This chapter opens with John the Baptist and the prophecy about him from back in Isaiah 40:
It’s not worded exactly the same way in the original prophecy and in Matthew, but it’s pretty much the same. Here is the Matthew wording:
“The voice of one crying in the wilderness:
‘Prepareb the way of the Lord;
make his paths straight.’”
This is definitely the same translation too, but I’m willing to easily chock it up to multiple translations and Matthew not necessarily speaking in the same manner as Isaiah. The sentiment remains that there is someone who is supposed to be crying from the wilderness that prepares or makes the way for God. In this way, John the Baptist fits the bill as he is described as living in the wilderness and wearing camel skin and eating only stuff out there and I can’t even really imagine. He’s gained prominence in his devotion to God and in his warning that the kingdom is coming and that people should begin to repent.
People were coming from all over to be baptized by him, even the Pharisees and Sadducees. His warning to them is really amazing, but he does baptize them. He reminds them that he’ll do it with water but the one who comes after will do it with “the Holy Spirit and fire” which is pretty terrifying. He seems to really want them to change their ways after having been baptized but this warning also makes it apparent that even then the baptism is a cleansing of sins and the soul. It seems a different way to become ritually clean than we’d seen before.
At the end of this chapter we come to the first recorded words of Jesus. He goes to John the Baptist to be baptized, as everyone else was, and John initially refuses him. John insists that Jesus should be baptizing him and not the other way around but Jesus utters these words:
“Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.”
Unfortunately, I have no idea what it means to fulfill all righteousness in this context. It’s not exactly from a prophecy unless you consider it to still be a part of the last one and a part of John the Baptist preparing the way. The thing about baptism is that it’s not only about cleaning an already tarnished soul, but there’s not a lot here about what John the Baptist was doing by baptizing people otherwise. It mentions that they were confessing their sins, but what’s the purpose of getting dunked in the river?
Well, I don’t really know if it was supposed to be rebirth into dedication to God in the same way that it is cleansing, but we do know that it is in this moment that the Holy Spirit did come to Jesus and His ministry really begins. So…. I’m leaning toward rebirth and that being the righteousness that needed to be fulfilled. Even Jesus, without sin, needed to not only be baptized, but accept the new responsibility that He was receiving from God through this process. John the Baptist prepared the way in that he had been baptizing Jews publicly and was in a position to be the one to perform this important ceremony for Jesus to receive the Holy Spirit and truly begin his work. He also did a lot of work in preparing others for the changing times as much as possible. People may not have understood what form it would take, but he had warned them that change was coming.
After everything I read about last week, I can’t help but wonder how long they had been looking forward to change and what change they were hoping for. It’s a common theme in political discourse in the US and we aren’t even dealing with the problems that Judea was. They were ruled by another people, who not only separated the people into divisions ruled by different leaders not their own, but who had proven that they can come in and destroy families with impunity. They had grown up on stories about the incredible things that God had done for their ancestors in Exodus and Joshua and Kings. They were hearing that God was returning to them. I can’t imagine what they thought was coming or what would happen when God arrived.
As Christians, we have a tendency to start with the story of Jesus and work backwards to the creation story, watering it down along the way. Reading straight through the Bible from the beginning until now, I can see a little differently why it was that the Jews were not prepared for this king, but I won’t get ahead of myself. I know what I’ve been taught about Jesus, but so much of the Old Testament had been not quite it that I still feel like I don’t know what to expect of Jesus either. Well, not what to expect of His life at least.
In this chapter, it’s apparent that Jesus knows something about what he needs to be doing and some of the steps along the way already and will insist that things go according to plan, even when others disagree. It ends with “a voice from Heaven” claiming Jesus as His Son and that he is “pleased” with Him.
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