The Forerunner

January 7, 2024 ()

Bible Text: Matthew 3:1-12 |


The Forerunner | Matthew 3:1-12
Brian Hedges | January 7, 2024

Let’s turn in our Bibles to Matthew 3. We’re going to be reading Matthew 3:1-12.

I don’t know how you celebrated the New Year, but let me tell you how our family celebrated. On New Year’s Day we went to see The Fellowship of the Ring, the extended edition, on the big screen. Each of the three Lord of the Rings films were playing this week, and we went just to see the first one, which is my favorite of the three. So we filled up almost an entire row with our crew watching this film. It was probably the twentieth time that I’ve seen the film, maybe more. I’ve seen this many, many times over the years and love it every time.

Of course, you know this film always begins with a prologue that’s maybe twelve to fifteen minutes long that’s kind of giving you the backstory to The Lord of the Rings, and it’s really building something of the atmosphere of this world and leading you into the story. I love the story of The Lord of the Rings because it is a great story of the conflict between good and evil, it’s the story of the humble being exalted, and it’s the story of the coming of a king, Aragorn, who is the true king of Gondor. But the story begins with that prologue.

Well, today we’re also looking at a prologue. We’re looking at a prologue to a story that is a story about a king. It’s the true story of King Jesus. In Matthew 3, we are now through the infancy and birth narratives in Matthew’s Gospel, but we come to another part of the prologue, about the coming, the advent of the King, and that is the story of John the Baptist.

What’s interesting is that in all four of the Gospels, John the Baptist figures in at the beginning, setting the tone and preparing the way for King Jesus. John the Baptist was the forerunner of King Jesus; he was a prophet who came preaching for just a short period of time before Jesus began his earthly ministry. Today in Matthew 3:1-12 we’re going to look at Matthew’s record of the ministry and the preaching of John the Baptist and how he prepares us for the coming of King Jesus.

Let’s read the passage, Matthew 3:1-12.

“In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.’ 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.”’

“Now John wore a garment of camel's hair and a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey. 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.

“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? Bear fruit in keeping with repentance. 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. 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.

“‘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. 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.’”

This is God’s word.

This morning we’re looking at the forerunner of the King, John the Baptist and his ministry. We see in this passage three things:

1. The Voice in the Wilderness
2. The Baptism of Repentance
3. The Coming of the King (John’s description of what will happen when the King comes)

1. The Voice in the Wilderness

We see this in Matthew 3:1-4, where Matthew introduces us to this figure, John. He is introduced as something of a prophet, a man who was sent from God, to use the language of the apostle John. “There was a man sent from God whose name was John.”

He comes on the scene with a persona like the prophet Elijah. He comes in the wilderness of Judea, and he comes preaching. John strikes us immediately as something of a strange figure. He is this wild-eyed fanatic. He’s dressed funny and he comes on the scene in a startling way.

William Hendrickson, the commentator, says, “Everything about John was startling—his sudden emergence, his manner of dress, his choice of food, his preaching, and his baptizing.”

You see this especially in verse 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.” What’s the significance of that? I mean, if this guy were to walk into our church today, the security team would be all over him, right? This is someone that would strike us as very, very strange.

But there was something symbolic about his very manner. His manner of dress was the dress of a prophet, and it’s clearly an echo of 2 Kings 1:8, where Elijah is described as one who wore “a garment of hair, with a belt of leather about his waist.”

Even his food—locusts and wild honey—this was fruit of the land. The locusts were something like large grasshoppers; they were among the winged creatures allowed for consumption under the law. But it is the diet of an ascetic, someone who is practicing the most severe and strict discipline.

Matthew Henry says, “Locusts were a sort of flying insect, very good for food and allowed as clean. They required very little dressing and were light and easy of digestion.” Locusts light! Easy of digestion! I wonder how Matthew Henry knew that. Now listen, I admire the prophets and I admire the Puritans, but I have no intention of trying this food for myself!

But there was something important about his very manner of approach, his dress and his diet. It was a way of signaling his earnestness, his seriousness as a prophet, and the urgency of his message, as he comes on the scene as the last of the Old Testament prophets, as something like a prosecuting attorney against the people of God, bringing the law of God to bear on their hearts, to prepare them for the coming of the King.

