Matthew 3:1-6 “Introducing Matthew and John: Their life purposes and ours.”

A sermon by Nate Wilson for Christ the Redeemer Church, Manhattan, KS, 10 October 2010

1. Who was Matthew and What was his life purpose?

Life Events (This comes primarily from Vincent’s Word Studies of the N.T.)

         Son of Alphaeus (a.k.a. Cleopas?), brothers: James (the less, the epistle-writer), Thomas (didymus - the twin)?

         Tax-collector, called to follow Jesus – (Caravaggio’s painting - “You’re calling him, not me, right?”) Matthew left immediately and followed Jesus.

         Hosted Jesus at his house and threw big dinner party for tax collectors to introduce them to Jesus.(Luke 5:29 – Matthew was too modest to mention this)

         Some traces of his former occupation can be found in his gospel, such as him being the only gospel writer to mention the miracle of the coin for the temple tax found in the fish’s mouth, and Matthew’s calling the coin that Jesus asked to see a tribute coin instead of a penny like the other gospel writers.

         Took the name Levi

         No other info in Bible, but historians say spent later years ministering in Egypt, Ethiopia

         Visited the Ethiopian Eunuch and overpowered two magicians there who had afflicted the people with diseases.

         Visited the King of Egypt and raised his son from the dead, also healed his daughter Iphigenia of leprosy and placed her at the head of a community of virgins dedicated to the service of God. A heathen king attempted to kidnap her, but then he got smitten with Iphigenia’s leprosy.

         May or may not have been martyred (Foxes says “slain with a halberd in the city of Nadabah, A.D. 60,” but Vincent says Greek tradition is that he died in peace.)


Matthew’s Gospel

         Perhaps written in Aramaic, then in Greek.

         Some early church historians (Papias, Eusebius) claim that Matthew wrote in Aramaic and that his brother James translated it into Greek, but there is absolutely no manuscript evidence for this.

         Written between 60-70 a.d.(ATR)

         After Mark (ATR)

         Many similarities between Mt. and Mark, but doesn’t necessarily mean one copied the other. The same Holy Spirit inspired all the gospel writers, so there should be a lot in common! (Calvin)

         Matthew was the foremost note-taker on Jesus’ teachings:

         Quotes from Jesus comprise 1/4 of text

         Incl. 10 extra parables.


         Geneaology starts @ Abraham (Ch.1),

         Quotes from the OT some 60 times, often to show that Jesus fulfilled the prophecies of the Messiah

         Told the Syrophonecian woman that He was “Sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (15:24),

         1st sending of 12 to Jews-don’t go into the way of the Gentiles (10:5).

         Gentile inclusion in the kingdom of heaven:

         Gentile women Rahab and Ruth in Geneaology,

         Magi (Ch. 2),

         Jesus’ commendation of the Roman centurion for having greater faith than any of the Jews (8:10-12)

         Jesus’ prophecy that the Gospel would be “preached in all the world as a witness to all nations” (24:14), and

         Great Commission in 28:19 “Make disciples of all nations.”

         This is on the basis of the death and resurrection of Christ, the history of which forms the climactic conclusion of his Gospel.

         Other Themes:

         Law and lawlessness: Upholds the law of Moses, but records the Sermon on the mount in detail with more stringent legal demands. Those who disobey God’s law are called “lawless” by Matthew, a term none of the other Gospel writers use.

         Prodigality within God’s people:

x        Unique to Matthew: “Whoever shall break one of the least commandments and teach men so shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven” (v.19)

x        Don’t throw pearls before swine,

x        Parable of the tares among the wheat,

x        The guest without the wedding garment who is thrown out,

x        The foolish wedding attendants who ran out of oil and missed the wedding,

x        The scenario of the sheep and the goats where people who claim to have performed miracles and cast out devils in Jesus’ name are sent away,

x        “The love of many shall wax cold,”

x        Lord’s Prayer: includes “deliver us from the evil one.”

Matthew’s Life Purpose

         To connect the Old Testament with the New.

         To tell the good news about Jesus rather than telling his own story.

         To show that Jesus is the Messiah of the Jews and the Savior of the nations.

         To warn the people of God against unfaithfulness to God.


         With that overview of Matthew in mind, I want to begin a study of the Gospel of Matthew.

         Since the advent season is coming soon, let’s wait on the first two chapters until December.

         So let us begin at chapter 3, where a man named John is introduced:


1. Now in those days, it also happens that John the Baptizer is

      preaching in the desert of Judea,

       2. saying, “Repent; for the kingdom of heaven has neared!”

3. For this is the man spoken of through Isaiah the prophet when he was saying,

           “A voice crying out in the desert, ‘Prepare the way of the Lord. Make His paths straight!’”

4. Now this John had his clothing of camel’s hairs and a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey.

5. Jerusalem and all Judea and all the surrounding country of the Jordan was then proceeding out to him, 6. and they were being baptized in the Jordan River by him as they confessed their sins.

