The Preparation of the King (Matthew 3:1–4:11)

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For centuries the Jewish people had anticipated for the arrival of the promised Messiah, one who would fulfill prophecy by sitting on David’s throne in Jerusalem and establishing a peace-filled, prosperity-bringing, Israel-exalting, liberty-ensuring kingdom without end. In their minds, King and kingdom went hand-in-hand. But now that Jesus—the one who himself claimed, and they believed, to be that King—had come and gone, they were left wondering: Where’s the kingdom? How could Jesus be the King when Caesar’s still ruling? It’s into this confusion and uncertainty that Matthew writes his gospel account seeking to assure believers that Jesus is indeed the promised Messiah and King and to explain the current and future realities of his kingdom.

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The Jewish people—the nation created, chosen, governed, and protected by God—had been waiting centuries for Messiah, one anointed by God to deliver God’s people. And anticipation had grown as God’s revelation increased in clarity as to what that Messiah would be like and what he would do when he arrived.

He would defeat Eden’s serpent, bless the world through Abraham’s line, and sit on David’s throne in Jerusalem, ruling eternally and bringing peace, prosperity, and liberty. 

Israel was on the lookout for a King and his kingdom. In the Jewish mind, those two things were inseparable, like love and marriage, horse and carriage. King and kingdom go together!Consider Isaiah’s prophecy often used on Christmas cards: [Isa 9:6–7]. Israel was anticipating a King and his literal, perfect, eternal kingdom.

And so, when Jesus of Nazareth comes on the scene in the first century ticking all the prophetic boxes that proved he was the Christ (Greek for Messiah), many in Israel believed, celebrated, and followed him.

Imagine the surprise when he’s executed. Had they backed the wrong horse? Was he not who they thought he had been? Wait! He’s raised from the dead! The King is alive. Here comes the kingdom! [Acts 1:3, 6–9]

With Jesus gone, the believers look around and see the Pharisees and Sadducees are still running the place, Israel is still under Roman occupation, there is no peace, prosperity, and liberty. There is no kingdom.

So accepted was the inseparability of King and kingdom that many believers started to ask the obvious question—did we get it wrong? Was Jesus actually the promised King? If he was, where was the kingdom they’d been promised?

And it’s into that confusion that Matthew writes, addressing primarily Jewish Christians to assure them Jesus is the promised Messiah, the eternal King, and to explain what happened and what will happen with the King’s kingdom.

With that as a backdrop, please turn to Matthew’s gospel. This morning I want to continue a series through this book that I inadvertently began about a year ago when, approaching Christmas, we studied together the first two chapters. I’d like to pick up where we left off in chapter 3—Matthew 3. 

What we’re going to find in the passage before us today is the King being prepared for his introduction to Israel. Specifically, Matthew showcases how Jesus was announced by John, authenticated at baptism, and shown acceptable through temptation. Announced, authenticated, and shown acceptable. 

The Announcement of the King

We begin our study this morning with the ANNOUNCEMENT of the King. No king of any significance simply shows-up somewhere without fanfare, and neither does the King of king. He’s announced beforehand.

[3:1–4] The King’s imminent arrival was announced by a forerunner—a man named John—who himself was predicted. 

Centuries earlier, Isaiah told Israel a day would come when God would manifest his glory in a unique way in their presence and they would know that day was near as it would be immediately preceded by a wilderness announcer calling for national preparation.

Matthew says John is that man and he’s come to prepare Israel to receive her long-awaited King. His message: [3:2]

Like so many OT prophets before him, John is calling for God’s chosen people to turn from their apathy, wickedness, and idolatry and toward the God who had delivered them, provided for them, and covenanted with them. “The King is fast-approaching; don’t let him find you unfaithful or disloyal when he arrives. Repent!

[3:5–6] All Israel is coming to John and he’s baptizing confessing individuals, a sign of purification and anticipation. The announcer was helping the people of Israel prepare for the King.

But John was also warning the leaders of Israel. This is important because, for the nation to repent in preparation for the King, the leaders of the nation had to repent. 

[3:7–9] Pharisees and Sadducees, the religious elite of the day, were coming to experience John’s baptism but, instead, are met with John’s rebuke. He calls them hypocritical, self-righteous opportunists. They want to be seen doing what’s right but their lives show no evidence of sincere longing for the King and his kingdom and a willingness to do what’s required in preparation. On the contrary, they think they’re prepared simply because of their genetics: “We have Abraham as our father.” 

John, in announcing the coming of the King, calls Israel—her people and leaders—to turn back to God in preparation. 

