"Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed."

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Matthew 3 -- John the Baptist

Matthew 3 introduces us to John the Baptist preaching in the desert area of Judea. His message was one of repentance because "the kingdom of heaven is near."

What does it mean to repent?
What does "the kingdom of heaven is near" mean? And why should its arrival motivate people to change their lives?

Matthew records that "many people" from Jerusalem, Judea, and all the area around the Jordan River came to hear John preach. They confessed their sins and John baptized them in the Jordan River.

Included in this group of people who came to hear John were Pharisees and Sadducees. (I learned recently that Sadducees were "bare letter of the Law" literalists whereas the Pharisees were a religious fraternity of sorts that added a lot of traditions and their own interpretations to the Law.) Apparently John detected their insincerity -- were their lives not changed? -- and he called them snakes and told them to "do the things that show you really have changed your hearts and lives."

I'm assuming from what John said next that these particular Jews thought their being children of Abraham was good enough (no changed hearts necessary!) for John says, "don't think you can say to yourselves, 'Abraham is our father.' I tell you that God could make children for Abraham from these rocks." Does this mean being "born Christian," "born Muslim," "born Jew" is not enough to put us in good standing with God? Outwardly these men looked truly pious, but God sees our hearts -- how pure are they to a holy God?

What's the purpose of baptism? Is it necessary for salvation or is it a symbol of a decision we've made to turn from wickedness? Or is it something else entirely? John says, "I baptize you with water to show that your hearts and lives have changed" (vs. 11).

John declares that one is coming after him whose shoes John is not worthy to carry. This promised one will baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire. Also this greater one will separate the good from the bad.

Jesus came and desired to be baptized, however, John wanted Jesus to baptize him and protested!

Why did Jesus want to be baptized? Did he have sins to confess and turn from? Did he want to set an example for others to follow? Or did God want to honor Jesus somehow? Matthew records that following Jesus' baptism, he came up out of the water. "At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and lighting on him. 17And a voice from heaven said, "This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased."

Notice here the presence of Jesus, God's Spirit descending "like a dove" and a voice from heaven. What do these words from heaven mean?

Note: I think of the Holy Spirit and God's Spirit interchangeably. God is holy, yes? Therefore His Spirit is holy...thus "the Holy Spirit" or the Holy Spirit of God.

OT references/prophesies -- vs. 3 -- Matthew says that John fulfilled the Isaiah 40:31 prophesy concerning:
3This is he who was spoken of through the prophet Isaiah:
"A voice of one calling in the desert,
'Prepare the way for the Lord,
make straight paths for him.' "



Wrestling said...

I loved the description of John's attire and food :D

I will be interested to compare this message of John's with Jesus's.

Suroor said...

Quick question - do Jews baptize? How is it different from that of the Christians?

sanil said...

Suroor - It's not "baptism" like Christians do it, but there is a ritual immersion. It is a part of conversion, and was done to symbolize ritual purity (so more than once in someone's life). So when John baptizes people, probably people who were already Jewish, it's not like the Christian baptism but symbolizes purity after turning from the sins that made someone impure to begin with.

If you want to learn more, see

sanil said...

Sorry for the double-comment. I got distracted and forgot to respond to the actual post! :D

I think that the kingdom of heaven is already near, and when we repent and act right, we enter into it. So the motivation then would be to change in order to bring it.

An alternative thought on the Pharisees and Sadducees, possibly John simply disagreed with their teachings. I have heard theories that he was a member of a different sect of Judaism (possibly the Essenes), and he would have disagreed with the way they thought they were supposed to be living. I don't like to assume their hearts were wrong, and how would John have known that? I think it's likely to be more a political disagreement and he personally didn't think their lives reflected right-living, the same way members of very different denominations or extremes of Christianity might doubt the sincerity of people on the other extreme. Having been a part of two extremes at different times in my life, however, I can say that both are extremely sincere and devoted to God. They just see that differently and so disapprove of the other.

One way to look at Jesus' baptism might be as someone being consecrated as a priest. See the wikipedia article on Jewish ritual washing and Exodus 40:12. I like this explanation, since the Spirit then rests on him and (in my opinion) ordains him for ministry. (Also, I agree with you on Holy Spirit/Spirit of God. Thank you for clarifying.)

Susanne said...

Sarah, ha, ha...yes, John lived rather simply, eh? :)

Suroor, along with what Sanil wrote, I was just going to add what my Bible notes on the side. It's a Quest Study Bible.

Question: "Did John invent baptism?"
Answer: "No, but John's baptism, however, was unique. After Judah's exile to Babylon in 586 BC, Jewish rabbis used baptism as a rite of cleansing. John redefined this sacred use of water as a one-time public sign of repentance."

Thanks for your question.

Sanil, thanks for your answer to Suroor's question! This is what I like to see. Us questioning and answering and learning from each other. :)

I love your second comment as well. LOTS of good stuff there for me to ponder! Wow! I just recently read about the Pharisees, Sadducees and Essenes in a book about the Jewish social life in Jesus' time. It's so weird to see you mention the Essenes now...hehehe...cool timing! The book I said did say they tended not to marry which seems to be like John the Baptist. Their description reminded me of a mix of Catholic practices (nun/monks) and what I've read about Sufi Islam.

Thanks so much for what you shared in your comments!

Keep the questions and comments coming, Ladies. I'm enjoying your thoughts/opinions, etc. :)

Amber said...

'repent' - to truly turn away from your sin, determined to not do it again. Not because you fear hell, but because your sin offended God. Which is not to say that you *won't* do it again, because we're human, and we fail. But it's the intention, I think.

re: John and the Pharisees & Sadducees: I tend to think that, the ones that he rejected, he knew they were not sincere because he was a prophet, and had special knowledge from God. He was the Forerunner, sent to prepare the way for Christ. He was not an ordinary man - just look at his life. He was definitely outside the norm.

'Does this mean being "born Christian," "born Muslim," "born Jew" is not enough to put us in good standing with God?'

Of course being 'born' something is not enough. One can go through the motions their entire life, but unless the faith is truly in their hearts, it's empty gestures, no matter which denomination you follow. The parents must raise the child up right - but it still is a personal choice. Which is why the child should never be cut off from the Church. They need to be fully participating in it in order to receiving the full benefits. They receive the Sacraments, and the Grace that accompanies them - this allows God to work more fully within them, leading them to where He desires them to be.

For us, baptism is our 'circumcision'. Our being adopted into God's family.

Jesus, when He desired to be baptized, was instituting the Sacrament. He was showing, again, that the world is sacramental. The world is not evil, it's what we do with it that can be evil. But it can also be good.

Susanne said...

Amber, again thanks...great and though-provoking comments. So do you believe baptism is necessary for salvation? I like how you said it was our "circumcision" -- I'd never thought of it that way.

You make me think...hmmmmm.

Amber said...


Ah...not so much, but maybe yes?

I believe that Baptism is a Sacrament, instituted by Christ. I believe that Christian's should be Baptised, in infancy if possible (born into a Christian family), but, of course, converts need to be baptised when they convert. I believe we receive a measure of Grace through our baptism (it brings us into the family), and that it, and the other Sacraments, help to keep us on the 'path'. That being said, if someone is in the process, and dies before they are baptised, do I think that that lack will keep them from Heaven? No. I think it's incredibly beneficial, and necessary, but I trust in God's Mercy that there are people who (through whatever circumstances) have died without being baptised that aren't made to suffer eternally for that.

Susanne said...

Thanks for explaining that. Great thoughts on baptism!