Matthew 3:7-12 “Fire in the Hole!”

A sermon by Nate Wilson for Christ the Redeemer Church, Manhattan, KS, 17 October 2010

Intro: “Fire in the Hole”

·         Originated in Mining context

·         Canon artillery – description of cannon firing at St. Augustine fort

·         Summary of John the Baptizer’s preaching: “Fire in the hole!”


7. But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them, “Offspring of vipers, who revealed it to y’all to flee from the impending wrath? 8. Produce fruit therefore in keeping with repentance. 9. And stop thinking about saying among yourselves, ‘We have Abraham (for) a father.’ For I am saying to you that God is able to raise up out of these rocks children to Abraham. 10. But already the axe is being laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore not producing good fruit is cut out and is thrown into a fire.

11. As for me, I am baptizing y’all with water into repentance,
                        but the One who is coming after me is more powerful than me,
            to where I am not worthy to carry His shoes.
He will baptize y’all in the Holy Spirit and in fire,

            12. to where the winnowing shovel is in His hand, and He will thoroughly cleanse His threshing-floor, and He will gather together His grain into the storehouse, but the chaff He will burn in an unquenchable fire.

Context: Pharisees, Sadducees, and John (v.7)

·         Pharisees – proud, religious, holier-than-thou, legalistic, ungodly attitudes.

·         Sadducees – wealthy, powerful, this-worldly, no afterlife, compromising, not like Pharisees

·         John – in wilderness, iconoclastic, baptizing. Sees the Pharisees & Sad’s come up. Luke says he addresses his message to the crowd whereas Matthew says it is addressed to Pharisees and Sad’s – one group is standing in front of the other, so both got the message.

John’s Message:

1. Repent, for the kingdom of God has neared – v.2 (covered last week)

2. Offspring of vipers, who revealed it to y’all to flee from the impending wrath? (v. 7b)

·         Fires in wilderness drive snakes to new places (cf. Paul and viper after shipwreck)

·         Total depravity (“you were born snakes!”)

§          cf. Jesus, “brood of vipers” 12:34 & 23:33 “If you therefore being evil know how to give good gifts… Mt. 7:11)

§         The law brings wrath (Rom 4:15)

§         Wrath of God follows as just consequence of our depravity, but Jesus’ death rescues us from this wrath: 1Th 1:9b-10 “you turned to God from idols to serve a living and true God, and to wait for His Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead, that is Jesus, who rescues us from the wrath to come.”

·         Warned (All Eng)= hupodeiknumi Thayer Definition: 1) to show by placing under (i.e. before) the eyes 2) to show by words and arguments, i.e. to teach 3) to show by make known future things

·         WHO warned them to flee from God’s wrath? The prophets!

§         Zecheriah 2:6, Jer 51:6, Isa 48:20 Commanded Jews to “flee” from captivity in Babylon because of God’s wrath. All used the same Greek word for “flee” that John used in Mt. 3 (although there are 3 diff. Heb. words translated to the Greek fugere in the LXX in these 4 passages)

§         Jer 4:1-6 "If you will return, O Israel," declares the LORD, "Then you should return to Me. And if you will put away your detested things from My presence, And will not waver, And you will swear, 'As the LORD lives,' In truth, in justice and in righteousness; Then the nations will bless themselves in Him, And in Him they will glory." For thus says the LORD to the men of Judah and to Jerusalem, "Break up your fallow ground, And do not sow among thorns. Circum­cise yourselves to the LORD And remove the foreskins of your heart, Men of Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem, or else My wrath will go forth like fire, and burn with none to quench it, because of the evil of your deeds." Declare in Judah and proclaim in Jerusalem, and say, "Blow the trumpet in the land; Cry aloud and say, 'Assemble yourselves, and let us go into the fortified cities.' Lift up a standard toward Zion! Flee, do not stand still, For I am bringing evil from the north, And great destruction.”

§         John is saying, “Good, you’re starting to listen to the warnings of the prophets!  Heed the entirety of their messages; flee from sin and rally around Zion - orient yourselves around God and His righteousness!

·         God has the same message for the church today. The word for “flee” which John and the O.T. prophets used was also used by the apostle Paul to warn us today:

§         1Co 10:7-14  Do not be idolaters, as some of them were; as it is written, "THE PEOPLE SAT DOWN TO EAT AND DRINK, AND STOOD UP TO PLAY."  8  Nor let us act immorally, as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell in one day.  9  Nor let us try the Lord, as some of them did, and were destroyed by the serpents.  10  Nor grumble, as some of them did, and were destroyed by the destroyer.  11  Now these things happened to them as an example, and they were written for our instruction, upon whom the ends of the ages have come.  12  Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed that he does not fall.  13  No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it.  14  Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry.

§         1Ti 6:9-11  But those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a snare and many foolish and harmful desires which plunge men into ruin and destruction.  10  For the love of money is a root of all sorts of evil, and some by longing for it have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.  11  But flee from these things, you man of God, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, perseverance and gentleness.

·         Burying head in sand and maintaining status quo isn’t going to work – wrath is coming! Flee is the right response!

·         The question is, O sinner man, where you gonna run to?
Run to your roots? No, your ancestors can’t save you!
Run to the Lord in repentance!

3. “Bear/Produce fruit in keeping with/worthy of repentance” (v.8)

·         Faith produces fruit: Confession of sin means nothing without halting the continuation of that sin.

·         God wants us to bear good fruit

§         cf. Gen. 1-2 “Be fruitful!”

