John the Baptist
December 5, 2020
Have you ever received a Christmas card or bought cards and the picture on the front is magnificent? Maybe it’s a picture of the Shepherds and the angels; or it’s the wise men; maybe it’s Mary, Jesus and Joseph; or a simple star piercing the darkness over the manger. Those tend to be the most popular. And we’ve seen hundreds like them. But we always pause for a moment and take in that picture, don’t we?
There’s one Christmas character I’ve never seen on a Christmas card. Have you ever received one with John the Baptist on it? I mean picture a card that looked like this . . .
SLIDE OF A CARD WITH A GREETING FROM JOHN THE BAPTIST
Have you seen one like that?
As we move towards Christmas and think about the joy of the birth of Christ, a John the Baptist Christmas just doesn’t seem appropriate. So we celebrate and honor this sweet, little Jesus. That’s all good, really it is? We should feel good about it. Yet, in this crazy year, a John the Baptist Christmas almost seems more appropriate.
In the gospel of Mark, John takes center stage. Mark starts his gospel focusing on John. There’s no choirs of angels, instead he begins the story of Jesus’ coming with a prophet blaring and baptizing in the wilderness of Judea. In so doing, he adds a new figure to the good news about the incarnation of Christ.
So, let’s look at his story and how it impacts the Christmas story.
Some would say of him that he was a religious eccentric. Others would dismiss him as being a flake; some might say he wasn’t playing with a full deck. He doesn’t seem to fit in with shepherds and wise men and the other characters that we associate with the Christmas story. Yet, this was God’s unlikely servant chosen to promote and proclaim the coming of Christ.
Everything was different about John. Remember from last week, we looked at his father Zechariah. Zechariah and Elizabeth were older when John was born. Elizabeth and Mary were related.
The story is so cool, because after the angel, Gabriel, visited Mary, and told her she would conceive and have the Messiah, she visited Elizabeth, who was pregnant with John and Luke tells us - -
39 In those days Mary arose and went with haste into the hill country, to a town in Judah, 40 and she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. 41 And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the baby leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit, 42 and she exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! - Luke 1:39-41
John leaping in her womb for being in the presence of the unborn Jesus. Cool!!
Matthew 3 tells us more about John and his mission - -
1 In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, 2 “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” 3 For this is he who was spoken of by the prophet Isaiah when he said, “The voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord; make his paths straight.’” 4 Now John wore a garment of camel's hair and a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey. 5 Then Jerusalem and all Judea and all the region about the Jordan were going out to him, 6 and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. - Matthew 3:1-6
John began his ministry living in the desert of Judea, a rugged desert wilderness. He ate honey and wild locust and dressed in garments of camel hair. He read over the scriptures. He communed with God. He seemed to model his ministry after Elijah’s.
Maybe lunch today could be some honey and locusts. That’s actually what some of the poorer people ate in that region. So, it wasn’t unusual that someone ate it, but his status, looks and appearance would have been questionable to the elite, especially the religious elite.
John attracted many followers among the lower class, many of whom were baptized by John. He had a number of followers, many of whom became followers of Jesus. Many people in that day thought John was the long awaited Messiah.
John made it clear that he was not the Messiah. In Matthew 3:11, John said --
11 “I baptize you with water for repentance, but He who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.
In the gospel of John 1:6-8, John also makes it clear about John the Baptist --
6 There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. 7 He came as a witness, to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him. 8 He was not the light, but came to bear witness about the light.
So, we know that John the Baptist was not the Christ, but he was calling people to turn from their sinful ways, to repent and be baptized.
What all does that mean? I believe it was significant because Old Testament prophets spoke of someone who was to come before the Messiah. There are prophecies in Isaiah and Malachi, as well as images from 1 and 2 Kings.
Just as Elijah in the OT called people to make a decision and turn back to God, John was doing the same. He was imploring the people to return to the Lord and because they turn to God, they would now be ready to receive the Messiah, Jesus.
He called for them to make an outward sign, just as we do today. The people were to repent of their sinfulness, to confess their sins and be baptized. It would be a baptism of cleansing, they would first confess their sins, repenting and proclaim that they would turn from that way of life. John’s call was for the people to change their hearts and draw closer to God.
As we saw in Matthew 3:11, John stated, Jesus will be baptizing people with the Holy Spirit and fire. John’s baptism of water only touches the surface, it cleanses, but that’s it. We could say it was skin deep. While the work of the Holy Spirit would, could and should reach into our hearts, spirits, minds and grab our whole being . . . and lead us into a deeper relationship with God. The fire was meant to describe the fact that our being melts away and we are replaced with the spirit of God. Which is why we are proclaimed as righteous by God, not because of who we are, but because of the saving work of Jesus and the Spirit who comes upon us in salvation.