You see it in his message in verse 2: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” The kingdom of heaven, the kingdom of God. What is this kingdom? It is the dynamic, saving reign of God that is brought to earth, the reign of God revealed in Jesus, bringing salvation, but not only salvation, but we’ll see in this passage bringing also judgment to those who stand in opposition to the King.

Here is John the Baptist with this message, saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” I like the way one commentator put it; he said, “The Baptist is kind of a first century Paul Revere, who is calling out, ‘The kingdom is coming! The kingdom is coming!’ He’s urging people to get ready for the advent [the coming] of King Jesus.”

We see his role especially in verse 3, which quotes from the prophet Isaiah. Look at 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.”’

Notice this. “Prepare the way of the Lord.” That quotation from Isaiah 40 is literally, “Prepare the way for Yahweh.” It was God himself who was to come to Zion, who was to arrive. But here is John, who is preparing the way for King Jesus, and it’s telling us something about who this King is, that Jesus is Yahweh incarnate, he is God with us, he is Emmanuel, he is God in the flesh. He’s coming to his people, and John’s role is to prepare the way for him.

The fuller quotation in Isaiah 40:3-5 reads this:

“A voice cries:
‘In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord;
make straight in the desert a highway for our God.
Every valley shall be lifted up,
and every mountain and hill be made low;
the uneven ground shall become level,
and the rough places a plain.
And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed.’”

Isaiah has a very clear picture in mind. You have to remember that in the ancient world there weren’t roads, there weren’t highways, there was no pavement, no interstates, or anything like that. Travel was rough, it was slow, and it was dangerous. The only time roads would be built is when a king was going to visit a certain great city, and then a road would be built up that was suitable for the envoy of the king.

That’s the role of this prophet, that’s the role of this voice in the wilderness—John the Baptist, the forerunner of the Messiah, comes to build a highway for King Jesus. Of course, he’s not building a literal road; this is a metaphor. It’s a metaphor for the human heart. The idea is that all of the valleys of disobedience will be filled and the mountains of sin will be brought low, the crooked paths in our hearts will be made straight, that which is rough will be made smooth, and that happens through the application of the word of God to the people of God. John comes preaching; he comes bringing the word of God to bear on the people of God.

I want to read to you a quotation from Frederick Dale Bruner’s commentary on Matthew’s Gospel. I found this commentary full of insight, and I love the way Bruner puts this. He says,

“Wherever the ministry of the adult Jesus is told in historic fidelity, it begins with John the Baptist. [Again, all four of the Gospels begin with John.] Wherever the gospel comes in its depths it follows the proclamation of the law in its heights. Without law there is no gospel, without the Old Testament no New Testament, and without John the Baptist preaching we do not rightly hear Jesus following. John comes on like the last prophet of the Hebrew Scriptures and is a kind of walking, breathing law of God, full of doom and holiness and ultimacy. John the Baptist is in the front of our New Testament four times, one in each of the four Gospels, in order to put the law of God in front of us four times, just before Jesus comes to us four times with the gospel. John is the law of God in person, though John also has gospel, and Jesus is the gospel in person, though Jesus also has law.”

That’s the role of John, this prophet of God, this prosecuting attorney that’s bringing the law of God to bear on the people of God.

(1) I think this suggests a couple of lessons for us this morning. It reminds us, number one, that the law is necessary. Now, at Redeemer Church we often call ourselves a gospel-centered church. We’re not a law-centered church, we’re a gospel-centered church. We believe and we preach the gospel of Jesus Christ, trusting in the finished work of Christ with all of our hearts. But if we don’t understand the law of God, we will never appreciate and love and embrace the good news of the gospel. The law is necessary.

We live in a world that is awash in moral relativism, where right and wrong is simply whatever is right and wrong for you. It may be different for me. Everybody has their own truth, everybody has their own standard.

In a world such as this, it’s important for us to insist that there are moral absolutes, that God has an eternal law. His will has been revealed; his pattern, his plan for human beings and how they are to live. We are held accountable to that law. There is objective good and there is objective evil. Some things are right, some things are wrong; some things are good, some things are evil. These things are true always and all the time. There is a standard against which our lives are measured.

I would just exhort us, those of us who are in positions of influence—parents, teachers, elders, small group leaders, those involved in ministry to others, either in your home and in your family or in the church or in the world—to uphold the standard of the law of God. The law is necessary.