§         Psa 1:1 NASB  How blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked [he repents from that and what does he do?] yields fruit in season... The wicked are not so, But they are like chaff which the wind drives away.  (cf Psalm 92:12-14)

§         Jesus: John 15:8 NASB  “My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be My disciples.”

§         James 3:17-18 (faith results in fruit of righteous actions),

§         2 Peter 1:4-8 (“having fled from the corruption that is in the world by lust… in your faith supply moral excellence… knowledge, self-control… perseverance, godliness… brotherly kindness, love… so that you will not be unfruitful...),

§         Hebrews 12:11 – God desires fruit from out lips =praise,

§         Paul: Titus 3:8 …those who have believed God should be careful to engage in good deeds… 14  “engage in good deeds to meet pressing needs, so that they will not be unfruitful.”

§         So what kind of good deeds are the fruit of repentance?

·         Fruit of the spirit (Gal. 5)

·         Luke records more of John’s message – application of what it means to bear fruit:

1.      If you have 2 coats, give to him who has none,

2.      He who has extra food, let him share, (cf. ch. 25 – I as hungry… thirsty… stranger… naked… sick… in prison… to the least of these = to me.)

3.      Tax-collectors, Exact no more than what has been required,

4.      Soldiers, be content - don’t be greedy and use physical or legal bullying to augment your salary.


Flee from the wrath of God by repenting from sin, trusting in Jesus, and living a life in keeping with Jesus’ teachings. Don’t flee from the wrath to come by running to your roots. (I have a Christian family)

4. False security in religious heritage (v.9-10)

“And stop thinking about/supposing/presuming to say among yourselves, “We have Abraham for a father.” For I am saying to you that God is able to raise up out of these rocks children to Abraham!”

·         Abraham our Father = no need for fruit?

·         “None are more stupid than hypocrites, who deceive themselves and others by the outward mask of holiness. While God thunders on all sides against the whole world, they construct a refuge for themselves in their own deceitful fancy, for they are con­vinced that they have nothing to do with the judgment of God... There is an astonish­ing pertinacity… in hypocrites, and until they have been flayed by violence, they obstinately keep their skin…. For this reason John… addressed the Pharisees and Sadducees with greater severity, because he saw that their hypocrisy and swelling pride rendered them liable to be more severely censured than the common people.” ~Calvin

·         Offspring of vipers (v.7) – not a promising ancestry!

·         Children of Abraham from rocks? Relationship not based on ethnicity but on faith.

·         “The axe is being laid to the roots” The axe is lying there ready to be picked up and used soon, and the trunk will be severed from its roots (figure of woodsman)

·         Run to the Lord in repentance – 10b “Every tree therefore not producing good fruit is cut out and is thrown into a fire.” (OBJECT LESSON: Axe & burner?)

·         “The grace of God is never manifested for the salvation of the godly till His judgment first appears for the destruction of the world” ~Calvin

5. The person to run to for security (vs. 11-12)

Luke tells us that some people thought, “Wow, John must be the Messiah. Let’s run to him to flee from God’s wrath!” John quickly counters by showing how much greater Messiah would be than himself:

·         John comes first// Jesus is the one who is coming after (still coming in Rev. 1)

·         John is a servant not worthy of the privilege of even carrying/removing/(cf. Mark & Luke “untying”) the Messiah’s shoes/sandals (the most menial of tasks)// Jesus is “mightier/more powerful”

·         John baptizes with water// Jesus with the HS and fire (Pentecost, Conviction, Final judgment)

·         John baptizes into repentance, pointing people toward reconciliation with God// Jesus is the final Word who will cleanse thoroughly and ultimately gather His people together in a safe place and burn the rest in the lake of fire (v.12).

·         Explain Grain preparation: Harvest/Sheaves, Threshing, Winnowing Fork/Fan/Shovel, Milling, Cooking (OBJECT LESSONS: Straw-burned & Grain-bread)

§         This winnowing/separating wheat from chaff described by Jeremiah as happening once before in Babylonian captivity.  Jer 51:2 NASB  "I will dispatch foreigners to Babylon that they may winnow her And may devastate her land; For on every side they will be opposed to her in the day of her calamity. (cf. Jer 15:7, Jer 7:20)

§         It had happened before as many Jews were killed by the Chaldeans.

§         It would happen again when Titus destroyed Jerusalem a few decades after Christ,

§         And it will happen again when Jesus returns and judges all His enemies in the future.


In such times, Jesus is the one to run to, not John, not religious heritage, not anybody else!


  1. There’s fire in the hole! There is a coming judgment. Don’t be oblivious to this!
    So Run to Jesus to save you. He will be the final judge, and He has the power to save.
  2. Don’t worry about how you look to other people;
    Concern yourself with how you look before God who sees into your heart.
    not to hold out a hypocritical appearance of repentance instead of a true affection of the heart” ~Calvin
  3. Produce fruit in keeping with repentance:
    1. How can you grow in generously sharing more of  the many blessings you have with others? Clothing, food, manpower, ?
    2. John’s word to accountants and soldiers: How can you grow in contentment and shrink away from using power to benefit yourself?
  4. Go to the trouble to warn those who are headed for destruction:
    1. There may be times when you need to come on strong: “If John, the organ of the Holy Spirit, employed such severity of language in this opening address… how ought we now to act towards the avowed enemies of Christ?” ~Calvin
    2. The Bible urges gentleness as a standard, though:

                                                              i.      For it is a fruit of the Spirit: Gal 5:23

                                                            ii.      Gal 6:1  Brethren, even if anyone is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness; each one looking to yourself, so that you too will not be tempted.

                                                          iii.      2Ti 2:25  with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition, if perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth,

                                                          iv.      1Pe 3:15  but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence;