Do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our ancestor’; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. Matthew 3:9
John the Baptist’s claim that God can raise up from stones children for Abraham is almost literally true. God didn’t raise up children for Abraham from inanimate stones, but he did raise them up from idolatrous Gentiles. Matthew’s gospel ends with Jesus commanding his followers to make disciples of all nations, baptizing them into the name of the Father, the Son and Holy Spirit. As Matthew reminds us with the very first words of the gospel,
This is a record of the life of Jesus the Messiah, the son of David, the son of Abraham. (Matthew 1:1)
To be baptized into the name of the son is to be united to the family of Abraham.
Clearly, for Matthew, John’s words don’t mean that Abraham isn’t relevant to salvation or that his children don’t have a privileged place in the economy of God. Abraham is important. Matthew takes the first seventeen verses of the gospel to lay out Jesus’ descent from Abraham. To be a child of Abraham is to be a member of God’s covenant people and part of God’s salvation of the world. The children of Abraham have the words of God in the law and the prophets. They have the holy temple in Jerusalem where God chose for his name to dwell. They have the promise of the messiah who will reign in righteousness and peace. John the Baptist is simply reminding his hearers that God looks for righteousness and holds his people accountable. Like the prophets before him, John is reminding God’s chosen people that God’s favor is not a license to sin. The apostle Paul would later make the point that descent from Abraham was more a matter of living faith than biology. I think John the Baptist would agree with that.
John’s warning to not put one’s confidence in the bare fact of Abrahamic descent, then, has a covenantal context. It is not an abstract sociological commentary about privilege, power, wealth, class or race. John is not making a generally true statement about insiders and outsiders, ethnocentrism or prejudice of any sort. His argument is much more narrowly focused. If you are going to claim to be a child of Abraham, act like it. God is cutting away the dead wood and Abraham’s fruitless branches will not be spared.
We Gentile believers have been grafted into Abraham through out faith in Christ. We are the stones that God raised up as children for Abraham. Now that we belong to Abraham through Christ, John the Baptist’s warning to bear fruit worthy of repentance applies to us as well.
As Matthew incorporates John’s wilderness sermon into the gospel, the point becomes even clearer. Jesus is the true descendant of Abraham. The hypocritical, unloving and self-serving are not. Do you want to see how a real child of Abraham lives? Look at Jesus.