(2) Secondly, the law is preparatory. We have to understand that. The law is not the gospel, but the law prepares us for the gospel.

Here’s the deal: you don’t know that something is crooked until you set it against something that is straight. You have to have some idea of what straight is in order to discern something that is crooked or twisted. We don’t know what diseases or health is unless we have some standard of health. We have to know that there’s a difference. Cancer is not the same thing as the healthy growth of cells, but for someone to really enjoy good health there has to be clear diagnosis of the disease, and then the disease has to be dealt with. There has to be treatment and cure, but the diagnosis comes first.

In the same way, we can’t receive the good medicine of the gospel of Jesus Christ, which brings life and healing and salvation to our hearts and souls, until we have understood the problem of sin. The only way we understand the problem of sin is through the law of God, which shows us the standard, shows us God’s will for human beings.

John, the forerunner of the Lord, this voice in the wilderness, is a prophet who comes bringing the law of God to bear on his people; he comes calling people to repent, to prepare for the coming of the King. And all of this is necessary as a preparation for the good news. He is the voice in the wilderness, and his ministry was the baptism of repentance.

2. The Baptism of Repentance

You see it in 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.”

What was this baptism for repentance? You have to understand that the repentance was a change in a person’s life. That’s what John was calling people to in verse 2 when he says, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” The baptism for repentance was a baptism, a cleansing, a washing that signaled that their lives were being changed. Notice that John is concerned not only that people will come confessing, but that they will also bear fruit in keeping with repentance (verse 8). This is not only a cognitive change, a change of mind, it is a change of heart.

In New Testament scholar D.A. Carson’s words,

“What is meant by repentance is not merely intellectual change of mind or mere grief, still less doing penance, but a radical transformation of the entire person, a fundamental turnaround involving mind and action and including overturns of grief, which results in fruit keeping with repentance.”

It was a baptism of repentance or for repentance. It was a way of signaling their repentance. This baptism was a washing. It was a cleansing. It was something like a public bath, where they symbolically washed away their sins in the Jordan River. It was also something like a symbolic drowning, as they drowned the old life of sin in order to live the new life of those who had been cleansed by sin.

It was significant because John was calling everyone to be baptized. Within the Jewish world at that time there were baptisms and washings and cleansings for Gentiles who wanted to become adherents to Judaism. They would go through something like a baptism. But here is John, calling on the people of God themselves to be baptized. He’s telling them that they need a new beginning, that they can’t count on their pedigree, they can’t count on being the children of Abraham, they can’t claim their race or their lineage or even the fact that they belong to the people of God, but they personally, individually, need a new beginning. So he calls them to baptism.

We see this in his scathing rebuke to the Pharisees and the Sadducees. The Pharisees were something like the religious conservatives. They were the pious people—the separatists, the zealots for the law. The Sadducees were the more sophisticated, intellectual, scholars of the law, more liberal in their sensibilities. They were more elite, but in places of influence and leadership. And to both of them he says in Matthew 3:9-10,

“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. Even now the ax is laid to the root of the tree. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.”

Again, this is a requirement for a radical transformation of the life where there is fruit of repentance. And again, I think that John’s ministry and the baptism of repentance suggests important applications in our own lives. And don’t forget that Jesus will come in chapter 4 preaching the same message: “Repent for the kingdom of God is at hand.”

And so here’s some application questions.

(1) Let me just ask, first of all, do you confess your sins? That is, do you recognize that you are a sinner? Do you acknowledge that you’re a sinner? And are you honest about your sins with God in prayer and in your private relationship with him? Are you honest with yourself so that you’re not just turning a blind eye to the things in your life that are wrong, but you are honest with yourself, you are seeking to deal with sins? And are you honest with others so that you’re able to humbly confess your sins to others?

(2) Second question—do you practice repentance? Repentance is not simply a one-time thing but it is a practice of our life. Do you remember Martin Luther in his famous 95 Theses? The very first theses said that “when our Lord and Master told us to repent, he meant that the entire life should be one of repentance.” That means that all of our lives we are dealing with our sins. We are turning from sin, and when we come to recognize that we are fallen or we have fallen short, we confess and we turn and we repent and we seek forgiveness and we seek to live a life that is as clean as possible—a lifestyle of repentance.

