John the Baptist

  Matthew 3:1-12; Mark 1:1-8; Luke 3:1-18

   John the Baptist was in many ways a "wild and crazy guy."  Matthew says he wore a garment made of camel's hair and ate locusts and wild honey.  This is certainly not the normal evangelist's attire or diet.  He was out in the wilderness preaching, not where you would expect to attract a crowd!  He preached a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.  He also said the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand (near).

     The gospel writers tell us that multitudes came from Judea and Jerusalem to be baptized by John.  They came out to the desert not the Temple.  Why would people flock to a desert area to hear a wild prophet?  Obviously, this was a work of the Holy Spirit.  Pharisees and Sadducees also came out, not to be baptized, but to investigate this strange man and his message.  Offering forgiveness outside the law's requirement for animal sacrifice would be blasphemous to them.  Needless to say John was not too popular with the religious leaders.

     Then, John had the nerve to say to the crowds, "You brood of snakes!....Produce fruit in keeping with repentance."  I imagine Joel Olsteen would never speak like that!   John told them not to rely on the fact they were descendents of Abraham to save them.  Their Jewish heritage would not make them right with God or save them from God's wrath.  John said God was able to raise up "sons"to Abraham from the "stones" on the ground.  There is an interesting word play here on the Aramaic word for stone and son.  A true son of Abraham will represent the character of Abraham.  It's not about the fleshly heritage but about having living faith in the promises of God (see Rom. 2:28,29).

     John's baptism was different from what the Jews were used to.  There were several baptismal pools around the Temple where worshipers could walk in and out of for ritual cleansing.  This was a self-immersion, dealing with the outer man.  In John's baptism one submitted to another who would baptize them, requiring an act of humility.  This baptism, then, had to do with the inner man, for it was a "repentance from sin."  Also, this baptism was a one-time act, not like the many ritual bathings.  The fact that it was for forgiveness of sins points us to the complete fulfillment after Jesus' death and resurrection.

     John's message called for repentance.  This is not an emotional feeling.  It is a change of mind and will. It is a complete change of directions or a changing of sides.  Rpentance includes obedience.  In Acts 26:20 Paul preached that Gentiles should repent and turn to God and prove repentance by their deeds!  Repentance is turning from the world's value system and turning to Jesus as the only true Lord of life!  When the people asked John what they should do to show repentance, John gave them several practical examples.  He told the people to share with those who had needs, like food and clothing.  He told the tax collectors (yes, they were in the crowd!) to not collect more than was necessary.  He told the soldiers (imagine Roman soldiers in this crowd) to be content with their wages.  They were paid little in the first century and could easily take advantage of their captive population. Thus, repentance requires obedient action.

     Despite the strong message, John was popular with the people.  But when the time came, he pointed them toward Jesus, the Messiah., who would baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire. 

     As you read through these texts, may the Holy Spirit give you insight and may the message continue to speak to your heart.

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