Why was repentance so important? Because just as a forerunner would precede the coming King, so a purging judgement would precede the coming kingdom. And, indeed, it had already begun: [3:10]. With the King and kingdom comes a purging of Israel’s fruitless legalistic religiosity. “It’s close. Get ready. Repent.”

As the section closes, John, turns his attention back to the One he’s to announce: [3:11–12]. The King is coming for his loyal subjects.

The King has been announced. Like at a wedding, when years of praying, months of planning, and growing anticipation end as the officiant turns to those in attendance and declares, “It’s my privilege to introduce to you for the first time Mr. and Mrs. ______.” The wait is over and a new beautiful reality has come.

Likewise, after centuries of waiting, preparing, failing, repenting, anticipating, and groaning, the predicted forerunner shows up, calls to the nation of Israel, “The time is near. Prepare yourselves.” The King has been announced.

The Authentication of the King

While our passage begins with the announcement of the King, it then moves to the authentication of the king. How is Israel to know that Jesus was actually the Messiah and King? He needs to be authenticated.

[3:13–14] John’s objection is understandable. If his baptism was one of repentance from sin and Jesus was sinless, why would he need to be baptized? Well, Jesus himself gives the answer.

[3:15] Jesus’ being baptized by John was “fitting for” the fulfillment of “all righteousness.” Jesus came and subjected himself in totality. He subjected himself to both the Mosaic Law and the civil laws, understanding both were instituted by his Heavenly Father. And since God had sent John to Israel and Jesus was an Israelite, it was “fitting” for him to participate with the rest of believing Israel. 

Every king in the history of Israel had failed to consistently and perfectly submit to God’s ordinances. This King would not fail. He would flawlessly succeed where his royal predecessors had not. And what does this humble obedience get him?

[3:16–17] This is an awesome trinitarian moment in which Matthew records the Father being heard, the Spirit being given, and the Son being authenticated.

In saying, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased,” the Father is combining two messianic prophecies, one from Psalm 2 declaring Messiah’s sonship to Yahweh and future inheritance of all the nations, and the other from Isaiah 42 linking Messiah to global judgement. 

The King has been authenticated. Passport application is an exercise in identity verification. Personal information, verification from a guarantor, travel history, supporting documentation, references, certified photos—all this is required to prove you are who you say you are and have the right to receive the privileges associated with citizenship.

Similarly, Jesus’s identity as the promised Messiah and King is authenticated here, and by the highest possible Authority. He has received the divine stamp of approval and is, thus, privy to all the rights associated with his identity. The King has been authenticated.

The Acceptability of the King

Now, as we come to chapter 4, we find not only the announcement and authentication of the King, but the acceptability of the king. Matthew shows next that Jesus is morally qualified for the throne.

[4:1] Notice that the Spirit led Jesus. This is providentially orchestrated by God and occurs “immediately” after the baptism. Satan is about to test the veracity of what was just announced and authenticated. The Messiah must be blameless and, so, the devil is about to test his character.

[4:2–3] The first temptation is personal. Jesus is hungry and Satan commands him to remedy that need. This isn’t a test of Jesus’ sonship (they both know he’s the Son of God). Rather, Satan wants Jesus to use his power independent of the Father to satisfy his desire for food.

[4:4] Jesus responds with Deut 8 and the necessity of all humans—including himself—to live submitted to God and in dependence upon God. In this response, Jesus demonstrates his personal acceptability, his qualification, to be the King. Strike one.

But here comes the second pitch: [4:5–6] 

This second temptation is national and its location is important. Israel believed the Messiah would announce his arrival and their national deliverance by appearing on the temple roof. So that’s where Satan takes Jesus and invites him to reveal himself to the nation as their Messiah and as one who commands angels. Who commands angels? God! So, Satan is saying “Reveal all you are to your people!”

[4:7] Again Jesus responds with Scripture, not disagreeing with Satan that his self-disclosure is eventually necessary but disagreeing that now is the time the Father would have that take place. In his response, Jesus demonstrates his acceptability to rule the nation. Strike two.

Here comes the final pitch: [4:8–9] The final temptation is universal in implication. Satan promises the man Jesus now what will be the Son’s inheritance in the future, provided he simply worship his arch enemy.

[4:10–11] Again with Scripture Jesus responds, ordering Satan away, claiming God alone is worthy of such adoration. And, with that, he demonstrates his acceptability, his qualification, to rule on a universal scale.

