Today: [Matthew 3] Introducing John the Baptist: In Matthew 3 we meet John the Baptist, a near relation to Jesus, who precedes Him in public ministry calling the people to repentance and water baptism. Is it essential or necessary for believers in Jesus to be baptized? What if you were only sprinkled in baptism? Is that enough? What did John know about Jesus before Jesus met with him on the banks of the Jordan? These answers and more are considered in our study.
[Mat 3:1-17 KJV] 1 In those days came John the Baptist, preaching in the wilderness of Judaea, 2 And saying, Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand. 3 For this is he that was spoken of by the prophet Esaias, saying, The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. 4 And the same John had his raiment of camel’s hair, and a leathern girdle about his loins; and his meat was locusts and wild honey. 5 Then went out to him Jerusalem, and all Judaea, and all the region round about Jordan, 6 And were baptized of him in Jordan, confessing their sins. 7 But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees come to his baptism, he said unto them, O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come? 8 Bring forth therefore fruits meet for repentance: 9 And think not to say within yourselves, We have Abraham to [our] father: for I say unto you, that God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham. 10 And now also the axe is laid unto the root of the trees: therefore every tree which bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire. 11 I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance: but he that cometh after me is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear: he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost, and [with] fire: 12 Whose fan [is] in his hand, and he will throughly purge his floor, and gather his wheat into the garner; but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire. 13 Then cometh Jesus from Galilee to Jordan unto John, to be baptized of him. 14 But John forbad him, saying, I have need to be baptized of thee, and comest thou to me? 15 And Jesus answering said unto him, Suffer [it to be so] now: for thus it becometh us to fulfil all righteousness. Then he suffered him. 16 And Jesus, when he was baptized, went up straightway out of the water: and, lo, the heavens were opened unto him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and lighting upon him: 17 And lo a voice from heaven, saying, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.
In Matthew 3, we are introduced to John the Baptist, preaching in the wilderness of Judea clothed in camel’s hair, subsisting on a diet of locusts and wild honey. Locusts in the scripture are a type or metaphor of judgments for sin, and honey represents the prophetic word. The signal is clear – after 400 years of silence, God is making His voice known once again through the prophets. As a prophet, John the Baptist occupies a unique position. The rabbis do not consider John one of the 55 recognized Jewish prophets. He does not fit into the mold of a classic New Testament prophet either, in spite of the fact that he is the stereotypical picture of a prophet instantly recognizable by anyone with even a precursory knowledge of the word of God.
In Jesus’ lifetime, the Jewish authorities clearly rejected the prophetic ministry of John the Baptist yet feared to say so publicly because they knew that the people heard him gladly (Mark 6:20). Even today, if you research Jewish attitudes toward John the Baptist, they will vociferously deny they had any idea who he was or that he lived at all, in spite of the fact that a non-believing Jewish historian at the time by the name of Josephus documented John’s existence and his message to the first-century Jews. John’s message still resonates today as an indictment of his own people for rejecting the Messiah they claimed to be anxiously and openly waiting upon.
John’s message can be summed up in the one word emphasized in verse 2: “repent.” The word repentance, as used by John, is very different from the term repent used in later Christian teaching. In verse 2, the word repent is “metanoia” which includes the meaning commanding the hearer to “abhor” or to “hate” evil. This is different than the word for repentance used in Hebrews 6:1 in the list of teachings that were considered the foundations of the Christian faith. The reference in Hebrews for repentance doesn’t mean just to abhor, or to hate evil but to “abandon” evil. John preached to those who were not born again. Before you are born again, all you are capable of in terms of repentance is to receive a conviction of sins and make a decision to hate the evil, that once becoming a Christian by the new birth, you then have the grace to abandon altogether. This should confirm to us that as a Christian, life should not be comprised of an endless cycle of sinning and being forgiven. In Christ, we not only receive forgiveness of sin but grace to abandon the sin we were once held in slavery to.
