Gospel of Matthew Chapter Three Commentary by
Pastor Ron Beckham
Verses 1-2: "Now in those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the wilderness of Judea, saying, 2 'Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.'" For good reason, this "Johnthe Baptist" has been called the last of the Old Testament prophets. He became a person of the wilderness, appearing like a wild man, reminding people of Elijah the Prophet in the Book of 1st Kings. As to John's message, looking at Scripture, secular history, today's news and our own lives, it's obvious that repentance is necessary. When Jesus began His formal ministry to the world, His message in Matthew 4:17 was the same: "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." His kingdom consists of 1) The King, 2) His people; and the first step in becoming a citizen of the "kingdom of heaven" is to "repent." Are you willing to look to God in prayer, honestly confessing, "I'm sorry... I'm truly sorry for what I have thought, said and done"? It's a necessary requirement in order to cross the eternal border and enter His kingdom. If you were perfect, the need would not exist, but you are not perfect and the time is now to kneel in repentance before your King.
Verse 3: "For this is the one referred to by Isaiah the prophet when he said, 'The voice of one crying in the wilderness, 'Make ready the way of the Lord,
Make His paths straight!'" Before John the Baptist lived, his parents had no children and they were old (Luke 1:7). John was like everybody else, except for an important difference. An angel of the Lord appeared to the elderly man who was to be John's father, with the surprising news that, "your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John" (Luke 1:13). You can see this pattern often in Scripture: The Lord will pick someone unlikely and do something unexpected through them. And here's how John was different: The angel said that John would "be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother's womb" (Luke 1:15). Here, the Holy Spirit through Matthew quotes from Isaiah 40:3, a prophetic look at John and the Christ, also including these words: "Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low; the crooked places shall be made straight, and the rough places smooth," followed by: "The glory of the Lord shall be revealed." The "valley" speaks of people too low, too depressed to hear or understand that the Lord loves them. "Every mountain and hill" represents people like the proud religious leaders, the Pharisees, who need to be "made low," repenting of pride. The "crooked" ones must abandon criminal behavior, and the rough ones need to know that we are never too "rough," too common or too spoiled for God. John was like a signpost, pointing us to the Messiah, the Christ.
Verse 4: "Now John himself had a garment of camel’s hair and a leather belt around his waist; and his food was locusts and wild honey." We catch a glimpse of Elijah in 2 Kings 1:8—"He was a hairy man, and wore a leather belt around his waist... it is Elijah the Tishbite." Reading those words and the description left by Matthew, it's no wonder that people were coming to John for baptism, hoping their sins would be washed away. In 2 Kings 1:10 (and forward), we find prayerful Elijah brought "fire down from heaven" to destroy 100 men, 50 at a time. John looked something like Elijah, lived like him, and his contemporaries thought he might bring fire down on them at any moment. Depression, pride, criminal acts, roughness—all such attitudes and actions blind us to the Presence of the Lord who loves us. It is reasonable, by the way, to fear God, who can do anything at any time, and with that in mind, repentance as demanded by the Holy Spirit through John, makes a lot of sense.
Verses 5-6: "Then Jerusalem was going out to him, and all Judea and all the district around the Jordan; 6 and they were being baptized by him in the Jordan River, as they confessed their sins." Droves of people were coming to the Lord through John. They saw their need and understood that baptism is a public confession of sin. In baptism, we are thrust under the water where we cannot breathe, symbolizing our death to the sins of this world, and then we are brought back up into the air, a picture of new life. Romans 6:3-7, in discussing baptism, includes the words: "If we have been united together in the likeness of His death, certainly we also shall be in the likeness of His resurrection." We join Jesus in death and new life.
Verses 7-10: "But when he saw many of the 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 Therefore bear fruit in keeping with repentance; 9 and do not suppose that you can say to yourselves, 'We have Abraham for our father'; for I say to you that from these stones God is able to raise up children to Abraham. 10 The axe is already laid at the root of the trees; therefore every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire." The "Pharisees" were a Jewish sect of those whose name meant "separated ones." The "Sadducees" were another group of Jewish leaders who called themselves not only sons of Abraham, but also "followers of Zadok," a Levitical priest descended from Aaron (1 Chronicles 24:1-3). Zadok was chosen by David to anoint Solomon as king (1 Kings 1:32-35). The Lord through Ezekiel referred to the "sons of Zadok... who... did not go astray" (Ezekiel 48:11). These Sadducees were Jewish royalists who backed the Maccabees when they were in power. Instead of being men of faith like Zadok, however, both the Pharisees and Sadducees lapsed into a pride that misled the Jewish people they claimed to serve. Strangely, the Sadducees, a religious group, did not believe in the resurrection (Acts 4:1-2). John's anger toward them was understandable. They apparently did not come in true repentance, but instead it was currently the popular religious thing for men like these to do.
Verses 11-12: "As for me, I baptize you with water for repentance, but He who is coming after me is mightier than I, and I am not fit to remove His sandals; He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 12 His winnowing fork is in His hand, and He will thoroughly clear His threshing floor; and He will gather His wheat into the barn, but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.'" When we really KNOW the Lord, we discover our own lack and God's utter sufficiency. John obviously had made that blessed discovery. John was a humble man, pictured here by recognition of his own unfitness in relation to the Lord. Humanly speaking, John the Baptist was the cousin of Jesus (Luke 1:39-45), but John, filled with the Holy Spirit, saw that Jesus was and is the One who gathers the faithful into heaven and sends the unbelieving into unquenchable hell. John, filled with the Holy Spirit, KNEW that Jesus is the Son of God, who "will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire."
Verses 13-15: "Then Jesus arrived from Galilee at the Jordan coming to John, to be baptized by him. 14 But John tried to prevent Him, saying, 'I have need to be baptized by You, and do You come to me?' 15 But Jesus answering said to him, 'Permit it at this time; for in this way it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.' Then he permitted Him." In 2 Corinthians 5:21, we find that the Father "made Him (Jesus Christ) who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him." John, in the power of the Holy Spirit, saw the purity of Jesus, who had no need of repentance. But when Jesus entered humanity, He became our Representative, described by John the Baptist, as "the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world" (John 1:29). He was baptized for US—He went under the waters for the same reason He would die—for you and me. We are the sinners; Jesus is the Antidote, the Baptizer who washes us from sin. Receiving Him, believing in Him, we are washed, healed and cleansed from sin and death.
Verses 16-17: "After being baptized, Jesus came up immediately from the water; and behold, the heavens were opened, and He saw the Spirit of God descending as a dove and lighting on Him, 17 and behold, a voice out of the heavens said, 'This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased.'" If you wonder about the Trinity, the Triune God, prayerfully study these verses. God is indeed One. Three Beings, one purpose, one in love—One! Here is "Jesus... after being baptized," and here is the "Spirit of God descending as a dove and lighting on Him," and here is the Father, speaking of Him as His "beloved Son." The Three are One. Jesus prayed to the Father about us in John 17:11, asking "that they may be one, as We are." God is One, and He, being God, is even more. He is greater than our limited understanding... our mere thoughts cannot contain Him. We must see God through "eyes" of faith in order to see Him as He is. He is God, and by His grace, operative through faith in the Son, we are His.
Lord God, I am Yours. Thank You, Lord, that You have done and are doing more than I comprehend. I give my life to You. Please forgive my sins and heal me. I trust in You. Fill me with the Holy Spirit and fire. Thank You. In Jesus Name. Amen.