The King has been shown acceptable. With the resistance of these three temptations—personal, national, and universal in scope—Jesus shows himself morally qualified to be the Messiah and King, acceptable as a person, acceptable to rule the nation as the Son of David, and acceptable to rule the world as the Son of Abraham. The King has been shown acceptable.

Remember Matthew’s mission: To show these Jewish Christians that, just because the kingdom didn’t come as they anticipated, they had rightly identified the King. Jesus is the promised and long-awaited Messiah. And to begin to prove that he describes for them, and for us by extension, the preparation of the King.

The long-awaiting and much-anticipated King was prepared by God for his introduction to Israel and to the world. He was announced, authenticated, and proven acceptable. He was prepared.

Are We Prepared for the King?

The question that faces you and I this morning is, Are we? The King is prepared but are we prepared for the king? Are we, to repurposes the words of John the Baptist, “making ready the way of the Lord”? Are you prepared for the King? Are we prepared for the King?

Remember that scene from Acts 1: It’s not for us to know the times the Father has fixed. We don’t know when the King is returning with his kingdom. But what we do know is that he’s been prepared and that we need to be prepared for him.

That will mean different things to each one of us. For some, you need to believe. You need to trust Christ for the first time in your life. Should the King return today for his people, you would be left out. The good news is that’s something you can remedy right now by simply believing that Jesus is who he claimed to be—the Son of God—and did what the Scriptures claim he did—died on the cross for your sins and rose from the dead. The Bible tells us that all who believe that have eternal life. And so, if you’ve never done that before, that’s how you must prepare for the King today: You need to believe.

For most of us, however, we’ve done that. So, how we prepare for the King will look different. Some of us need to repent. You may be a saved person, but you’re living with sin in your life. You know it’s there. You know it displeases the Lord. You may have tried to justify its existence, but, deep down, you know you can’t. You need to repent. Align yourself again with the King. Turn from that sin, brother and sister. Don’t let it fester. Don’t let it rob you of joy and liberty under the false pretence and false promises of those very things. That’s how you need to prepare for the king: You need to repent.

Some of us need to submit. We have a rebellious spirit in us, clinging to our personal autonomy and following the world in its self-congratulatory self-worship. No one is going to tell you how to live, how to think, and what’s right and wrong. The Bible is out of date. It’s old-fashioned. Sure, it has some good things to say, but we’ve progressed beyond other things. Friend, if you think like that, you’ve put God on trial. You’ve made him a puppet to your own fallen intellect and the rationale and musings of a fallen world. Listen, when the King comes, all will bow down. All will submit to his obvious, undeniable authority. Might as well practice now, no? For some of us, that’s how we need to prepare for the King: We need to submit to him, his word, his people, his will. We need to submit.

Others of us need to anticipate. Maybe you’ve trusted Christ and, by God’s grace you live a repentant life, keeping short accounts with God, and don’t really struggle with submission. For you, maybe it’s an anticipation problem. Do you long for the coming of the King? Do you daydream about how much better the coming kingdom is going to be under the rule of that perfectly righteous, loving, gracious, and powerful King? Do you ache to see it established and to walk its streets, free from pain and sin and anxiety and fear? And, because of that anticipation, do you count this life as relatively nothing by comparison? Your life has disappointed you—but your King is coming! The people in your life have hurt you—but your King is coming! You’re financially not where you’d like to be—but your King is coming! Your health has frustrated you—but your King is coming! Maybe that’s how you need to prepare for the King, friend: You need to anticipate. You need to grow in your longing for what’s next and loosen your grip on what you now have.

All of us, regardless of where we are in life, are being called to prepare for the King. To make ready the way of the Lord in our lives. Some need to believe, others repent. Some need to submit, others anticipate. And that’s just a sample.

In the week ahead I want to challenge you, as you prepare for the days, prepare also for the King. As you get ready for each day, remind yourself also to get ready for King Jesus and his coming kingdom.

Picture your morning routine. What’s that one thing that happens every morning in your life as you prepare for the day?

For me, it’s a cup of coffee in my chair by the fireplace. Every. Single. Morning. What’s it for you? Maybe it’s brushing your teeth (that should probably be mind as well!). Maybe it’s shaving or making oatmeal, walking the dog or making the bed. Whatever that one thing is in your morning routine, this week pair it with the anticipatory prayer that closes the Bible: “Come, Lord Jesus.” As I sit in my chair, “Come, Lord Jesus.” When you get dressed, “Come, Lord Jesus.” When you feed the cat, “Come, Lord Jesus.” When you drive to work, “Come, Lord Jesus.”

Brothers and sisters, the King was prepared and we need to be prepared for the King, whatever that looks like in your life.