Summary: The inaguration of Jesus "kingdom" ministry was accompanied by three things: His baptism, the temptation in the wilderness, and the calling of His disciples.
Matthew 3 – 4 Jesus: The Beginning February 24, 2002
The celebration of the resurrection on Easter Sunday is the high point of the Christian calendar. While remembrance of the resurrection is a weekly event, it is, I believe, profitable for the Christian regularly to focus on the extraordinary grace that is evident in Christ’s atonement and the justification accomplished and applied though His death and resurrection. Easter affords us the opportunity to enhance our understanding of the most astonishing event ever recorded in human history. In preparation for resurrection Sunday I want to “paint” with broad strokes the life of Jesus. Primarily using the synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke), we will briefly touch on the following aspects of Jesus’ life and teaching: the inauguration of the kingdom (Jesus’ baptism, temptation, and the calling of the disciples), the message of the kingdom (the main themes of his teaching), the present King (the immanent and transcendent Jesus), the future King (the turning point in his ministry and the transfiguration), and the “trip wire” (the events that precipitated the crucifixion).
Now in those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matt 3.1-2). This message of the coming kingdom was accompanied by baptism (for theological comments on baptism see my sermon notes for January 3, 2001). The idea that repentance and baptism are separate events is not a biblical idea, neither for John the Baptist nor for the later New Testament writers (cp. Acts 2.37-38). Robert Stein writes: “John’s baptism was essentially ‘ecclesiastical’ in nature. It was not primarily a personal experience performed in splendid isolation for the individual but a corporate rite that involved becoming part of a community awaiting the promised Messiah. Thus the experience of repentance and the rite of baptism were inseparable” (Robert Stein, Jesus the Messiah, p. 93 [if you have not already done so, this would be a good book to read for this series; also, on a devotional level, read James Boice and Philip Ryken, The Heart of the Cross]).
John’s preaching of the coming kingdom and the accompanying baptism associated with repentance, anticipated One who was mightier than himself who would baptize not with water but with the Spirit and fire (Matthew and Luke). The One of whom John spoke would usher in the kingdom of heaven. Those being baptized by John renounced a life of sin and identified themselves with the coming kingdom. Since Jesus had no sin, the symbolism of repentance associated with John’s baptism appears problematic. Indeed, John was reluctant to baptize him; John did so only at Jesus’ instance (Matt 3.14). However, Jesus was not acknowledging personal sin by his baptism, but was associating Himself with the sinfulness of a community that was seeking the kingdom of God.
Jesus’ baptism was the inaugural event of His ministry just as the “cup” was the concluding event of His ministry. That his baptism is not often referred to throughout His teaching ministry does not diminish its importance. This is evident from his comment to sons of Zebedee. When they asked for a position of honor in the coming kingdom, Jesus responded: “You don’t know what you are asking,” Jesus said. “Can you drink the cup I drink or be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with” (Mark 10.38)? In another context Jesus spoke of his ministry as that which divides men and that He was distressed until his baptism was to be accomplished (cp. Luke 12.50). Thus understood, His baptism must be associated with His vicarious death and passion (cp. ISBE, vol. 1, p. 411).
That the baptism of Jesus was an inaugural event in the ministry of Jesus is also clear from the blessing He receives from his heavenly Father. Matthew 3.16-17 records: At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and lighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased” (cp. Mark 1.10-11). The Spirit whom Jesus would bestow upon others had anointed Him.
The epochal importance of this anointing for Jesus and his awareness of how this experience led to a new period in his life is evident from his first sermon in Nazareth. There, opening the scroll of Isaiah, he selected the following passage from Isaiah 61:1-2: The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor (Lk 4:18-19; compare Acts 10:38). Upon returning the scroll to one of the officers of the synagogue, Jesus said, ‘today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing’ (Lk 4:21). At his baptism Jesus was aware that he had been anointed for a divine task. Serving God quietly as a carpenter in Nazareth was a thing of the past. The Spirit had anointed him, and his messianic mission had begun. (Stein, p. 99)