The first thing we know about the adult Jesus is that John the Baptist baptizes him. All four Gospels tell (at least part of) the story, and all four set the scene by describing the ministry of John.
Read Matthew 3:1-3, Mark 1;1-3, Luke 3:1-6, Isaiah 40:3-5, Malachi 3:1
1. How famous was Isaiah?
2. How old was Jesus when John began his ministry? (Read Luke 3:23. Tiberius reigned for two years together with Augustus, so this could be AD 26 or 28. Pilate was procurator from AD 26 to 36, Caiaphas was high priest from AD 18 to 36.)
3. How old was John?
4. What did John look like? What did he eat? Where do you think he lived and worked? Read Matthew 3:4-6, Mark 1:4-6, John 1:28
5. Baptism was not that uncommon, and baptizers would gather supporters in camps near rivers (running water being purer than water held in vessels). Baptism would be a kind of initiation ceremony for members of the “cult,” and a symbol of agreement from others. What did those being baptized by John have to agree to?
John gathers quite a following, then attracts the attention of the “wrong sort”—in this case church leaders. Are there other faithful uprisings that have struggled after pointing out flaws in established churches?
Read Matthew 3:7-10, Luke 3:7-9 – such a well-remembered statement it had to be repeated.
1. Do we or our churches ever make similar arguments (about our rites, or rightness…)?
2. Read Luke 3:10-14. Does this remind you of someone else’s teaching (See Isaiah 58:7, Luke 12:33, Matthew 5:39-41, Luke 18:8-10)? Does it surprise you to find Jesus, Isaiah and John teaching similar things?
As John’s fame spreads, people begin to hope in the absolute fulfilment of Isaiah’s prophecy . But John disappoints them. Read Matthew 3:11,12, Mark 1:7, Luke 3:15-17, John 1:19-27
Then Jesus is baptized. What do you remember of the story before rereading it? Read Matthew 3:13-17, Mark 1:9-11, Luke 3:21-22, John 1:29-34
1. How do you picture Jesus’ baptism reading this? Is water sprinkled on his head, is he dunked in a pool, or is he immersed in running water? Who sees what? Who hears what?
2. What extra information does Matthew give?
3. What’s different in John’s story?
4. What’s so special about doves? (Read Genesis 8:11. In Rabbinic literature, the dove represents a preference for God’s will rather than man’s—bitter olive branch (at the ark) rather than sweeter leaves. The Talmud views God’s creative spirit hovering over the waters as being like a dove. And other sources view the dove as representing the soul.)
Matthew, Mark and Luke go straight from baptism to temptation while John, having skipped baptism, skips the temptation too and moves straight into the calling of disciples. Why might John not describe these two events? How important are Jesus’ baptism and his temptation to your faith?