About Jesus     Steve Sweetman

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ch. 3:1-12  ch. 3:13-17

John The Baptist Prepares The Way (ch. 3:1-12)


Chapter 3 verse 1 begins with  “in those days John the Baptist came…”   We learn nothing from these words as to the time frame of when “those days” were.  If you want to understand these words you need to turn to Luke 3. Luke is extremely accurate with the mentioning of certain Jewish and Roman leaders at this time. A detailed study of these men will tell you about what days Matthew is speaking about, and is somewhere around 27 AD.


One thing we need to know about “those days” is that there were many so-called Jewish messiahs and zealots.  Although John the Baptist never claimed to be a messiah, many wondered if he wasn’t, and those who didn’t took him as just the next fake messiah. 


Verse 1 also says that John came “preaching in the desert of Judea ”.  John did not preach in the synagogues.  He did not preach in the Temple in Jerusalem .  He preached in the desert and people came to him to hear what he had to say.  This is an unlikely approach to use if you want your message heard.  Worldly thinking would be  to go to where the people could be found.  That’s good public relations.  The best way to promote anything is to go you’re your audience, not have them spend the time, money and energy to come to you.


Verse 2 tells us what John was preaching.  It wasn’t complicated. He preached “repentance for the Kingdom of Heaven is near”.  Repentance means to stop and turn around. 


The stopping part of repentance includes understanding that you are going in the wrong direction.  So what John is saying is that his audience needs to recognize that the way they’re living is not right.  They need to stop and then they need to turn towards that which is right.  Stopping and turning is repentance. 


Faith follows repentance. Faith is actually the steps you take in the right direction after you have stopped and turned around.  This means that you cannot take steps in the right direction if you haven’t actually stopped and turned around. This means that one can’t really have true faith without repenting. 


The problem in much of the Evangelical world today is that we have de-emphasized repentance.  This is a major problem.  Without the preaching of repentance you are actually preaching a different gospel and deceiving many people into thinking they’re true born again Christians.


The phrase “ Kingdom of God is near” can be seen threefold.  The Kingdom of Heaven was near when Jesus began His ministry.  It got closer and came to mankind in a spiritual way at Pentecost, and it will come in its fullness at the end of this age when Jesus returns.  


In the gospels we see the term “ Kingdom of God ” and “ Kingdom of Heaven ”.  These are not two Kingdoms but the same Kingdom, just expressed differently.  Kingdom simply means “the domain of the King”.  The King that is spoken of here is God Himself.  God has a Kingdom, but not all there is subject to Him at this point in time.  Both satan and man has their  kingdoms, both of which will fall in the end.


In verse 3 Matthew quotes the prophets again.  This time it’s from Isa. 40:3.  Isaiah prophecies about “a voice calling out in the desert. ‘Prepare the way for the Lord and make paths straight for Him’”. 


Isaiah’s prophecy speaks of John preparing the way for Jesus.  The message of John was “repent”.  If the people who heard John did repent, Jesus’ job would be easy.  The idea is that John would preached “repentance” , people would repent, then Jesus would preach “faith”.  Now Jesus did speak of repenting as well, but you see him speaking more of faith.  But to be clear, we must realize that Jesus understood the importance of both repenting and faith.  These two truths cannot be separated.


So the whole idea of John’s ministry was to preach repentance, the people would repent, so when Jesus came, He’d preach faith to a repented people. But for the most part the people refused to repent, especially the Jewish leadership,  therefore they could not believe or have faith.


In verse 4 Matthew notes that John’s clothes consisted of camel’s hair and a leather belt. This coast would have woven from the back and hump of a camel and was very coarse.  The hair on the belly of the camel was  much more softer and was woven into coats as well, but these were worn by rich people.  Jesus contrasts these two types of coats in Matt. 11:8.  The Jewish leaders wore the nice coats while John wore the rough ones, something that prophets often wore. 


John’s food consisted of grass hoppers and wild honey.  Note that this honey is wild, meaning he scraped it out of a bees nest. 


Why did Matthew think John’s clothes and food was worth mentioning?  Well, we may not know for sure, but I think we can safely say that how John appeared to those he spoke to is worth mentioning. John’s way of living was not normal, even for those days.  He would have looked like an outcast, someone that needed to be pitied. Still he drew very large crowds from both Judea and Galilee . All of the other so-called messiahs did not draw the crowds that John drew.  Here we have this weird guy preaching away in the desert and thousands of people are coming from all directions to hear him and when they get there, they’re told that they are living all wrong and need to change their ways.  Still, with all of this unorthodox behaviour, the crowds kept coming.


It would be important to note the contrast between John the Baptist and the Jewish leadership in what they wore, what they ate, how they spoke and taught, and how they lived.  God is not confined to doing things that seem right in the way of the world and often doesn’t.


Verse 5 confirms what I said above in that people came to John from Jerusalem , Judea, and all around the Jordan River region which would be Galilee and all the area east of the Jordan . This is quite a large area for those people. 


