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Christ in the Wilderness, Ivan Kramskoy

In the first couple of verses in Matthew 4, we see that after Jesus’ baptism, the Spirit leads him into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. And when he had fasted 40 days and 40 nights and when that period of time was past, Jesus was hungry.

The first thing that I notice here is that the Holy Spirit led Jesus. This wasn’t something that Jesus decided to do on his own because he thought it was a good idea or even that it was a tradition. It was neither. The average person of his day did not go into the wilderness and fast 40 days and nights. The Bible only mentions 4 men who fasted that long. Moses (Deuteronomy 9:9, 18, 25; 10:10), Joshua (Exodus 24:13-18; 32:15-17), Elijah( I Kings 19:7-18), and Jesus (Matthew 4:1-11, Luke 4:1-13).

The second thing to notice is the purpose of the fast. The Holy Spirit led Jesus into the wilderness. The wilderness was a desolate, dry place. Centuries earlier the children of Israel were lead out of Egypt (a symbol for sin) into the wilderness. The Israelites were sent into the wilderness where God spoke to them through Moses. They had been taken away from all other cultural influences and God fed them and kept them clothed for 40 years. During that time they were cleansed of Egyptian influences. The adults who would not forget Egypt died there in the wilderness. Once the Israelites were cleansed of their Egyptian influence, they were able to fulfill the mission they were given to go in and subdue the land of Canaan. Without the wilderness experience, I doubt they could have been as effective as they were.

The Bible does not tell about what Jesus experienced in the wilderness during those 40 days. However, based on the Israelites’ experience, I believe I can guess.I believe he spent his time praying and meditating on scripture. During the 40 days and nights of his fast, Jesus spent his every waking hour in communion with his father.  This was his time to get away from the Roman and Jewish cultures that he had grown up in. He may have even spent time with The Father outlining his ministry and all that he had to fulfill before the Roman soldiers led him to the cross.

Fasting for Physical Reasons

Although most people do not fast 40 days and 40 nights, people do fast in our culture for a shorter period of time. Many people fast simply for physical reasons. When we fast, our digestive systems shut down and our bodies have a chance to cleanse themselves of toxins. By fasting we help our bodies heal by giving the digestive system a rest. In today’s society with its harmful colorants and preservatives, fasting for physical reasons can help prevent many chronic diseases.

A couple of years ago I fasted when I had bronchitis.Prior to the fast, I had been taking over the counter medications that seemed to actually make the symptoms worse. Because of this, I stopped taking the medications. It wasn’t a planned fast though,  I simply wasn’t hunger so I didn’t eat. I just drank juices and water for about 2 weeks.

I broke the fast gradually. At first I ate fruits and vegetables, then slowly I added lean meats and nuts, then bread, and finally dairy.  I felt better than I did before I became sick.

Fasting for Spiritual Reasons

Fasting not only benefits us physically, but it also benefits us spiritually if we fast for the right reasons.

I knew a man once whose wife had decided to divorce him, so he started fasting to get God to make her reconsider. Did his wife change her mind? Of course not, the man was trying to manipulate God. Contrary to what some people believe, fasting cannot manipulate God into doing what we want him to do.

What fasting does is put our physical bodies under submission to the Spirit. The most effective Spiritual break through occurs when we are able to separate ourselves from our cultural situations. This occurs when we get into by ourselves with God.   If we would turn off our televisions, our cell phones, our computers, and fast physical desires, God is better able to work through us because we have submitted ourselves to him.

As I remember the physical fast I had and write about the spiritual fast, I think that it may be about time that I consider another fast. I can see how I am controlled physically by many of my own lusts. All the control I had over my body after that physical fast I had two years ago has disappeared. I am overweight and have little control over what I eat. What if I added more of the Spiritual component to it? What if I submitted more of my time to The Word of God and prayer. What if I turned off my television and severely limited the use of my computer. What difference would that make in my Spiritual Walk?

What are your thoughts about this subject?


https://i1.wp.com/www.jesuspictures.co/jesusbaptism77.jpg

John the Baptist preached and baptized people unto repentance. As Christians, we are called to repent and then be baptized for the remission of our sins. John showed us how to repent. The word translated “repent” when used in Matthew 3 meant to be totally repulsed by your sinful nature that you want nothing to do with it.

In Matthew 3:13-17  there are some very important things to note as Jesus comes onto the scene. Jesus coming to John the Baptist to be baptized. John said that he did not want to baptize him, because John said that he (John) needed to be baptized by him (Jesus). Jesus said that it was necessary for him to be baptized by John because it was “necessary to fulfill all righteousness”.

