CMC Eps 6 – MATTHEW 3: 7-12 – I HATE SNAKES

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MATTHEW 3: 7-12 – I HATE SNAKES

Hi.. I’m Gene.. and you’re listening to the common man commentary.. I’d like to take a moment to clarify the mission and purpose of this podcast.

I am walking very slowly through the gospels with the intent of discovering some understanding that may be hidden by a lack of historical, cultural context and the ill effects of hurry.

My belief is that Jesus is the clearest view of God we have and that by clearly seeing the character of God He displayed in His teaching and way of living life, we will rightly be able to understand God, the Bible and the world around us. The best place in the Bible we have to hear the words of Jesus is in the gospels. Our continuous exposure to Jesus, God with us, has a positive life altering effect. As you see God for who He really is, you learn to trust in Him, because He is good. The greater your understanding of who God really is virtually eliminates your ability to be fooled by inauthentic representations of Him no matter where you find them. By studying the authentic, the inauthentic becomes painfully obvious. 

This is podcast #6..  We will be looking at MATTHEW 3: 7-12. ..  the title : I Hate Snakes

Previously in podcast #5 we were introduced to John B.. thunder in the desert.. the Holy Spirit filled, bug eatin , honey suckin, desert livin, man’s man, prophet of God who’s soul job was to prepare people for who was about to show up.. The Messiah.

Here we go.. starting at verse 7..

7-10 When John realized that a lot of Pharisees and Sadducees were showing up for a baptismal experience because it was becoming the popular thing to do, he exploded: “Brood of snakes! What do you think you’re doing slithering down here to the river? Do you think a little water on your snakeskins is going to make any difference? It’s your life that must change, not your skin! And don’t think you can pull rank by claiming Abraham as father. Being a descendant of Abraham is neither here nor there. Descendants of Abraham are a dime a dozen. What counts is your life. Is it green and blossoming? Because if it’s deadwood, it goes on the fire.

11-12 “I’m baptizing you here in the river, turning your old life in for a kingdom life. The real action comes next: The main character in this drama—compared to him I’m a mere stagehand—will ignite the kingdom life within you, a fire within you, the Holy Spirit within you, changing you from the inside out. He’s going to clean house—make a clean sweep of your lives. He’ll place everything true in its proper place before God; everything false he’ll put out with the trash to be burned.”

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My mom always told me it’s not polite to call people names.. apparently John’s mom did not get this message through to him.  A “Brood of snakes” does not requires a lot of imagination to visualize..  My favorite snake scene in a movie that comes to mind happens in “ Raiders of the lost ark “ when INDIANA JONES ( harrison ford ), and his girl friend Marion (KAREN ALLEN ) get dropped into an Egyptian tomb filled with vipers. More than a little unnerving…. Indy says.. and I quote “ I HATE SNAKES “.. here is a side note bit of trivia.. the fear of snakes is called Ophidiophobia “. Try and use that in a sentence today.. 

Snakes, also known as serpents are widely accepted as an instrument of deception. I am reasonably sure that is what John was going for. Know one would mistake this name calling as a term of endearment. 

The Pharisees and the Sadducees were part of the Sanhedrin.. the religious rulers of their day.. By John’s standard’s .. they are corrupt.. He almost immediately calls them out on their self righteous – religiously superior – hypocritical spirituality the second they show up to be baptized.  These are not timid men. They are men of power and influence. They would not have takin kindly to John’s proclamations. If it were not for the fact that John was extremely popular they would have found a way to silence him.

One of the main claims to fame that the Pharisees and Sadducees used was their ancestry. Their spiritual father was Abraham.. the ancient Patriarch from the land of Ur. They took great pride in being His descendants. But it wasn’t just pride .. they looked at ancestry as a sort of pasted down righteousness.. a type of inheritance. Abraham had found favor with God because he trusted Him, had faith in Him.. that was credited to Abraham as righteousness. God had also given Abraham a significant promise.  His descendants would count in number like the stars and he was to be given a land flowing with milk and honey !  

Here is a quote from William Barclay : “A degenerate age cannot hope to claim salvation for the sake of a heroic past; and an evil son cannot hope to plead the merits of a saintly father “

John’s accusation of the Pharisees and Sadducees was that they were hypocrites, pretending to be God followers but were anything but.  The baptism that John preached was that of a changed life on the inside of a person. Motives and thoughts were to be examined not merely behavioral management via ritual keeping and rule following.  

In an alternate version of this passage, John says; The one who is coming will baptize them with The Holy Spirit and with fire ! What would it mean to be baptized with the Holy Spirit ? Could it mean to be totally immersed in This Third Person of The Trinity ? And what would that look like ? Later in the gospels Jesus tells us that it is better that He is leaving them behind, on earth because in His leaving, The Holy Spirit will come to them to comfort them, give them power and lead them into all truth. This description carries with it a very maternal element. As for fire, it is often seen to have a cleansing effect, to burn away impurities. This picture altogether represents a complete restoration of the human being. Life in its fullest and most beautiful form.

Who doesn’t want that ?

The Pharisees and Sadducees are not the only ones on the planet that had problems figuring out what authentic life with God was supposed to look like..

Similar practices are alive and well today.. its not uncommon to believe that if a person goes to church a lot and doesn’t smoke or commit adultery or cheat on their taxes that they are making God happy and they will get to go to Heaven when thy die. There is a magic set of external behaviors that if avoided, will get them entry to eternal life.. they will be considered a “ good person “. 

John’s repentance preach at the Jordan river is counter cultural and directed toward changing the heart of the person. Who we really are on the inside. His baptism was a symbol to represent a changed life. Going down into the water a confessed sinner, coming out of the water a cleansed God follower. New life. 

