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Lesson 2: The Ministry Begins *

Introduction: How would you like Jesus to say that there "is no one greater" than you? Not likely, you say? Our study this week is about someone for whom this is true. Jesus said about John the Baptist, "among those born of women there is no one greater than John." Let' jump into our study of Matthew and see what lessons Matthew has for us through John the Baptist!

  1. Repent

    1. Read Matthew 3:1-2. What did John mean when he said, "the kingdom of heaven is near?" (He could not have been talking about the end of time, otherwise he would be a false prophet. Given the context, he was talking about heaven coming to earth in the form of Jesus.)

      1. I can understand "repent" in the context of the end time judgment and the righteous going to heaven, but how does it make sense in the context of Jesus coming to earth?

    2. Read Matthew 3:3 and Isaiah 40:3-4. How many persons are referred to in Matthew 3:3 (not including Isaiah)? (John the Baptist, he is the "voice of one." Jesus is "the Lord." His listeners are those making the paths straight.)

      1. What light does this shed on the call to repent because Jesus is coming? (The best way to prepare for Jesus is to decide the time has come for change. The decision to do something different makes it easier for Jesus' message to enter your heart (make the paths for Jesus straight and level).

    3. Read Matthew 3:4. Camel hair coats are desirable today. Is the message that John is a well-dressed guy who eats an organic diet? (Read 2 Kings 1:8 and Zechariah 13:4. These texts tell us that John was wearing the traditional garb for a prophet. Once again, we see Matthew adding to the bona fides of Jesus through John's testimony.)

    4. Read Matthew 3:5-8. Why does John not call for the religious leaders to be baptized, but rather calls for them to "produce fruit in keeping with repentance?" (This is consistent with the idea we discussed earlier, that coming to Jesus involves a decision that you need to change. John calls them "vipers," warns of an approaching wrath, and says you need to change.)

    5. Read Matthew 3:9-10. What does God expect of us? (He is not satisfied with our religious affiliation. He wants us to be productive Christians. These religious leaders cannot rest on their relationship to Abraham. They must understand that change is needed.)

      1. Does the reference to producing fruit mean that works are essential to salvation? (Let's discuss that next.)

  2. Baptism

    1. Re-read Matthew 3:6 and read Matthew 3:11. Notice that sin confession and baptism go together. Why is that?

    2. Read Colossians 2:11-12. What is the Christian equivalent of circumcision? (Baptism.)

    3. Read Colossians 2:13-15. When John speaks of repentance and baptism, what is his goal? I asked earlier, "why do confession and baptism go together?" (It is because they are the new circumcision, they are your acceptance of grace, your participation with Jesus in His death and resurrection!)

    4. Have you heard of products that are "ready" for the next level of technology: "cable-ready" or "digital ready," to use old examples? When John said that he was baptizing to make the way easier for Jesus, I think he was talking about making the people ready for grace. What do you think?

    5. Have you heard Christians say that you must be sure that every sin is confessed so that you can be saved? Do you think that salvation turns on ferreting out every sin and confessing it? Does that strike you as a form of works - works that make it important to have a good memory?

      1. Would a sensitivity to the Holy Spirit make a good memory unnecessary?

    6. Look again at what John says to the religious leaders who he calls "vipers." Re-read Matthew 3:7-10. John calls what must be bad people to "produce fruit in keeping with repentance." That seems like a call for works, but given what we have just studied, what does it seem to mean now? (It sounds like an attitude recognizing the need for change and a willingness to accept grace. It is someone who is open to understanding that baptism is the way in which we die for our sins and rise to new life.)

    7. Let's go back and re-read Colossians 2:11. What does it mean to put off the sinful nature? (Circumcision removed some skin. Thus, it was symbolic of putting off the sinful nature. Accepting grace should result in a changed nature. To better understand this, read Colossians 3.)

    8. Read Matthew 3:13-15. Is John right that Jesus should be baptizing him instead of the other way around?

      1. If so, why is it that Jesus has John baptize Him? Specifically, what does Jesus mean by "it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness?" (This is the bridge between the sanctuary service, in which the killing of an animal for the remission of sin pointed to Jesus, and the new system of remission of sin through baptism. In the sanctuary system an animal represented Jesus. In the system of grace, Jesus represents us. Recall that Colossians 2:11-12 tells us that we die and are raised "with Him" when we are baptized? In this way Jesus' words that what He is doing "is proper ... to fulfill all righteousness" makes sense.)

    9. Read Matthew 3:16-17. Why do you think Matthew includes this event in his story? (The entire Godhead is together, Jesus, the Holy Spirit and God the Father. Have any doubt about the divinity of Jesus? Both God the Father and the Holy Spirit endorse Him and what He is doing!)

  3. The Temptation

    1. Skim Matthew 4:1-7 and read Matthew 4:3 and Matthew 4:6. On what point does Satan challenge Jesus? (Satan challenges whether Jesus is the "Son of God.")

    2. Re-read Matthew 3:17. What does this teach us about our God and our temptations? (God the Father specifically strengthens Jesus on the very point on which Satan attacks.)

      1. If you are willing, do you think God will do any less for you?

    3. Read Matthew 4:8-10. Why didn't Satan tempt Jesus to steal, curse, slander or covet? (Because those are not the central issue in the life of a Christian. The central issue is whether you trust God. The history of the Jewish people was trusting idols or other nations and not trusting God. That centrality of that issue has not changed today.)

  4. Ministry

    1. Read Matthew 4:12 and Matthew 4:17. Jesus has taken over the message of John the Baptist. Why did God allow John's message to be cut short? Didn't John still have productive work to do? (This is the point we just discussed. The central issue in our life is whether we will trust God.)

    2. Read Matthew 4:18-22. Instead of choosing new disciples, why not rescue John - since there was no one better than him and he was an experienced preacher? (Logic says to use John. But, the life of faith says that we will accept God's decisions in our life.)

      1. Notice that Jesus calls specific people. What does that mean to you?

    3. Read Matthew 4:23-25. How can you duplicate Jesus' method of evangelism? Or, is that not possible? (Re-read Matthew 3:5. John the Baptist did not need to perform miracles to attract people to him. We need to ask the Holy Spirit to show us what we should do to bring people into our life to share the message.)

      1. Why didn't John perform miracles? (Once again, this has to do with the sovereignty of God. We need to be grateful for the opportunities that we are given to advance the gospel. Not everyone advances the gospel in the same way.)

    4. Friend, do you need change in your life? Are you willing to trust God's direction for your life? Why not repent right now and open your heart to the changes God wants in your life?

  5. Next week: The Sermon on the Mount.
* Copr. 2016, Bruce N. Cameron, J.D. All scripture references are to the New International Version (NIV), copr. 1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society, unless otherwise noted. Quotations from the NIV are used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers. Suggested answers are found within parentheses. The lesson assumes the teacher uses a blackboard or some other visual aid.

© 2021 Bruce N. Cameron, J.D.
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