2. Who was John and What was his life purpose?

“In those days John the Baptizer came”

         The word translated “came” is para-ginetai, literally “parallel happening” – What was the “parallel happening” going on in “those days”? Jesus’ move to Nazareth - see end of ch.2!

         Jesus is about 30 years old, for he was born 15 years before the death of Augustus. His successor Tiberius had held the government of the Roman Empire for 15 years, when John began to preach… [totaling] 30 years… Hence it follows that [John] did not long discharge the office of teacher, but in a short time gave way to Christ [who] was also baptized at 30 years of age [Pontius Pilate being in his 2nd year of office over Judea] – Calvin


“Preaching in the wilderness” (v.1)

         Wilderness=desert – not much plant or animal life, few people.

         “Wilderness” was not only physical but also figuratively the spiritual wasteland of a people who had not heard a voice from God in 400 years! (Calvin)

         It is in this context that John is preaching as a “herald” of Jesus’ coming.


“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has neared”

         “Repent” comes from compound Greek word Meta + noew = Lit. “after” + “think w/ mind,”

         hence “change of mind which results in regret and also change of conduct.” (Vin.)

         “Repentance is more than an emotional response of feeling sorry for sin, it also involves the intellect and the will.” (Earle)

         The reason for repenting is that the kingdom of heaven has drawn near (or “is at hand,” as the KJV, ESV, and NAS render it in an English figure of speech). Near-ness is the reason for repentance.

         “has neared” is Perfect tense (past action with continuing results):

         Perhaps pointing back to the physical move of Jesus from Egypt to Nazareth.

         Or the fact that Jesus was within a year of his 30th birthday at which time He would be old enough to serve as God’s High Priest.

         Grace comes before works: Note that John’s message was not, “Repent and then the kingdom of heaven will come near.” It was “Repent because God has already drawn near!” “We may conclude that men are in a state of deadly enmity with God, and altogether shut out from the heavenly kingdom till God receives them into favor.” (Calvin)

         John’s name in Hebrew YoChanon means “God has dealt graciously” (Vin.)

         Name & message of John is about God’s gracious salvation which calls for repentance.


“kingdom of heaven”

         Jews preferred to use a euphemistic substitute for God, such as “heaven” (Earle).

         Mark & Luke – writing primarily to gentiles used “kingdom of God” instead of “heaven”

         Calvin- “undoubtedly refers to the coming of the Messiah…. his meaning is that men, who were alienated from the righteousness of God and banished from the kingdom of heaven, must be again gathered to God and live under His guidance…[ This is accomplished by the forgiveness of sins]…. [I]t is nothing else than newness of life by which God restores us to the hope of a blessed immortality…”

         Kingdom = reign of God, not the political or ecclesiastical organization which the Pharisees expected” (ATR)

         “It is called the kingdom of heaven because its origin, its end, its king, the character and destiny of its subjects, its laws, institution, and privileges – all are heavenly.” ~Vincent


v.3 - Parallel to Isaiah’s prophecy

         Isaiah 40:3 is quoted to show John is the fulfillment of prophecy.

         Septuagint rather than the Hebrew text of Isaiah:

1.      the generic word for “call” is in the Hebrew text, whereas the specific word “cry aloud” is used in the LXX (which would be a different word in Hebrew), and that is the word Matthew uses.

2.      The LXX also has 3 occurrences of the word “the” in the passage, whereas the Hebrew has only one. Matthew follows the LXX with the word “the” 3x.

3.      The Hebrew text says “make straight in the desert a path,” whereas the LXX does not mention the desert at that point.

         These are not major changes, but they show the source that Matthew was working from and they show the validity of even a loose translation of God’s word.

         In an interesting twist, Matthew departs from both the Greek and Hebrew texts of Isaiah to use the pronoun “His” instead of the original phrase “of our God,” once again showing the Jewish sentiment of not referring to God directly.

         “prepare (make ready=NAS) the way of the Lord”

         Interesting that form of the verb “repent” in John’s message in the previous verse exactly matches the verb “prepare” (Aorist Active Imperative, Second Person Plural). I think this indicates that preparing the way of the Lord = repenting.

         When we recognize the problem of sin and look to God for transformation, we have prepared the way of the Lord to come in and save us! When we are unwilling to acknowledge our sin and unwilling to seek change, then there is no path for God to enter our lives with His solution for the problem of our sin.

         “make straight His paths”

         Roads in that part of the country weren’t straight (Look at the road in the photo background.); would have required major changes in the landscape!