Verse 6 says that these people came “confessing their sins” and then they were baptized.  So we see great numbers accepting John’s preaching.  We don’t know the percentage of people who believed John’s preaching but it does seem significant. The question arises when we read the first chapter of John’s gospel where John tells us that Jesus came to His own and His own did not receive Him.  His own refers to the Jews.  For the most part the Jewish leadership rejected Jesus.  It was the ordinary person who did receive Him, and these were probably influenced by John the Baptist.


So we see many people repenting because of what John was preaching. These people would have become followers of Jesus, but many of these people began to fall away after hearing what Jesus said.  (see John 6:60)  Jesus spoke very strong and hard to take words, and for this reason many of the Jews fell away. 


Concerning the people coming to hear John.  Some of these people were Pharisees, Sadducees  and priests.  Some of these men might well have known John in his youth.  Remember, John’s father was Zechariah, a priest.  In Luke 1:8 we see Zechariah serving the Lord as a priest when God speaks to him concerning the birth of his son John.  God speaking to Zechariah was the first time in about 400 years that God spoke to the Jewish leadership.  God had been silent until the birth of John. 


Speaking of the Pharisees and Sadducees,  Matthew tells us in verse 7 that they came out to hear John.  John did not receive them as being important men.  He did not recognize them before the crowds as men that they should listen to.   John called these men ”snakes”.   Snakes are slimy deceivers.  The devil is seen as a snake.  John asks these men, “who told them to come and escape God’s wrath”.  John had no good thing to say about the religious establishment of his day. 


It’s clear that John believed in a time when God’s wrath would be poured out on the wicked, and that’s why he was calling people to repent.  The coming wrath of God is part of the gospel message.  God’s wrath is what we are saved from.  We are saved from many things when we become a Christian, but the number one things we are saved from is God Himself that is seen in his wrath.


The word wrath is actually a stronger word than the word anger.  In some places in the book of Revelation a certain Greek word that is translated as wrath as in the wrath of God at the end of this age is a very explosive word.  The thought that is conveyed by this Greek word is that God’s anger can no longer be kept under control but explodes out over all the earth.  The emphases is on God’s wrath exploding uncontrollably.   This is the wrath John is speaking about here.  God’s wrath is clearly seen in the judgments of the book of Revelation, despite what some people say.


John, in verse 8 tells these Jewish leaders “to produce fruit in keeping with repentance”.  What he is saying here is that “show me by how you live that you have truly repented”.  If your life didn’t show that you had really turned from your sin in repentance, then John would not have baptized you.


“Producing works of repentance” in a life should be the bases of anyone getting water baptized today as a Christian. This is not often the case.  Sometimes we rush people into being water baptized.   


In verse 9 John beats the Jewish leadership to the punch. These men often claimed great significance being the children of Abraham. They based their Jewishness on this fact. John anticipated that they’d bring this subject up, so he cuts them off at the corner.  John tells them that being the physical descendents of Abraham means little.  God could make children out of stones. 


The Jews equated being children of Abraham as being the same as being children of God.  John is de-emphasizing this.  John says that God could make His children out of stones.  If He made mankind out of dust, making children out of stone is easy. 


It’s always the tendency of man to promote ones heritage over and above that which we should.  As Christians we do the same.  Some might say, “I’m a Lutheran”.  But merely being part of the heritage of Luther as seen in the Lutheran denomination doesn’t mean you have the same faith Luther had.


Verse 10 is a Scriptural principle.  John says that the “ax is already at the root of the trees”.  He goes on to  say that this ax will cut down any tree that does not produce good fruit. By saying the ax is already at the root of the tree means that the tree is ready to be cut down unless it starts producing good fruit pretty quickly.


The ax is God’s judgment.  The ministry of John is the beginning of the judgment of Israel .  There’s still time to produce good fruit, but time is running out.  Jesus would come to minister to the Jews, and offer them the way to produce good fruit.  His death and resurrection is the key element in the production of good fruit in the Jewish people, yet most of them rejected God’s provision to produce good fruit and as a result the mercies of God was extended to the Gentile world, which was part of God’s original intention anyway.


In Romans 9 through 11 Paul describes the process in which God put the ax to the root of the Jewish tree.  A new tree was planted, and that is the people of the New Covenant.


Notice the words “good fruit”.  What really is good fruit?  Just a few verses back John spoke of fruit as a response of true repentance.   So the fruit that John is talking about here is fruit that is a product of repenting, not a product of legalistic religion, or human effort.  There’s more than one kind of fruit, but it’s the fruit of repentance and faith that is good fruit. 


In verse 11 John tells his audience that he baptizes with water but the One he is speaking about is much greater than he is and He will baptize with the Holy Spirit.  John knows his place in the work of the Lord.  He is not greater than Jesus.  He does not act as if he is someone great.  He’s simply a messenger to announce the coming of the Messiah, something all of us should be like.


We’re all part of the Body of Christ today.  Each of us is joined to someone. Each of us has a part to play for the good of the body.  Each of us, along with the ones we are joined to have a job to do.  Each job is important and is no more important than another person’s job.  John recognized this. So should we.   


