As promised, the posts and lessons will come with more frequency now. Today we are going to dive into the third chapter of the book of Matthew. Please read the scripture out loud if at all possible, as that will help you to fully absorb and retain the scripture. My commentary after the scripture today is broken down into verse segments so we can more fully go through the text and it’s meaning and purpose for us. Feel free to leave a comment on how the word speaks to you as well, learning works better and is deeper when we engage in a conversation and enrich one another with our own perspectives and experiences.
So without further delay, let’s open our minds and our hearts:
The Proclamation of John the Baptist
In those days John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness of Judea, proclaiming, 2 “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” 3 This is the one of whom the prophet Isaiah spoke when he said,
“The voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight.’”
4 Now John wore clothing of camel’s hair with a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey. 5 Then the people of Jerusalem and all Judea were going out to him, and all the region along the Jordan, 6 and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.
7 But when he saw many Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? 8 Bear fruit worthy of repentance. 9 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. 10 Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.
11 “I baptize you with water for repentance, but one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 12 His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and will gather his wheat into the granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”
The Baptism of Jesus
13 Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan, to be baptized by him. 14 John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” 15 But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented. 16 And when Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. 17 And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”
1-9: The chapter begins with the author giving us a broad idea of the time in which John the Baptist was engaged in his ministry. It’s a quick Segway from the birth and infancy of Jesus to what most scholars believe could be as much as 29 years later. The Gospels and letters, and really the Bible in whole, were not meant to be an exact historical day by day description of events but rather a guide book or instruction manual. The main purpose of this opening section is to demonstrate and prove in verse 3, to a largely Jewish audience, that John the Baptist was foretold by the Prophet Isaiah (Isaiah 40:1-3) and that he was in the spirit of, or was the actual spirit of the Prophet Elijah found in First & Second Kings in the old testament. Verse 5-6 are intended to inform the reader that John was widely popular or at least well attended by many people. This beginning section of verses 1-9 is part of the continuing purpose of the book of Matthew to prove, primarily to Jewish non-believers, that Jesus is the promised messiah.
7-10: Pharisees and Sadducees were two distinct religious “classes” within Jewish society and faith at the time of Jesus. The chief distinction between the two sects was that the Sadducees belief that the soul perished with the body and that there was no resurrection after death. They only accepted the Pentateuch (the first 5 books of the Old Testament) and not the books of the prophets and David. What they had in common is a strict adherence to “the law” which is/was based on the laws and rules of Moses and his heirs found in the Pentateuch. The Jews of this time considered themselves saved simply because they were the children of Abraham and strictly and literally followed the law to the letter. When John calls them a “brood of Vipers” he is alluding to what Jesus will explain in more detail later (Matthew 12 and other verses) that in their strict literal observance of the law, they have forgotten the intent of the law. We will delve into that in much more detail in due time. In verse 9 John the Baptist is saying that God can make anyone or anything a child of Abraham, so simply being an Israelite is not grounds for automatic salvation and favor from God. You may also be curious about the references to “bearing fruit” and the axe metaphor. Bearing fruits worthy of repentance” implies a process. Just as a tree does not produce fruit overnight, a Christian does not fully repent overnight. It is a lifelong process of making changes in how we act and think about one another, and over time we will produce the fruit of the Spirit more consistently. It is widely acknowledged that Faith is the key to Salvation, but actions (studying, praying, worshipping, Love and kindness, etc.) are what enables faith to grow and bear more abundant fruit. If you only follow the literal law, but do not act with compassion, love, and faith in your daily life you will not bear fruit and suffer the axe mentioned in the metaphor.
11: John is foretelling the arrival of Jesus, the messiah, who unlike John who can only do Baptisms with water to symbolize the baptized persons commitment to repent (change our ways), the messiah will be able baptize our souls and entire self with the Holy Spirit. The Disciples of Christ denomination sums it up this way: “Baptism is a public act by which the church proclaims God’s grace, as revealed in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, through the use of a visible sign of God’s gracious initiative and the human individual’s response in faith. With other Christians we affirm that baptism is at once a divine gift and a human response… The meaning of baptism is grounded in God’s redemptive action in Christ, it incorporates the believer in the community in the body of Christ, and it anticipates life in the coming age when the powers of the old world will be overcome, and the purposes of God will triumph.”
12: Through faith in, and imitation of the actions and teachings of Jesus and the Holy Spirit we become the wheat, spared from a life and eternity of despair and emptiness (i.e. hell)
13-17: This is our first encounter with the Adult Jesus in the book of Matthew and it is full of very powerful imagery. It shows us right away what type of man this Jesus has become, a Holy yet humble man. He could have very easily told John “yes I am the son of God, and I should be the one baptizing you” but he didn’t, in this very first encounter he demonstrates the importance of humility, for it is only by being humble before God and others we encounter do we begin to attain true righteousness. Which, not coincidentally, is exactly what pleases God as shown in verses 16-17. Until now Jesus was for the most part just a normal man, albeit one born of divine circumstances and possessing wisdom beyond his years, but through this act of humility and acceptance of the will of the father he received the Spirit of God (Holy Spirit) and thus begins his ministry.
There is just so much packed into Matthew 3 compared to the first two chapters of Matthew, what part jumps out at you? Did you gain a new or deeper understanding of any particular verse or section of the passage? Remember to go back and read the chapter a couple times, out loud if you can, and reflect and pray on what you read. How does the word speak to you?