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John The Baptizer

INTRODUCTION: John the Baptist had a message of repentance and was baptizing many in the Jordan River to allow those being baptized to take a visible action to demonstrate the repentance in their heart, since the intent of the heart is invisible to man, though easily seen by God. John had no thought that this baptism provided salvation from sin, but he also knew that it was indicative of a turning away from sin, and towards the gift of eternal life from God. So, when the sinless Jesus came to him, he had an immediate hesitation to his role in baptizing the unique man who was "preferred before him" and who was the only one who had a far superior baptism of the Holy Spirit to offer to repentant sinners.

NOTE: Bible text is taken from the 1999 American King James Version.

A - John Hesitates to Baptize Jesus

"13 Then comes Jesus from Galilee to Jordan to John, to be baptized of him. 14 But John forbade him, saying, I have need to be baptized of you, and come you to me? 15 And Jesus answering said to him, Suffer it to be so now: for thus it becomes us to fulfill all righteousness. Then he suffered him. 16 And Jesus, when he was baptized, went up straightway out of the water: and, see, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and lighting on him: 17 And see a voice from heaven, saying, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased." (Matthew 3:13-17 AKJV)

COMMENTS: Jesus had a specific purpose in coming to John the Baptist and that was to "fulfill all righteousness:" something John was not prepared to immediately grasp, and something that even we today may struggle to fully comprehend. John had already spoken of one who would bring a superior baptism, but like the prophets before him, he apparently was obedient to the words that God had given to him to speak to the people; without knowing how he was to fulfill his role with this very special baptism. The next two references give us some indication of how the Spirit of God worked through men, without those men having complete knowledge of all factors related to their prophetic speaking or writing.
"10 Of which salvation the prophets have inquired and searched diligently, who prophesied of the grace that should come to you: 11 Searching what, or what manner of time the Spirit of Christ which was in them did signify, when it testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ, and the glory that should follow." (1Peter 1:10-11 AKJV)
"For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Ghost." (2Peter 1:21 AKJV)

And Peter himself experienced this type of inspired utterance while he was in the presence of the Lord Jesus,
"He said to them, But whom say you that I am? And Simon Peter answered and said, You are the Christ, the Son of the living God. And Jesus answered and said to him, Blessed are you, Simon Barjona: for flesh and blood has not revealed it to you, but my Father which is in heaven." (Matthew 16:15-17 AKJV)
And it is interesting to note that with the three verses just cited, each verse designates a different one of the three persons of the triune Godhead as the one who does the revealing.

In Matthew 3:16-17, the AKJV word "see" probably does not provide as much emphasis as does the KJV interjection of "lo." That Middle English word had the impact of attracting attention or denoting surprise. Certainly those present at the sight of the descending dove must have been surprised and had their attention grabbed by the voice from heaven! Now then, if the Lord Jesus did all things in obedience to the Father and was baptized of John; how much more should we who are the sons of Adam, be willing to repent that we might be prepared to receive the fullness of eternal life in Christ Jesus?

B - Jesus Being Baptized According to the Gospel of Mark

"9 And it came to pass in those days, that Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee, and was baptized of John in Jordan. 10 And straightway coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens opened, and the Spirit like a dove descending on him: 11 And there came a voice from heaven, saying, You are my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased." (Mark 1:9-11 AKJV)

COMMENTS: In the typical direct style of Mark's gospel, there is no mention of John's hesitation to baptize the Lord. But then, that detail is found only in Matthew's account, it also is not present in Luke or John. Three important elements are corroborated by Mark: 1) Jesus went to John and was baptized, 2) the Spirit descended upon Jesus in a visible form like a dove, and 3) God the Father audibly set His approval on Jesus. All three of these elements parallel Matthew's account of the baptism of Jesus.

C - Jesus Being Baptized According to the Gospel of Luke

"And as the people were in expectation, and all men mused in their hearts of John, whether he were the Christ, or not; John answered, saying to them all, I indeed baptize you with water; but one mightier than I comes, the lace of whose shoes I am not worthy to unloose: he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost and with fire: Whose fan is in his hand, and he will thoroughly purge his floor, and will gather the wheat into his garner; but the chaff he will burn with fire unquenchable. And many other things in his exhortation preached he to the people. But Herod the tetrarch, being reproved by him for Herodias his brother Philip's wife, and for all the evils which Herod had done, Added yet this above all, that he shut up John in prison. Now when all the people were baptized, it came to pass, that Jesus also being baptized, and praying, the heaven was opened, And the Holy Ghost descended in a bodily shape like a dove on him, and a voice came from heaven, which said, You are my beloved Son; in you I am well pleased." (Luke 3:15-22 AKJV)

