Today, our series “The 3:16s of the New Testament” reaches its other bookend (the end if you’ve been reading along, the start if you’re looking at it once it’s done), as we look at Matthew 3:16, presented here in context with verse 17.
16After Jesus was baptized, He went up immediately from the water. The heavens suddenly opened for Him, and He saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming down on Him. 17And there came a voice from heaven:
This story is also covered in Luke 3:16, which we covered two weeks ago. This week, though, I’d like to focus on the One who was baptized - Jesus. After He was baptized, the sky opened up, and God the Father was heard confirming Jesus’ identity as His Son; He also expressed his pleasure with Him. This happened before Jesus was tempted (Matthew 4:1-11), and before the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7). By allowing Himself to be baptized by John, He confirmed that John had been doing the right thing; He did the same thing that John had been telling the people they needed to do. So how do we find out who Jesus is? One of the best ways is to simply look at what He said about Himself, and what others said about Him.
First, Jesus said why He was here.
17"Don’t assume that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill. 18For I assure you: Until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or one stroke of a letter will pass from the law until all things are accomplished."
This was one of the first things Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount, following the Beatitudes. This qualification was important for several reasons. First, Jesus said it - that’s a given, but it is a good reason nonetheless. Second, He was about to issue some pretty big clarifications to the law, and contradict some other teachings of the church of that day. He was letting His hearers know that what was about to come wasn’t meant to tear down the law, but to fulfill it. Third, this is early in His ministry. People may have only heard rumors about Him up to this point, and He wanted to make sure that these seekers and followers knew what He was about. Fourth, the current religious leaders were very strict legalists; they would react negatively to someone saying that the law was invalid. (They reacted negatively anyway, but that’s another story.) Finally, this lets us know, 2,000 years later, that everything we’ve read in our Bibles up to this point, the whole of the Old Testament through Matthew 4, is not null and void. Rather, He was the One who had been foretold. The law pointed to Him.
Jumping ahead, Jesus asked His disciples who they thought He was.
13When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, He asked His disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?”
14And they said, “Some say John the Baptist; others, Elijah; still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”
15"But you," He asked them, “who do you say that I am?”
16Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God!”
At this point, Jesus had been at His ministry for a good long time; and, although He was very popular, it’s almost like they weren’t really hearing what He was saying. John the Baptist had been jailed and beheaded; Elijah had been gone for thousands of years; Jeremiah had been gone for hundreds of years. Yet people seemed to think that Jesus was one of these men, other than the Messiah, as He claimed to be. Of course, we can’t be too hard on the casual observers - even Jesus’ own disciples didn’t believe Him when He said He was going to die. However, the disciples were sure of His identity. Simon Peter makes what is one of the most famous declarations of Jesus’ identity in response to His question. Peter had the right answer, and the term Messiah was key in his response. Jesus was the One who had been promised ever since man fell, just a few days after the creation of the earth. All of the sacrifices were simply pictures of the Sacrifice to come; and, God could have made the sacrifices last longer than they did, but He wanted them to be continually reminded of what was to come. It’s a shame that, by the time He did arrive, the Jewish religion had become more ritual than heartfelt. (Is our religion today any different? If it’s not, whose fault is it?)
We’ll finish this with one final statement from Jesus, which he said after arriving in Bethany and finding Lazarus had died.
25Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in Me, even if he dies, will live.”
Fulfilling the law is good, and being the Messiah is great, but this is the awesome result of that! I’ve written in depth on this wonderful news when we looked at John 3:16 and Romans 3:16, so I won’t write a whole lot here. I will point out, though, the center of the verse, where Jesus very succinctly says who may obtain this eternal life - anyone who believes in Him! That’s it - it’s no more complicated than that. If you have not accepted this free gift of His, and would like to know more details about how you can accept this gift, please read God’s Simple Plan of Salvation - it explains, in detail, our need for a savior, and how Jesus fills that. If you have accepted Christ, rejoice in Who has claimed you for His own. He gave His life so that we could live with Him forever - praise God!
