Matthew 3:1-16

Readings:

Isaiah 40:1-11
Matthew 3:1-12
Matthew 3:13-16

Devotion 1

Wait: Take time to sit in silence together, allowing space for God’s voice to be heard.

Read: Isaiah 40:1-11

Isaiah 40 is God’s word, after a long and terrible silence, to Israel in exile. The people have been conquered, captured and subjugated by Babylon, losing their land and their freedom, and the heartfelt cry of the people is, “there is no one to comfort” (Lam 1:2, 9, 17, 21). But now, into this despair, comes God’s voice:

“Comfort, O comfort,
says your God.
Speak tenderly to Jerusalem,
and cry to her
that she has served her term,
that her penalty is paid,
that she has received from the Lord’s hand
double for all her sins.” Isa 40:1-2

God does act to comfort the people. This is a word which announces the end of exile. God is doing a new thing, making a way for the people to come home. It is a word of liberation, spoken in language reminiscent of the Egyptian exodus: “Yahweh comes with might, and his arm rules for him” (v10). It is a word, for Israel in exile, which changes their world. And it is a word which might change ours:

“The good news asserts that the world is changed by God. It is no longer the way we have long taken it to be, ordered by an arrogance that required despair. The decree is, to be sure, only a word; but it is a word enormously durable. On this word rests the future of the Jews. Writ larger, on this word rests the future of the world, for it is an exile-ending word.”1

Reflect: Where have you seen people or situations which might evoke the cry, “There is no one to comfort” this week?

Pray: Spend some time praying over these people and situations, ending by reading together the words of Isaiah 40:1-11

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Devotion 2

Wait: Take time to sit in silence together, aware of God’s presence in a broken world.

Read: Matthew 3:1-12

The proclamation of John evokes Isaiah’s word to the exiles in Isaiah 40. As it was for Israel under Babylon centuries before, so now it is again a word to those subjugated by foreign power. And just as Herod’s genocidal actions have left Israel’s mothers “refusing to be comforted” (Mt 2:18), so now a word of comfort comes.

This is not just a word of comfort, however. It is a word of deep challenge to those who in Matthew’s story represent the local ruling elite—the Pharisees and Sadducees. These ruling elite maintained their positions of power through collaboration with the Roman forces, benefitting from exploitative imperial rule.

John’s word to them exposes their pretensions to be “children of Abraham”. They are not leaders of Israel who have the people’s welfare at heart, as we will see throughout the story. They are keepers of the status quo which maintains their power and privilege. Moreover, John here touches on a theme which will pervade Matthew’s Gospel. With the thinly veiled threat, “[e]very tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire”, John raises the question of “good”: What is good fruit? Who is good? Is it the Pharisees and Sadducees, whose power and position would seem to be evidence of God’s blessing? Or not? We will see as we continue through Matthew’s story.

Reflect:

  • Where do you hear God’s voice in today’s reading?
  • In what ways do you see “good” measured in our world?

Pray

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Close with the Lord’s Prayer

 

Devotion 3

Wait: Take time to sit in the silence of repentance together, aware of our inadequacy and God’s grace.

Read: Matthew 3:13-16

With John’s question of “good” still ringing in our ears (Mt 3:10), Jesus comes to John to be baptised. Significantly, Jesus comes not from Jerusalem, the Temple city from whence the Pharisees and Sadducees came, but Galilee. Can “good” come from marginal, rural Galilee whose people, at least according to the religious elite from Jerusalem, were of questionable character? By the end of the episode, however, we are in no doubt. Jesus is God’s Son, God’s “beloved”, the agent through whom God’s purposes will be enacted in Matthew’s story. But what will Jesus look like? How will God’s Son be different from the ruling elite, whose status as Abraham’s sons has been cast into question (Mt 3:9)? Let’s be alert to these questions as we continue reading through Matthew’s story.

Reflect:

  • Where do you hear God’s voice in today’s reading?
  • What challenges or encouragements do you hear in today’s reading?

Pray

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Close with the Lord’s Prayer

 

Devotion 4

Wait: Take time to sit in the silence of gratitude together, giving thanks for the ways you’ve experienced God’s loving kindness.

This week’s Common Value: Generosity

Read: Deuteronomy 15:1-11

Ask:

  • How might we practice the express God’s generosity this week?

Pray

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Close with the Lord’s Prayer

 

1. Brueggemann, Walter. Isaiah 40-66. Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 1998. Kindle loc. 614.