Online Sunday School. The Gospel of Matthew, God With Us, Chapters 3-4; Kerygma materials Chapter 4.

  1. Matthew recounts the start of Jesus’ ministry with three episodes, the preaching of John the Baptist, the baptism of Jesus by John, and the Temptation of Jesus. These also fit Matthew’s theological view that Jesus is the fulfillment of Jewish scriptures as God’s anointed Messiah, bringing “the Kingdom of the Heavens” (pious Jews would not write or pronounce the name of God), a Messianic age, to earth.

 

  1. John the Baptist appeared in the Wilderness proclaiming “Repent: for the kingdom of the heaven is at hand” (or “has come near”). John’s hairy dress and wilderness diet evoke the prophets, particularly Elijah, as described at 2 Kings 1, 8, who, in the last verse of the Old Testament, (Malachi 4,5) would be sent before the great and terrible day of the Lord.

 

  1. John calls for repentance, that is changing one’s life and abandoning sin. This is carried out with a baptism of water, evoking the washing rituals of the Old Testament. John has particular warnings for the Pharisees and Sadducees, two of the powerful if competing groups of the Jewish religious establishment, who must bear fruit worthy of repentance and not presume favor due to their descent from Abraham. John also promises that a greater one will follow who will baptize with the Holy Spirit and with fire, burning the chaff but gathering his wheat.

 

  1. Jesus comes to be baptized by John. John is reluctant but Jesus says “it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.” The Greek term “dikaiosuné” means the justice or righteousness approved by God. God shows Jesus his approval as “the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” This recalls 2 Samuel 7, 14 – 16 where God speaks of David “I will be a father to him and he shall be a son to me. When he commits iniquity, I will punish him with a rod such as mortals use, with blows inflicted by human beings. But I will not take my steadfast love from him . . . Your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me; your throne shall be established forever.”

 

  1. Jesus is lead into the wilderness by the Spirit to be tempted by the devil. This is consistent with a theology seeing Jesus is God’s chosen successor to the spiritual figures of Israel who might commit iniquity. The gospel of John, which sees Jesus as God made flesh, does not have the temptation story. While the idea of the temptation of Christ is challenging to some theologies, the temptations presented are very real to Jesus’ disciples and to Christians since. While Jesus tells his disciples to pray “lead us not into temptation” he also tells them, at Matthew 18, 7, that occasions for stumbling are bound to come.

 

  1. The devil famously quotes scripture urging Jesus to abuse his divine status to satisfy his hunger by making bread out of rocks, leap from the temple expecting God to save him, and serve the devil in exchange for the wealth and power of the world. Jesus famously quotes scripture in return and rejects the devil. (Deuteronomy 6. 13 says “The Lord your God you shall fear; him you shall serve.”) Angels then come to minister to Jesus who has made the right choice.

 

  1. Jesus then begins his ministry in Zebulun, near the Sea of Galilee, again fulfilling an Isaiah prophecy. He begins to proclaim as his “sound byte” the proclamation of John the Baptist “Repent for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” He then begins to form a community calling four brothers who are fishermen, Simon (Peter), Andrew, James and John. They leave their nets and follow Jesus. Note that in the Old Testament fishing has been associated with God’s acts of power judgment and restoration. Jeremiah 16:16 and Ezekiel 47: 7-10.

 

  1. Things to consider:

 

  1. Jesus call to repent, means to change one’s life in admission of wrongdoing. In our society, people who face punishment or censure for doing wrong often express remorse or apologize, often in less than sincere ways, such as “I am sorry if I have offended anyone.” What does real repentance mean to you?
  2. The devil tempts Jesus using scripture, and Jesus replies using scripture. How can we tell when scripture leads the devil’s way and when it leads God’s way?
  3. Jesus says “Repent for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” Two thousand years later the kingdom of heaven often seems very far away. Does Jesus’ statement means that the kingdom of heaven is here and people (perhaps a community of believers called the church) can achieve it if people do as Jesus taught? Does it mean that the kingdom is “across the street” that is not here but near enough to be attainable soon. Or is it “aspirational,” perhaps real in some sense but only achievable after death or after some divine intervention such as the second coming. Is the kingdom of heaven perhaps less relevant to the “real world” than other things or perhaps reflecting humankind’s broken and sinful state? What does Jesus’ statement mean to you now?