This is Peter speaking to people who had assembled after he and John had healed a lame man (Acts 3:1-16). This type of healing, along with many other things described in the book of Acts, can be a bit contentious among Christians. Is God still in the healing business? Does He still use people like Peter and John to speak His healing? And what role do doctors play in healing - if I took a pill and got better, it must have been the doctor, right? The short answers to these questions are yes, no, and no. But, I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s look at some miraculous healings at other places in the Bible.
In 1 Kings 17:8-24, we read about Elijah and the widow of Zerephath. This is during the time when Elijah had declared to Ahab and Jezebel (through direction from the Lord, of course) that it would not rain until he said it would. There was a famine, and Elijah was hungry. When he arrived at the widow’s house, she was about to make the last of her food; once she and her son ate it, they would be completely out with no prospect of any more. Elijah asked her to make him some food first, and she did; from that point on, her flour and oil never ran out for the duration of the famine. However, the widow’s son became sick and died. Elijah prayed over him, that the Lord would raise him.
22So the Lord listened to Elijah’s voice, and the boy’s life returned to him, and he lived.
Elijah was succeeded by Elisha, and Elisha had some pretty radical healing experiences himself. In 2 Kings 4:8-17, he passed through a town called Shunem, and when he did, a woman prepared food for him every time he came by, and even set up a room in her house for him to stay. When questioned about why, she said that she recognized him as a man of God. Elisha asked what she would like in return for her hospitality, and she said she didn’t need anything. When he pressed her, though, she said that she had always wanted a son, but had been unable to conceive. Elisha told her “At this time next year you will have a son in your arms.” (v. 16) She was incredulous, but a year later, she had a son.
Fast forward a few years (2 Kings 4:18-37), and the boy is growing. Suddenly, one day he complains of severe head pain, and quickly dies in her lap. She immediately calls for donkeys to travel to see Elisha. Elisha tries to send an assistant to hold his staff over the boy’s head to bring him back to life, but the mother is insistent that Elisha come himself. Once they arrive at her house, the assistant goes in as Elisha directed, but nothing happened. What Elisha does next I’m pretty sure isn’t in any medical textbooks, but it worked!
32When Elisha got to the house, he discovered the boy lying dead on his bed. 33So he went in, closed the door behind the two of them, and prayed to the Lord. 34Then he went up and lay on the boy: he put mouth to mouth, eye to eye, hand to hand. While he bent down over him, the boy’s flesh became warm. 35Elisha got up, went into the house, and paced back and forth. Then he went up and bent down over him again. The boy sneezed seven times and opened his eyes.
(While these examples are of times that God chose to heal, He does not always make that choice. Both the Old and New Testaments have plenty of times where people died, and were not raised back to life; and, even these people did eventually die “for good.” Don’t at all think that because someone prays, even someone who is “right with God” or “spiritual” or a “great prayer warrior,” that God is bound to heal. He alone knows the plans He has for each of us. The remainder of this will focus on times when God does heal, but I wanted to address this before we continue.)
Returning to my questions from the beginning… Is God still in the healing business? The answer to that is an emphatic yes! One of the names of God in the Bible is Jehovah-Rophe, meaning “The Lord Who Heals.” This was used in Exodus 15:22-26, where God provided purification for the undrinkable water at Marah so His people could drink. In Luke 5:30-31, Jesus even used the picture of a physician when explaining why He spent so much time with sinners rather than with those who already practiced religion; if He can fix our sin, can’t He also fix our health? Also, over this past year, I have known people who have defeated cancer and overcome a drowning. God is definitely still in the healing business.
Does God still use people, like Peter and John, to walk up to someone and heal them just by speaking? This is where some of the contention comes in. I’m not interested in a deep theological debate, but I will say that I have not see this in my lifetime. While God could still use men (or women) in this way, He has generally used different techniques for different times. In our day and time, could you imagine the international storm that would be created by someone who did this? It is highly unlikely that this attention would point people towards God, which is the goal of everything God does. Besides, I don’t think He needs to, which brings me to the next question.