(3) And then, third question, maybe the most sobering of all—is it possible that you are trusting in the wrong thing? John is addressing people who are trusting in the fact that they are children of Abraham. They had Abraham as their father. And he said, “Don’t trust in that. God can raise up children from these very stones.” You need something more. You need a new start. You need something radical. You need a divine intervention. You need a change. And it’s possible even for us who are churchgoers and professing Christians to be trusting in something we think will save us but won’t.

You might say, “Well, my parents were Christians. I’ve been raised in the church. I’ve been in the church all my life. I go to church. I’m a member of the church. I was baptized as an infant. I was baptized as an adult. I know the Bible. I take communion. I give to the church.” But listen, you can do all of those things and not be a Christian. You could do all of those things and miss Jesus and not have the King, Jesus, in your life. You could do all of those things and be trusting in those things and be trusting in something that will never save you. We need, instead, that radical transformation of heart and life, and it is the kind of transformation that only one person can bring. That person is the King.

3. The Coming of the King

Notice what John says about King Jesus in Matthew 3:11-12. He says,

“I baptize you with water for repentance. But He who is coming after me is mightier than I [this is language that is used of Yahweh in the Old Testament—mightier, more powerful than I] whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hands and he will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into the barn but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”

Who is this coming one that is mightier than John? It is the Messiah. It is the King. It is Jesus. And what is he coming to do? Johns says there’s two things. This is the two-fold work of the King. This is the way in which the kingdom of God breaks into human history in two ways. And we could say these two ways are salvation and judgment. Let’s look at each one of them.

(1) First of all, salvation. He will baptize with the Holy Spirit and with fire. Now, here’s what we have to understand. In the Scriptures, when the Bible talks about salvation, it uses a number of different word pictures and metaphors. Sometimes it talks about justification, sometimes it talks about regeneration or the work of the spirit, sometimes it talks about forgiveness of sins, sometimes it talks about transformation of the heart and life.

There are both objective and subjective aspects to salvation. And we need both. We need both the objective work of the Son, Jesus, who dies on the cross, as an atonement for our sins so that our sins can be wiped away and we can be clothed in the righteousness of Christ by being united to him, where God looks at us as if we are just as righteous as Jesus. The Bible teaches that. That’s the glorious doctrine of justification by faith. That is the objective work of salvation.

But that objective work is always accompanied by the subjective. And the subjective work is the work of the Spirit. It is the Spirit by whom we are born again, born into new life; the Spirit by whom we are cleansed and washed and transformed and changed. And when John, here, describes the Messiah as the one who will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire, I believe what he’s describing here is that work. He’s describing the Messiah as the bearer of the Spirit, the one who will bring the great end-time last days promise of the Spirit and will pour this Spirit out on his people.

This is all over the place in the Old Testament, the Old Testament prophets. Isaiah 44:3: “For I will pour water on the thirsty land and streams on the dry ground. I will pour my Spirit upon your offspring and my blessing on your descendants.”

Or Ezekiel 36:27: “I will put my Spirit within you and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.”

Or Joel 2:28-29, where he says that in the last days “I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters…” He goes on to talk about how old men will prophecy and so on. All of this is fulfilled, of course, in Acts 2.

So what is this baptism with the Spirit? What does it mean to be baptized with the Spirit? I don’t think he’s talking about a second work of grace (something that only some Christians get, but not all). I don’t think he’s talking about speaking in tongues. I don’t think he’s talking about revival. These are some of the options that various people have suggested over the years. I think this baptism with the Spirit is the new covenant gift of the Holy Spirit to the people of God, given once and for all on the Day of Pentecost to the church as a whole, and then given to each one of us when we are born again, when we are regenerated, when we are brought to life by the Spirit of God, and the Spirit of God washes and cleanses our hearts. Listen to how Paul describes it in Titus 3:4-6.

“But when the goodness and lovingkindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, [notice this] by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior.”

Jesus is the one who pours out the Spirit, who baptizes with the Spirit, who immerses us in the Spirit, who washes us in the Spirit, who cleanses us with the Spirit. This being baptized by the Spirit is this new covenant ministry of the Spirit that washes and cleanses and changes our hearts and gives us new life. And only Jesus can give that to us. This is one of the things the King comes to do. He comes to baptize us with the Spirit and fire. I think fire refers, probably, to the purifying element of the Spirit’s work in our hearts and lives.

