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John the Baptist

December 4th, 2011 by Vic

December 4, 2011

Second Sunday of Advent

“John the Baptist”

 

The story of John the Baptist is like yours.  It started before he was born.  Your parents and grand parents are part of your story.  Your parent’s relationship to God and the people of God are part of your story.

 

Each of the 4 gospels describes the ministry of John.  Jesus says John’s ministry was greater than any other person born of a woman.  The Jewish/Greek historian Josephus tells a little about John’s arrest, but most of what we know is in the 4 gospels.  Luke tells us about his parents and birth.  (Luke 1:5-25)

 

John was of priestly descent.  His mother, Elizabeth, was a direct descendent of Aaron.  His dad, Zacharias, was a priest in the division of Abijah.  He was responsible for service in the temple on a rotational basis.  Both were righteous before God, walking obediently in God’s ways.  They were past the age of having children, but God sent a surprise.

I chuckle every time when I read Luke 1:18-19.  I’m so much like Zacharias.  He was looking logically at all the reasons for not having faith in the angel’s promise.  He suggests the angel reconsider all the facts.  But Gabriel tells him to quit looking at the facts and look to God.  This is God’s promise.  You can believe it.  Like Zacharias we argue, “God doesn’t want to do that for me.”  Doesn’t He help those who help themselves?  Yes and No.  God is God.

 

Luke 1:57-79 tells us of the birth of John.  Notice 1:80.  “John lived in the deserts until the day of his public appearance to Israel.”  We do not know when his parents died.  We do not know when he went into the wilderness to live.  Some think that John was part of the Essene Qumran community.  We know that it was the practice of this Essene desert community to take in young orphan boys and raise them, training them in the way of the Lord.  The Essenes were a group of Jews who saw the corruption in the organized temple worship and felt like they were the special elite forces assigned by God to prepare for the arrival of Messiah.  They were highly disciplined, morally pure and had no sympathy with sloth, sloppiness or sin.  Isaiah 40 was the theme of this group.

 

Jesus was born 6 months after John.  His parents were much younger.  We know they took Him to the temple when he was 12, but the rest is speculation until He is baptized by John.  I wonder how Jesus and John played as children.  How was their play different from other children?  I wonder if they ever spent any time together or was it God’s plan that they not meet until they were 30 years old?

 

Matthew 3:1 John came preaching in the wilderness of Judea.

Mark 1:4  John appeared in the wilderness preaching a baptism of repentance.

Luke 3:2  The word of God came to John the son of Zacharias in the wilderness.
John 1:6  There came a man sent from God, whose name was John.
John was a cousin of Jesus.  He may have been raised in an orphanage.  John grew up in obscurity for 30 years.  The gospel writers tell us nothing about John from his birth until now.  He was living in the wilderness.  That was his home.  His life was disciplined enough to live comfortably in the wilderness.  His parents had almost certainly died.  When he was about 30 years old, Luke says that the word of God came to John the son of Zacharias.  He began preaching around the Jordan River.  His theme was taken from Isaiah 40.

Keep in mind that God has not spoken through a prophet to his people for over 400 years.  John had been taught by some great scholars, but probably had not heard any voices.  Then apparently out of nowhere, as it were, the word of God came to John the son of Zacharias.  John becomes the last of the Old Testament prophets and the first of the New.  All the OT prophets looked forward to the coming of the Messiah.  John could preach about His arrival.

It is important to note that Luke uses language that any Jew would understand.  Throughout the entire Old Testament, a prophet was introduced by the phrase, “The word of the Lord came to. . . .” Virtually every Old Testament prophet was introduced this way.  It is important to listen.

 

Luke says that the word of God came to John in the wilderness (3:2c).

Luke is simply alerting us to the fact that John was not part of the religious or political or social establishment in Jerusalem.  He did not go to an Ivy League school or elite seminary and he did not party with the “in” crowd.  The change that was coming in worship did not originate within organized religion.

John was living in a wilderness area.  His life style resembled some of the OT prophets.  His diet consisted of what he could forage off the land—locusts and wild honey.  He wore skins, no doubt of animals that he had killed for food and clothing.  But, it was in that setting that God called him to begin his ministry.

Matt 3:3-15

Mark 1:5-9

Luke 3:3-20
John 1:15-36

 

John’s message was taken from Isaiah 40.  The gospel of Mark reminds the reader that John is a fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy.  Mark 1:2-4 “As it is written…John the Baptist appeared”.

 

In those days, when a king went to visit a city, the people were told to get ready for the arrival of the king. They were to fix the roads, clean up the ditches, and make sure that everything was prepared for the arrival of the king.