Why did Jesus do this? He wasn’t coming for the remission of sins because he knew no sin.He submitted to baptism for two reasons. First, as mentioned here, he did it to fulfill ALL righteousness. In John 1:31, he did it to be manifest to Israel.

When Jesus came up out of the water from being baptized, the heavens opened, and the Spirit of God descended like a dove and landed on Jesus. Then John heard a voice from heaven saying “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.”

Like John, Jesus was on a special mission. Both were sent by God and both had to fulfill what they were sent to do. Both did what God told them to do. Both suffered because of what God called them to do.

In verses 11-12 John had said that he baptized with water, but that Jesus would baptize with the Holy Ghost and with fire. Whose fan was in his hand, and he would thoroughly purge his floor and gather his wheat unto the garner, but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.

This is an analogy of judgement that Jesus would divide the sinful from the believers in the end. John saw Jesus not as he was then, but as he would be in the future. In this passage both John the speaker, and Matthew the writer, are letting us know that Jesus is the Messiah that the Jews were looking for.

Here is one of several places in the Bible where the trinity of God is present all at the same time. Jesus the Son, The Holy Spirit and God the father are all here. Jesus being baptized, The Holy Spirit lighting on him like a dove, and God the father speaking that he was pleased with his son’s obedience. One of the most important facts that we can meditate on during our study of the Gospels is the concept of “doing the will of The Father”. If , like Jesus, we could focus our every waking hour to this concept, we could, like Jesus, revolutionize the world around us.


John the Baptist

If we read our Bible in order, Matthew 3 is the first place that we meet John the Baptist, and here we see him preaching a warning at the Pharisees and Sadducees. In Luke1:5-25, however we learn about the unique circumstances of John the Baptist’s conception.

A priest named Zacharias and his wife Elizabeth (who was also of the priestly line because she was an descendant of Aaron’s line) were old and had no children. One day while Zacharias was fulfilling his duties as a priest by burning incense when he went into the temple, an angel of the Lord (Gabriel) appeared to him.

The angel told Zacharias that he and his wife Elizabeth would have a son and name him John. John would not drink alcohol and would be filled with the Holy Spirit even before he was born. Because of John, many of the children of Israel would turn to the Lord their God. Because Zacharias did not believe what Gabriel had told him, he could not speak.  Elizabeth conceived.

Mary (with child with the son of God) went to visit Elizabeth when Mary was newly pregnant and Elizabeth was five months pregnant and when Mary announced her arrival, both Elizabeth and the unborn John were both filled with the Holy Spirit. Mary, then, prophesied concerning John (Luke 1:39-56) . John is born and the family wants to name him after his father, but Elizabeth said that his name was John.

When the family asked Zacharias, (because he had the final say), because he was still mute wrote on a tablet that his name was John. Immediately, Zacharias could again speak and the first words out of his mouth was to prophecy. (Luke1:57-79. John grew up strong physically and spiritually and lived in the desert until he began his ministry.

John’s ministry was as a priest and a prophet. He was the one to make way for the coming of the Lord.  John’s ministry was all about repentance. His represented the best of what man could offer before the resurrection of Jesus Christ. The best that man could bring himself to under the law was to learn that he full of sin and that sin was detestable. John’s ministry pointed at the only one who could save us.  That’s where Jesus steps in. He takes us beyond ourselves and into something truly amazing, but first we have to be willing to accept John’s baptism of repentance. We must recognize that we are not able to save ourselves. There is something far more complete–the immersion into the name (authority) of Jesus Christ.


In Matthew 3:7-12 John the Baptist sees a group of religious leaders–Pharisees and Sadducees  among the group of people who came to see him. John the Baptist called them out and told them how much he despised what they represented. He called them fruitless. He called them echidna (King James translates viper). Echidna were poisonous asps or adders.The common ones were about 4 inches in length, and no thicker than a power cord. they lurked under stones, in the desert sands, and in cracks in walls. they were very aggressive and deadly.  He said that they needed the evidence (fruit) that they had repented. (To know what repented means in this passage refer to previous post).

He told them that being born of Abraham physically wasn’t enough. God could raise rocks up to be the children of God if that was what he wanted. (He may also have been using a metaphor in saying that they were stubborn like rocks in that they were unyielding to God.) He told them the time had come to cut down trees that gave no fruit. Because he had called them fruitless just a few sentences earlier, he was warning them that if they did not repent, they were coming down along with the religious system that they represented.