(2) But notice this: the King not only will come to baptize with the Spirit and fire, he will also come in judgment. There’s both salvation and judgment.

You see the judgment in 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.” It’s a vivid agricultural metaphor describing the process of threshing the wheat, where the wheat is separated from the chaff. The wheat is then gathered into the barn as the good part of the harvest and the chaff is swept away and burned up and destroyed.

And it is a familiar word picture in Scripture that describes the judgment of God. The great divide between these two classes of people. There are only two classes of people in the world. Though there are many races, though there are many ethnic groups, though there are many religions, at the end of the day there’s only two kinds of people in the world: the saved and the lost. The wheat and the chaff. The sheep and the goats. The children of God and the children of the devil. This bifurcation of two different kinds of people runs throughout the Scriptures. This is crystal clear.

And the Bible again and again, in both Old Testament and New, from prophets, from apostles, and from the mouth of the Lord Jesus himself, again and again describes this day that is coming, a day of judgment. It’s been called by J.C. Ryle, “The Great Separation”; by Charles Spurgeon, “The Great Assize”; by C.S. Lewis, “The Great Divorce.” It is the day when the wicked will be separated from the righteous, the saved will be separated from the lost.

Because I want you to see that this is not just John the Baptist preaching but that this is the pervasive teaching of the New Testament, let me give you a couple of other passages.

First, from the words of Jesus later in Matthew’s Gospel, beginning in Matthew 25:31. It is the description of the last day, the judgment of all men and the division of the sheep and the goats. Jesus says,

“When the Son of Man comes in his glory and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations and he will separate people from one another as the shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on his left. Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father. Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.’ Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.’ And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

Perhaps never more sobering words ever written than those.

Or take John 5:27-29, where Jesus says that the Father has given him, the Son, the authority to execute judgment because he is the Son of Man.

“Do not marvel at this, for an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment.”

There, again, you have it. The Great Divide between the good and the evil. Resurrection to life or resurrection to judgment.

Let me give you one more. This is Paul preaching, Acts 17:30-31. He says,

“The times of ignorance God overlooked. But now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed. And of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.”

What does a King do? The King comes to both save all who repent, all who submit to his reign, who believe in him, and embrace him by grace through faith. And he comes also to judge, to judge all those who reject his kingly claims.

So let me ask you this morning as we close—number one—have you prepared for this great reckoning, this day of judgment? John Blanchard in his book, Whatever Happened to Hell? tells this story.

“On December 12, 1984, dense fog shrouded the M-25, a highway near Godstone and Surrey, a few miles south of London. The hazard warning lights were on but ignored by most drivers. At 6:15 a.m. a truck carrying huge rolls of paper was involved in an accident, and within minutes, the carriageway was engulfed in carnage. Dozens of cars were wrecked, ten people were killed. A police control car was soon on the scene and two policemen ran back up the motorway to stop ongoing traffic.”

So get this scene here: Dense fog. It’s thick as soup. No one can see, and the police are on the road trying to warn oncoming traffic.

“They waved their arms and shouted as loud as they could, but most drivers took no notice and raced on toward the disaster that awaited them. The policemen then picked up traffic cones and flung them at the cars, at their windshields, in a desperate attempt to warn drivers of their danger. One told how tears streamed down his face as car after car went by and he waited for the sickening sound of impact as they hit the growing mass of wreckage further down the road.”

Friends, the world is full of people who are traveling down the highway of life blinded by the fog of ignorance and unbelief, on a collision course with judgment day. Maybe this describes you this morning. Maybe you’ve never considered that you, as a human being created in the image of God, will have to give an account to God for your life. Have you prepared? Have you sought forgiveness? Have you repented? And have you believed in the gospel?

Now, don’t misunderstand me. I’m not in any way saying that you can save yourself. I’m not in any way saying that your good works can save you. But what I am saying is that the judgment day is coming and there’s only one way of salvation, and that way is through the King. It's through King Jesus, who as we know in this Gospel, the Gospel of Matthew, came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many. But in the focus of this text, he is the King who baptizes us with the Holy Spirit. He is the King who washes us clean.