John’s direct attack on inherited righteousness was meant to kick out a main prop the Pharisees and Sadducees were using to proclaim God’s acceptance of their way of religion.

John also used an element of a common metaphor.. “ you will know a tree by it’s fruits “ by saying  “ is your life blossoming.. baring fruit like a healthy tree ? “, because if it’s not.. you will be cast into the fire like deadwood ! These are very strong words and are meant to get a response. 

I am aware of at least two ways of thinking about this metaphor. One is : If you don’t follow all the rules perfectly you will go to “hell”.  This place of eternal torture by means of fire. This one is a favorite of what used to be known as “ Hell and Damnation “ preachers.

Another way to look at it is through the eyes of a loving parent inviting their child into a bright, fruitful, beautiful, blossoming, healthy life with the alternate choice being a dark, meaningless, ugly and unhealthy existence which sounds a lot like it has its own built in torture.  One view prefers punishment by an angry God as the outcome and the other view the sadly regrettable natural consequences of chosen actions by the child. 

One view has God standing before you with gasoline and matches and the other view has Him on His knees weeping at the lost of a child. How you chose to frame this may tell you a lot about your own story.

Next, you can almost imagine John standing in the river with his arms waving around .. and pointing to the river when he exclaims… 

“I’m baptizing you here in the river, turning your old life in for a kingdom life. The real action comes next “..

He is acknowledging the pitiful comparison between what he is doing, baptizing people in a river .. which is symbolic of an old life passing away and a new life beginning and what will actually happen when The Messiah comes. 

The Jordan river is surprisingly small.. when I was a young man I could have easily thrown a stone across it. My second baptism happened in it in May of 2017 north of the Sea of Galilee. The water was cool, fresh and fast moving. This is not the case in the southern part of the Jordan river before it empties into the Dead Sea near Qumran. The water moves much slower here and there is less of it. 

In verses 11 and 12 John begins to describe the real baptism to come.. you get a sense of anticipation, excitement and even wonder at what is about to happen. 

In what appears as moments prior, he outwardly verbally attacks the religious groups…  now he is turning his attention both upward and inward. Up ward in the sense of identifying the one who is coming as being the most central and important person ever to live and at the same time looking inward and identifying himself at the level of slave not worthy of carrying his sandals. 

It might be that John sensed a bit of the danger in his own situation as compared to that of the Pharisees and Sadducees.  The Pharisees and Sadducees had their own followers.. they were in their own way popular as even today many religious leaders gather a large following. John’s followers were growing in number as well. Fame has an intoxicating effect on nearly everyone. Not many manage its ill effects well.

Even a small bit of success can turn you into a narcissist. You start to believe your own press releases and assume because you were successful at one thing you must be brilliant and are now qualified to solve all of the worlds problems. 

I see John’s self deprecating statement as a healthy self reminding reality check.

To quote a famous 70’s rock band,  The Eagles : “I don’t know why fortune smiles on some and lets the rest go free” 

Certainly John was not as common a man as we might find in our every circles, but he was indeed a man. He was subject to all the same stuff we experience in our worlds. Ego, pride, hate, love, selflessness and self-centeredness among the myriad of other human failings.  

But we see here a clear view of his calling, the message he was uniquely prepared to deliver.  He speaks of the Messiah as one who he knows.. personally .. intimately, experientially. 

Quoting vs 12 :  The Messiah “will ignite the kingdom life within you, a fire within you, the Holy Spirit within you, changing you from the inside out. He’s going to clean house—make a clean sweep of your lives. He’ll place everything true in its proper place before God; everything false he’ll put out with the trash to be burned.”

In the previous podcast we talked about the fact that John was Jesus’ cousin. They knew each other from childhood. What we don’t know is how well did they know each other. It’s anybodies guess as to how close they were.

There is something we do know about the gospel writers, they all had a unique and different perspective with a goal in mind. In Matthew’s gospel, he is speaking to converted Jews although they would not have called themselves that. He is very focused on using the Torah, Old Testament prophesies to substantiate the claim that Jesus is The Messiah. He was also known to abbreviate his version of the events in order to get to his point more quickly. Other gospels tend to have more details, Luke being the most detailed. 

The fact that there are so many unknowns also fits within the mindset of not telling people things they all ready know. 

There were three deferring Jewish Sects in the first century. The Pharisees, The Sadducees and The Essenes. The Essenes being the smallest but they were spread all over the country and well documented. As we previously noted in podcast 5, John was from an Essene group living in Qumran.  

It will become obvious very soon that Jesus was not part of the Pharisees or Sadducees. And it’s not an outlandish idea to consider that Jesus may have been participating in the Essene group. They were considered to be the most devout of the three sects as noted by the well known Jewish historian of that day named Josephus. If it’s not ridiculous to consider that option, then why is it not possible for Jesus to have been at some point in time with His cousin in Qumran. This of course is all speculation but is easy to see how possible it could be. 

The point being for that rabbit trail is noting the way John Speaks about this coming Messiah. It seems like more than prophecy to me. There is a profoundly personal expression and passion in his tone. It’s as if he has spent time with him.. knows him. 

I sat on the hillside in Qumran looking out over the Dead Sea … it’s a lonely and fairly desolate view.. Very quiet. The village was not large.. There were Mikva every where.. Jewish ceremonial baths for purification.  The hillsides are pocked with over a thousand caves. It’s not hard to imagine Jesus and John setting on the very same hillside.. in the shade talking about what is about to happen.  John’s excitement building…  

In the very next section, Jesus meets John at the Jordan river.. the conversation they have will leave you wondering as well.. 

Thank you for listening to The Common Man Commentary … I hope you have enjoyed it and that it got you thinking.

Blessings