MATTHEW 3: 1-6

Hi.. I’m Gene.. and you’re listening to the common man commentary.. 

This is podcast #5.. the title.. “Prepare ye the way.. of the lord.. “

We will be looking at MATTHEW 3: 1-6

here we go.

“While Jesus was living in the Galilean hills, John, called “the Baptizer,” was preaching in the desert country of Judea. His message was simple and austere, like his desert surroundings: “Change your life. God’s kingdom is here.”

John and his message were authorized by Isaiah’s prophecy: Thunder in the desert! Prepare for God’s arrival! Make the road smooth and straight! John dressed in a camel-hair habit tied at the waist by a leather strap. He lived on a diet of locusts and wild field honey. People poured out of Jerusalem, Judea, and the Jordanian countryside to hear and see him in action. There at the Jordan River those who came to confess their sins were baptized into a changed life.”

Matthew 3:1-6 MSG

To understand this well we will have to slow down….way down..  even God slows down.. or at least it appears as though He does.. before we start taking a look at John The Baptist.. we need to look at history.. discover some context.. breathe the air in the room..

Here is an relevant and important verse to consider : “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets,”.  Hebrews 1:1 ESV

The last Prophet to speak to Israel before John was Malachi.. then there was a gap.. a big gap..silence… 400 years of silence. To God, a thousand years is as one day.. quotes II Peter 3:8 .. but to us.. 400 years feels like a pretty long time.

Malachi’s last words before the great silence were : “Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the Lord comes. And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the land with a decree of utter destruction.””     Malachi 4:5-6 ESV side note.. Elijah never actually died.. but was taken to heaven on a chariot of fire as witnessed by Elisha. 

Malachi’s last advice before the silence.. “do justly.. love mercy and walk humbly with your God !”

During this 400 year of Prophetic silence.. The Jews fell to the Greeks in .. 333 B.C. .. ten years later to the Egyptians, later the Syrian’s and finally to the Roman’s which lead to the appointment of Herod the great.. a direct descendent of Esau.  During this time the Egyptians translated what we call the Old Testament into Greek.. they call it the Septuagint. The Jews started acting a lot more like Greeks and began mistreating their wives, marrying pagans, not tithing, they stopped teaching the people and neglected the temple. The people drifted.. away from God.. and toward religion. What resulted was more like politics than the worship of God. 

Politics resulted in two factions being developed. The Sadducees .. and the Pharisees .. The Sadducees leaned toward the liberal Greek why of life.. the Pharisees were the conservative bunch.. creating a lot of laws and oppressing the people with them. Together they comprised the strife ridden Sanhedrin .. governing both religious and civil law.  By the time of John the baptizer, there were 613 commandments in the Torah.. a significant jump from the 10 commandments given to Moses by God on Mount Sinai.  It was the Sanhedrin’s job to make sure the people obeyed! There were heavy and sometimes brutal consequences for infractions. Allegations of corruption were leveled at these religious leaders directly from John and later from Jesus. 

John the baptizer was believed to be a relative of Jesus.. a cousin of some sort.. it’s unsure exactly how Mary, Jesus’s mother and Elizabeth, John’s mother were related.. but Luke, the most detailed of all the Gospel writers believes they were. .. see Luke 1:36.. Elizabeth, John’s mom was an old women, she and Zechariah lived in Hebron.

Many believe that John was taken in and raised in the village of Qumran on the western shore of the Dead Sea in the desert. The community there was an ascetic group called “ Essenes “. The group was frustrated with the priesthood in Jerusalem, believing they had become corrupt.

The Essenes were a Jewish sect and large in number but a smaller group than the Pharisees.. they lived communally simply lives.. they were considered mystics. The group in Qumran were scribes of a sort and were known to make copies of the Torah. In 1946 The Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered in caves adjacent to the village. The scrolls are dated to 300 BCE. 

When John the Baptist began preaching and baptizing people in the Jordan river, it was walking distance to the north of Qumran. Jerusalem was due west, only 28.6 miles. It was 19 miles from Hebron to Jerusalem. The year was a.d. 29.

