Matthew 313 Jesus left Galilee and went to the Jordan River to be baptized by John. 14 But John kept objecting and said, “I ought to be baptized by you. Why have you come to me?”
15 Jesus answered, “For now this is how it should be, because we must do all God wants us to do.” Then John agreed.
16 So Jesus was baptized. And as soon as he came out of the water, the sky opened, and he saw the Spirit of God coming down on him like a dove. 17 Then a voice from heaven said, “This is my own dear Son, and I am pleased with him.”
Matthew 112 Now when John heard in prison about the things the Christ was doing, he sent word by his disciples to Jesus, asking, 3 “Are you the one who is to come, or should we look for another?”
4 Jesus responded, “Go, report to John what you hear and see. 5 Those who were blind are able to see. Those who were crippled are walking. People with skin diseases are cleansed. Those who were deaf now hear. Those who were dead are raised up. The poor have good news proclaimed to them. 6 Happy are those who don’t stumble and fall because of me.”
7 When John’s disciples had gone, Jesus spoke to the crowds about John: “What did you go out to the wilderness to see? A stalk blowing in the wind?8 What did you go out to see? A man dressed up in refined clothes? Look, those who wear refined clothes are in royal palaces. 9 What did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. 10 He is the one of whom it is written: Look, I’m sending my messenger before you, who will prepare your way before you.
11 “I assure you that no one who has ever been born is greater than John the Baptist. Yet whoever is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.
In the Gospel of Matthew, we don’t know if John and Jesus had ever met or talked about their ministry. In today’s story, John sent his messenger to question Jesus, since John was in prison at the time.
Jesus takes John’s messenger seriously and gives him a plain answer – that is not something Jesus normally did. Jesus usually turned the question back on the one asking and made them give some answers first. Not this time. Jesus sent the message back to John that he was the one John had been talking about. It must have made John feel relieved knowing the Messiah was now with the people, just as John had told them would happen.
Then Jesus turned to the crowds around and did not give a plain answer, but rather asked them what they were looking for. They had watched the conversation between Jesus and John’s messenger and were curious. Jesus asked them who they thought John was and what they thought was going on. John did not share an easy message, in fact his message was very harsh. John told them they had to stop their poor behaviours and put others ahead of themselves.
The Gospel story quotes another part of the Hebrew scripture, this time Malachi 3:1, which reminded all the listens around Jesus that God’s coming is not just a happy thing, but also something that challenges everyone. God is not going to tell us all we are doing a great job, but instead will tell us what we need to do better.
Jesus tells them John might be the most amazing person on earth at the moment, but with God’s new world everyone is expected to be even better than John.
Matthew3 In those days John the Baptist appeared in the desert of Judea announcing, 2 “Change your hearts and lives! Here comes the kingdom of heaven!” 3 He was the one of whom Isaiah the prophet spoke when he said:
The voice of one shouting in the wilderness, “Prepare the way for the Lord; make his paths straight.”
4 John wore clothes made of camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist. He ate locusts and wild honey.
5 People from Jerusalem, throughout Judea, and all around the Jordan River came to him. 6 As they confessed their sins, he baptized them in the Jordan River. 7 Many Pharisees and Sadducees came to be baptized by John. He said to them, “You children of snakes! Who warned you to escape from the angry judgment that is coming soon? 8 Produce fruit that shows you have changed your hearts and lives. 9 And don’t even think about saying to yourselves, Abraham is our father. I tell you that God is able to raise up Abraham’s children from these stones. 10 The ax is already at the root of the trees. Therefore, every tree that doesn’t produce good fruit will be chopped down and tossed into the fire. 11 I baptize with water those of you who have changed your hearts and lives. The one who is coming after me is stronger than I am. I’m not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. 12 The shovel he uses to sift the wheat from the husks is in his hands. He will clean out his threshing area and bring the wheat into his barn. But he will burn the husks with a fire that can’t be put out.”
As we read the Gospel stories from Matthew throughout this year, we have to remember the stories from the Hebrew Scriptures that are also referenced. So much of the message in Matthew only makes sense if we know what they are talking about from those Hebrew Scriptures.
In today’s story, the writer of Matthew is referencing Isaiah 40:1-8. In that story, the Hebrew people were celebrating. The Persian Empire had defeated the Babylonian Empire and the Persians were in charge of al the Hebrew territories. The Persians didn’t want the Hebrew priests kept away from Judea and Jerusalem, so they let them return AND helped rebuild the temple in Jerusalem. Isaiah 40:1-8 talks about the return and how the respected prophets and teachers in their community were leading the path home to Jerusalem.
The writer of Matthew wanted people to see John the Baptist talking about hope and new opportunities, just like the hope and new opportunities experienced by the Hebrew people returning to Jerusalem. John told them they were able to be in a great relationship with God as long as they turned away (that’s what the word ‘repent’ really means) from bad behaviour and decided to act more like Jesus. The announcement of Jesus’ coming is a celebration and a chance to change some poor behaviours into better behaviours.
Luke 37 Then John said to the crowds who came to be baptized by him, “You children of snakes! Who warned you to escape from the angry judgment that is coming soon? 8 Produce fruit that shows you have changed your hearts and lives. And don’t even think about saying to yourselves, Abraham is our father. I tell you that God is able to raise up Abraham’s children from these stones. 9 The ax is already at the root of the trees. Therefore, every tree that doesn’t produce good fruit will be chopped down and tossed into the fire.”
10 The crowds asked him, “What then should we do?”
11 He answered, “Whoever has two shirts must share with the one who has none, and whoever has food must do the same.”
12 Even tax collectors came to be baptized. They said to him, “Teacher, what should we do?”
13 He replied, “Collect no more than you are authorized to collect.”
14 Soldiers asked, “What about us? What should we do?”
He answered, “Don’t cheat or harass anyone, and be satisfied with your pay.”
Responses to John
15 The people were filled with expectation, and everyone wondered whether John might be the Christ. 16 John replied to them all, “I baptize you with water, but the one who is more powerful than me is coming. I’m not worthy to loosen the strap of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 17 The shovel he uses to sift the wheat from the husks is in his hands. He will clean out his threshing area and bring the wheat into his barn. But he will burn the husks with a fire that can’t be put out.” 18 With many other words John appealed to them, proclaiming good news to the people.
Read Luke 3:7-18 with your family. This is the second of our two weeks looking at John the Baptist.
John was a very educated man. His father and mother were both educated in the ways of the Hebrew Scriptures, so John grew up learning about God’s promises and how we were to live. In today’s lesson he is talking to a number of people who worked for the Roman government. A Hebrew person working for the Roman government was considered a traitor to the Hebrew people and less important that a Roman person to the Romans. They were not respected or liked. The fact that the jobs they did hurt the Hebrew people made it even worse. We can kinda understand why they wanted to get some pleasure out of working the job – even if it was only extra money.
However John told them no! Don’t take more than you should have, and be satisfied with what you earn. John did not stop with telling them to change their behaviour, he also told them that there was someone coming who would make life better for everyone: The Messiah, the long awaited person who the Hebrew people believed would save them from the Romans. Even those who worked with the Romans and were disliked by the Hebrews, would get to share in this new world that would be created. But before any of that happened, they had to change their behaviour (we use the word ‘repent’, which means be honest about how you have been acting and promise to do better).
God’s promise of the saviour was not dependent on people’s behaviour, but people would have an easier time hearing and accepting God’s message if they changed their behaviour first.
The Christian Scriptures talk about ‘repent’, which simply means “turn away” from your current behaviour and choose something better. It does not mean see yourself as an awful human being who is not worthy.