptism of John with truly repentant hearts.
John was able to recognize their true motivations. I love John’s address to them here. We have a man in John who was willing to call an ace an ace and a spade a spade. Sometimes, tact and diplomacy is required in dealing with a situation. Dealing with a false teacher or religious leader is not one of those times. John begins his rebuke of them by calling them a “Brood of vipers”. Certainly, this was not the kind of response these men were used to. Because John lived in the wilderness, he was probably used to seeing broods of snakes that lived their in the desert. He knew that, while they may look small and harmless, that they are full of deadly poison. By addressing them as such, John insulted them and rebuked them for their religious hypocrisy. The people respected these leaders and it would probably have been somewhat shocking to hear them rebuked so strongly.
However, John didn’t stop there with his rebuke. The main point of his proclamation was to reveal the hypocritical motivations behind their arrival. He asked them “Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?” The answer, of course, was “No one.” They were not out there because they wanted to prepare themselves for the arrival of the Messiah. To them, it was a show. Perhaps they came because they were curious. Perhaps they came because they wanted the people to see them take part in the baptism so that they would still be seen as the head religious leaders. Whatever their reason, they did not come with right motivations. To them, it was just another religious activity-something to add to their resume. Very likely, John’s rebuke was quite stinging.
As you can see if you read on in the chapter, John did not baptize them. I think sometimes in churches, we are too ready to accept someone into our local congregation without making sure they realize the seriousness of the commitment or making sure they are actually saved. Of course, you can’t be 100% sure because anyone can fool people. However, the church is not a social club for networking opportunities, but a holy congregation of saints who worship and serve the Lord together. People can come, just as the Pharisees and Sadducees did, for selfish purposes. Like John, we should not accept those kinds of people in our congregation but we should faithfully proclaim the word of the Lord to them and everyone who has not professed saving faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.
Scripture taken from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission.