Skipping the next 30 years in Jesus’ life, Matthew jumps to the start of his ministry, marked by two events: baptism and temptation.
Perhaps the biggest question is why Jesus bothers with baptism. A prophet named John the Baptist is baptizing people who confess their sins. A dip in the water symbolizes the spiritual cleansing of God’s forgiveness. But the Bible portrays Jesus as the Son of God who “came to take away our sins, and there is no sin in him” (1 John 3:5). Even John the Baptist says so, and tries to talk Jesus out of the baptism.
Jesus is cryptic in his response: “We must carry out all that God requires” (Matthew 3:15). Some Bible experts speculate that Jesus was referring to God’s plan of salvation, which involves Jesus’ taking responsibility for humanity’s sin and then taking the punishment, which is death. By stepping into the water, Jesus confesses the sins of the human race as though they are his sins. Or perhaps Jesus is showing everyone the path he wants them to follow.
Jesus goes a step further in identifying with the people he came to save. He walks into the nearby rocky Judean badlands, where Satan tempts him. Jesus spends 40 days, perhaps a rounded number intended to help connect his testing to the 40 years of testing that the Israelites faced during the Exodus.
Satan, in an effort to get Jesus to worship him, uses some of the same general enticements that every human faces-the desire for comfort, prestige, and power:
- bread to satisfy Jesus’ appetite during a spiritual fast;
- rescue by God’s angels, to remind him of who he is; and
- worship by the entire world.
Jesus refuses it all and remains focused on his mission.