Lent: Matthew 3 & 4
With chapter three we see the transition from Old Covenant to New, from OT prophecy to fulfillment of all prophecy in Jesus. We hear of John the Baptizer out in the Judean wilderness, baptizing in the Jordan River. John’s message of repentance echoed the call of all the OT prophets. Soon Jesus would take up calling His people to repentance. Repentance involves a change of mind and heart that leads to a change of direction in daily behavior and life. The full definition of repentance includes recognizing our sin as disobedience to God’s commandments, feeling truly sorry for our sin, having the sincere to amend our sinful ways, and trusting in the Lord Jesus Christ alone for forgiveness and salvation. It’s not a one-time act but a life of repentance and forgiveness. In his 95 Theses, which mark the beginning of the Reformation, Martin Luther declared that the entire life of a Christian is to be characterized by repentance. So there is no such thing as an impenitent Christian. Repentance includes all our sins, even those which we may not be aware, and Jesus’ forgiveness is complete. When He forgives, He forgives it all. Anything less would be of no value, because the guilt of a single sin means condemnation and separation from God (James 2:10ff).
John the Baptizer calls upon us to “repent for the KINGDOM OF HEAVEN is near.” This phrase is only in Matthew’s gospel some 33 times. This kingdom of heaven is a present reality for all of us through faith in Jesus. It is our certain hope as well when life’s earthly journey comes to its end. The Kingdom has arrived in Jesus and is central to Jesus’ teaching and the purpose of His saving work.
John has been used by the Lord to prepare the way for Jesus. Matthew uses the prophet Isaiah (40:3) to show how John fulfills this task for Jesus. Just as the road would be smoothed and even straightened for an approaching monarch, so John’s hearers were to clear away everything that would be an obstacle to Christ’s coming to them. I am reminded of the author of Hebrews bidding us “since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles.” Of course that happens through what John calls us to do, repent and be baptized, where the Lord is at work to make straight the paths for us. Some claim John’s baptism of repentance is different from baptism after Jesus’ arrival. But that’s just not true. They are both “the washing of rebirth and renewal of the Holy Spirit… (Titus 3:5). Whether John was God’s agent or one of the disciples or any other modern-day Christian pastor, it is the Holy Spirit flowing from Father and Son that works its efficacy! It makes us part of that Kingdom of Heaven and marks us as God the Father’s own!
“Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to be baptized by John.” Finally the Lamb who takes away the sins of the world has arrived. Here is the one whose sandals John was not worthy to untie. John understandably suggests Jesus should be baptizing him. Maybe John had within the question that so many of us have, “Why does the sinless Son of God need to be baptized so that His sins are washed away? Jesus stands as example to remind us how important baptism is for our lives. Jesus needs not so much to have His sins washed away as to stand into sinful life with each of us. In my trip to Israel I was able to celebrate my baptism standing in the Jordan River sprinkled with water and blessing by Bishop Steinbronn. The water was so muddy that it left dirt marks on my navy jacket. I like to think of Jesus baptism as His beginning to bring our sins into Himself. It’s as if the process begins for His receiving our sins into himself. As 2 Corinthians 5:21 says, “God made Him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.”
No sooner does He come up out of the river for Him to face the temptation of the evil one in ways we cannot even imagine. After all, sinful folks like you and me are easy prey for the devil. Just imagine how the devil must have pulled out all the stops to conquer the sinless Son of God. Jesus stands firm in each temptation, parrying each of the devil’s thrusts with the word of God. The sin of “me-first”, so familiar to humankind Jesus proclaims the importance of God’s Word Deut. 8:3). Trying to shake Jesus’ confidence in who/whose He is Jesus responds “Do not put the Lord Your God to the test (Ps. 91:11-12). Against the sin of power and control Jesus spoke the truth of the First Commandment, “Worship the Lord Your God and serve Him only” (Deut. 6:13). So we, too, have the armor of God (Eph. 6) to put the devil in his place.
We are Jesus’ disciples! As we hear Him call Peter and Andrew, James and John to follow Him, Jesus’ voice affirms us in our callling. They were fishermen and so Jesus calls us to be fishers of people. While the Bible uses the word “follow,” knowing Jesus’ mercy and great the picture in my mind is the invitation to walk with Him. That’s what we are doing this Lenten time as we are in the Word! We are Walking with Jesus and, if you are like me, there are many times in this journey in which He carries me. You know the poem “Footprints in the Sand.” Whey I am weak, when I am overcome by it all, when I struggle to find words to express the way I feel, He’s there carrying me!
Prayer: Savior Jesus, walk with us this Lent and always. Carry us in Your loving arms when the going gets tough. Lead us to the cross and, beyond it, to the glorious resurrection. In Your precious name. Amen