Don’t doctors heal more people than God these days? No. God has revealed medicine and the human body to physicians; He has granted drug makers the knowledge that they have, and the doctors the knowledge as to when their application is appropriate. He created the earth and everything on the earth; even if a drug is synthesized, it’s synthesized using material He created. This reminds me of a joke that I heard a while back - a group of scientists gets together and decides that they’re now smarter than God. So, one of them goes up to God and says, “You know, with human cloning and all the things we can create, we don’t really need You anymore.” God replies, “Then why don’t we have a man-making contest - and let’s do it old-school, like I did with Adam.” “No problem,” says the scientist, and he bends down and picks up a handful of dirt. “No, no, no,” said God, “get your own dirt!”
So, then, we see that all healing does come from God, whether He chooses to make cancer disappear, or whether He uses ibuprofen and a physical therapist, or whether He uses a replacement limb. Recognizing Him as the source for all healing, not just the miracles, enables us to more greatly see His hand at work in our lives, and in the lives of those around us.
The book of 3 John is a letter written from John to Gaius, a believer who was doing good things. A group of believers, led by Demetrius, was visiting in his area, and John wrote this letter to commend Gaius on how he was helping them. Helping other people, especially those you don’t know and those doing God’s work, is a recurring theme throughout the Bible.
When Jesus was sending out His disciples, He proclaimed a blessing for those who would welcome then and support them.
40"The one who welcomes you welcomes Me, and the one who welcomes Me welcomes Him who sent Me. 41Anyone who welcomes a prophet because he is a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward. And anyone who welcomes a righteous person because he’s righteous will receive a righteous person’s reward. 42And whoever gives just a cup of cold water to one of these little ones because he is a disciple - I assure you: He will never lose his reward!"
Would you give an angel a hand if you could? By helping others and being hospitable, you may actually have the ability to help an angel! And, even if you never come into contact with one (and I’m not really sure how you would know even if you did), by being hospitable to others, you can do the work of an angel for them.
Finally, let’s look at an Old Testament example of hospitality.
8Then the word of the Lord came to him: 9"Get up, go to Zarephath that belongs to Sidon, and stay there. Look, I have commanded a woman who is a widow to provide for you there." 10So Elijah got up and went to Zarephath. When he arrived at the city gate, there was a widow woman gathering wood. Elijah called to her and said, “Please bring me a little water in a cup and let me drink.” 11As she went to get it, he called to her and said, “Please bring me a piece of bread in your hand.”
12But she said, “As the Lord your God lives, I don’t have anything baked - only a handful of flour in the jar and a bit of oil in the jug. Just now, I am gathering a couple of sticks in order to go prepare it for myself and my son so we can eat it and die.”
13Then Elijah said to her, “Don’t be afraid; go and do as you have said. Only make me a small loaf from it and bring it out to me. Afterwards, you may make some for yourself and your son, 14for this is what the Lord God of Israel says: ‘The flour jar will not become empty and the oil jug will not run dry until the day the Lord sends rain on the surface of the land.’”
15So she proceeded to do according to the word of Elijah. She and he and her household ate for many days. 16The flour jar did not become empty, and the oil jug did not run dry, according to the word of the Lord He had spoken through Elijah.
This kind lady was willing to give up nearly all the food she had in her house to help Elijah; yet, her kindness was rewarded by God’s provision over many, many days. And, in the remainder of this chapter, 1 Kings 17:17-24, her son dies, but is then raised by God through Elijah! That’s quite a reward, just for the simple act of giving up a little food.
“Random acts of kindness” is the idea that you do something nice for someone else, with the hope that someone else will do something nice for you. Mysticism has the idea of “karma,” where the things you do (for good or bad) determine how the rest of the world treats you. Neither of these come from the Bible - we should do nice things for other people “just because,” not to get a reward; and blessings from doing good come from God, not some nebulous “spiritual balance” that we can manipulate.
However, the prevalence of this theme, both in the Bible and outside It, show us that God blesses those who bless others in His name. Look for opportunities to bless others - you never know who you may be helping!
Daniel is a man who wants to be used of God however He sees fit.