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A Journey Through Matthew (Pt 2)




In the Summer of 2004, my family and I witnessed a presidential motorcade in the City of Erie, PA.  I remember it quite well, as the amount of preparation and security that went into this short visit was extreme but necessary.  Security measures were put in place months in advance, and a plan for the motorcade’s route was put together.  The arrival of the most powerful man in America was a big deal.  The president of the United States of America was coming, and the city needed to make the necessary preparations for this visit.  We waited in anticipation as a sea of flashing lights from police vehicles came over the horizon, lines of busses, and dozens of black SUVs approached. We stood on the side of the road waiting for the coming of the man of the hour. It was quite a sight, as dozens of black SUVs with secret service agents armed with semi-automatic rifles, guns, earpieces, and helicopters hovering overhead. It was truly awe-inspiring.  I remember thinking, “This is all for one man.”

 

I share this memory with you because when God incarnate came to earth there was not even close to this amount of preparation for his arrival.  This account is a good reminder of the importance of preparing for the arrival of THE King, not only for his earthly visit, but for when He comes into our lives as well.

 

Prepare the Way

Matthew 3:1 – 17

It has been about 25 years since Joseph, Mary, and Jesus went to Nazareth, and now the time has come for John, referred to as “the Baptist,” to appear and fulfill his purpose. Interestingly, John the Baptist appears at the beginning of all four gospels, thus making him an important historical figure in the biblical account because he is the link between God’s saving activity in the Old Testament and Jesus’ saving activity through his ministry, life, death, resurrection, and ascension. 

 

John the Baptist – So, who is this John the Baptist? We don’t know much about Him, but we do know this.

  1. John was of priestly descent.  His father was a priest, and his mother was in the line of Aaron (Moses’ brother).  Both were righteous before God.  (Luke 1:5,6)

  2. He lived in the desert (or wilderness) for most of his adult life until his public ministry began. The desert was an essential place in the history of Israel. The law was given in the desert, the prophets often went to the desert to connect with God, and the war of the Maccabees happened in the desert.

  3. His appearance was out of sorts; he was clothed in camel hair and a belt and ate locusts and wild honey. His appearance stirred up recollections of Elijah and the prophecies of his return to make preparations for God’s judgment.

  4. In his public ministry, his primary message was calling people to repent and turn to God because the Kingdom of Heaven/God was near.

  5. He had disciples.

  6. He prepared the way (or was a witness) for the coming Messiah.  

  7. All four gospel writers declare that he is the fulfillment of Isaiah 40:3, “I am the voice crying out in the wilderness, ‘make straight the way of the Lord.’” 

  8. John declares that He was the one who was heralding the Coming One whom all of Israel has been awaiting… The Messiah.  

 

John preached about the coming Kingdom of God, or as Matthew calls it, the Kingdom of Heaven, and preached baptism for the repentance of sins.  The religious leaders of this time didn’t understand what John’s purpose was and who he was. Today, we will look at five aspects of Matthew 3:1 – 17 that I want to discuss to help us better understand what is happening in the passage and how it speaks to us today.

 

  1. Prepare the way (the road) – John proclaims that the King is coming.  The coming Messiah has been prophesied for centuries.  The religious leaders knew this, but they were not ready.  The nation of Israel was not prepared.  John declares that he is there to warn the people that the way of the Lord needs to be ready.  He is calling the people to clear the obstacles out of their lives that might hinder their reception of the Lord. He calls for the people to prepare themselves and their hearts and lives for the coming One. All preparations should have been made, but they weren’t.  So, they better get their act together.   

  2. Baptism – John preached and performed a baptism of repentance. One of the ways the people could get right with God was through repentance and baptism.  However, the leaders questioned his authority to baptize.  Theologian D.A. Carson writes in his commentary on John, “Their interest is in what authorizes John’s baptismal practices.  It is not that baptism is unknown.  Some Jewish groups practiced ‘proselyte baptism,’ i.e., proselytes were baptized in the process of converting to Judaism… Candidates baptized themselves.  One of the things that characterized the baptism of John the Baptist is that he administered it.”  He continues, “They want to discover by what authority John is baptizing Jewish people as part of the preparation for the Kingdom of God he is announcing.  Looking around for an adequate authority to sanction so extraordinary a practice, they wonder if he is an (end times) figure.”  John declares that the people need to repent as they confess their sins and are baptized, showing God by their actions and words that they are indeed putting away their old sinful ways and preparing for the Kingdom's arrival. This baptism was similar to other forms of baptism at the time, but it ultimately was symbolic of purification and was a one-time baptism. His baptism called for personal commitment to God’s new activity in Israel.

