Summary: There’s nothing wrong with being #2 as long Jesus is #1.
So, What’s Wrong With Avis?
To say John the Baptist was unique would be an understatement. He had taken a Nazirite vow. Now a Nazirite vow contained 3 main conditions: refrain from wine and other intoxicants, not allow a razor to touch one’s hair, and not go near a dead body -–not even a mother or father.
He goes into the desert, makes a fashion statement by dressing in a garment of camel hair and leather belt, and diets on locusts and honey. He was eccentric you might say, not conforming to the religious establishment and setting up his ministry in the wilderness by the Jordan River, expecting people to come to him.
Mark, by telling us that John “appeared” in the wilderness, draws a parallel between John the Baptist and the Old Testament prophet Elijah. Elijah spent much time in the desert, wore a leather belt, and had a ministry by the Jordan River. Now remember, it was at the Jordan where Elijah disappeared, so when John “appears”, it starts the rumor-mill the he is the prophet Elijah returning.
We don’t know a lot about John the Baptist from scripture, but we do know that he came from a priestly family. His mother, Elizabeth, and Mary, the mother of Jesus were cousins, making John and Jesus second cousins. He “dressed funny”, at least according to those who lived in the cities. He wore “camel’s hair”. Now, this wasn’t camel’s skin with hair on it. No, this was the camel’s shaggier hair woven into a coarse fabric and worn to signify a prophet.
He wasn’t dining on tea and crumpets, either. He ate locusts and wild honey. Locusts, if you don’t know, are very similar to grasshoppers. Locusts are still eaten today, by dipping them in butter after their heads, legs, and wings are removed. Are you hungry yet? Wild honey was also abundant, so abundant that remember the Promised Land was described as “flowing with milk and honey”. John, in clothing and diet, made use of what the Lord provided him through the wilderness.
John’s ministry was as different as his appearance and eating habits. John was baptizing with water and claiming that someone more powerful than he was coming, someone that he was not even worthy to “stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals”. John was not doing his ministry for his glory or self-recognition, as too many do today. He wasn’t thumping his chest and saying, “look at me”. No, he was pointing to Jesus; he was announcing the coming of the Messiah who would baptize with the Holy Spirit. He was telling everyone that Jesus was more powerful and worthy of honor. John felt unworthy to serve him.
It appears that John had been busy in his baptizing. Verse 5 tells us, “And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.” Jesus comes to John to be baptized, as well. In Matthew’s gospel, we read that John protested, saying the he need to be baptized by Jesus. But John indeed does baptize Jesus.
This is very important. Jesus is baptized by John. Jesus certainly didn’t “need” to be baptized, yet He submitted to what John called “a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins”. It was not a baptism of repentance for HIS sin; it was a baptism of repentance for our sins, yours and mine. Jesus didn’t “need” to be baptized and neither do we. Jesus did this as an example for us to follow. Jesus did this, and we do it as “an outward and visible sign of an inward grace.”
So, do you have to be baptized to be saved? No, only trusting in the atoning death of Jesus Christ on the cross ever saved anybody. Does everyone who gets saved have to be baptized? No, you don’t have to, but remember what Jesus said, "If you love me you will keep my commandments." It is the first step of obedience to let the world know that you have decided to follow Jesus.
This reminds me of a scene in the movie “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” You might remember the scene where the 3 escaped convicts come across a group of people dressed in white, singing as they move mysteriously through the woods towards the river. They follow, to find the people lining up to be baptized. 2 of the friends rush into the water to be baptized. The first exclaims as he emerges from the water that the minister had told him that all his sins have been washed away. Even, he says, when he stole that pig for which he’d been convicted. "But you said you were innocent of that." "I lied.... and that’s been washed away too!!" That one shows a reformed character afterwards, including when he leaves money for the apple pie that his friends steal from a windowsill.