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Matthew chapter 3

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What does Matthew chapter 3 mean?

Matthew 2 ended with Jesus' family settling down in Nazareth, shortly after the death of Herod the Great (Matthew 2:19–23). Chapter 3 leaps forward several decades. This passage opens on John the Baptist preaching in the wilderness in the region of Judea. His simple message: Repent, the kingdom of heaven is coming!

Luke's gospel gives more details about John the Baptist. He was born to aging and previously infertile parents. This was both an answer to their prayers and part of God's plan to "turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God, and he will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready for the Lord a people prepared" (Luke 1:16–17).

Matthew declares that John is the fulfillment of Isaiah's prophecy in Isaiah 40:3. He dressed like Elijah (2 Kings 1:8) and many associated John with that great Old Testament prophet (Malachi 4:5). He ate the food of the very poor: honey and wild locusts, emphasizing repentance and humility. Many people wanted to hear John's message and travelled distances to hear him speak in the wilderness. Many of those were baptized by John as a symbol of their repentance from sin and readiness for the Messiah's kingdom (Matthew 3:1–6).

John's popularity attracts the attention of Israel's formal religious leaders, the Pharisees and Sadducees. When he saw them arriving at his baptisms, though, he was harsh with them, calling them a brood of vipers. He asks who warned them to flee from God's coming wrath on those who do not repent from sin. John warned them not to count on being spared simply for being descendants of Abraham. God's promises to Israel would not keep Him from pruning the fruitless branches. God can raise up more children for Abraham even from the stones if He chooses to, John said (Matthew 3:7–10).

Finally, John spells out what his baptism is for. He baptizes the willing with water as a sign of repentance. He is preparing the way, though, for someone who is far more powerful than himself who will baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire. John is describing the long-promised Messiah, who will bring God's kingdom to earth, but who will also bring judgment on those who are not faithful to God. He will separate them from Israel as the farmer separates the useful wheat from the useless chaff (Matthew 3:11–12).

Then, suddenly, Jesus shows up. The Messiah about whom John the Baptist has been prophesying finds John somewhere along the Jordan River and asks to be baptized. John resists. He has declared himself unworthy even to carry the Messiah's sandals. Jesus insists, declaring that in this way they will fulfill the righteous will of God. This might have been a way of foreshadowing Jesus' sacrificial death and resurrection. Or, it might simply have been a means to formally begin His public ministry (Matthew 3:13–15).

As Jesus emerges from the water, God the Father and Holy Spirit show up, as well. As Jesus resurfaces from the Jordan River, He sees the heavens open up and the Holy Spirit descend, somehow like a dove, to rest on Him. Then He hears the voice of God the Father declaring that Jesus is His Son, calling Christ beloved and saying He is well-pleased with Jesus (Matthew 3:16–17).

This launches Jesus' work on earth, confirming His role as both the Son of God and the promised Messiah of the Jewish Scriptures.
What is the Gospel?
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