Matthew: John Prepares the Way; Jesus’ Ministry Begins

Read: Matthew 3-4’s video introduction to Matthew helps provide context and a framework within which we gain his perspective on the life of Jesus. Matthew choice of stories depend on some knowledge of what we call the Old Testament, common knowledge for those in his time. Today we read about John the Baptist’s preaching and baptizing many in the wilderness, most notably Jesus himself! Then the earthly ministry of Jesus begins following his own wilderness experience where He is confronted by Satan. In these two short chapters we move from preparation to call of disciples to news about Jesus healing the sick. Matthew uses few words to cover much territory.

John the Baptist Prepares the Way

Why would people come out and confess their sins to a wild man in the wilderness? Did he look like one of the prophets of old? Were the people tired of the weight of rules and regulations created by the Pharisees and Sadducees? Lots of questions come to mind. Matthew’s account of John the Baptist is succinct, highlighting several important aspects of his ministry that impacted the entire region–that alone is truly impressive.

People went out to him from Jerusalem and all Judea and the whole region of the Jordan. Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River. Matthew 3:5-6

It’s been some 400 years since Malachi preached to those who returned from exile. John’s message must have been incredibly compelling since his reach is well beyond the local community. The time is right and the people were drawn to hear from this man who challenged the established religious leaders. When the Pharisees and Sadducees come to check him out, he dismisses them with blunt words of rebuke, “you brood of vipers” is bold to say the least.

One point I would like to learn from this is simply that John’s message, like the prophets before him, has nothing to do with promoting himself. He has nothing to gain personally from his preaching. He doesn’t say, “look at me…” In fact, it’s completely the opposite. John’s message is, “look to the one who is coming,” though he didn’t know it was his cousin!

Jesus is Baptized by John

Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to be baptized by John. But John tried to deter him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” Jesus replied, “Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.” Then John consented. Matthew 3:13-15

The anointing of the Holy Spirit must have radically changed the relationship between John the Baptist and Jesus of Nazareth. They grew up together as cousins. Elizabeth and Mary certainly knew each other as family ties in those days were significant. I suspect they gathered consistently over the 30 years prior to this point, but now everything has changed.

See how the Spirit moves in the lives of those who love God above all else. There is nothing like feeling the very presence of the Spirit move inside my chest. Just a few days ago, Beth and I were reading through Scripture and out of nowhere tears began to form as we were writing a song that would compel people to think about loving God with all their heart, mind, soul and strength. As we dwelled on this theme, it was clear that the Spirit wants us to pray with people as the body of Christ, to lay hands on those who are desperately looking for answers, who hear the message of hope and want to know how that works today. Music has a way of opening hearts. We know we’re just messengers. The memory comes to mind, but it is insignificant compared to the story here in Matthew.

The proclamation of Jesus’ ministry is awesome and brief from Matthew’s perspective. He moves the story along quite quickly to the next foundational phase.

Temptation in the Wilderness

Jesus fasted for 40 days and nights as He prepared to begin his ministry. Though I haven’t really thought about this before, I can’t imagine this was a secret to those around him. Can you imagine any of your friends or family fasting for an extended period without being noticed? Much less in a day when families lived in close community. Something was happening, but I’m sure no one really knew just what was going on between the cousins.

After this extended fast, Jesus was hungry and the devil was ready with his 3-pronged attack:

  1. “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.”
  2. “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down…”
  3. “All this I will give you,” he said, “if you will bow down and worship me.”

Jesus replies, “it is written…” all three times and dismisses Satan. The scene evokes all kinds of thoughts, but one that prevails is the idea that Jesus, the Son of God, allowed Satan to confront Him. He allowed time and space for the interaction, for the words of deception to be spoken and the words of correction to be heard. We must know that when the Spirit moves deep within, Satan will be present. Our battle is not against flesh and blood, but against the spiritual forces of evil (Ephesians 6:12). Jesus shows us how to win these battles and has given us more tools than those in Matthew’s day–we have the entire Bible!

Jesus Begins to Preach

John the Baptist gets tossed in prison as a result of his harsh, though accurate, words. Now Jesus begins to preach to the people that John has stirred into action. People are prepared to hear, not everyone, but crowds are ready to listen.

From that time on Jesus began to preach, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” Matthew 4:17

Notice that Jesus didn’t tell people to grab their lambs and head to the temple for sacrificial cleansing. His message is much more personal: Repent yourself! The focus is changing from following a system to one of personal transformation.

Matthew briefly covers the call of Jesus’ first disciples: Peter, Andrew, James and John (Zebedee brothers), each immediately left their boats and followed Jesus.

Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people. Matthew 4:23

Jesus teaches in the synagogues, the very heart of the Israelites’ religious community. The chosen people hear first from the Chosen One–and it’s good news people! Jesus shows up to preach repentance for the good of all. On top of spiritual healing, Jesus is concerned about physical illness and goes about healing disease and sickness.

This must have been an incredible change in the lives of those in Jesus’ day. They’ve been waiting for the Messiah with all kinds of hopes for what that might mean, but no idea that their generation would be the generation that would see Him.

Lord Jesus, please let us be a people that hear your voice and act like it! Let us be those who follow you completely, wherever that would lead, for Your purpose and not our hidden agendas. You alone are worthy to be praised.



A few interesting links from research and reading this morning:


Thoughts about serving others

This link includes a list of posts about Serving the Least, the Lost, and the Lonely.

My prayer is for you to join me on this journey. Subscribe to this blog below to get an email when a new post is available.

Let the Word evoke words. May your life encourage lives.

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