Matthew 3 (ESV)
In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, 2 “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” 3 For this is he who was spoken of by the prophet Isaiah when he said,
“The voice of one crying in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord;
make his paths straight.’”
4 Now John wore a garment of camel’s hair and a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey. 5 Then Jerusalem and all Judea and all the region about the Jordan were going out to him, 6 and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.
7 But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? 8 Bear fruit in keeping with repentance. 9 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. 10 Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.
11 “I baptize you with water for repentance, but he who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 12 His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into the barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”
John the Baptist was more than a warm-up act to Jesus although that was his primary role. John was prominent in the religious history of Palestine in the first century – so much so that in the Gospel of John he said Jesus “must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30). Jesus himself in Matthew 11:11 said of John, “Truly, I say to you, among those born of women there has arisen no one greater than John the Baptist.”
Matthew chapter 3 begins with John preaching in the wilderness of Judea. His message? “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 3:2). His ministry and message was prophesied in Isaiah 40:3, “A voice cries: ‘In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord; make straight in the desert a highway for our God.'” By Matthew quoting Isaiah, he was announcing that the Messiah who was prophesied about is coming and it was time to repent. REPENT!
After Jesus was tempted in Matthew 4:1-10, He began to preach. What was Jesus’ message? “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 4:17).
There are other parallels between Jesus’ preaching and John the Baptist’s message, including:
Matthew 3:7 (“brood of vipers,” escaping judgment) with Matthew 23:33; Matthew 12:34
Matthew 3:8 (repentance) with Matthew 11:20–21; Matthew 12:41
Matthew 3:8, 10 (producing good fruit) with Matthew 7:16–20; Matthew 12:33; Matthew 21:41, Matthew 21:43
Matthew 3:9 (children of Abraham) with Matthew 8:11–12
Matthew 3:10 (fruitless tree cut down and burned) exactly repeated in Matthew 7:19
Matthew 3:11–12 (judgment by fire) with Matthew 5:22; Matthew 13:40–42, 50; Matthew 18:8–9; Matthew 25:41
Matthew 3:12 (grain gathered into the granary) with Matthew 13:30
(List from France, R. T. 2007. The Gospel of Matthew p. 98. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publication Co.)
In Matthew 3, John is baptizing Jews who were God’s covenant people. He was baptizing men who already had the sign of the covenant through circumcision. It wasn’t enough to be God’s chosen people through ethnicity or circumcision, they needed their sins forgiven personally and individually as much as non-Jews. Baptism was the new sign that expressed their repentance while joining them with believing Gentiles as the true people of God. What a powerful cultural shift this was! Jews and Gentiles “lumped together” when the Jews were God’s chosen people? Indeed!
This new reality of the kingdom of God being both Jews and Gentiles is carried throughout the New Testament.
Matthew writes of John in Matthew 3:11-12, “I baptize you with water for repentance, but he who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 12 His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into the barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.” The “threshing floor” is a hard surface where grain is threshed with a flail (or winnowing fork). This vivid symbolism mirrors the return of Christ when he separates the sheep from the goats (Matthew 25:31–46).
The chapter ends with Jesus Himself being baptized by John. Although John resisted, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” (Matthew 3:14), he consented and immediately after Jesus was baptized, “the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; 17 and behold, a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:16-17).
A few thoughts that come to mind as I reflect on Matthew 3 . . .
Baptism was and still is important. I would say essential. While it can’t be a “requirement” for salvation (as that would be adding a human “work” to what Jesus did for us on the cross), it is essential for obedience to Him. Jesus said in Matthew 28:19-20, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
Since Jesus Himself was baptized, baptism is significant.
If He commands us to make disciples and to BAPTIZE them, then it’s essential not only for ourselves as followers of Christ but for everyone who puts their trust and faith in Jesus Christ for salvation. Churches too often have gotten away from baptizing people when they receive salvation in Christ through faith in Him. They delay baptism and schedule it at a future date as if it’s a program to execute rather than an immediate occurrence after someone repents and turns to Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of their sins.
When I was sixteen, I was baptized at First Baptist Church of Narragansett. Although I ran away from home and went on a dark journey apart from God, I could always look back to my baptism as a time when faith mattered to me. When I said and did things that were contrary to what I publicly professed that day, I felt like a hypocrite (because I was).
Without baptism, I could have easily dismissed any “faith” I might have back then as meaningless or questioned whether or not it was real at all.
But because my faith was real and meant enough to me to be baptized, I had a marker to look back to that anchored me to Christ like an Old Testament stone pillar in the ground.
Friend, let me ask you . . . have you repented of your sins and put your trust and faith in Jesus Christ for salvation? If so, have you been baptized?
Father, I thank you my salvation in Jesus Christ. I know it’s only given to me sovereignly by your grace through faith and is a gift I cannot earn nor do I deserve it. I thank you that although I wandered away from you, you reminded me of that precious time when I put my faith in Jesus Christ for my salvation and you used my baptism as the marker of that reality. I praise you Lord that now, all these years later, you have returned me to the place of my baptism to love and serve those at First Baptist Narragansett. Thank you for always being there for me and for leading this crippled sheep to the everlasting waters of fellowship with you now and forever, Amen.
Thank you for reading my Daily Bible Journal!
Reading, reflecting and writing from the Bible has so radically impacted my life in Christ, it’s as if I’ve been on auto-pilot when reading the Bible in the past. There’s something about “sitting with the text” and through prayerful reflection, sharing what comes to mind. Because I’m posting online for others to read, I consider my words carefully and try to be clear and accurate.
This daily process enhances my understanding of God’s Word and embeds it into my conscience. It literally gets “hidden in my heart!”
I hope this encourages others to be in God’s Word every day.
For God’s Glory,