 

In a similar way, John’s ministry was to go before Jesus and tell the people, “Your King is coming! Get ready for his arrival!”  Get rid of the clutter in your lives and clean out your ditches.  The King of kings wants to come into your life.

Luke said in 3:3, “And he went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.”

John proclaimed that God forgives sinners. That is the essence of the gospel.

The Jewish people to whom John came were astonished by his message. They thought that they were pretty good people. They thought that they were doing the right things in their religion. They thought that they were on good terms with God. They thought that the Gentiles—those outside their religious establishment—were the ones who had the problem.  Gentiles did not attend their synagogue so they needed to repent, but we are attending regularly.

 

The Jews were hoping for a Messiah that would conquer their enemies and restore the good times like the times during David and Solomon.  But John preached repentance.  He warned them that the Messiah would bring judgment on the ungodly but He would bring good to the repentant.  “The chaff He will burn” (Matt 3:12).  “Every tree that does not bring forth good fruit will be cut down and thrown in the fire (Luke 3:9).  A call to repentance was a call to a radical change in heart.  John never mentioned a change in religious ceremony, day of worship, diet, or occupation.  He did not start a new sect or denomination.  He said do good, be honest, refrain from extortion, and be content with your wages (Luke 3:10-14).
Interestingly, John’s baptism was unusual.  The word ‘baptize’ means to dip or wash in water.  The ritual of baptism was a common ritual in the Greek mystery religions.  Baptism was part of the pagan ritual that confirmed you were changing religions.  The Essenes practiced self baptism in their purification rites.  The Levites practiced ritual washing in the sin offering.  Jewish families practiced ritual hand washing.  Gentiles were baptized when they converted to Judaism.  But what John is saying is that the Jews have dirty hearts.  They need to recognize their sin, and they need to repent of it, just like the Gentiles need to do.  They need to wash and be baptized as a sign of a radical change in heart.  This was really a remarkable thing in John’s ministry.  He was saying that the Jews were just as much in need of forgiveness as the Gentiles were.

John probably began his ministry near the Qumran site.  His preaching was widely popular (Mark 1:5).  John knew his baptism was a preparation for a spiritual cleansing that the Messiah would bring (Matt 3:11).  He knew his baptism was of water only (Luke 3:16).

 

Matt 3:13-14  The baptism of Jesus

Mark 1:9

Luke 3:21

John 1:29-36

 

Apparently Jesus and John did not grow up together as teens.  Maybe he was never told that both he and Jesus were miracle babies.  John testifies that he would not have known who Jesus was except that the one who sent him to baptize with water had told him to watch for the One on whom the Spirit of God descends and remains.  He is the Son of God.  John told his disciples that Jesus was the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.  At least 2 of John’s disciples started following Jesus (John 1:29-37).  John was a good teacher.

 

John continued baptizing on the other side of the Jordan.  His disciples did not understand why Jesus could also be baptizing (John 3:26).  Didn’t John have the baptizing franchise?  Probably soon after this powerful testimony John was imprisoned because he told Herod it was a sin to marry his brother’s wife.  We do not know exactly how long John was in prison before he was executed.  (Matt 14:1; Mark 6:14; Luke 9:7)

 

While in prison, John and his disciples had some questions about Jesus’ delay in assuming His Messianic authority.  Their expectations were not being fulfilled (Matt 11:1-19).

 

Jesus tells John’s disciples and the people that John was more than a prophet.  He was a fulfillment of all the OT prophets.  He had the greatest ministry of any man ever born.  He was a miracle baby and a righteous man.

 

Over 20 years later Paul found a disciple of John the Baptist in Ephesus (Acts 19:1).

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In those days, when a king went to visit a city, the people were told to get ready for the arrival of the king. They were to fix the roads, and make sure that everything was prepared for the arrival of the king.  Advent is a time of preparation.

 

In a similar way, John’s ministry was to go before Jesus and tell the people, “Your King is coming! Get ready for his arrival!”

 

You too were a miracle baby.  Before you were born God planned good works for you to do (Eph 2:10).  You have a special assignment.  Maybe you are not to play the same games that the other kids play.  Maybe your diet is different than the other kids.  Maybe your home is different.  God has plans to prosper you.  You can choose to live righteously according to God’s plan or you can draw up your own plans, crash, and burn.

Advent is about preparing your heart for the arrival of the King of kings.  Turn your face towards Him.  Repent of your sins and receive His forgiving grace.  Find joy and give thanks for each day.  You may argue with God and tell Him all the reasons He can’t bless you.  But God is still God and He loves you.  Keep your eyes on Jesus like you do a light in a dark place.  Give thanks for God’s Gift.

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