Saturday, January 14, 2017
Daily reading assignment: Matthew 3-4
Continuing in the style of a historical narrative, Matthew 3 begins with the phrase, “In those days” (3:1) leaving us to ask, “What days?” Looking back at Matthew 2 we find the historical context for those “days”.
After Jesus was born, Joseph, Mary and her son fled from Israel to escape King Herod’s edict ordering the slaying of children two years old and younger (Matthew 2:12-18), fulfilling the prophecy of Jeremiah, “In Rama was there a voice heard, lamentation, and weeping, and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children, and would not be comforted, because they are not” (Matthew 2:18). Joseph found refuge for his family in Egypt until King Herod died. Learning Herod was dead, Joseph returned to Israel and journeyed to Nazareth where Jesus would spend His youth and young adult years (Matthew 2:19-23). And so we read, “In those days came John the Baptist, preaching in the wilderness of Judaea” (Matthew 3:1) giving us notice that our historical narrative of the life of Christ has leaped forward some 30 years.
From his conception, it was prophesied of John the Baptist that he was the long-awaited forerunner of the Messiah (Luke 1:17, 76-80) and, in the words of the prophet Isaiah, would be “the voice of one crying in the wilderness” (Isaiah 40:3). Seven centuries had passed since Isaiah prophesied the coming of Israel’s Messiah and the prophet who would precede Him. Rather than entertain the masses and court the favor of religious leaders, John preached with power and authority like no prophet had for centuries in Israel. Unmasking the hypocrisy of the religious leaders of his day (Matthew 3:7-12), John called the people to repent of their sins and turn to the LORD.
John the Baptist was enjoying a great following (Matthew 3:5-6) when Jesus stepped from the obscurity of Joseph’s carpenter shop in Nazareth and was baptized by John in the Jordan River (Matthew 3:13). The scriptures give us insight into the humble beginnings of Jesus’ earthly ministry, as we are privy to the private conversation that passed between Jesus and John the Baptist (Matthew 3:14-15). It was while John was preaching and baptizing the people that Jesus came to be baptized and identified himself with John’s ministry. Crowning the occasion of Jesus’ baptism was God the Father’s visible and verbal affirmation. We read:
Matthew 3:16-17 – “And Jesus, when he was baptized, went up straightway out of the water: and, lo, the heavens were opened unto him, and He saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and lighting upon him: 17 And lo a voice from heaven, saying, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.”
We read in Matthew 4:1, “Then”, following His baptism that marked the beginning of His public ministry, “Then was Jesus led up of the Spirit into the wilderness [desert] to be tempted of the devil” (4:1). For the next forty days, Jesus was isolated, tried and tested by the devil (Matthew 4:2-11). Proving He was more than mortal man, Jesus resisted the devil’s temptations and reproved the tempter (4:4, 7, 10).
As Jesus, the long-awaited Messiah of Israel took His place on the stage of history, John the Baptist found his ministry as Christ’s forerunner was receding and his tongue silenced (4:13-17). Receiving news that John had been cast into prison, Jesus retreated from Judaea and began His public ministry in Galilee where He began calling the men who would become His disciples, Simon Peter and his brother Andrew (4:18-20), and James and John (4:21-22). No longer living in obscurity, Jesus began teaching, preaching, and performing healing miracles that set the stage for not only a great following of the people (4:23-25), but would eventually provoke the jealousy of the Jewish religious leaders who would demand His death.
I close by inviting you to notice a quality seen in the lives of the first disciples when Christ called them to be His disciples: “they straightway left their nets, and followed Him…they immediately left the ship and their father, and followed Him” (4:20, 22).
Obedience to the will of God is a necessary quality of all who will serve the LORD. There are no “half-hearted” followers of Christ.
Copyright 2017 – Travis D. Smith