Isaiah prophesied about John 700 years prior to his birth. He would “ prepare in the wilderness the way of The Lord.. “ and “ make level in the desert the highway for our God “. see Isaiah 40:3. 

In Luke 3:1-3 it says :“ The word of God came to John.. in the wilderness “ and he went into all the region near the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins “

John dressed funny. He wore camel hides or fabric made from camel hair.. maybe both. It would seem that Elijah had a similar fashion statement. I’ve have ridden a camel in the desert in Israel in 105 degree heat and I am very great-full for my under armor tee shirts and ultra lite hiking shorts ! 

John ate bugs, locusts to be exact. I have seen Israelis locusts, they are not your common back yard grasshopper. They are huge, the size of a dollar bill and they bite back.  He also ate wild honey. I watched villagers harvest wild honey in the mountains in India once, I am guessing it’s similar. They search around for a nest and then blow smoke into the hole to calm the bees down. Then they dig around.. carefully to remove the honey comb that is dripping with honey. If they kill even a single bee.. they will all attack ! This is not a job for the faint of heart.

The picture in your mind that you are forming about John should be that of a strong, weather hardened, tenaciously focused man’s man. John is not a city boy.  I am thinking a kind of Bare Gryll’s of his day without the cool gear and a helicopter.

Lets talk about John’s message..

People crave a true teacher..  Authenticity is extremely attractive. It’s true now and it was true then. John had ..something.. I think the key to what he has lies in Luke’s verse. “ The word of God came to him “.  It changed John just like it changes us. When we hear from God.. we are changed. 

John also was filled with the Holy Spirit from birth. Luke 1:15  This was not normal.. Nothing about John is normal !

The impact of this fact cant be over stated. John is born with a specific mission in mind. To be the forerunner for the coming Messiah, Jesus. He is filled with the spirit and consistent with other Prophets, he hears a message directly from God. 

So what does this mission look like..  to be Jesus’s.. forerunner ..?  

He did not just walk up and down the river yelling “ Jesus is coming.. Jesus is coming “. That would not have gotten very far and he experienced a high degree of success in that he had disciples all over Israel and as far away as Egypt. 

What was in his message that caused people to come to him?

We have all herd the word: repent ! It conjures up all kinds of images .. mostly not good.. The worst vision is a TV evangelist from along time ago popping you in the forehead.. nothing about that ever drew me to move closer to God. 

So what does repent mean ?  The dictionary puts it this way “ to feel or express sincere regret or remorse about one’s wrong doing or sin “… a more biblical look at the word in New Testament times would come from the Greek word “ metanoeo ” which means “ to change ones’ mind “… the implication being a change in life direction. 

Real repentance takes the form of a heart change as well as a mind change. These changes bring us closer to God, reestablishing the vital relationship connection. It’s true in human relationships as well. 

John’s message was aimed to heal and build a love relationship between the people and God ! It was not focused on the sin in their lives but instead on the restored “Father to Child “ relationship that God has always wanted with us. 

 This focuses on relationship with God verses a rule centric religious system that had become prevalent in Jewish culture at that time. I believe this is part of the idea of “ paving the way for Jesus 

Jesus’s message was going to be such an earthquake in understanding who God really is. Jesus is launching a revolution! A revolution of love. 

This stands in stark contrast to the legalistic moralism of the day.

John’s message “ turning your heart back to God “ is the transition message from religious and heartless rule keeping to Jesus’s message of restored intimate relationship with God. Jesus came bringing grace and truth!

Its’s no wonder the people loved John and his message. 

The common people were living under the religious tyranny of endless lists of sin rules and constant judgement.

There was nothing about God that was about love. The religious elite had so twisted and distorted peoples understanding of God that all anyone could see was an angry God who wanted to punish them at every turn. 

John had harsh words for the religious elite.. just as later on Jesus would confirm.

John was not timid. He called things as he saw them. 

As we shall soon see.. that has consequences.

Thanks again for listening to the Common Man Commentary. I am Gene Ort.