Who were the Pharisees, and who were the Sadducees and why did John the Baptist find them so poisonous? Historically, all we knew about them came from the works of the Jewish historian Flavius Josephus; the early rabbinical writings (200 CE and later); and the New Testament. However, recently discovered in the  Dead Sea Scrolls references are found regarding these two groups

It has been widely believed that the Sadducees were named after Zadok, a priest in the time of King David and King Solomon. Another less accepted theory claims their name came from a later Zadok who lived in the 2nd century BCE. Still others believe the name “Sadducee” comes from the Hebrew tsadiq, which means “righteous.” Prior to the rise of King Herod the Great, the Sadducees were the priests in control of the temple because the high priests came through them. However, King Herod, because he knew that as a half-Jew he could not be both king and priest set up the system whereby King Herod elected the High Priest. This broke the custom of the high priesthood being attached to a particular family or that the high priest would hold the position for life. this very much reduced the power of the Sadducees at the time of Christ. This group was  a rationalistic sect who denied the supernatural (angels, demons, and resurrections). They were like many people today who try to apply logic to the spiritual. They believed that if you can’t see it, touch it, hear it, smell it, or taste it, with your physical senses, it didn’t exist. What people like this fail to realize is that the spiritual transcends the physical, not the other way around.

The name Pharisee either comes from the Hebrew word perusim, meaning “separated ones or from the Hebrew parosim, meaning “specifier,” since they sought to specify the correct meaning of God’s law to the people. They held to the letter of their own interpretation of the law and to their own traditions, regardless to whether they nullified the Word of God or not.. To provide an education separate from the Greek influence set up by their Roman dictators, the Pharisees set up local Jewish schools so that all Jewish boys could read the Torah. They were a dominant religious group in the affairs of the Temple as early as the Maccabean period. Because they came from the middle class, the Pharisees emerged as a significant force in Jewish affairs because of their influence with the common people. The Pharisees however were not just laymen because many held lower level seats in the Sanhedrin. Recent evidence found in the Dead Sea Scrolls indicates that the Pharisees dominated the Jewish Temple at the time of Christ. To John the Baptist, they represented a system that offered only bondage a political human system to be manipulated so that they could stay in power.

We see much of the same problems with our religious system today. Religious organizations are trying to jockey for position and power within the political system that is in place, rather than learning that they must transcend that political system. Through veiled political sermons, (they can’t come out and tell us directly that they are for a certain political party because if they did, they would lose their government tax exempt status), they poison us by lobbying us to believe that one political party is better than the other. The sermons they give us are not to help lead us to Christ, but to help them secure their own lives and positions.

Like the Pharisees and Sadducees of John the Baptist’s day, there is an ax to the tree. Already the religious system that dominates is falling.

According to the US Religious Landscape Survey put out by Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life:

More than one-quarter of American adults (28%) have left the faith in which they were raised in favor of another religion – or no religion at all. If change in affiliation from one type of Protestantism to another is included, 44% of adults have either switched religious affiliation, moved from being unaffiliated with any religion to being affiliated with a particular faith, or dropped any connection to a specific religious tradition altogether.

Just as John the Baptist called for repentance of the religious leaders of his day, so am I now calling for repentance of the religious leaders of today. We must all recognize our sin and despise that sin with every fiber of our being. Like John the Baptist we need to be looking for that something more, something that transcends our physical lives and gives real meaning to our faith. That something comes in the baptism of the name of Jesus Christ.


John_the_baptist : Stained glass in Catholic church in Dublin showing a John the Baptist The stained-glass windows are by the famous artist, William Early, who died during the commission

In the previous post we learned that John the Baptist’s baptism was a baptism (immersion) unto repentance. How is John the Baptist’s baptism different than from being baptized unto the name of Jesus Christ? Why is it important to know the difference? Perhaps the reason becomes evident as we look at Acts 19:1-7. Paul asked the people of Ephesus if they had received the Holy Spirit and they said that they had only been baptized into John’s baptism into repentance. They were then baptized in the name of Jesus Christ.

So how do we know whether we are baptized into just John’s baptism of if we are baptized into the name of Jesus Christ? First, it is important to understand what it means to repent. In the Bible eight different words are translated into the English word “repent”. It is important to understand that each of them have different shades of meaning.

Four of the words are Hebrew words in the Old Testament. The first word is nacham which means to breathe hard because you are sorry. This word was used in Genesis 6:6, Exodus 13:17, Job 42:6, and Jonah 3:10. The next Hebrew word is shuwb which means to turn back . It is found in I Kings 8:47, Ezekiel 14:6. Another Hebrew word used in the Old Testament which is translated “repent is nocham which means regret. This word is used in Hosea 13:14. The final Hebrew word for repent is  nichum this word means compassion. This word is found in Hosea 11:8.

