Note: This blog is the sixth in a series of posts on teaching the Gospel of Matthew. You can find the first blog on teaching Matthew HERE.
The second major section in Matthew covers the introduction to Jesus’ ministry. Matthew, Mark, and Luke all cover similar ground here. In order to introduce us to the adult Jesus and his public ministry, Matthew tells us about John the Baptist, the baptism of Jesus, Jesus’ temptation, some of Jesus’ first miracles, and the calling of the first disciples. Below is a rough version of the handout I gave my church as I taught this material to them. Note: some of the language below is adapted from the study notes on Matthew that I wrote for the Worldview Study Bible (Holman Bible Publishers, 2018).
John the Baptist (Matthew 3:1-12):
John the Baptist, in his unusual dress, activity, and message, presents himself like one of the Old Testament prophets (specifically Elijah—e.g. 2 Kg 1:8) who prophesied that God would send his messiah to save the world. Jesus frequently compares John the Baptist with Elijah (e.g. Mt 11:14; 17:12) and the people of Jesus’ day readily identify John as one of the prophets (e.g. Mt 14:5). By presenting John in such a way, Matthew makes John’s message all the more clear.
The bulk of 3:1-12 is taken up with John’s sermon about the Messiah and the Kingdom of God. John illustrates his message of judgment with a description of the Messiah with a winnowing shovel in his hand ready to clear his threshing floor. John describes the judgment activity of the Messiah at his coming in those terms. Those who receive the Messiah at his coming and repent are the “grain” that will be saved. Those who reject the Messiah are the “chaff” whom he will burn up with fire that never goes out.
1. What is significant about presenting John the Baptist as the last of the Old Testament prophets? What is Matthew up to?
2. The summary of John the Baptist’s sermon in Matthew is very aggressive in tone, especially to the religious leaders. What does he say to them? Why do you think John is so hostile?
The Baptism of Jesus (Matthew 3:13-17):
The use of water in religious rituals, frequently by immersion—was relatively common in the ancient Jewish world. Since water often symbolized religious purity (e.g. Ps 51:1-2), immersion in water was used to mark religious revival, the conversion of a non-Jew to Judaism, or identification with a particular religious movement. John the Baptist is baptizing Jewish people to identify them with the repentance of sins and the coming of the Messiah. Jesus Himself participates in this baptism to demonstrate to the whole world that He is the Messiah at the center of that movement (Jn 1:31). The
1. How does John the Baptist respond to Jesus’ request for baptism? How does Jesus respond? How does the Father respond from heaven? What is Matthew trying to tell us?
The Temptation of Jesus (Matthew 4:1-11):
Matthew’s readers would have seen a clear parallel between Israel’s testing in the wilderness (e.g. Nm 14:1-4) and Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness. The purpose of the temptations here is not to find out if Jesus can resist sin. It is to demonstrate to the whole world that God’s Messiah is the sinless Son of God who succeeds where God’s people failed. Scholars have discussed extensively the nature and orders of the temptations, but Matthew’s overarching point is clear. In every way that Adam was tested Adam failed. In every way that Adam was tested, Israel was tested, and in every way that Israel was tested, Israel failed. Thanks be to God, however, that in every way that Adam and Israel were tested, Jesus was tested, but he did not fail.
1. What is the first temptation in Matthew? How is this a temptation? How does Jesus respond? What does this tell us about sin and temptation?
2. What is the second temptation in Matthew? Why did Satan choose this location? How does Jesus respond? What does this tell us about sin and temptation?
3. What is the third temptation in Matthew? How is this a temptation? How does Jesus respond? Why might Matthew present this as the final temptation?
The Beginning of Jesus’ Ministry (Matthew 4:12-25):
In Matthew 4:12 Jesus begins preaching the good news. He calls his first disciples in v. 18. And he begins teaching in the synagogues and working many miracles in v.23. Synagogues were the local religious gatherings of Jews. From the time of the Babylonian captivity onward Jews gathered regularly in synagogues for prayer and Scripture study. How appropriate that the one about whom those Scriptures were written would begin his ministry by teaching in the synagogues.
1. What is the crux of Jesus message (in v. 17)? What does he mean by “repent,” “Kingdom of Heaven,” and “at hand”? Why do you think Matthew and Jesus describe the gospel in these terms?
2. The calling of the first disciples is quite remarkable in its abruptness. How can we explain the sudden and striking change in the lives of Simon, Andrew, James, and John?
3. How does Matthew describe the first miracles of Jesus? What is he trying to teach us?