  3. The warning – The religious leaders joined together (usually at odds with one another) to inquire about his ministry. They had ulterior motives as they sought to find fault in his ministry as he was undoubtedly outside their religious circles. He warns the leaders of what will happen if they do not repent.

  4. It will bring God’s wrath on all who do not repent.

  5. His Kingdom will be inaugurated with the arrival of the Coming One, with his baptism of the Holy Spirit and fire.

  6. Those who respond to Joh’s message and repent will escape God’s wrath.

  7. The ax – The trees represented the religious leaders, the Pharisees, and the Sadducees.  These men were coming to be baptized but living hypocritical lives.  John scoffs at them and warns them that if they do not change their ways and live differently, then judgment is impending.  The only way to avoid judgment is to show they are a fruit-bearing tree.

  8. The Fire – They will face judgment and destruction if they do not change.

 

Jesus’ Baptism

Since Jesus is God incarnate, the Holy One of Israel, the King, and the Messiah, he did not need to be baptized for the remission of sin since he is sinless. He did not need to be converted, and there was no need for repentance since His Kingdom was coming. So, why does Jesus get baptized? Jesus’ baptism has far more significance than we think. Jesus tells John, “It should be done, for we must carry out all God requires.” Or the NIV states, “Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.” The word “fulfill” continues a theme that started at the beginning of Matthew’s Gospel. Jesus’ conception, birth, and infancy all fulfilled specific and general prophecies. Jesus says he must be baptized to “fulfill all righteousness.” This most likely means that God’s saving activity in the Old Testament is now being fulfilled with the inauguration of Jesus’ ministry through the death on the cross of Calvary. It is Jesus’ expression of his obedience to God and his plan of salvation revealed in the Scriptures. Thus, this public baptism is an endorsement of John’s ministry and message and links Jesus’ cause to John’s. So, as Jesus goes down into the waters of baptism, he identifies with his people in their need; ultimately, he identifies with the sinful humanity he came to save and, at this point, with the believing remnant of Israel who came to be baptized. Jesus now brings fulfillment to the ministry John began. When Jesus comes up from the water, three things happen…

  1. The heavens were opened – This is a common expression that indicates God himself is opening the communication gates of heaven to reveal something significant to his people.

  2. The Spirit of God descends like a dove and settles on him. The Spirit does not take on the form of a dove but, instead, some visible manifestation that indicates the Spirit on Jesus. The dove expresses characteristics often associated with a dove, like gentleness and peace. The descent of the Spirit points to the anointing of the servant of the Lord by the Spirit (Isaiah 42:1). This is the coronation of the Messiah and the commissioning of God’s righteous servant for the work he will now carry out the messianic age of salvation through the power of the Holy Spirit and who is now anointed by the Spirit for his public ministry.

  3. The voice from heaven – The presence of Jesus the Messiah brings with him the direct voice of God with all its authority.

    1. “This is my dearly loved son” - Jesus is the son, the voice is from the Father, and love is at the heart of their relationship. This is not the language of adoption but the confirmation of an existing relationship between the heavenly Father and his Son.

    2. “Who brings me great joy” - It is likely that part of what is involved here is an endorsement of the attitude of mind reflected in Jesus’ decision to seek baptism from John.[1]

Conclusion

John the Baptist’s whole ministry (and life, for that matter) was devoted to pointing people to Jesus. He knew his place in life.  He had a humble (and vital) spirit to him.  He was not about self-promotion; he was about Christ's promotion.  He did not have a personal agenda; he had God’s agenda.  His purpose was to be the voice calling out in the wilderness that the Messiah had come, and he desired that people be right with God by preaching a message of baptism, repentance, and forgiveness of sins.  He wanted to show people a new way of life and an authentic relationship with God through the Messiah (Jesus Christ). May we be like John in this manner.

 

Jesus’ connection with sinners, demonstrated through His baptism and crucifixion, is a model for His followers. We are called to follow His example by standing in harmony with the less fortunate and being the light in the world, just as He illuminated the world. Like Jesus, who shouldered His cross, we are also tasked with carrying our own. By following Jesus, we adopt a more profound unity with His body, the church. Despite having no entitlement, Jesus imparted upon us boundless gifts. Similarly, we are called to selflessly offer everything, even our lives, for His sake, without expecting anything in return from the world.


[1] John Nolland, The Gospel of Matthew: A Commentary on the Greek Text, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI; Carlisle: W.B. Eerdmans; Paternoster Press, 2005), 158.



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