The fire would separate that which is pure and that which is impure.
So, John is calling for us to return or simply turn our lives over to Christ. It was to prepare our hearts.
What drew people to John and his message? John was certainly different. His life style may have been a compelling reason to listen to him and maybe his strange ways convinced some to follow him. Some people thought he was Elijah the prophet who returned. You see, John understood that God was about to do something that would shake the foundations of the earth and he needed to prepare the way for that event.
What I believe drew people to John was the fact that he had a deep belief in what he was doing. He totally bought into what God was calling him to do. He led the type of life that showed his faithful obedience to God. You see, there are lots of people who are passionate about what they are doing, but what makes John different and stand out - is the fact you could not refute anything he said. It was all from God. That’s always one way to discern. Are there words from God or from the world or from somewhere else?
You could see the godly life in the way John lived. The religious elite were corrupt and didn’t want to hear what John had to say to them. They totally rejected John because he fiercely spoke out against their corruption.
I believe we tend to draw near to those who have an obedience, commitment, passion to serving God. We may not get too close, but we read about them and admire them. In the end, we really want a little of what they have. Even in the midst of adversity, they seem to have all the joy in the world. When we have more, but seem to have less joy.
I read about the 18th century philosopher David Hume, who wrote extensively about faith, as he was not a Christian. Yet, every year when he was on vacation, he would visit a Scottish church.
One person he knew asked him, “Of course you don’t believe all that stuff which the old man (the pastor) was saying do you?”
Hume replied, “Perhaps not.”
So, he was asked, “Then why go?”
Hume responded, “Because he believes it. And I wish to God I did.”
The world doesn’t have an answer to the godly life. The world doesn’t have an answer to a godly person. The only appropriate answer is to try and find the secret of it, imitate it, and hope others will come to know it themselves. That’s how John prepared. He lived a godly life. That’s not a bad way to live, is it?
Then we see John the Baptist baptized Jesus.
Now, it’s strange that Jesus was baptized by John, because John’s baptism was of repentance and Jesus didn’t need to repent. Here are a few reasons why this was important.
By baptizing Him, John was declaring to all that here was the One they had been waiting for, the Son of God, the One he proclaimed would baptize “with the Holy Spirit and fire.”
Interestingly, Luke 1:5 tells us both of John’s parents were of the Aaronic priestly line. One of the duties of the priests was to present sacrifices before the Lord. John’s baptism of Jesus could be seen as a priestly presentation of the Ultimate Sacrifice.
Notice what John said after Jesus’ baptism in the gospel of John –
29 Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! - John 1:29
It was a declaration from John to the world of who Jesus is.
Jesus’ baptism also showed that He identified with sinners. His baptism symbolized a sinners baptism into the righteousness of Christ, dying with Him and rising free from sin and able to freely walk in a new life in Christ.
Finally, the last point I want to touch on occurs later. It’s the early portion of Jesus’ ministry and
Jesus is baptizing others. And John is asked about Jesus baptizing and more people coming to Jesus than John.
I want to look at one verse from the many John said. It’s this in John 3:30
30 He must increase, but I must decrease. - John 3:30
Isn’t that an amazing statement? In the world we live in, that is not so easy to do. We want what we want. We want to increase and the rest of the world is to decrease, including Jesus. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen people elevate themselves on social media, wanting to increase their stature, wanting people to say “oooooh you’re amazing!!”
Yes, I’ll post a periodic picture or two. I’m talking about the world we live in, which includes many Christ followers who can’t wait to post as many pictures attempting to increase themselves. We want to build up our self image and ego. And yes, I know for some people who have been put down for years, that’s important.
Yet, where’s Christ in all of this? John said, I MUST DECREASE, JESUS MUST INCREASE!
That’s a huge statement for us.
Can you do that? Can you make sure Jesus is increasing in your life? That you are slowly decreasing. It’s not so easy. It’s like when Jesus said in Luke 9 --
23 If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. 24 For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. 25 For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself? - Luke 9:23-25
That’s what John was saying when he exclaimed Jesus must increase, and I must decrease. What and how does it profit you to gain the whole world, if you lose your soul in the process? That’s so vital to us, which brings me back to John.
John lived that life. He was different, yet I believe he was attractive to a world which was hurting. They saw something peculiar in John that led the people to draw closer to him and accept the baptism because of their repentance.
How about you? Is there something from John you can take with you? Maybe not the camel hair outfit or eating giant grasshoppers. Maybe it’s to be distinctive, different - - yet attractive to the world so they can meet Jesus through you.