John says that Jesus will baptize with the Holy Spirit.   This is most clearly seen on the Day of Pentecost when the disciples received the Holy Spirit.  We need to understand here that the important thing that happened on the day of Pentecost was not the way in which these people received the Spirit, as in a baptism.  The important thing was that they actually received the Holy Spirit into their lives.  How they received it was secondary.


These people were drenched with the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost just as one would be totally drenched in water when water baptized.  The process of this drenching is only symbolic of what really happened. The word baptize is only used to give us a clear picture of what receiving the Holy Spirit is all about.  The problem is that in many areas of the church we’ve made more out of this baptism than what we should  We’ve made this into an experience, and this experience has become more important than what really happens, and that’s receiving the Holy Spirit. The way we receive the Spirit is not the important thing here.  The actual receiving of the Holy Spirit is the important thing. 


John added the words “with fire” concerning Jesus baptizing with the Holy Spirit. There’s many interpretation to what this exactly means.  Some people suggest it points to the tongues of fire on the Day of Pentecost.  Some suggest it’s the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives that burns up our ungodliness.  Others say it is the final judgment.  At this point I’m not convinced to what way of thinking is right.  One thing I know, that when one receives the Spirit, he knows he has received Him into is life, and the Spirit is like a fire that burns within. Fire burns.  Fire warms, and fire motivates.


The reason why some suggest that this fire refers to final judgment is found in verse 12. John says that “His winnowing fork is in His hand”. With this winnowing fork Jesus will separate the wheat from the chaff.  The wheat goes into the barn and the chaff is burned.  This is a picture of final judgment.  Yet it is the winnowing fork that is implemented in judgment, not the fire.  The fire is only for the ungodly after the winnowing fork separates the righteous from the unrighteous.


The Baptism Of Jesus (ch. 3:13-17)


In verse 13 Matthew tells us that Jesus came from Galilee to be baptized by John.  Where in Galilee might be questionable. Some say Nazareth . We do know that Jesus moved from Nazareth to Capernaum . (Matt. 4:13)


If you want a fuller understanding of Jesus’ baptism you can read John’s account, because he tells the story with more detail than the other gospel writers. I will only comment on what Matthew points out.  For further comments, you can read my commentary on the Gospel of John.


In verse 14 John tells Jesus that He should be the one baptizing him. This is understandable.  John is the lesser of these two men.  What an experience this had to have been for John.  You see John in whom he really was here.  He was humble.  He understood his place.  Yet humility is not weakness.  John was very bold, and for that very reason was beheaded. 


The question might be asked when John knew that Jesus was the Messiah.  Did he know when he saw Jesus approach him that seems to be the case here.  If you read John’s account you might think that John knew when he saw the Spirit fall on Jesus like a dove.  Just exactly when John knew that Jesus was the Messiah might well be debatable.  Maybe he saw the Spirit descending on Jesus as He approached him. And maybe the Spirit remained on Jesus during the baptism and the voice from Heaven.   


In verse 15 we Jesus tell John that it is proper for Him to be baptize by John.  It was proper because it “fulfilled all righteousness”.  The question is, “what does this mean”? 


First of all we need to understand that everyone that John baptized was repenting of their sin as they were drenched with water.  This was not the case with Jesus.  He had no sin to repent of. Therefore His baptism was different than everyone else’s.  This in fact for Jesus was actually the beginning of His ministry.  You might call this Jesus’ inauguration ceremony.  John’s account shows this very clearly.  The Holy Spirit fell on Jesus at this point.  It’s not that Jesus didn’t have the Spirit prior to this because He did.  This was an outpouring of the Holy Spirit on His life for all to see.  This outpouring, along with the voice of God saying that Jesus was God’s beloved Son confirmed the fact that Jesus was indeed the Messiah. 


As water baptism is the entrance for us into the Christian life, so Jesus’ baptism was the entrance into His ministry. 


Fulfilling righteousness thus means that Jesus’ baptism had to be.  It was the righteous thing to do.  It was God’s purpose for Jesus. Living righteously means living according to God’s purpose and this was all in the plan of God. Jesus needed to obey His Father in His baptism which was a sign to everyone to whom He really was.  He was not just the carpenter from Nazareth .


The last phrase of verse 15 says, “then John consented”.  Once he heard Jesus’ reasoning, he did not hesitated.  John knew that Jesus had to be obedient and fulfill righteousness and it was clear that he had a part to play in this fulfillment of righteousness.


Verse 16 briefly describes what John in his gospel account elaborates on.  The Holy Spirit came on Jesus as a dove, the symbol of love and peace, both of which were inherent in Jesus and His message.


Verse 17 ends this chapter with the voice coming from God announcing that Jesus was God’s Son, and that God loved Him and was pleased with Him.  Once again, this was the inauguration of Jesus’ ministry.  This validated who Jesus was and what He was about to do and say over the next 3 years. 


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