Summary: John set the stage for Christ but he also provided a model for what would become a sacrament in the church, Baptism
John the Baptiser
This is how it all began! For thirty years Jesus had lived a life of obscurity as the son of Joseph the carpenter. He had been like all the other boys, had grown into a man and took over his father’s business. And now his ministry was about to begin in earnest. But it would be really hard to just show up and start preaching.
People would want to know “Who is he?” “Where did he come from?” “Why is he here?” People would want to know “What qualifies this man to say what he is saying?”
And so 800 years before Jesus would be born in a manger the plan was already taking shape. In the opening words of Mark we read Mark 1:1-2 This is the Good News about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God. It began just as the prophet Isaiah had written: “Look, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, and he will prepare your way.”
Most of us don’t stop to think that Jesus, the son of God came to this earth as a newborn infant in just the right place at just the right time. It wasn’t by chance that Jesus was born where he was born and when he was born. It was part of a plan, part of the plan. Five hundred years before Alexander would conquer Asia the plan was in place, seven hundred years before there would be a Roman Empire the plan was in place. A plan that would rely on the language of Alexander and the infrastructure of Rome.
And God didn’t just throw a dart at the time line of human history to determine when and where Jesus would make his entrance.
I’ve talked about this before, it is really really important. God could have chosen any time in the scope of history for his Son to come to earth and for the church to be born, and yet he chose a specific spot on the time line of history. Why? Why at that particular point in time?
According to historians there was no better time for the church to flourish than the two hundred year juncture of history known as The Pax Romana. E. J. Goodspeed notes: "This was the pax Romana. The provincial under Roman sway found himself in a position to conduct his business, provide for his family, send his letters, and make his journeys in security, thanks to the strong hand of Rome."
The Roman Peace had spread across the known world, providing one of the few windows of opportunities for the land and sea to be travelled safely without the threat of warring factions. For the first time roadways connected points across the known world. But it went beyond simple transportation and incorporated communication as well. Instead of having to learn a multitude of languages and dialects it was only necessary to know one. Greek was the common language, a reminder of Alexander’s conquests, allowing the written word to be sent to encourage and correct the growing churches in diverse cultures.
It was not a coincidence that the Creator chose this point in time to interrupt history William Barclay writes in the Daily Study Bible: “It was no accident that Christianity came when it did. It came in God's own time; all history had been a preparation for it; and the circumstances were such that the way was open for the tide to spread.”
Matthew begins his telling of the story of Jesus 1500 years before Mary would meet Joseph Matthew 1:1 This is a record of the ancestors of Jesus the Messiah, a descendant of David and of Abraham: John begins his story of Jesus before the very beginning of time itself. John 1:1 In the beginning the Word already existed. The Word was with God, and the Word was God.
Luke begins his story not with the birth of Jesus but with the birth of Jesus’ cousin John. Luke 1:5-7 When Herod was king of Judea, there was a Jewish priest named Zechariah. He was a member of the priestly order of Abijah, and his wife, Elizabeth, was also from the priestly line of Aaron. Zechariah and Elizabeth were righteous in God’s eyes, careful to obey all of the Lord’s commandments and regulations. They had no children because Elizabeth was unable to conceive, and they were both very old.
And in many ways that should have been the end of the story. They were good people, they were righteous people, but they had no children, not for lack of trying but very simply written because Elizabeth was unable to conceive and they were both very old. And 2000 years ago there really were no options. But God had a plan and one day when Zechariah was serving in the temple God interrupted their lives and their plans with his plans. Luke 1:11-13 While Zechariah was in the sanctuary, an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing to the right of the incense altar. Zechariah was shaken and overwhelmed with fear when he saw him. But the angel said, “Don’t be afraid, Zechariah! God has heard your prayer. Your wife, Elizabeth, will give you a son, and you are to name him John.