Summary: A look at the greatness of John and his baptism of Jesus
JOHN THE BAPTIZER
1. Matthew tells us nothing about the childhood of Jesus. Instead, he offers us chapter 3 as a transition between Jesus as a young child (Matthew 2) and the adult Jesus being tempted in the wilderness (Matthew 4).
2. Matthew 3 emphasizes the work of John the Baptizer. John began his ministry in the 15th year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar [Luke 3:1]. Tiberius became emperor of Rome in the year A. D.14. However, he had served about two years as co-regent with his stepfather, Augustus, prior to Augustus’ death. This would date the beginning of John’s ministry somewhere between 26 and 29. Since Luke 3:23 says Jesus was "about thirty years of age" when He began His ministry, this favors the earlier date. (4 B. C. --Jesus was born before the death of Herod in that year -- + 30 = A. D. 26).
3. Let us read Matthew 3:1-6 (NKJV) In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, 2 and saying, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!" 3 For this is he who was spoken of by the prophet Isaiah, saying: "The voice of one crying in the wilderness: ’Prepare the way of the LORD; Make His paths straight.’" 4 And John himself was clothed in camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist; and his food was locusts and wild honey. 5 Then Jerusalem, all Judea, and all the region around the Jordan went out to him 6 and were baptized by him in the Jordan, confessing their sins.
I. THE GREATNESS OF JOHN THE BAPTIZER
A. Jesus gave this estimation of John’s greatness in Matthew 11:11 (NKJV), "Assuredly, I say to you, among those born of women there has not risen one greater than John the Baptist; but he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he."
1. Jesus isn’t contradicting Himself or speaking in enigmas.
2. The obvious meaning of this passage is that as great as John was -- and he was a great man -- he was not in the kingdom for the kingdom had not been established when John died. Sometime after John was put to death, Jesus promised to build His church in the future [Matthew 16:18 (NKJV) "And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it."] John was never a member of the church for the very simple reason that it did not exist during his lifetime.
B. John realized that he filled an important but secondary role in God’s plans
1. He was the friend of the bridegroom [John 3:29-30 (NKJV) "He who has the bride is the bridegroom; but the friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly because of the bridegroom’s voice. Therefore this joy of mine is fulfilled. 30 "He must increase, but I must decrease.]
a. John was not the groom; he was the "best man." It is not the role of the best man to be the "star" of the wedding.
b. The friends of the bride and groom should be rejoicing at the happiness of the couple getting married. John compared his situation to that and declared that his joy was fulfilled in Christ.
c. John did not have the kind of ego which caused him to crave the limelight. He had his "fifteen minutes of fame" as his preaching drew tremendous crowds. Jerusalem, all Judea, and the region around the Jordan River went out into the wilderness to the place where John was. They heard his preaching and were baptized by him. In this history of great and effective preachers, no one has a better record than John. However, John understood that he was the understudy. His function was to point the way for Jesus. As John stated, "He must increase, but I must decrease."
2. John was a preacher of Christ. His task was to "prepare the way of the Lord." It was his job to "make His paths straight."
a. He was a herald -- crying out the news of God’s demands upon a sinful world. He fulfilled Isaiah’s prophecy as "the voice of one crying in the wilderness" [Isaiah 40:3].
b. He was the messenger sent by the Lord to proclaim a message the whole nation needed to hear. [Mark 1:2] John’s message demanded repentance and announced that the kingdom was near [Matthew 3:1-2 (NKJV) In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, 2 and saying, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!"]
3. John was both a prophet and the fulfillment of prophecy.
a. John was a prophet because his message was the word of the Lord [Luke 3:2-3 (NKJV) while Annas and Caiaphas were high priests, the word of God came to John the son of Zacharias in the wilderness. 3 And he went into all the region around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the remission of sins,]. This sounds very much like the introductory statements to the work of Old Testament prophets. There are well over 100 times when the same formula is used in the OT to introduce a prophetic message from God. Israel had gone about 400 years since Malachi was the last Old Testament prophet. Now the voice of prophecy was heard agan in Israel in the preaching of John the Baptizer.