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 is My beloved Son.
I take delight in Him!
— Matthew 3:16-17 (HCSB)
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."
— Matthew 5:17-18 (HCSB)
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!”
— Matthew 16:13-16 (HCSB)
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.”
— John 11:25 (HCSB)
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 week brings us to Mark 3:16 (shown below through verse 19).
16He appointed the Twelve:
To Simon, He gave the name Peter;
17and to James the son of Zebedee,
and to his brother John,
He gave the name “Boanerges”
(that is, “Sons of Thunder”);
Philip and Bartholomew;
Matthew and Thomas;
James the son of Alphaeus,
Simon the Zealot,
19and Judas Iscariot,
— Mark 3:16-19 (HCSB)
who also betrayed Him.
Here, Mark lists those that Jesus called out to be His disciples while He was performing His earthly ministry. Looking at who He chose will give us a good idea of the type of person He used, and help us see the type of person He will continue to use. The first part of this may seem like a history lesson, but it is all background to illustrate the point that comes near the end.
First in the list is Simon Peter - he is one of the main characters in all four gospels. He was a fisherman, and he gave 100% to everything he did, even if he hadn’t stopped to think about it first. Much is made of his sinking while he was walking on the water towards Jesus, as an illustration of a lack of faith; while this may be true, it is also true that he is the only one who got out of the boat, and to this day the only person other than Jesus to accomplish this miracle. He famously declared that he would never deny Jesus, then denied Him three times, just as Jesus said he would. Peter, though, became a central figure in the early church; nearly all of the book of Acts that doesn’t concern Paul deals with Peter and his ministry. He was even used of God to write two books that are in our New Testament today!
James and John are next in Mark’s list. James is described as the son of Zebedee, which distinguishes him from James, Jesus’ half-brother who wrote the book of James. Together with Peter, these two brothers were the only disciples with Jesus when Jairus’s daughter was raised, the only disciples to view the transfiguration, and the disciples that Jesus took with Him further when He was in the Garden of Gethsemane just before His betrayal. They were called while they were with their father by the seashore; the implication is that they were also fisherman.
Andrew was Simon Peter’s brother. He was a fisherman as well, and was the one to whom Jesus used the term “fishers of men.” Philip and Bartholomew are always mentioned together; they were from the same town, but the Bible doesn’t reveal their line of work, and extra-biblical writings don’t shed any more light on their history. Matthew was a tax collector before being called by Jesus, and was used by God to write the gospel of Matthew. Like Philip and Bartholomew, we don’t know what Thomas did for a living; however, Thomas is much more famous for his unbelief rather than his belief. When Jesus appeared to some of His disciples, Thomas wasn’t there; he did not believe until he actually saw Jesus for himself. James the son of Alphaeus does not appear much in the gospels past his being named in lists of disciples like the one above. Thaddaeus is an interesting study; in some places he is called Jude, some Thaddaeus, and in one place even called “Judas not Iscariot,” to distinguish him from the last disciple in the list. Simon the Zealot was from Canaan, but we don’t know his profession before becoming Jesus’ disciple either.
Last on the list is Judas Iscariot. We don’t know what he did before becoming a disciple, but we do know that as a disciple, he filled the role that we would today call the treasurer. His attention to money served the disciples well; there is no record in any of the gospels of Jesus and the disciples being out of money. However, he seemed to have his mind more on the money than on the ministry. Some have speculated that his objection to the expensive oil being used to anoint Jesus’ feet had less to do with his concern for the poor than it did his concern for holding even more money. Sadly, his desire for money was his ultimate downfall, as he betrayed the Lord for 30 pieces of silver.
Well, there’s the list. What do each of these men have in common? Let’s look at couple of examples.
17"Follow Me," Jesus told them, “and I will make you fish for people!” 18Immediately they left their nets and followed Him.
— Mark 1:17-18 (HCSB)
14Then, moving on, He saw Levi the son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax office, and He said to him, “Follow Me!” So he got up and followed Him.
— Mark 2:14 (HCSB)
Just as in these two examples, in every calling of the disciples recorded in Scripture, Jesus said “Follow Me” and they did. They were willing to leave their current profession, their current livelihood, and follow Jesus. (Yes, even Judas Iscariot did this - at one point, he was a disciple in good standing.) This is the key! I believe this is one reason why, as we tried to look at what some of the disciples did before following Jesus, we could not figure out what everyone’s existing profession was. If this information had been recorded, we as checklist-oriented people would have written them down. We’d have 12-member churches where each of the 12 members was from the profession that the disciples had followed. By leaving it a mystery, the Bible is telling us that it is not an important piece of information for us to have; if we were doing a scientific study, we’d leave that variable out of the equation.
What kind of person are you? Are you an act-first, think-later hard-charger like Peter? Are you a nit-picky ledger-balancer like Matthew? Are you as unsure of yourself and everything in the world as Thomas was of Jesus’ resurrection? Are you a behind-the-scenes sort of person, like James the son of Alphaeus, Simon the Zealot, or Thaddaeus? Do you identify with James and John more than with any of these? This is one of the wonderful realizations from looking at the disciples; Jesus called people with lots of different personalities, backgrounds, and education levels. And, whether they were used to write books, or you just know them from their names in a list of disciples, every single one of them (with the exception of Judas Iscariot) went out and spread God’s Word after Jesus ascended back into heaven. Once again, in our study, personality gets left out of the equation.
I could go on, but you probably see the pattern here. Every other factor we could come up with would, upon examination, be discarded. There’s no formula - there’s just one step. Look at the last three words of both passages above - “…and followed Him.” That is the single item on the checklist of someone God can use; they must be willing to be used by God.
How is your willingness today? Are you holding back because you don’t think God can use you? Are you holding on because you want to do something for God, instead of letting Him do something through you? Those are two sides of the same issue, which is a lack of willingness to follow Christ. If you’re still, you’re not following; if you’re out ahead of Him, you’re not following. I pray that, today, each of us will learn from the one common factor among all the disciples, and be willing to follow where Christ leads us.