COMMENTS: Luke provides a record very similar to that of Matthew to make it clear that the ministry of the Messiah will be superior to that of John the Baptist. John himself declares that the Messiah will bring a baptism of the Holy spirit, and will bring about a final judgment. Metaphorically, harvest time will bring the wheat into the barn, but the chaff will be burned with unquenchable fire! The description of the baptism of Jesus is preceded immediately in Luke's text by the brief mention that John was put into prison by Herod. Since the statement about John's imprisonment is placed in a parenthetical manner (because John's imprisonment actually took place after the baptism of Jesus), it allows Luke to mention that detail only briefly while moving on to the more important event of the baptism of Jesus. Luke's scant detail of The final events in the life of John the Baptist after the baptism of Jesus shifts the emphasis to Jesus, thus enhancing John's statement that he must decrease and Jesus must increase. The text in Luke does not specifically state that the baptism of Jesus was performed by John, but it does record the Spirit descending upon Jesus in a visible form like a dove, and the audible approval of God the Father as in Matthew and mark. Luke provides the extra detail about Jesus praying, and this is found only in Luke's account.

D - Jesus Being Baptized According to the Gospel of John

"29 The next day John sees Jesus coming to him, and said, Behold the Lamb of God, which takes away the sin of the world. 30 This is he of whom I said, After me comes a man which is preferred before me: for he was before me. 31 And I knew him not: but that he should be made manifest to Israel, therefore am I come baptizing with water. 32 And John bore record, saying, I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it stayed on him. 33 And I knew him not: but he that sent me to baptize with water, the same said to me, On whom you shall see the Spirit descending, and remaining on him, the same is he which baptizes with the Holy Ghost. 34 And I saw, and bore record that this is the Son of God. 35 Again the next day after John stood, and two of his disciples; 36 And looking on Jesus as he walked, he said, Behold the Lamb of God!" (John 1:29-36 AKJV)

COMMENTS: As Jesus approaches, John the Baptist first refers to him as the lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world, thus declaring the incomparable magnitude of the sacrifice that could be provided only by God. When John says twice in this passage "I knew him not" it likely does not mean that John had no knowledge of the man, Jesus of Nazareth since there mothers were related. John's mother certainly had a memorable experience when the pregnant Mary came to visit the pregnant Elizabeth. It more likely means that whatever John might have heard about his own parent's knowledge of this special offspring of Mary, he would accept only the revelation of God about the true identity of the promised Messiah to come through the line of David. A very subtle statement of divinity is embodied in the wording, "After me comes a man which is preferred before me: for he was before me." The man Jesus was still in Mary's womb when John the Baptist was born thus John preceded Jesus in the physical sense of conception and birth. But the God-man "was" before John; and in fact He was (eternally existing) before all creation since He is the Creator, the infinite God.

Even though John declares Jesus to be the lamb of God, in Matthew's gospel we are told that John hesitated to baptize Jesus, which may have been an indication of the impact of suddenly being in the presence of the Son of God. John testified that he had been told in advance of the sign from heaven that would verify the identity of Jesus as the Son of God who baptizes with the Holy Spirit, and Jesus’ comment about fulfilling all righteousness may have brought clarity for action back to the forefront of John's thinking. The gospel of John tells us that the Holy Spirit not only descended upon Jesus, but also remained on him. Then this passage closes with John again referring to Jesus as the lamb of God, which is a very cogent reinforcement that Jesus is the once for all sacrifice to cancel sin. The sufficiency of the properly offered sacrificial lamb was well established in the hearts and minds of those who had faith in the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; but for one sacrifice to cover all sin was, and is, a marvelous grace gift of the Lord God to those who accept it by faith!

E - Jesus and John Both Were Baptizing

"22 After these things came Jesus and his disciples into the land of Judaea; and there he tarried with them, and baptized. 23 And John also was baptizing in Aenon near to Salim, because there was much water there: and they came, and were baptized. 24 For John was not yet cast into prison. 25 Then there arose a question between some of John's disciples and the Jews about purifying. 26 And they came to John, and said to him, Rabbi, he that was with you beyond Jordan, to whom you bore witness, behold, the same baptizes, and all men come to him. 27 John answered and said, A man can receive nothing, except it be given him from heaven. 28 You yourselves bear me witness, that I said, I am not the Christ, but that I am sent before him. 29 He that has the bride is the bridegroom: but the friend of the bridegroom, which stands and hears him, rejoices greatly because of the bridegroom's voice: this my joy therefore is fulfilled. 30 He must increase, but I must decrease. 31 He that comes from above is above all: he that is of the earth is earthly, and speaks of the earth: he that comes from heaven is above all. 32 And what he has seen and heard, that he testifies; and no man receives his testimony. 33 He that has received his testimony has set to his seal that God is true. 34 For he whom God has sent speaks the words of God: for God gives not the Spirit by measure to him. 35 The Father loves the Son, and has given all things into his hand. 36 He that believes on the Son has everlasting life: and he that believes not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God stays on him." (John 3:22-36 AKJV)

COMMENTS: Other sections of John's gospel greatly emphasize that Jesus is Emmanuel (God with us) , and we hear again from the heart of John the Baptist about his purely preparatory role that necessarily requires that his notoriety decrease, and the name of Christ Jesus be magnified to the highest level among men. In the above passage John the Baptist declares that his own message of repentance was given to him, but the superior message of forgiveness of sin and the gift of eternal life, came directly from heaven in the person of Jesus.

