Saturday, March 21, 2009

Matthew 3:13–17

Matthew 3:13–17: The Baptism of Jesus


The last passage introduced John the Baptist. In this passage, Jesus comes to him to be baptized. John is a little taken aback by this; he should be getting baptized by Jesus, and Jesus is coming to him? But Jesus tells him to “[l]et it be so now” to “fulfill all righteousness (verse 15 (ESV) ). So John agrees, and baptizes him.

As Jesus comes up out of the water, the heavens open up, and the Spirit of God descends—“like a dove” (verse 16 (ESV) )—and a voice says, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased” (verse 17 (ESV) ).


I’ve developed a habit, when doing my readings these days: First I go through the passage, and put in my thoughts, and then once I’ve done that, I look at the ESV Study Bible notes, to see if they have something interesting to add to what I’ve thought of—which is usually the case—or if they can clearly explain something I didn’t understand. In this case, I went ahead and read the ESV Study Bible first, because I wanted to know what they’d say about Jesus telling John that he was letting himself be baptized to “fulfill all righteousness.” What they said is that, “Although he needed no repentance or cleansing, Jesus identifies with the sinful people he came to save through his substitutionary life and death.”

Other than that, this is a straightforward passage. It’s nice that God the Father gave such a clear sign that this is His Son. As humans, we kind of need that.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Matthew 3:1–12

Matthew 3:1–12: John the Baptist Prepares the Way


This passage introduces John the Baptist, who wears clothes made out of camel’s hair, and eats locusts and wild honey. And, probably more importantly, John has been sent by God to preach repentance to the Israelites, since the “kingdom of heaven is at hand” (verse 2 (ESV) ). (We are told that John’s coming was prophesied in Isaiah 40:3 (ESV) .) Many Israelites are coming to John to be baptized, and to confess their sins.

In addition to the Israelite lay-people coming to be baptized by John, a number of Pharisees and Sadducees also come, but John—like Jesus after him—has little patience for them. He calls them a “brood of vipers” (verse 7 (ESV) ), and tells them that they need to bear fruit, if they are really repenting. He also addresses a problem that Israel often had in the Old Testament:

And do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father,’ for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham. (verse 9 (ESV) )

Even in the New Testament, it appears that some Israelites were trusting in the fact that they were God’s chosen people, and not believing they had to actually live up to what He commanded of them.

The passage ends with John describing the one to come after him; one so mighty that John doesn’t even feel worthy to carry his sandals. One who will baptize with the Holy Spirit—and with fire. And one who will “gather his wheat into the barn” (an allusion to His children), but who will burn the “chaff” with “unquenchable fire” (verse 12 (ESV) ).


I get interested in the fact that these people are coming to confess their sins to John. They obviously don’t understand how salvation works yet—even the chosen ones won’t understand that until after Jesus’ death—but they do understand that they are sinners, and that they’re under the wrath of God. And this is the first step in accepting His deliverance; you won’t seek a cure if you don’t think you’re sick. One might wonder what the purpose of John’s ministry is—especially since Jesus is going to be beginning his public ministry shortly. It’s not something I’ve been able to figure out, but the ESV Study Bible posits that John is calling for people to remove the obstacles from their lives that might hinder their reception of the Messiah and his kingdom, which makes sense to me. If you recognize that you’re a sinner, then you’ll be more likely to receive what God has to offer, to save you from your sins.

Speaking of which, a lot of people don’t like to preach God’s wrath, these days, but John the Baptist had no problem with it, and neither did Jesus after him. (Nobody talked about Hell more than Jesus did.) John doesn’t just say that sinners will be punished; he says that they will burn with “unquenchable fire.” Sin is serious business, and the consequences are dire—which is why God Himself had to save us from it.

We sometimes think of John eating locusts and wild honey as indicating that he’s a bit eccentric, but it’s not the case. Eating locusts and wild honey was actually quite common for poor desert dwellers, and are still eaten today by poorer people in the region.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Matthew 2:19–23

Matthew 2:19–23: The Return to Nazareth


This passage begins with Herod’s death, and a message to Joseph (in another dream) that it’s safe to return to Israel. However, he later hears that Herod’s son Archelaus is now ruling in Herod’s place. I guess this is a bad thing, because Joseph gets another dream, warning him to withdraw to a region of Israel called Galilee, where he settles in Nazareth. We are told that this happens so that the word of the prophets might be fulfilled, “He shall be called a Nazarene” (verse 23 (ESV) ).

But for more on that, see the Thoughts section below.


I was looking for an Old Testament citation, for the “He shall be called a Nazarene” quote, but it turns out that Matthew isn’t quoting any specific Old Testament prophecy. According to the ESV Study Bible, essentially Matthew is referring to a general theme in the Old Testament that the Messiah would be despised, and apparently the people from Nazareth in Jesus’ day were also despised. (Either that, they say, or it might be some kind of word play, since the word “Nazareth” sounds like the word for “branch” in Hebrew, which was also a designation for the Messiah.)

Friday, March 13, 2009

Matthew 2:16–18

Matthew 2:16–18: Herod Kills the Children


Another short passage. Which leads one to wonder why it took me so long to blog about it. What, I couldn’t spare five minutes to write this post? Anyway…

In the last passage, an angel sent Joseph and his family into Egypt. Why? Because he knew what was going to happen in this passage: Herod realizes that the Wise Men aren’t coming back, and his plan to find the new King of the Jews has been thwarted. So he decides to play it safe, and kill all of the male Jewish children in Bethlehem (and surrounding region), who are Jesus’ age or younger. We are told that this is a fulfillment of a prophecy from Jeremiah 31:15 (ESV) .


In the last passage God the Father was able to send an angel to get Joseph into Egypt, to save Jesus from Herod’s purging. But that means that it was in His plan for the other Jewish boys to be killed. (According to the ESV Study Bible, because of the size of the region that probably only meant 10–20 boys. But that’s still 10–20 boys who had to die.) Not that I’m criticizing God—hopefully that is self-evident—but it’s just one more way that the fallen state of the world has come to play throughout history. This is exactly the type of thing that Jesus has come to the world to save us from.

Monday, March 02, 2009

Matthew 2:13–15

Matthew 2:13–15: The Flight to Egypt


In the last chapter, the Wise Men came to visit Jesus, via Jerusalem—whereupon Herod heard about this new “King of the Jews,” and got very worried about competition in the king department.

In this chapter, the Wise Men leave, but an angel appears to Joseph in a dream, and warns him that Herod wants to “destroy” the child, so Joseph and the family should therefore hightail it to Egypt, until the angel calls them back. So they do, and remain there until Herod’s death.

We’re told that this series of events is fulfilling a prophecy from Hosea 11:1:

Out of Egypt I called my son. (Hosea 11:1b (ESV))


There’s not much I have to say about this chapter; not only is it short, it’s straightforward. Except that Joseph gets more than his share of dreams from angels. I know that we have all we need in the Bible, but I’m sure I’m not the only modern-day Christian who sometimes wishes God would give me dreams and tell me explicitly what to do. (Except, if He did, there would be a chance I wouldn’t obey Him, and then I’d be in real trouble—if God explicitly comes and tells you to do something, and you don’t do it, you don’t think there will be trouble?)