Matthew 3-4: Baptism, temptation and the gospel.

January 17, 2014.

Daily reading: Matthew 3-4.

Background: Matthew 1-2.

Concepts and Connections.

Chapter 3
1. The baptism of John: There are several references to one that would come before the Christ to prepare the way for Him. Isaiah prophesied that he would come as one crying in the wilderness “prepare the way of the Lord (see Isaiah 40:3).” Another notable place where this precursor to Christ is mentioned is in Malachi 3-4, stating that he would come in the spirit of Elijah, one of the most notable prophets in the Old Testament. This is precisely what John the baptizer came to accomplish. John was a wild man, living in the wilderness and eating locust and wild honey. He came with a singular message: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” This would be the same message that Jesus would start to proclaim when He began His ministry (see note on chapter 4). John was not a man to beat around the bush or to hide his calling. People knew what he was about and they knew where he stood. He was not afraid to rebuke people for their sins, as is seen in this chapter when the Pharisees came out to see him. He confronted them for their arrogance, for he knew that they viewed themselves in a special place as the seed of Abraham. He reminded them, however, that God was omnipotent. He didn’t need the Pharisees to accomplish His righteousness, for if He wanted, He could raise up sons of Abraham even from the lifeless stones that surrounded them.

John’s baptism was for repentance and the forgiveness of sins (see Luke 3:3). Luke 3 gives more details about his ministry. When each group who came out to be baptized by him would ask him what they needed to do, he would point to a specific sin that was associated with them and tell them to rectify it. Though John’s message was a hard message, it was a message of good news, and the people came out in droves to see the wild man and to be baptized by him. In this way, John started to prepare the minds of the people for the coming Christ.

2. The baptism of Jesus: As the people were coming out in droves, Jesus came to be baptized by John just before He began His ministry. When He goes to John, John refuses at first because he doesn’t consider himself worthy. Remember that John’s baptism was for repentance and the forgiveness of sins- things which Jesus didn’t need. Jesus was sinless, and therefore did not need to repent, and this is why John says that he would rather need to be baptized by Jesus. But Jesus says that His baptism was to “fulfill all righteousness,” as he knew that the covenant of baptism would be how His followers would later be united with Him in HIs death, burial and resurrection (see Romans 6:1-11). It is important to note here that though Jesus didn’t need to be baptized for the forgiveness of sins as we do, this is still the point where the Father publicly identified with Him, announcing from heaven that He was His Son, and He was well pleased with Him. The importance of Jesus’ baptism should not be underestimated. It is also interesting to note that this is one place in scripture where God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit are all shown as three separate entities (a voice from heaven, Jesus and a dove, respectively) at the same time, showing the full nature of the Godhead.

3. The baptism of the Holy Spirit: The baptism of fire and of the Holy Spirit of which John talks about in this chapter has been a topic of much controversy amongst believers throughout the years as to what he meant exactly. However, the bible is usually good about telling us exactly what it means when we look further. There are two times that this passage is referenced in scripture later on, Acts 1 and Acts 11. In Acts 1, the risen Lord is addressing His disciples, telling them that what they had heard of John about the baptism of the Holy Spirit would happen in a few days from then (see Acts 1:4-5). He goes on to say that they would receive power from the Holy Spirit and they would be His witnesses throughout Judea and Samaria, even to the ends of the earth. In the beginning of Acts 2, this is fulfilled as the Apostles are baptized with the Holy Spirit, with divided tongues of fire resting on each of them (see Acts 2:1-4). The baptism of the Holy Spirit was associated with an outpouring of physical miracles, such as speaking in tongues as the Apostles started to do here.

The other instance that John’s words are mentioned is in Acts 11:15-16, as Peter is recounting to the Christians in Jerusalem what the Lord had done for the Gentiles with the conversion of Cornelius. Peter told them how he was given a vision by the Lord to go to the Gentiles, who the Jews would not fellowship with, and proclaim the good news about Christ. As he was speaking to Cornelius and his family, they were baptized with the Holy Spirit and began speaking in tongues and extolling God. Again, the baptism of the Holy Spirit came through an outpouring of the Holy Spirit. In both instances, it was to make a statement. When the Apostles were baptized by the Holy Spirit, God was letting all the people know that He was with them, and that they were speaking the message of truth. When Cornelius and his family were baptized with the Holy Spirit, God was showing Peter and the rest of the Jewish Christians that He had accepted the Gentiles just as He had accepted the Jews (see Acts 11:17). Both cases were followed by water baptism of believers for the forgiveness of sins and by command (see Acts 2:37-47 and Acts 10:47-48).

Chapter 4
1. The temptation of Jesus: Before Jesus starts His ministry, He was lead by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. It was necessary for Jesus to be tempted in all ways we were (this was not the only time Jesus ever experienced temptation) so that He could be the great high priest, able to sympathize with our weakness (see Hebrews 4:14-16). There are many lessons we can learn from the temptation of Jesus, but for purposes of space, we will limit the lessons here to three.

The firs thing we might draw from this story is that temptation comes at times of weakness. The tempter is smart and he uses our physical state and weaknesses against us. Jesus had been fasting for 40 days and the text says that He was hungry. What is the first thing the devil tempts him with? Food. The tempter was appealing to the satisfaction of the flesh through physical food. But Jesus responded with “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.” Christ knew that there was more to life than food. He knew that the only ultimate satisfaction came from God and that food would only be a temporary fix. In II Corinthians 2:11, Paul says that we should forgive in order to not be outwitted by Satan, for we are not ignorant of his designs. We need not underestimate the power of temptation, and we need to be prepared to handle it when it comes at our weakest points.

The second lesson that we can draw from the temptation of Christ is by observing how Jesus answered the tempter each time. “It is written…” When Jesus was tempted, He answered with scripture. It is noteworthy to point out that Jesus knew scripture well. He was able to adequately answer all the tempters tricks with the appropriate scripture. As followers of Christ, it is important to know scripture just as He did. It is impossible to follow Him without a thirst for the word, for in his words are spirit and life (see John 6:60-65). The word of God is living and active, sharper than a two edged sword (see Hebrews 4:12), and John even describes Jesus as a manifestation of the word (see John 1:1-18). We need not underestimate the power of the word of God. Jesus didn’t.

The third lesson we can pull from the temptation of Christ is the fact that the devil could use scripture too. When the devil took Jesus to the pinnacle of the temple, he quoted scripture to him from Psalm 91. Just because someone quote scripture does not automatically mean that they are correct. We need to be careful not to simply take what someone says as truth, but to be like the Berean Christians in Acts 17 who searched the scriptures daily to see if the things that Paul was saying were true (see Acts 17:11). Peter warns in II Peter 3:14-16 that there were those who took the words of Paul and the rest of the scriptures and twisted them to their own destruction. We need to test everything to see if it is truly in accordance with the full of scripture, for the tempter too can quote scripture.

2. Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand: The message of Christ was not an easy message of only belief, peace and love. One of the first ideas that Jesus proclaimed was that which John had been proclaiming: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand,” Christ was not coming to bring a life of ease to His followers, but rather a life of righteousness and purity. Christ came to set up His kingdom (see Daniel 2:44) and call the sons of man to repentance to enter HIs kingdom through the gift of His grace. This was the gospel- the kingdom. This is what He called His disciples to, as they immediately left all to follow him. They would become fishers of men, proclaiming the gospel. It was a fulfillment of the prophecy found in Isaiah 9:1-2, as the Christ came to be a light to those who were walking in darkness. He came to bring light, and He did this through His message: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”

Tomorrow’s reading: Romans 5-6.

Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.

-Walter

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