         “There are intricate and crooked windings in the world, but through such appalling difficulties the Lord makes a way for Himself, and breaks through, by incredible means, to accomplish our salvation.” (Calvin)


In v.4, John’s message is interrupted by a physical description of the man.



         garment of Camel hairs

         cartoon- identify camel hair by humps on back

         modern-day camel hair coat

         probably looked more like rough garb

         With leather belt this was the garb of the original Elijah (2 Ki 1:8) – perhaps intentionally modeled after Elijah? (Plummer)


         Luke 7:33 “John came neither eating bread nor drinking wine.”


         Some say it was a locust-bean; but probably was a grasshopper.

         Every spring, swarms of these locusts pass through the area devouring everything, so probably not hard to catch, and possibly indicates time of year.

         They’re kosher because they have “legs jointed for hopping” – Lev. 11:21

         “Wild honey” – John was not a farmer or herdsman, had no respectable occupation, but was rather a bum, living off whatever food he could find in the wild.

         “rough and austere way of living… food and dress of peasants” (Calvin)



         v.5 says that everybody from the city of Jerusalem, the area of Judea (about the size of 2 of our counties in Kansas), as well as all the surrounding countryside inbetween the cities – perikwros (Thayer) were coming out to be baptized by John.

         Why were people being baptized? Luke (3:3) – he was “preaching the baptism of repentance” – this was part of John’s instruction. John didn’t do it as a mere mechanical motion; he was preaching about baptism and explaining what it means. (Calvin)

         This kind of baptism was not typically done to Jews but rather to Gentiles who converted to Judaism. John was treating the Jews as though they were in need of becoming God’s people again! (Repentence) ~ATR

         “They were being baptized… while they were confessing their sins” Repent = confessing

         Baptism as outward sign of inward repentance to prepare the way of the Lord who was soon to come. It was a washing that symbolized purification from sin.

         Debatable, but, I do not believe that this baptism was same as Christian baptism, notably because Paul re-baptized in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit some of John’s disciples who had settled in Ephesus after having been baptized by John.

         How did he baptize?

         There is no explicit information other than

         that there was lots of water,

         that they went into the river before they were baptized, and that they came out of the river after they were baptized.

         Debateable whether the going down and coming out are the same as baptism or whether baptism was some other action inbetween stepping into the river and stepping out of it.


John’s life purpose

  1. Like Matthew: to connect the OT with the New:

         In Mark 1:1 “The beginning of the gospel” is the preaching of John!

         Malachi described John, “Behold I send my messenger and he shall prepare the way before me, and the Lord, whom you seek shall suddenly come to His temple” (3:1) and later in 4:5 “Behold, I send you Elijah the Prophet, before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord.”

         Lk. 16:16 The Law and the Prophets were until John: since that time the kingdom of God is preached.”

         John’s voice broke the 400 year “dessert” of intertestamental silence.

  1. Telling the good news of Jesus’ coming (rather than telling own story)

         As a “voice” rather than a man, “John’s personality is thrown into shadow behind Christ... anxious beyond aught else to shroud his own insignificant person beneath the majesty of his message.” - Vincent

          “kingdom of heaven had drawn near… One is coming…”

         Repent and be baptized to prepare for His coming!

         And, like Matthew, showing that Jesus is the Messiah of the Jews and the Savior of the nations.- “Behold the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.”

  1. To warn the people of God against unfaithfulness to God. (in later verses)

3. Who are you and what is your life purpose?

God has made you as a unique person:

         you may not be the accountant and note-taker and miracle-worker in Egypt like Matthew,

         you may not be the mountain-man and preacher and baptizer like John,

         but you can fulfill the same three life purposes Mat. and John did:


  1. Connect the old with the new: Tell the stories of both OT & NT and connect the dots!

         This means we have to read the entire Bible.

         Calvin: The evangelists “had no intention or design to abolish by their writings the law and the prophets; as some fanatics dream that the OT is superfluous now that the truth of heavenly wisdom has been revealed to us by Christ and His Apostles. On the contrary, they point with the finger to Christ, and admonish us to seek from Him whatever is ascribed to Him by the law and prophets. The full profit and advantage, therefore, to be derived from the reading of the Gospel will only be obtained when we learn to connect it with the ancient promises.”

         One way everybody can do that is by reading Bible stories to kids!

  1. Not to call attention to yourself but rather to point to Christ like Matthew and John did, as the Savior of the world.

         Don’t let your meaning in life get wrapped around what you can collect and who loves you and who you control.

         Great Commission according to Matthew defines us: “going into all the world, make disciples, baptizing and teaching.”

  1. Warn the people of God against unfaithfulness to God.

         Prepare the way of the Lord: Originally, the prophecy of Isaiah was to people in Israel as well as to Cyrus who would later release Israel from captivity. “That was but a shadowy anticipation of redemption. When the spiritual truth is about to appear, John is sent to remove obstacles. And even now the same voice sounds in our ears that we may prepare the way of the Lord: that is, that we may take out of the way those sins which obstruct the kingdom of Christ and thus may open access to His grace.” (Calvin)