Sunday, May 16, 2021

Matthew Series, Week 6 - Layered Identity

  So we recently got a puppy Great Dane and she looks like a miniature Scooby-Doo. In fact, I didn’t know this but a type of Great Dane is classified as Scooby-Doo. Now I don’t know if ours would be classified as such, but she does look like a puppy version. This is our segue. In the classic Scooby-Doo show, the whole thing had a formula to it. The gang would travel around solving crimes that seemed to be based in mystery and spiritualism, but ended up being a person in a mask. Like a good crime drama, the goal was to figure out the identity of the criminal behind the mask. And as I have stated, I love me a good mystery. And now I have all the elements in my own life to create Mystery Inc. My Wife is of course Daphne, Velma is my oldest daughter Elisabeth, Shaggy is my son Israel, and now I have my Scooby-Doo, I even have a mini-van that can double as the mystery machine. Now you might think, wait he has three kids, well, our youngest will have to play the role of Scrappy-Doo. 

All joking aside, it’s this idea of identity that brings us back into our Matthew series where we’ll be picking it back up in chapter 3, starting in verse 1. As we open up to Matthew 3:1, let’s review what we’ve talked about so far in our Matthew series. 

In our first four weeks we looked at the connection Matthew has been making between the Old Testament work of God and how it leads up to the person of Jesus. We have seen this done through the genealogies, dreams, and the connection with Moses. In our fifth week we saw how deep these layers of connection are between Jesus as the Old Testament, by walking through those layers that occur between Jesus and King David. Therefore one of the overarching themes of Matthew’s Gospel is to help us understand the depth of fulfillment that occurs in Jesus’ life, so that we can understand that Jesus is the Jewish Messiah.

And it’s this theme of identity that continues into chapter 3. So let’s read together from Matthew chapter 3 starting in verse 1.


“1 In those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the wilderness of Judea 2 and saying, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.’ 3 This is he who was spoken of through the prophet Isaiah: ‘A voice of one calling in the wilderness, “Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.”’

“4 John’s clothes were made of camel’s hair, and he had a leather belt around his waist. His food was locusts and wild honey. 5 People went out to him from Jerusalem and all Judea and the whole region of the Jordan. 6 Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River.

“7 But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to where he was baptizing, he said to them: ‘You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? 8 Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. 9 And do not think you can say to yourselves, “We have Abraham as our father.” I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. 10 The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.

11 “‘I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me comes one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 12 His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor, gathering his wheat into the barn and burning up the chaff with unquenchable fire.’

“13 Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to be baptized by John. 14 But John tried to deter him, saying, ‘I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?’

15 Jesus replied, ‘Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.’ Then John consented.

“16 As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. 17 And a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.’”

Now a lot is going on in this passage. There are six characters in the story. We start off with John the seemingly principal character, we then move to some antagonists in the Pharisees and Sadducees, then you get to the main hero Jesus, and finally God the Father and God the Spirit. Out of all these, the focus seems to be on John, but this passage isn’t meant to have us focus on John, even though the majority of the passage speaks about him. No, instead this passage is meant for us to better understand who Jesus is.

See up to this point, Matthew has been helping us understand who Jesus is from an Old Testament perspective. Jesus is the Messiah who comes from the linage of David. We saw this in both his genealogy and through the Magi. We also know Jesus as the prophet like Moses, which we learned through the parallels of chapter 2. 

But in this passage we have three persons who give us a greater look at the identity of Jesus. And in turn, these three persons also give us a more complete view as to Jesus’ identity.

The first of these is our writer Matthew. Matthew gives us some commentary of who John is and thereby revealing who Jesus is. 

In verse 3, Matthew paraphrases Isaiah 40:3-5, where the prophet Isaiah communicates these words, “A voice of one calling: ‘In the wilderness prepare the way for the Lord; make straight in the desert a highway for our God. 4 Every valley shall be raised up, every mountain and hill made low; the rough ground shall become level, the rugged places a plain. 5 And the glory of the Lord will be revealed,  and all people will see it together. For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.’” 

This passage had long been established as a Messianic prophecy that revealed that the people would know the arrival of the Messiah, because another would come prior to him being revealed. By connecting John’s ministry to that of the forerunner of the Messiah, Matthew shows us another piece in the puzzle of who Jesus is.

In Matthew’s identification of John, he again shows us that Jesus is the prophesied Messiah. 

The second person who helps us identify Jesus, is John himself. John gives us three statements to Jesus’ identity. First John calls Jesus, someone who is greater and more powerful than he is. This shows us that, though John is doing a great work, his ministry will pale in comparison to Jesus’.

Then John talks about the difference in baptisms. John points to his baptism as a baptism of repentance. Most likely in the vein of Old Testament water purification rituals, which carried with it the understanding that, before a perfect and holy God, we are in need of cleansing. But John states that his baptism is different than Jesus’. John’s is of water and for repentance, but Jesus’ is of the Holy Spirit and fire. Whereas the baptism of John is a preparation for what is to come, it is the baptism of the Holy Spirit that brings with it the salvation and judgment of God. 

Water baptism is a ritual we can perform that symbolizes our desire for God, but the Holy Spirit baptism is the baptism that seals us to Christ. As Paul states in Ephesians 1:13-14, “And you also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, 14 who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory.”