And so here’s the second and last question. Have you been washed and cleansed by the Spirit? Have you experienced this heart-renewing, life-transforming work of the Spirit of God in your heart and your life so that you who were once in darkness are now in the light? You who once were dead to God are now alive. At one time you had no real spiritual sensibilities, no interest in spiritual things, and now it’s your chief concern. Once you were consumed with a heart of selfishness. You just wanted your own pleasure, your own comfort, your own security, really unconcerned with anyone outside your immediate circle, but now your heart is overflowing with love and concern for others. Have you been born again? Brought into the kingdom of God? This is our great need. And it is the great gift that God gives though his son, Jesus Christ—the gift of the Spirit.

I want to end in this way, by praying over you and with you a prayer, slightly edited. This is a Puritan prayer. It comes from that great devotional book, The Valley of Vision, which is a collection of Puritan prayers and devotions. I highly commend it to you as some of the most beautiful language of prayer that I’ve ever read. And there’s one prayer in the book called Regeneration. I’ve just taken out the “thees” and “thous” and updated the language a little bit. I want to read, and really just pray this prayer with you as we conclude this morning.

“O God, of the highest heaven, occupy the throne of my heart. Take full possession and reign supreme. Lay low every rebel lust. Let no vile passion resist your holy war. Manifest your mighty power and make me yours forever. You are worthy to be praised with my every breath, loved with my every faculty of soul, served with my every act of life. You have loved me, espoused me, received me, purchased, washed, favored, clothed, adorned me when I was worthless, vile, soiled, polluted. I was dead in iniquities, having no eyes to see you, no ears to hear you, no taste to relish your joys, no intelligence to know you, but your Spirit has quickened me, has brought me into a new world as a new creature, has given me spiritual perception, has opened to me your word as light, guide, solace, joy. Your presence to me is a treasure of unending peace. No provocation can part me from your sympathy, for you have drawn me with cords of love and forgive me daily, hourly. O help me, then, to walk worthy of your love. Of my hopes and my calling, keep me, for I cannot keep myself. Protect me that no evil befall me. Let me lay aside every sin admired of many. Help me to walk by your side, lean on your arm, hold fellowship with you, that I may be salt of the earth and a blessing to all.”

We pray that prayer. Let’s pray together.

O Lord, God of heaven and earth, Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, we ask you, Lord, to work in us what is pleasing in your sight by the power of your Holy Spirit, sanctifying us, cleansing us, washing us, changing us. Lord, this is something we cannot do for ourselves. It is something that only you can do, to make the heart new, to make the heart clean.

Father, some of us have experienced this, and we know for certain that we have experienced this. There’s a deep and abiding certainty and assurance in the heart, your Spirit testifying with our spirit that we are sons of God, and if sons, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Jesus Christ. And Lord, for all for whom that is true of this morning, we say thank you. Thank you for that assurance. Thank you for that work.

There are some, Lord, this morning, who no doubt have experienced that work but don’t have that certainty. They don’t have that assurance. And Lord, my prayer for them this morning is that by looking to Jesus afresh this morning, by abandoning all hope of self-salvation and instead trusting in the cross-work of Jesus Christ and the resurrection of Jesus Christ, by whom we are born again into a living hope—that by trusting that in a fresh way today, as if for the first time, that there would be a deep assurance growing in their hearts that they really belong to you, that they’ve really been changed, that they’ve really experienced this transforming work.

Lord, there are some, perhaps, this morning, who think that they have experienced this when they really haven’t, when really what they’ve been holding onto is religion and good works and living a moral life. They haven’t seen their real need for repentance and for heart transformation. And, Father, our prayer this morning is that you would give them eyes to see their need and eyes to see the sufficiency of Christ to save them.

And for all this morning who know their desperate plight without Jesus Christ, may they in this moment, at this very moment, look with eyes of faith to what Jesus alone can do to bring salvation and restoration and renewal. Lord, this is all a gift of your grace. We claim nothing of ourselves. We look to you. We look to you alone, and we pray for your work whether it’s for the first time or it’s the sustaining of your work and the ongoing transformation of our hearts and our lives. We ask for that this morning.

As we come to the Lord’s table, would you help us to draw near to you through faith, and may your Spirit take these emblems of the broken body and the shed blood of Jesus Christ and seal them to our hearts as a means of grace in our lives this morning. We pray this in Jesus' name and for his sake, amen.