In Matthew chapter 3 we are often drawn to the closing verses of the chapter. In these verses we have the remarkable baptism of Jesus of Nazareth and the testimony that He received from the Father – “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” This portion is very precious and profound.
Before this closing portion we read of the ministry of John the Baptist. Suddenly he appears ‘preaching in the wilderness of Judea.’ What a strange place to preach. His message is not that which is naturally pleasing to man – “Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”- yet, in the providence of God many resort to him and ‘were baptised of him in Jordan, confessing their sins.’ The Lord blessed his ministry. He was a prophet and the forerunner of the Christ of God. This reminds us that it is the blessing of God we need, not modern ideas on how to please man and ‘grow the church.’
One interesting feature of Matthew 3 is the contrast between what John the Baptist says to the Pharisees and Sadducees, and what he says to Jesus. To the former he speaks most strongly. He denounces them as a generation of vipers. He warns them they are exposed to the wrath to come. He calls them to repent. He really indicates they cannot in their present condition be baptised of him. Contrast this with what he says to the Lord Jesus. He simply says, “I have need to be baptised of thee, and comest thou to me?” In other words, John felt so unworthy in the presence of Jesus that he hesitated to baptise him, till he was told that it was needful, for, as Jesus says, “…thus it becometh us to fulfill all righteousness.” When taken together with the witness of God the Father at the baptism of Jesus, we have a strong witness to the Person of Christ and His purity.
What a stark contrast. John’s language to the leaders of the Jewish Church, and his language to the true Head of the Church.
How we should respect the authority with which John spoke, and remember what he said elsewhere about Jesus of Nazareth – “Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world.” (John 1:29).
G B Macdonald