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.' "