This morning we leave behind Matthew chapters 1 and 2 to read Matthew chapter 3. We also transverse about three decades in the storyline, from Jesus’ infancy to the time just prior to his public debut in chapter 4.
Matthew 3 begins by introducing us to John the Baptist, who comes into the area of the Judean wilderness with a preaching ministry focused on calling Israel to repentance in light of the arriving “kingdom of heaven”. This is the first reference to “the kingdom” in Matthew.
We have yet another reference to the words of a prophet, this time Isaiah, that is being fulfilled by John’s presence and actions. Even the description of John is very similar to the description of Elijah, coming out of the desert wearing camel skin and eating locusts, so John is portrayed as like a prophet of old. And just like a prophet of old John is all fire and brimstone.
John’s interaction with the religious leaders of the day sets up the continued tension we read about throughout Jesus’ ministry. How can they claim a baptism of repentance when they are the ones who have turned the people away from God? Hence the name calling and outrage that they are present at the Jordan.
Then we have the arrival of the ‘kingdom’, the coming of Jesus to be baptised. Matthew tells us that John has some problems with baptising Jesus, believing that he should be the one being baptised and not Christ. But John’s doubts are set aside by Jesus and his firm instruction that John will be doing all that God requires.
As Jesus emerges from his baptism of water and repentance, the turning that Jesus undertakes is away from his everyday life to the ministry that he was born to do. This is confirmed by the presence of the Spirit of God and the words “This is my own dear Son, with whom I am pleased.”
And with that, the kingdom of God arrives and the ministry of the Messiah begins.