All of the four Greek words in the New Testament that mean repent come from the root word meta meaning change as in the word metamorphesis. metamellomai means to regret consequences of sin, not the cause Matthew 27:3, 2 Corinthians 7:8. metanoeo to change the the mind for the better morally, to change the attitude toward sin (See note Luke 13:3)  Metanoia a real change of mind and attitude toward sin and its cause, not merely the consequences of it Matthew 3:8, 11; 9:13, Luke 24:47.  Final word ametameletos irrevocable Romans 11:29; 2 Corinthians 7:10.

What we can get from this study of repentance as we look at John the Baptist’s baptism, we see that John’s baptism in Matthew 3:8 was Metanoia which meant that his baptism was toward a real change of mind and attitude toward sin and its cause, not merely the consequences. Baptism in the name of Christ is something else, something greater than merely recognizing that a person is repulsed by sin and the desire to turn from it. Baptism in the name of Christ requires something greater.

I look forward to continuing this study of Matthew and all of the gospels. I have enjoyed the comments that we have shared so far. I know I have already learned a lot during this study. What is your take on what we have studied so far?


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As we continue our study of Matthew, and our study of John the Baptist in particular, we learned yesterday that Christian baptism did not originate with John the Baptist, but had immersing in water had been part of several types of Jewish religious cleansing rituals.

The word Baptism however, is not a Hebrew word, but came from a Greek word bapto meaning “to dip”. in the New Testament there are seven different ways that the word baptism has been used and by understanding the context of each of these meanings, helps us to understand what baptism is and what it  isn’t.

1. 2. I Corinthians 10:2-11  Speaks of the Baptism of the cloud and in the sea where the children of Israel was more than just a type of our relationship with Christ.

2.  As studied yesterday, there is the baptism of John. His baptism is mentioned in many passages in the New Testament. Besides Matthew 3 there is also Mark 1, Luke 3:, 7:29-30, John 1:31-33; 3:23-26: 10:40, Acts 1:5; 11:16; 19:3.

3.    There was baptism of suffering as noted in Luke 12:50 where Jesus spoke of being dipped or experiencing for a short time the experience of death. In this passage Jesus also expressed that he was not looking forward to the occasion, but that he would be glad when the bapto was accomplished.

4.  In John 3:22 and 4:1-2 it speaks about Christ’s baptism in water. It is significant that Jesus was not the one who actually carried out the baptisms, but it was his disciples who did the actual baptizing. It is our duty as disciples of Jesus to immerse new converts in the good news of our Lord and Savior.

5. Christian baptism in water and the Baptism into Christ and His Body  (Matthew 28:19, Mark 16:16, Acts 2:38-41,:8:12-16; 9:18; 10:47-48; 16:15,33; 18:8; 19:5; 22:16; Romans 6:3-7; 1 Corinthians 1:13-17; 12: 13; Galatians 3:27; Colossians 2:12;  Peter 3:21) is one of the cornerstones of Christian faith. This baptism brings the new believer into his body at repentance and the new birth. It is called “one baptism (Ephesians 4:5), because it is the only baptism that saves the soul and brings into the body of Christ. The immersion in water is not what saves a person, but the confession of the faith that precedes the immersion in water. The immersion in water is a symbol of the death of the old life and the Resurrection into becoming a new creation in Christ.

6. The baptism of the Holy Spirit is a controversial subject in Christendom. (Matthew 3:11, 14:20-23; Mark 1:8; 10:38-39, Luke 3:16, John 1:33, 7:37-39; Acts 1:5; 11:16, 19:2-3.) Some say that the baptism of the Holy Spirit occurs at the new birth, others say that it is a separate experience. For now, we will leave  the decision of when this occurs between you and your Creator.

I hope this study of the Gospels is helpful to you. This study, of course, I am not the final authority of the truth that Christ has for us as believers. I would not be so bold as to suggest that I were. What I would hope though, is that this study would help to open your eyes to how great our God is and how much he loves you. Please comment! Maybe you have a question I can help you with. Perhaps you have insights I don’t and we can learn together!


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In Matthew 3 we are introduced to John the Baptist. In Luke we will learn that John the Baptist was the son of Zacharias and Elizabeth (Luke 1:5-20, 39-80). John’s mother was cousin to Mary the mother of Jesus. John was a Levite and he was of the Priestly line, however God had other plans for John. As it says in Matthew 3:3: This is he that was spoken by the prophet Isaiah saying, “the voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.” He fulfilled the prophecies of Isaiah 40:3 and Malachi 3:1.

