Matthew 3:1–12 1 In those days John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness of Judea, proclaiming, 2 “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” 3 This is the one of whom the prophet Isaiah spoke when he said, “The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.’” 4 Now John wore clothing of camel’s hair with a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey. 5 Then the people of Jerusalem and all Judea were going out to him, and all the region along the Jordan, 6 and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. 7 But when he saw many Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? 8 Bear fruit worthy of repentance. 9 Do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our ancestor’; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. 10 Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 11 “I baptize you with water for repentance, but one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 12 His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and will gather his wheat into the granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”
Overview of Matthew’s Gospel – Matthew shows Jesus as a Priest, filled with teaching like that of faithful priests. Jesus is shown to be a greater Moses who provides a new Exodus in Himself. Thus, there are five “books”/sermons in Matthew which relate to the five books of Torah, ending with, “When Jesus had finished saying these things . . .” (7:28; 11:1; 13:53; 19:1; and 26:1). This first Gospel is a “priestly” foundation for the Church and thus is a recap of the history of Israel to fulfill the Law/Prophets (5:17) (outline below). Jesus is called out of Egypt, i.e., apostate Israel. Herod is like a new pharaoh. “Herod” signals that innocents die (ch. 2, 14, Ex. 1:16). The miracles and fulfillments of Matthew demonstrate that Israel is unfit to be the priestly nation, hence 12 miracles in chs. 8-9 “restore” Israel. Jesus is a new David (king) and prophet (Elijah) (12-14). Followers of Jesus are to be a true “kingdom of priests” (Ex. 19:6) cleansing the nations. Yet, this new Torah does not end with the death of Moses (Dt. 34:10), but with the resurrection of One greater than Moses. Finally, Jesus is a greater Cyrus (the Lord’s anointed) and just like the last verse of the Hebrew Bible (2 Chr 36:23), there is a commission: Since this anointed One has all power and authority in heaven and on earth, He commands: “Go and make disciples of all nations” (28:20).
Insight – As the overview indicates, Matthew is very connected to promise and fulfillment in the Hebrew Scriptures. John the Baptist’s actions may seem bizarre until we understand the background. Throughout Matthew there is a frequent use of this kind of phrase: “so that what had been spoken through the prophets might be fulfilled” (2:23). So also did John fulfill prophecy as the forerunner of Christ. Many people miss the fact that his baptism is like the previous baptisms of Israel. He was to go “in the spirit and power of Elijah” who divided the water of the Jordan (2Kgs. 2:8ff). John “prepared the way” for Jesus quite literally. John was “preaching a baptism of repentance” at the Jordan river (Mk. 1:4). Literally, John was in the wilderness beyond the borders of the Land where they “went out to him” (Mk. 1:5). He called the people to follow his “path” outside of Israel and to “turn” (repent) and cross the Jordan to enter the Land in renewal. John’s baptism for Israel was a sign of passing or crossing into renewed Israel to prepare for Messiah. Deuteronomy looks to a time when they “cross the Jordan” being led by Joshua (Dt. 4:21). The rest of the New Testament draws upon various threads of this crossing into Christ, through death and into resurrection life on the other side (Rom. 6:3-4, Col. 2:11-12). Therefore, John was baptizing a renewed Israel in preparation for Jesus.
Child Catechism – Why did John baptize? John baptized to call Israel to repent and get ready to believe in Jesus.
Discussion – Do you remember who John’s father was and what he did? . . . If Zacharias was a priest in the temple in Jerusalem, then why did John lead people away from the temple to be washed?
Prayer – Merciful God, who sent your messengers the prophets to preach repentance and prepare the way for our salvation: Give us grace to heed their warnings and forsake our sins, that we may greet with joy the coming of Jesus Christ our Redeemer; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.