How should we relate to a 2,000 year old statement that the Kingdom of God is near?
The ministry of Jesus doesn’t begin with Jesus, but with His cousin, John. Before Jesus starts his ministry of love, of healing, teaching, and preaching about the new Kingdom, John preaches it (Matthew 3:2). John’s ministry included ritual immersion in water, a mind-change (repentance), confession of sin, and a change in ethics.
Matthew 3:1-10—John the Baptist
- John’s persona:
- Clothing: John is dressed as was Elijah the Tishbite (see 2 Kings 1:8) suggesting a prophetic role from the outset.
- Food: Some have suggested that John’s diet was vegetarian, eating wild honey with locust beans like carob. However, the Greek word here is for grasshoppers, not pods, even though the English is “locust.”
- A Wilderness lifestyle? Scholars have suggested John may have Essene background, or maybe even lived for a time at Qumran where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found.
- Christian Monasticism found evidence for an ascetic lifestyle in John’s simplicity, hairy clothing, and wilderness abode. Some orders modeled their lifestyle after him.
- John’s Message:
- Repent! An imperative, a command. The Greek word Metanoio suggests a change of mind, of thinking or of heart
- The Kingdom of God is near. Matthew uses the phrase Kingdom of Heaven (32x) or Kingdom of God (4x) 36 times in his gospel, and references the kingdom over 56 times. It’s a major theme, especially in chapter 13 with the parables of the Kingdom.
- John rebukes the Pharisees for their hypocrisy and ethnic confidence.
- Another imperative, bear fruit congruent with a statement of repentance. Sorrow for sin should lead to a reform in the life.
- John’s Methodology:
- Public proclamation – is there a place for street-corner preaching these days?
- In the wilderness – John wasn’t in the busy cities, but in the Judean desert.
- Calling people to wash—immersed in water. The Greek word “baptize” means to immerse. John’s message was one of whole-body washing as a symbol of cleansing from sin in harmony with their confession, repentance, and subsequent new life.
- John’s Influence and Fruit:
- Jerusalem, “all Judea” and the Jordan region came to hear John. He attracted large groups of people
- People confessed their sins, admitted to doing wrong. We may think of admitting doing wrong as of utmost privacy.
- Luke 3 10-15 suggests people even asked what needed to change in their lives. They were willing to make a chance. There was an air of eager expectation
Are John the Baptists’ message, methodology, and influence still relevant today?
Do people really need to “repent,” and if so, from what? After all, isn’t the idea of sin a bit old-fashioned or outdated, or at least religiously charged and thus not politically correct in advanced western culture?
What would the announcement of the arrival of God’s heavenly Kingdom have meant to Jews then, and what should it mean for us 2,000 years later?
Matthew 3:11-17—Jesus’ Baptism
The last part of John’s message was about one coming after him who was greater than him, one who would arrive with signs of judgment, and of a greater Baptism of the Holy Spirit and fire.
It is immediately after this announcement in the narrative that Jesus shows up to be baptized.
What is John’s reaction to Jesus’ request to be baptized? Isn’t He the Messiah? Why would Jesus get baptized?
What supernatural events take place at the baptism of Jesus that confirm John’s preaching about Him?
Matthew 4:1-11—The Temptations
Jesus is led into the wilderness to be tempted (40 days, like Israel’s wanderings) by the adversary. Three specific temptations are recorded, and three times Jesus thwarts the attacks, parrying with the sword of the Scriptures and confidence in His Father’s love.
Would you have been tempted by these same trials?
What is the difference between temptation and sin? Is it wrong to be tempted?
Is it possible to overcome temptations, and if so, does Jesus provide me an example here?