Contrary to what many Christians think (especially Baptists), baptism did not originate with John. What we call baptism is actually the Jewish custom of “cleansing” as stated in the Torah (the first five books of the Old Testament.). Ceremonial cleansings have been part of the Jewish written law and oral traditions for millennia.

The Torah contains purification rituals relating to menstruation, childbirth, sexual relations, nocturnal emission, unusual bodily fluids, skin disease, death, and animal sacrifices. Modern mainstream Judaism is based on a combination of the Torah and Jewish oral law,  including the Mishnah and Gemarrah (together comprising the Talmud) as well as other rabbinic commentarie. This oral law specifies rules for ritual purity, including requirements relating to excretory functions, meals, and waking. These Biblical and oral laws generally require a water-based ritual washing or immersion in order to remove any  impurity. In some instances,simply washing hands is all that is required, but other instances require the full immersion of the head. When full immersion is required, an additional requirement of un-drawn water is used.  Un-drawn water is water either from a natural river/spring or is water from a special bath or Mikvah which contains rain water.

Jews consider the Tumat HaMet (“The impurity of death”), coming into contact with a human corpse,  the ultimate impurity,. This impurity cannot be purified through the waters of the mikvah. The impurity of Tumat HaMet can only be purified by sprinkling of the ashes of the Parah Adumah, the Red Heifer. since neither the Temple in Jerusalem nor the red heifer is currently in existence, this ritual cannot be performed. All are assumed to possess the impurity of death.] However,a Kohen of the priestly class cannot intentionally touch a dead body, nor come too near graves in a Jewish cemetery.

Ancient Israelites and contemporary Orthodox Jews, and some conservative Jews continue to observe these regulations, except of course the regulations associated with Temple sacrifice because the Temple in Jerusalem no longer exists. The most common observance of ceremonial cleansing is the hand washing rituals.

Unmarried women have immersed in the mikveh prior to their wedding. Of the full immersion rituals currently carried out, is the immersion rituals related to the nidda in which menstruating women are required to avoid contact with her husband until after she has immersed herself in a mikvah of living water seven days after her cycle has ceased. These ceremonial washings were used by women in the Jewish culture for 3500 years, but for a time were discontinued because women thought they were demeaning. Today however, these rituals are seen as a way that women are able to celebrate their femininity. In December 2006 the Committee on Jewish Law and Standards of Conservative Judaism re-affirmed this traditional requirement that Conservative women ritually immerse following menstruation. In recent years a form of cleansing for women called Mikvah has returned to Jewish culture. Click here to learn more.

This Jewish tradition is the predecessor to Christian Baptism and gives us further insight into the baptism’s significance. Ritual immersion is the total submersion of the body in a pool of water.  Immersion, tevillah, is the common core component of every [traditional] Jewish conversion process, for male and female, adult and child, ignoramus and scholar. Without immersion a proselyte cannot be accepted into the Jewish religious community as a Jew.

Immersion serves several religious functions. In the days of the ancient temple, anyone who wanted to be included inside the Temple grounds had to be immersed in the mikveh. The law required every person inside the Temple grounds be spiritually pure for them to be part of the Temple.

A major function of immersion in the mikveh is for conversion to Judaism. The sages declared that for a gentile to become a Jew, he or she must undergo the identical process by which Jewish ancestors converted. As Jews performed immersion at Mt. Sinai to complete the conversion process they had begun with circumcision as they left Egypt, so converts in every age must immerse in a mikveh.

Symbol of New Birth

Immersion was not for the purpose  of using the water’s physical cleansing properties. The submersing in water  expressly symbolized the change-of-soul through the spirit. No other symbolic act can  embrace a person. In immersion water touches every part of the body just as God’s presence swallows up the old and gives new birth in the new.

In  the Jewish mikveh as well as the Christian baptism, immersion symbolizes a person’s cleansing of past deeds. The convert is like a newborn child. The spiritual cleansing  prepares the convert to confront God, life, and people with a fresh spirit and new eyes–it washes away the past, leaving only the future. .

In both the Jewish Mikveh and Christian baptism, there is something deeper than mere cleansing of the past.  It marks the beginning of the ascent to an elevated religious state.  Anthropologists call this threshold of higher social status as “liminality.” The liminal state is common to virtually all persons and societies, ancient and modern, and it marks a move to an altered status or to a life transition. Entering adulthood from adolescence, for example, requires a tunnel of time, a rite of passage, a liminal state that acknowledges by symbolic acts the stark changes taking place in one’s self-identity, behavior, and attitude.

If we in our immersion truly understood it’s power, we would, as Jesus tried to explain in John 3, truly be born again.

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