Putting God on the spot (Matthew 4:5-7)

Trusting God, or testing God? What’s the difference?

Open Matthew 4:5-7 and Psalm 91:11-12.

Psalm 91:1–2 (NIV)
1
Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty. 2 I will say of the Lord, “He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.” 3 Surely he will save you from the fowler’s snare and from the deadly pestilence.

We love the psalms of trust. They calm our concerns. Fear subsides; faith soars. Beyond our immediate struggle, they help us see the unchanging love of our sovereign. We hold onto the one who holds us securely.

But there’s a world of difference between trusting God to hold us, and manoeuvring so God has to catch us. That’s what Satan suggested to Jesus: “Jump off the extremity of the temple: God said he’d look after you.” Continue reading “Putting God on the spot (Matthew 4:5-7)”

What is baptism with the Holy Spirit? (Matthew 3:11-12)

John the Baptist coined this term, as a way of contrasting his ministry with Jesus’. What did he mean?

Open Matthew 3:11-12.

What is baptism with the Holy Spirit? John said he baptized with water, but the coming king would baptize his people with Holy Spirit and fire. All later uses of this phrase refer back to John (except 1 Corinthians 12:13), so understanding what he meant is crucial to understanding the phrase. Continue reading “What is baptism with the Holy Spirit? (Matthew 3:11-12)”

Heaven’s proclamation of Jesus (Matthew 3:17)

What did God announce at Jesus’ baptism?

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Caernarfon Castle, 1969: Investiture of Prince Charles

Open Matthew 3:16-17.

Imagine standing on the banks of the Jordan as Jesus surfaced, hearing a voice proclaiming, “This is my Son, the one I love, who pleases me.” What would that mean to you?

You would not have thought, “Just look at that! The Father called him the Son, and the Spirit descended on him. There must be a trinity!” That understanding didn’t come until much later. So how would a first century Jew have understood the heavenly announcement? Continue reading “Heaven’s proclamation of Jesus (Matthew 3:17)”

Jesus’ priestly purification (Matthew 3:13-16)

Why was Jesus baptized if he wasn’t guilty?

Open Matthew 3:13-16.

Why did Jesus need to be baptized? Others came confessing their sins (3:6). Jesus joined them. John refused, at least initially. Why did Jesus think he should be baptized to fulfil all righteousness (3:15)? Continue reading “Jesus’ priestly purification (Matthew 3:13-16)”

A king announced by a prophet (Matthew 3:7-12)

To become a king in the ancient world, you needed a prophet to declare that God had chosen you.

Open Matthew 3:7-12.

Politics and religion were so intertwined in the ancient world that if you wanted to become king (other than by birth), you needed a prophet to announce that you were God’s chosen leader. Samuel was the king-maker for Saul and David (1 Samuel 10:1; 16:13). Nathan anointed Solomon (1 Kings 1:34). There’s an awkward moment when Jeroboam takes most of the realm from Solomon, but it could not have happened unless YHWH decreed it, so Jeroboam had his prophet (1 Kings 11:29-40). Nehemiah’s enemies accused him of sedition, claiming he had lined up prophets to proclaim him king (Nehemiah 6:7). So if Jesus is to be the king of the Jews, he needs a prophet to announce him. Continue reading “A king announced by a prophet (Matthew 3:7-12)”

Where did baptism come from? (Matthew 3:6)

Christian baptism has its origins in John’s baptism, but why did John baptize?

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Miqveh (ritual bath) at Qumran

Why did Jewish people come out to John to be “baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins” (3:6)? There’s nothing about baptism in the Old Testament. Sure, John would have been a curiosity: there were few prophets in living memory. But why did people take the plunge with John? Continue reading “Where did baptism come from? (Matthew 3:6)”

A voice in the wild (Matthew 3:1-6)

There’s a fascinating story behind John the Baptist’s life in the wilderness.

Open Matthew 3:1-6 and Isaiah 40.

He wasn’t a Baptist. Or a Protestant. But John the Baptizer certainly was a protester.

John shunned the benefits that human rulers provided to their towns: streets, markets, wells, walls, peace and security. He wouldn’t trade with them. His clothes were an anti-fashion statement, fashioned from whatever he scavenged — like hair from a dead camel. He survived on bush tucker — like grasshoppers and wild honey (3:4). Who knows where he took shelter from rain and wind. Continue reading “A voice in the wild (Matthew 3:1-6)”

An unknown from nowhere (Matthew 2:17-23)

The baby of Bethlehem becomes the nobody of Nazareth. The rescued becomes the rescuer.

Open Matthew 2:17-23 and Jeremiah 31:15.

Grief had always been at home in Bethlehem. Rachel died there, giving birth to Israel’s final son (Genesis 35:19). Maybe a parent would give her life so her children could live. But Rachel’s hopes were dashed as empires invaded, killing her children. Assyria decimated the tribes of her older son Joseph. Babylon crushed the remnant of Benjamin.

Jeremiah imagined Rachel weeping inconsolably as God’s promises fell apart:

Jeremiah 31:15 (NIV)
This is what the Lord says: “A voice is heard in Ramah, mourning and great weeping, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more.”

Continue reading “An unknown from nowhere (Matthew 2:17-23)”