So John’s baptism is humanity reaching for God, Jesus’ baptism is God reaching for humanity.

Finally, John describes Jesus’ ministry has a harvester. Here we get a clear distinction between the two works. John is the pre-show, Jesus is the main event. John is a planter, Jesus is a reaper. John’s work is to get the message out, so that when Jesus arrives, he can do the mighty work of dividing those that would accept him from those that would not. Jesus is the pinnacle for which John works. Jesus is the endgame.

So far, these first two identifiers of Jesus carry with them a similar description: Jesus is the coming Messiah. It’s in the final identifier we get a whole new aspect on who Jesus is. Which, if we have been paying attention, we should have already be thinking that there is more to this Jesus. Remember last week we talked about the layers of God’s Word? Well the layers that God has for the prophecy that Matthew referenced earlier, helps bookend what happens in this last identifier.

In the baptism of Jesus, we get three moments. The first moment is the Holy Spirit descending like a dove on Jesus. This is keeping with the Old Testament idea that the Spirit of God would descend upon people so that God’s work could be carried out. This was done for people like Gideon in Judges 6:34, and Samson in Judges 15:14. So in keeping with the Old Testament work of the Spirit, we see that being carried over into Jesus’ life.

But then something different happens, a voice speaks. And in that one sentence we get these four words, “This is my Son…”

This is a revelation of greater importance than anything that has come before it. By Matthew relaying these words, we get something that sends a depth charge into our understanding of who Jesus is. So far all we’ve known about Jesus is that he is the awaited Messiah. Just in two chapters and now into the third, this is becoming more clear. But with these four words, Jesus as just the Messiah is no longer on the table. This Jesus is more. No where in the Old Testament does God call any one person his son. Sure the term sons of God is used, but always as a grouping of the nation of Israel together. 

Yet here, a voice speaks and separates Jesus from all those who have gone before him. All the other Old Testament prophets, and messianic figures where used by God, but they were all servants of God. Jesus is different, he is not a servant, but a son. Jesus is unique among all the Old Testament people, not in the position of a servant but in the position of a son. 

And in the next part of the sentence, Jesus isn’t just a son, but the Son that the Father loves and is please by. In this moment Jesus moves beyond the Messiah of the Jews. To them the Messiah was going to be another Old Testament prophet king. But from what this voice said, this Jesus is more than that. 

It’s a moment that, if we’re reading as a Jew for the first time, would perk our hears. How can Jesus be singled out as the Son? This is something that has never happened before .  

And, instead of answering the question what does it mean that Jesus is the unique Son,  we’re taken quickly into the fourth chapter and into Jesus’ encounter with Satan.

Yet if we’ve been paying attention to the layers of God’s revelation, we get should be able to answer that question, at least in part. The prophecy that Matthew quotes not only reveals that there is to be a forerunner before the Messiah, but that the forerunner makes a way and highway for God himself. And that his revealing will be seen by others. In this moment, as John makes a way for Jesus to come and as the Father speaks, we who are paying attention to it all, can answer the question who is this unique Son of the Father. We can answer it by saying that Jesus himself, he is the eternal God. Now just from this point of Matthew we can’t answer all of what that means, but if a Jewish person were to be seeing this in the first century, it would raise more questions than it answers. 

And so at this moment, we should stop and try to put ourselves into the place of those first readers and hears of this statement, “This is my Son…”

A lot of times we tend to just brush over who Jesus is. We might be a believer for a long time and we know who Jesus is. Or we might be a newer believer, knowing just enough of who Jesus is. He is the Savior right? He died to save me from my sin. He is the Lord right? He is who I worship. Or we might not know anything about Jesus except for that picture of him petting a sheep.

But no matter where we find ourselves in our understanding of Jesus, we must ask ourselves, have I ever deviled into who Jesus is? Have I ever scoured the Scriptures to see who this Jesus is? A lot of times we relegate Jesus to the Gospels as if that’s the only place to find Jesus’ identity. You know, one of my pet peeves are red letter Bibles. They’re great to see the words of Jesus in the Bible, but they condition us to only see Jesus in the Gospels. The reality is, Jesus is all over the Scriptures.

We have to be careful to not fall into the trap of limiting our understanding of who Jesus is to four books of the Bible, or else we’ll have a diminished view of him.

So this week I want to challenge you to read six passages of the Bible. And as you read each passage, begin to understand the greater scope of who Jesus is throughout the entire Word of God. In the Gospel of John the first thing he relays to the reader are these words, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was with God in the beginning.”

This Word is revealed as being Jesus before he came to earth. That means that if Jesus is the eternal God, then he must show up in other parts of the Bible as well. So, take some time this week and read through these passages to see how Jesus shows up through out the Scriptures. 

These passages are: Genesis 16:7-14, Exodus 3:1-6, Joshua 5:13-15, Daniel 3:8-25, Philippians 2:1-11, and Revelation 5:1-14.

Each of these holds a piece of the overall identity of Jesus and I want to challenge you this week to go beyond your understanding of who Jesus is, and allow God’s Word to give you a fuller understanding of him. 

Let us be a people who have a deep grasp of the identity of Jesus, so that we may point people back to the true Messiah, the Christ, the Savior, the true God of of the world. Amen.

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