Summary: To Prepare the Way for the arrival of Christ, John the Baptist presented 1) His Ministry (Matthew 3:1-6) and 2) His Message (Matthew 3:7-12) pointing to the coming King.
Before people meet for Christmas gatherings, it is not uncommon to send out an R.S.V.P. to determine who is coming. The host declares that there will be a party at such and such a time, and such and such a location. You tend to know generally who else is coming and what to do to prepare. This message is really a herald to proclaim the event and prepare for the arrival of guests.
In ancient times it was common for a herald to precede the arrival of the monarch, to announce his coming and to prepare for his safe and proper travel. With a group of servants, the herald would make sure that the roadway was as smooth and uncluttered as possible. Holes would be filled, rocks and debris would be removed, and unsightly litter would be burned or hidden. As the group traveled along and worked, the herald would proclaim the king’s coming to everyone he encountered. His twofold duty was to proclaim and to prepare. That is what John’s ministry did for God’s great King, Jesus Christ.
As we approach the Christmas season we have this duty as well. Amidst all the generic and non-descript trappings, we need to proclaim who is coming and prepare ourselves and others to meet Him.
1) His Ministry (Matthew 3:1-6)
a) The Man (Matthew 3:1)
Matthew 3:1 [3:1]In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, (ESV)
Now in those days serves as a transition between chapters 2 and 3. It was a common literary phrase, indicating the general time in which the events being described occurred. The date at which he appeared is stated, in Luke 3:1, to have been “in the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius C¿sar; i.e. between August, A.D. 28, and August, A.D. 29” (The Pulpit Commentary: St. Matthew Vol. I. 2004 (H. D. M. Spence-Jones, Ed.) (66–67). Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.).
John the Baptist was in Matthew’s day already well known as the forerunner of Jesus the Messiah (cf. Acts 13:24; 19:4) (Hagner, D. A. (2002). Vol. 33A: Word Biblical Commentary : Matthew 1-13. Word Biblical Commentary (45). Dallas: Word, Incorporated.).
Popular Jewish expectation anticipated a messianic forerunner. Deuteronomy 18:18, speaking of the prophet like Moses to whom all Israel should listen, became a seminal text in the development of this expectation. Some expected a literal Elijah to return from heaven, based on Mal 4:5. John comes fitting no one stereotype but fulfilling a variety of prophetic roles and themes (Blomberg, C. (2001). Vol. 22: Matthew (electronic ed.). Logos Library System; The New American Commentary (72). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.).
• One of the most powerful ways to "Prepare His Way" this Advent season is to show how most expectations about Christmas actually point to a fundamental reality. What Christ actually did, says and is, is a lot more profound than polite seasonal sentimentality.
The author, named John, possessed a common Jewish name in New Testament times and is the Greek form of the Hebrew Johanan (see 2 Kings 25:23; Jer. 40:8; etc.), which means “Jehovah, or Yahweh, is gracious.” Baptist, or Baptizer (baptistçs; the Greek ending, tçs, signifies one who performs an act), was an epithet given him because baptizing was such an important and obvious part of his ministry.
His ministry is that he came, which is a word (from paraginomai), which often was used to indicate an official arrival, such as that of the magi (Matt. 2:1), or the public appearance of a leader or teacher (Matt. 3:13). For thirty years both John and Jesus had lived in relative obscurity. Now the coming of the herald signified the coming of the King. The beginning of John’s ministry signaled the beginning of Jesus’ ministry (see Acts 10:37–38).
His ministry first and foremost involved preaching is from kçrussô, the primary meaning of which is “to herald.” It was used of the official whose duty it was to proclaim loudly and extensively the coming of the king.
John’s primary place of ministry, like his primary place of training, was in the wilderness of Judea. This terrain was an appropriate symbol of the spiritual state of the people of Israel. It also calls to mind the wilderness in which the Israelites wandered for 40 years when their unbelief delayed their entry into the Promised Land (Albrecht, G. J., & Albrecht, M. J. (1996). Matthew. The People’s Bible (35). Milwaukee, Wis.: Northwestern Pub. House.).
It was symbolic of John’s ministry to call the people away from the corrupt and dead religious system of their day-away from ritualism, worldliness, hypocrisy, and superficiality. John called them away from Jerusalem and Jericho, away from the cities into the wilderness-where most people would not bother to go if they were not serious seekers. John brought them away, where they were freer to listen, think, and ponder, without the distractions and the misleading leaders they were so accustomed to following.