God’s Sinless Son

Explore the Bible Series

September 9, 2007


Background Passage: Matthew 3:1-4:25

Lesson Passage: Matthew 3:13-17; 4:1-11


Introduction: As stated last week, the Gospels are not biographies of Jesus, in the modern sense of the term, and the lesson for this week reinforces that claim.  Matthew Two ends with Jesus and his family returning from Egypt to take up residence in Nazareth, in Galilee.  The text indicates that Jesus was a small child, perhaps only a toddler at the time of the family’s arrival in Nazareth.  Chapter Three begins with the ministry of John the Baptists, and Jesus appears in the text as a grown man, perhaps thirty years old.  Modern biographers would not present the material in that manner.  Indeed, they would probe the childhood and adolescence of their subject for developmental hints concerning the character of the person in question.  The Gospels provide only a bit of information about the developmental years of Jesus, and these tidbits are found primarily in the Gospel of Luke.


The Gospels, as I see it, have three fundamental aims. They are:

  1. didactic: The Gospels record the teachings of Jesus in order to understand his identity, mission, and the responsibilities of his disciples. Matthew devotes a great deal of his Gospel to the discourses of the Lord (five major discourses). 
  2. apologetic: By the time the Gospels were written, false doctrine about Jesus had already begun to surface.  Early forms of Gnosticism and Docetism may have already emerged in the second half of the First Century, and the Gospels certainly defend the orthodox, historical view of the person of Christ.  Both Gnosticism and Docetism flourished in the Second Century, but First Century figures like Simon Magus, Menander, and Cerinthius foreshadowed the full development of these heretical movements in later generations.  Many Gnostics denied the humanity of Jesus, asserting that he only appeared as a man, and the Docetists, though different in some ways, made a similar claim.  Of course, early challenges arose concerning the deity of Jesus, as well.  The Gospels were written, in part, to give balanced, orthodox views of the incarnation.
  3. evangelistic: Above all, these writings have a sermonic tone; that is, they serve as announcements of the Good News of the arrival of the Kingdom of God (especially prominent in the Synoptic Gospels) and the long-awaited Messiah.  New Testament scholars refer to this announcement as the “Kerygma” (the Greek work for “announcement or heralding).  These early Christian writers heralded the Good News of Jesus Christ. 


By claiming that the Gospels did not aim for “biography”, I do not intend to question the historical nature of their writings.  In my judgment, the Gospel authors were good historians.  Luke, in particular, clearly stated the historical nature of his research and writing (See The Gospel of Luke 1:1-4), and the other writers give evidence of careful research of eyewitness accounts of the events and teachings of Jesus. The two central stories in our lesson, Jesus’ baptism and the temptation in the wilderness, highlight the humanity of Jesus and his gracious identification with sinners.  Also, as you study, please note the evidences of his deity as reflected in the stories.



Lesson Outline:


I.                   The Appearance and Preaching of John (3:1-17)

A.    Abruptly, John the Baptist appears in Matthew’s narrative.  Perhaps the jarring transition in the text intends to capture something of John’s appearance, like a clap of thunder, on the scene.  The prophetic voice was still for almost four hundred years; then, suddenly, John appeared, crying in the wilderness.

1.      John’s striking message (vv. 1-3): For centuries, the prophets had predicted the restoration of the people of God and the reestablishment of the Davidic Covenant.  No doubt, Israel had grown despondent waiting for the fulfillment of these promises.  John proclaimed that the Kingdom had drawn near, and he called on the people to prepare their hearts by repentance of sin.  In this sense, of course, John stood squarely in the Old Testament tradition.  Matthew, to buttress this point, quoted from Isaiah 40:3.  Preparation for the arrival of the Kingdom involved genuine repentance among the Lord’s people.

2.      John’s physical appearance and initial popularity (vv. 4-6): John wore a hair shirt and a leather belt. These striking images are reminiscent of the description of the Prophet Elijah (See II Kings 1:8), and First Century Jews could not have missed this symbolic behavior.  News of John’s preaching spread quickly, and the crowds amassed along the banks of the Jordan to hear the message and be baptized by John. 

3.      John’s confrontation with the Pharisees and Sadducees (vv. 7-12): Along with the great crowds, members of the two important religious leadership groups, Pharisees and Sadducees, came to participate in the enthusiastic, popular response.  John, however, saw through their apparent repentance, and he abruptly confronted them.  They, John pointed out, had not brought forth fruit fitting of repentance; rather, they counted on their physical descent from Abraham to relate them properly to God.  Their unfounded confidence, John said, would be cut down, like an unwanted tree, and cast into the fire. 

4.      John’s promise to the repentant (vv. 11-12): The Baptist understood that his baptism was secondary to and preparatory for baptism in the Holy Spirit, a baptism that only the Messiah could initiate. John promised that Jesus would baptize the penitent in the Holy Spirit and fire. This fire purifies the righteous and consumes the wicked.

B.     The baptism of Jesus (vv.13-17)

1.      John’s reluctance (vv. 13-15): Understandably, John initially recoiled from baptizing Jesus.  His humility and awareness of the identity of Jesus made John reticent to baptize Jesus, but the Lord assured John that this baptism fulfilled the righteousness of God.  This action, in my judgment, inaugurated the Kingdom of God and identified Jesus with sinners, sinners he had come to make righteous.

2.      the manifestation of the Holy Spirit and the Father (vv. 16-17): As Jesus emerged from the water, the Holy Spirit descended like a dove (this may mean that the holy came in the form of a dove; or, it could mean that he descended in the way a dove would).  Then, the people heard a voice from heaven that affirmed the Father’s approval of the person and character of the Son.


II.                The Initiation of Jesus’ Ministry (4:1-25)

A.    The temptation in the wilderness (vv. 1-11): All three Synoptic Gospels record this event (Matthew and Luke give greater detail than Mark).  After forty days of prayer and fasting, Satan tempted Jesus in three ways (Matthew and Luke recorded the temptations in different order).

1.      “If you are the Son of God, turn these stones into bread”: First, Satan tempted Jesus in regard to the Lord’s physical needs.  Jesus answered the devil by quoting Deuteronomy 8:3.

2.      “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down  (from the pinnacle of the Temple). Again, Jesus answered Satan by quoting Deuteronomy (See 6:16).

3.      “All of these things will I give you, if you will fall down and worship me.”  Jesus rebuked Satan by quoting Deuteronomy 6:13.

B.     The centralization f Jesus’ ministry in Capernaum (vv. 12-17):  After John’s arrest by Herod Antipas, Jesus left Nazareth and established his headquarters in Capernaum, on the shores of the Sea of Galilee. This relocation, according to the text, reflected and fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah 9:1-2.

C.     The call of the fishermen (vv. 18-22): Matthew recorded the call of Jesus’ first disciples: Peter, Andrew, James, and John. These men lived in Capernaum and fished together on the Sea of Galilee.  The Lord promised that he would make them “fishers of men” 

D.    Initial ministry in Galilee (vv. 23-25): Jesus took his new disciples on a ministry tour of the villages of his home province.  He preached in the synagogues and healed the sick and cast out demons, and, in doing so, he attracted huge crowds from all over the region: Galilee, Decapolis, Syria, and Judea.   




Questions for Discussion:

1.      What evidences do you see, in this text, for the humanity of Jesus?  His deity?

2.      Why did Jesus insist that John baptize him in the Jordan?

3.      What do you think Jesus meant when he told his disciples he would make them fishers of men?

4.      How did Jesus meet the temptations of Satan?  What insight do you gain from observing Jesus’ method for resisting Satan’s assault?