Matt. 3:1-4-Many years have passed (approx. 30) and Jesus is now a grown man. At this time, John the Baptist (baptizer) appears on the scene and begins to preach a message of “repentance” (to repent means to have a change of mind and heart that result in a change of lifestyle and behavior). He dressed and behaved in a manner that the Jews would associate with the prophets of the Old Testament. The Jewish people were looking for the coming of the Messiah and John says that “the kingdom of heaven is at hand”, meaning that He is present.
Matt. 3:5-10-People from all over Israel and from all walks of life began to come to hear John preach…and many of them were baptized. Baptism was a visual, outward portrayal of the inner change that God made in the lives of those who truly repented. As they repented, “as they confessed their sins” (:6)…God forgave them and literally washed them clean. What more vivid physical portrayal of this spiritual reality could there be than to see someone being immersed in the waters of the Jordan River…and being made clean as the waters washed over them. The dirt that was on them would be washed downstream, completely gone…it could never come back and make them dirty, again. Even so, when God forgives us of our sins we are made completely clean…our sins are washed away (downstream, so to speak)…and they will never be able to come back, again.
Matt. 3:7-Among those who were coming to John were some of the “Pharisees”. They were the most powerful of the various sects (similar to denominations in the contemporary church, today) of Judaism. They were extremely legalistic…believing that salvation (forgiveness from sins and a right relationship with God) came through adhering to a strict, orthodox set of laws that governed virtually every single aspect of life. These laws were not just those found in Scripture, but also included their own interpretations and teaching about Scripture. But the Pharisees had a problem: aside from the fact that no one will ever be saved through their own behavior (no matter how good they may appear to be, or how many good deeds they may perform), they were very hypocritical. They interpreted the laws of Scripture (the Law of Moses) in manners that benefited them. Through a vast array of interpretive processes they would twist and distort the real meaning of God’s laws to the extent that while by all appearances they were extremely religious and pious people…they were in fact, no longer following the meaning, or spirit of the law. They held in contempt and judgment anyone who disagree with their interpretations and practices. This is one reason why they would later become among the most accusative and antagonistic enemies of Jesus. His message was one of the acceptance of God’s grace and mercy that results in the righteousness that comes from Him…theirs was one of legalism and self-attained righteousness that deserves the mercy of God. The two messages are incompatible.
The other group mentioned here are the “Sadducees”. Their members came primarily from those who were priests and the upper class. They did not believe in the supernatural…dismissing the resurrection of the body, future punishment and reward after death, and the existence of angels. While they upheld the written law, they were opposed to the oral interpretation of the law that the Pharisees practiced. They were as opposed to Christ as the Pharisees were…but they were not as frequently condemned by Him.
When members of these two groups started showing up when John preached…he condemned them as hypocrites. They claimed that they were right with God because they were physical descendants of Abraham (the founder of the Jewish faith). John said that their lives were not in keeping with the faith that they claimed to be a part of and that their birth lineage had nothing to do with it. In fact, if God wanted to, He could turn stones into descendants of Abraham. In other words, just because someone is a physical descendant of Abraham, that doesn’t mean that they are right with God. Only those who are spiritual descendants of Abraham…those who practice their faith in God in the same manner as Abraham did…are truly right with God. John tells them that if they fail to recognize the difference and repent…they will be judged and condemned (:10).
Matt. 3:11-12-John’s baptism was with water as a sign of repentance from sin (3:11). Jesus’ baptism was with the Holy Spirit and fire for cleansing from sin (3:12).
Matt. 3:13-17-One day, Jesus showed up at the Jordan River where John was baptizing…and asked to be baptized by him. John recognized Who Jesus was and was hesitant to do so…because he knew that Jesus had nothing to repent for. But Jesus told him that it was the correct thing to do. When Jesus was baptized by John it was not as an act of repentance, but of righteousness (3:15). After Jesus was baptized a dove descended upon Him and God the Father spoke from Heaven. This is the first recorded expression of the concept of the Trinity…that the Son, the Spirit, and the Father are one God…who exist in three distinct personalities.
Prayer: Lord, I want to be a man like John the Baptist…who humbles himself before Jesus…and as a result, hears from Heaven!