In verse 7, we see that John’s attitude toward the Pharisees and Sadducees echoes that of the teachings of Jesus. Jesus in his teachings was seen as the friend of publicans and sinners, but the religious authorities of the day were the objects of His most fierce denunciations because they would not enter the kingdom, nor would they allow anyone else to enter the kingdom by virtue of their own condemnatory practices, holding those they considered offenders under the heaviest burden of false guilt and religious condemnation. The Jews in Jesus’ day felt that they were unique and special in the eyes of God to such a degree that no matter how far they strayed from the pure worship of Jehovah, their Jewish lineage would keep them in His favor. In essence, they believed they were too big to fail or be rejected by God. John declares to them that there was no boast to claim that Abraham was their father (v. 9), conjecturing that God could raise up of the stones on the ground children to Abraham. The message still stands today, respecting those of the Christian faith who believe that accepting Jesus as savior places them in an irrevocable posture in their position of favor in the kingdom. Think not that you have Christ to your savior (as an excuse for spiritual laxity) because God is able to raise up of these stones born again believers. Judaism of the first century was not too big to fail, and neither is modern Christian culture so necessary to the plan of God that He might not fold them up as a vesture, put them away as He did Judaism 2000 years ago and begin again with another people bringing forth the fruits of repentance that John the Baptist so eloquently called for.
The ministry and anointing on John the Baptist was an ax laid at the root of the prevailing, (Jewish) religious system of the day, the same system whose leaders in just a few, short years would collude with Rome in the rejection and crucifixion of their Messiah. The ax laid at the root of first-century Judaism worked its work and felled it as a tree in just a few short decades from the time of John when the city of Jerusalem was destroyed and the temple along with it in 70 AD. Under the looming specter of this prophesied destruction, John’s message was “repent for the kingdom of God is at hand”.
John’s message of repentance was more than a call to consider the sinfulness of the heart reformation of his hearer’s ways. There was along with this a call to open confession and the ritual of baptism as an outward sign of the inward profession of one’s sinfulness and need of a savior. Thousands upon thousands found that John’s message resonated with their hearts and came to the waters of Jordan to be cleansed in ritual baptism. Was this immersion in baptism or mere sprinkling? The Greek word used by John was “baptize” which very simply means “to immerse, to submerge”. In spite of this, and regardless of the immense influence of the Evangelical movement over the years, sprinkling in baptism throughout Christian history has been the overwhelming choice of those professing Christ in their given Christian traditions. The deficiency of this alternative baptism is clear – God doesn’t want to simply apply a dash or a splash of saving grace to our lives, He wants and intends to completely submerge and immerse us in Himself and bring us to a radically new life, a complete departure from everything that ever came before. Should you be baptized as a Christian? Absolutely. Should it be by immersion? Without question. Even today, 2000 years later baptism is greatly marginalized as something that one should be willing to do, but only as time and convenience permits. John’s message was much more urgent.
In verse 13, we see John looking upon Jesus on the banks of the Jordan. Jesus has come to be baptized, but John absolutely had no intention of doing so. Jesus was his own cousin. He had known Jesus from infancy, and no doubt, even at a young age, realized that there was something very different and unusual about Him. Baptism was a baptism signifying the forgiveness and rejection of sin. Obviously, for John, what he knew about his kinsmen, Jesus rendered Him sinless in John’s eyes. Nevertheless, Jesus prevails upon His cousin John to go ahead and baptize Him, to “fulfill all righteousness”. Why was it necessary in Jesus’ eyes for Him to be baptized? Because the husbandman must be the first partaker of the vine (2 Tim. 2:6). If we are to follow Jesus in baptism, then it must be then that Jesus likewise be baptized, demonstrating for us our identification with Him in the death, burial, and resurrection.
When Jesus is baptized, something unusual happens. The sky parts, the clouds flee away, and a supernatural visitation in the form of a dove descends from above and lights upon His head. This was not something that only Jesus or perhaps John witnessed. The people assembled and the whole crowd roundabout saw the appearance of the dove of the Holy Spirit and heard the voice of heaven saying, “this is My beloved Son in whom I am well pleased”. What did this mean? The language might be unfamiliar to us, but it was instantly recognizable to every person present. This was the same language that every father, having trained his son in the family business, would take him to the marketplace, lay his hands upon his son’s shoulders and declare for all to hear “this is My beloved Son in whom I am well pleased”. From that point forward, every person hearing this knew that the son was authorized that day to do business for the Father, and everything the son did from that day on would be as if the father said it an did it. Jesus was the son of God from His birth when the Spirit of God came upon Mary, but this day He is announced as the son of God or set as a son of God, authorized to do the Father’s business in the earth.
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