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DECLARING IDENTITY -


Matthew 3:1-6, 11-17


SESSION OVERVIEW:


John the Baptist was of priestly descent (His father was Zacharias; cf. Luke 5:1), yet his actions were a little strange. We don’t find John in the Temple or in any Jewish synagogue; no, he is in the “wilderness” (desert land) outside Jerusalem. He also had a very conservative dress and an extremely restricted diet. This may be a hint that John was a member of a religious order called the Essenes. These were people more conservative than either the Sadducees or the Pharisees. They lived in the area of the Dead Sea and set up colonies there. So conservative were the Essenes that they frowned on marriage (John the Baptist did not marry). Of course, much of the discussion on John as an Essene is conjecture, but worth the consideration...

But what is important to us is, his strange man preached in the “wilderness” and wound up with church officials coming to him...

INTRODUCTION:

Practically no one knew Jesus, and the few who did, knew Him as a poor, son of a carpenter from Nazareth. Such credentials would not command much attention. But Jesus was much more than that, and someone had to make that fact known. That task fell to Jesus’ cousin, John the Baptist. John had a six-month head start in his ministry, as he was some six months older than Jesus (prophets and priests traditionally began their life work at age 30). In fact, John was already about his evangelistic work when Jesus came by the Jordan River where John was baptizing. Of course, John’s baptism was one of repentance; Jesus’ baptism would be one of salvation...

Today’s lesson focuses on probably the most important day of John the Baptist’s life. He would introduce the world to Jesus, then baptize Him. Aside from Jesus Himself, who can claim a more productive life?

I. John’s Message (Matthew 3:1-4)

The crux of John’s message was Repent! Now that word entails more than might first meet the eye. Repentance requires first a recognition that one is wrong. This is followed by genuine sorrow for that wrong. Next comes a heartfelt commitment to never again commit that transgression. So John was not calling for anything simple; he was challenging people to change their lives...


Look now at verse 3. Here are the first words of an introduction of Jesus. John quotes Isaiah 40:3, 4 in making his point. And while Isaiah is admittedly talking about the Lord, John is talking of Jesus, and based on the Doctrine of the Trinity, there is here no conflict. In each case, the ”Way” to be prepared is the Way of the Lord. This, along with the fact that John was preaching, not in the temple but by the Jordan River, may be a confirmation of the words of Ezekiel, who declared that at a point prior to the Babylonian Captivity, God left the temple (cf. Ezekiel 10:18, 19) and went out into the open spaces. The implication is clear: God was not (symbolically) in the Jerusalem temple...


II.Response to John’s Message (Matthew 3:5, 6)


People from all over the region came to hear John preach. Why? Probably because (at least in the case of the Pharisees and Sadducees) they thought John might be the Messiah that was to come. This can be surmised from Daniel 9:24. Here the Angel Gabriel tells Daniel how long it will be before the “anointing of the most Holy”. That, of course, was Jesus. But if the church leaders were doing arithmetic, they probably miscalculated by six months. John, not Jesus, was in the wilderness. Jesus came six months later...


It is important to note here that many were baptized; that is, they were completely covered by water. But an important ingredient is here noted: they were baptized after confessing their sins...


III. John Decreases (Matthew 3:11, 12)


The Gospel of John quotes John the Baptist as saying he (John) must decrease while Jesus increases (John 3:30). The words in the verses before us give us an example of how that was to happen. John downplays his baptism with water while promising that Jesus would later baptize (completely cover) believers with the Holy Ghost. By comparison, John declares himself unworthy to carry Jesus’ shoes (Loosing and carrying a mater’s shoes was traditionally the task of a slave)...

Here in verse 12 is a warning: Jesus will save the repentant, but others will be burned “with unquenchable fire”. This may be a precursor to Jesus’ Parable of the Wheat and the Tares (Matthew 13:24-30)...

IV. The Baptism of Jesus (Matthew 3:13-17)

Jesus travelled some distance to get to John’s location. From Galilee to the outer skirts of Jerusalem at the Jordan River would be in the neighborhood of 50 miles. And considering the mode of travel in that day, it was quite a trip...

Jesus wanted to be baptized of John. But there was a problem: Jesus had no sins to confess. In addition, John was sincere when he said he want Jesus to baptize him. Jesus’ reply is somewhat difficult, but could possibly mean that through this Baptism, Jesus enters in a special way into the eschatological (end-time) Church...

The Baptism was followed by an opening of the “heavens” and Jesus saw the “Spirit of God” descend in the form of a dove. That was followed by a heavenly voice in which God points out Jesus as Is beloved Son...
Much has been discussed as to whether anyone other than Jesus was witness to this display of the Holy Trinity. One answer may be found in John 1:32-34. Here, the Baptist testifies that he saw the dove, but makes no mention of the voice...

THE APPLICATION OF SCRIPTURE:

Everyone on earth has a job assigned by God. Some have “assignments” that take many years and cover numerous subjects. Others have a single task that can be done in a single day. What is frightening about all this is, what happens if you miss the one chance to do the one thing for which God made you? It is the kind of thing that faced John the Baptist. His task on earth was to announce the coming of Jesus and to baptize Him. After that, his life’s purpose was over. This is evidenced in the fact that he was shortly thereafter arrested and his life was taken on a whim (Matthew 14:3-12). This makes it doubly important that we all seek out God’s purpose for us in life, and be diligent about carrying that purpose out...

We must also be careful to take John the Baptist’s advice: we must decrease so that Jesus can increase in our lives. It is only through His divine guidance that our earthly lives will be meaningful....

A
 
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