Summary: We would do well to learn from John’s attitude: I am not worthy to untie his sandal"
John the Baptist
Three of the four Gospels that tell the life of Jesus and his ministry here on earth, begin with the life of John the Baptist – the forerunner of Jesus Christ the Messiah.
You might ask- why? Why does John the Baptist figure so prominently?
Well one reason is that John’s life and ministry was prophesied in the last book of the Old Testament, the book of Malachi
1 "See, I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me. Then suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to his temple; the messenger of the covenant, whom you desire, will come," says the LORD Almighty. (Mal 3:1)
The Gospel writers saw the Gospel of Jesus Christ running on directly from the Old Testament.
John wasn’t there by chance – the right man at the right time.
John was there because God had CALLED John to be the messenger who went ahead of Jesus.
So you might wonder why , when John is calling people to repentance, as we read in Mark’s Gospel last week, the Jewish leaders were so concerned WHO John the Baptist was.
Were they missing the point?
I don’t think so, but to understand why we need to consider the political climate of the time
Judea was a hotbed of unrest. The Helmand province of the Roman Empire
The Jews harked back to the golden days of Judas Maccabeus
In 167 BC Judas Maccabees (his name means the Hammer) had led a successful revolt against Antiochus IV the Seleucid King of Syria who had invaded the country and taken Jerusalem.
To add insult to injury, Antiochus had sacrificed a pig on the main altar in the Temple in Jerusalem – the ultimate insult to the Jews
It was this act that provoked Judas, his father and his brothers that they rose up and threw Antiochus out.
The Hasmonean kingdom of Israel, which followed was quite successful for about 100 years – and quite prosperous too
Then in 63 Pompey, when asked to decide between two claimants to the Hasmonean throne decided instead to invade and annexed Judea to the Roman Empire.
At the time of John the Baptist there were four main parties of Jews – one of which were the Zealots – a terrorist organization dedicated to throwing the Romans out by force.
A second was the party of the Pharisees the main religious orthodox party
A third - the Sadducees - represented the ruling class.
And you will come across these two groups, Pharisees and Sadducees quite a bit in the Gospels
The last group the Essences decided to opt out of society and founded their own communes the most famous of which was Qumran where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found.
At the time of John, messiahs sprung up quite regularly across the country offering to rid the country of the Romans by force - and often attracted a following.
Gamaliel in Acts 5:36-and 37 describes two such Messiahs:
36Some time ago Theudas appeared, claiming to be somebody, and about four hundred men rallied to him. He was killed, all his followers were dispersed, and it all came to nothing. 37After him, Judas the Galilean appeared in the days of the census and led a band of people in revolt. He too was killed, and all his followers were scattered.
So it was quite natural for the Jewish leaders to ask if John saw himself as one of these Messiahs.
John was adamant – he wasn’t. nor was he a reincarnation OF Elijah – the most forceful of the Old Testament prophets.
Who was John Then?
By his own admission John was simply the forerunner of the Messiah whose “sandals I am not worthy to untie” (Jn 1:27)
Like John the Baptist Christians are called to point past themselves and point people to Jesus
That I think is the message of John the Baptist in today’s lesson
It is easy to get caught up in the culture of consumerism at Christmas.
I find it amazing that people take out loans to buy the biggest and best Christmas presents and in debt themselves for the rest of the year – until they come to Christmas again when they take out a new loan!!
But really the “greatest Christmas present “we can give people is to introduce them to Jesus.
We need to point them past ourselves – as John did
I am not the “Big Cheese” he said, but Jesus is
I wonder how the Church would be transformed if we, as Christians changed our way of thinking
“I am not worthy to untie his sandals.”
In the absolute no one is in the same class as Jesus who was sinless.
But the amazing thing about God is – THAT DOESN’T matter.