Friday, January 1, 2010

An international Sunday school lesson commentary

For Sunday January 3, 2010

(John announced, GOD confirmed, and now we proclaim who JESUS is)
(Matthew 3)

John the Baptist preached repentance in an effort to change man’s direction in life, away from sin, and towards the loving arms of the ALMIGHTY GOD in Heaven, WHO is the FATHER of our LORD and SAVIOR JESUS CHRIST. He was the cousin of JESUS, and one who came bearing a strong message that smacked of the traditional Old Testament prophets in its deliverance.
And while his stern dress and warnings were familiar, his practice of baptizing those who were willing to repent, was something new, and it drew much excitement from the Jewish populace, as well as from some in the Jewish religious leadership.
Here in Matthew chapter three, the apostle deliberately skips over JESUS’ childhood, and picks up HIS story on the banks of the River Jordan where John the Baptist was engaging in his daily practice of baptizing converts and repenting backsliders.
In the New Testament Greek, the word used for “messenger” is “angelos”, and it describes one who brings news or tidings by divine order from GOD. John, the Baptist, was sent by GOD to warn and prepare HIS people for the imminent arrival of CHRIST JESUS, the long-awaited, MESSIAH. GOD was about to bless the world with another of HIS distinctive acts, and the people had to be ready to respond, by demonstrating their faith and repentance through a changed, more GODly behavior.
Their new commitment was to be initiated and verified with a water baptism that would symbolize their pledge to GOD to live a new life that would reflect the example of the coming CHRIST. John’s water baptism was not the ritual cleansing bath that had been traditionally practiced by the Jews for centuries, but rather, it was an innovative act that was to be distinct in both the literal, and figurative sense. First of all, it was a means by which a person could publicly identify themselves with the message of GOD through John. It also provided the repenting participant with a forum of public confession of their need for a change of heart, and into a lifestyle more representative of the GOD they claimed to wanted to serve. And finally, one could openly express their willingness to welcome CHRIST into their lives as their coming LORD and SAVIOR.
And even though John’s baptism is not the same as the “Christian baptism” we perform today, in its nature and intent, the commitment to accept CHRIST is the same. Their commitment was to accept CHRIST as the coming MESSIAH (HIS first advent), and our Christian baptism symbolizes our public commitment to a union with CHRIST in HIS death and resurrection (Romans 6:3-5), which encompasses HIS second coming.
Our baptism serves as an implicit admission of our sins before GOD, however, JESUS, WHO was sinless, was baptized to show us the truth of John and his message, as being from GOD. It was JESUS’ way of standing up for what is right and representative of the FATHER in Heaven. HE was standing up to fulfill the righteousness of GOD, and nothing more.
GOD, in turn, responded with a voice from Heaven, after HE had been silent for some 400 years (the time span between the end of the O.T. and the beginning of the N.T). And HE stood up for JESUS, just as JESUS had stood up for HIM, identifying JESUS as HIS beloved SON in a public announcement that served to usher in the “Messianic Age” (Matthew 3:17).
As Christians, the duty falls to us to take courage, and go out and share GOD’s wonderful Gospel with dignity and respect, declaring JESUS’ unique identity and “hypostatic union” to all who are willing to listen. And just as GOD empowered JESUS, and John the Baptist, similarly, HE will empower us with HOLY SPIRIT, and, in addition, HE will go before us to prepare the hearts of those to whom we may encounter along the way.

A Sunday school lesson by,
Larry D. Alexander

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