John described himself as a friend, and wanted it to be clear that he has only a supporting role to Christ Jesus the bridegroom. John had great joy because the bridegroom has appeared to take his bride. Jesus has come from above and is above all, and he speaks of the things of heaven because he has seen and heard them while he was there. Jesus can speak clearly and authoritatively of the things of God because God gives him the Spirit in full supply that is beyond any limit of measure. And what a significant truth to close this particular passage: "The Father loves the Son, and has given all things into his hand. He that believes on the Son has everlasting life: and he that believes not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God stays on him."

F - Jesus Makes Some Statements About John the Baptist

"The baptism of John, from where was it? from heaven, or of men? And they reasoned with themselves, saying, If we shall say, From heaven; he will say to us, Why did you not then believe him? But if we shall say, Of men; we fear the people; for all hold John as a prophet. And they answered Jesus, and said, We cannot tell. And he said to them, Neither tell I you by what authority I do these things. But what think you? A certain man had two sons; and he came to the first, and said, Son, go work to day in my vineyard. He answered and said, I will not: but afterward he repented, and went. And he came to the second, and said likewise. And he answered and said, I go, sir: and went not. Whether of them two did the will of his father? They say to him, The first. Jesus said to them, Truly I say to you, That the publicans and the harlots go into the kingdom of God before you. For John came to you in the way of righteousness, and you believed him not: but the publicans and the harlots believed him: and you, when you had seen it, repented not afterward, that you might believe him." (Matthew 21:25-32 AKJV)

"This is he, of whom it is written, Behold, I send my messenger before your face, which shall prepare your way before you. For I say to you, Among those that are born of women there is not a greater prophet than John the Baptist: but he that is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he. And all the people that heard him, and the publicans, justified God, being baptized with the baptism of John. But the Pharisees and lawyers rejected the counsel of God against themselves, being not baptized of him." (Luke 7:27-30 AKJV)

"33 You sent to John, and he bore witness to the truth. 34 But I receive not testimony from man: but these things I say, that you might be saved. 35 He was a burning and a shining light: and you were willing for a season to rejoice in his light. 36 But I have greater witness than that of John: for the works which the Father has given me to finish, the same works that I do, bear witness of me, that the Father has sent me. 37 And the Father himself, which has sent me, has borne witness of me. You have neither heard his voice at any time, nor seen his shape. 38 And you have not his word abiding in you: for whom he has sent, him you believe not. 39 Search the scriptures; for in them you think you have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me. 40 And you will not come to me, that you might have life." (John 5:33-40 AKJV)

COMMENTS: Just to espouse obedience without an abiding demonstration is not enough: it is even more acceptable to initially reject instruction, if the final result is repentance to obedience in action as illustrated in the passage from Matthew chapter 21. Though a prophet is very significant because of his message from God, he is not greater than the message he bears, and certainly not greater than the one who sends the message through him. Those who receive the message into their heart will realize a part in the kingdom of God that is superior to any position man may hold in this present life. . But the message of the prophet surely must be received by each person by faith, or the greater work of the Lord for salvation to eternal life will not subsequently produce the fruits of repentance from the heart of that person.

Every person needs to repent as directed by the truth of scripture about our sinful condition, in order to be prepared to receive the grace gift of eternal life in Christ by faith. "And he said to him, If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead." (Luke 16:31 AKJV).

The words of Jesus in John 5:33-40 give further demonstration that the message of John the Baptist was not the complete message, but should prepare us to recognize and receive Jesus Christ as our personal Savior for eternal life. Reviewing that passage may help in understanding the message that Jesus gives of himself. In his letter, John the apostle declares that Jesus Christ is the source for eternal life. "And we know that the Son of God is come, and has given us an understanding, that we may know him that is true, and we are in him that is true, even in his Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God, and eternal life." (1John 5:20 AKJV)

--- Reflections in prayer ---

Lord, I want the single-minded ministry of John the Baptist, of preparing the way for Christ, to motivate me to be more aware of the way you have fashioned my own life to be a witness for you. May I study scripture to point me to the repentance I need for my own thoughts and actions contrary to your will for me, as I stand in complete dependence on your grace gift of eternal life through my faith in Jesus Christ. Guide me Lord so that whatever I do in my life, I will not forget that the most important thing I can do for others is to point them to Jesus Christ and the power you have over sin for those who turn from sin and place their trust in you. The scriptures testify of you, and in you alone can we have eternal life. Amen.

Published 18 December 2007