John the Baptist

Christianity begins with John the Baptist and he stands right from the beginning in the light of God's plan of redemption. John is himself a part of the gospel of Jesus Christ. John too, like Jesus, is the prophet of the coming kingdom of God.

John's father was a temple priest of the course of Abia, and his mother also was of the daughters of Aaron. John the Baptist and Jesus were cousins, being that Mary, the mother of Jesus and Elisabeth were cousins. John was only six months older than Jesus, Mary and Elisabeth were with child at the same time. John's parents were quite old when John was conceived and the birth in itself was a miracle. An angel appeard to Zacharias and said to him, " shall have joy and gladness and many shall rejoice at his birth. For he shall be great in the sight of the Lord and shall drink neither wine nor strong drink and he shall be filled with the Holy Ghost, even from his mothers's womb. And many of the children of Israel shall he turn to the Lord their God. And he shall go before Him in the spirit and power of Elias, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children and the disobedient to the widsom of the just, to make ready a people prepared for the Lord." The angel is thus letting us know that the prophecies of Malachi were being fulfilled in John. When the virgin Mary visited Elisabeth upon hearing that she was pregnant with the Holy Ghost, the baby John leaped within Elisabeth's womb for joy.

Although from a priestly family, John never served as a priest, nor a scribe, Pharisee or Sadducee. John began a preparatory ministry in the 15th year of Tiberius, AD 26 or 27, there was reason to think it was a Sabbatical year. His name the "Baptist" may be the Greek equivalent of an Essene bather. He may have grown up with the Essenes in the desert after his aged parents, Zacharias and Elisabeth died.

John was different in dress manner and food. Never to own anything, never to drink wine, or to cut his hair or beard, spending time in endless prayer and to always be separate, alone, close to God. It was known that his drink was water of the river, and that he lived on locusts and wild honey stored by the bees in the crevices of the rocks and with the gum secreted by tamarisk trees. The locusts of Palestine were similar to our grasshoppers. Four of the seven or more species were allowed by the Mosaic law to be eaten. His clothing was a tunic of camel skin. Camel's hair was woven into cloth in the East, some of it exceedingly fine and soft, but usually course and rough and used for making the coats of shepherds and camel drivers, and for covering tents. He went barefoot, and wore a robe of woven camel hair apparently reduced to a loin cloth and a simple heavy leather belt tied at the waist. Elijah dressed like that and John reminded the people of their old-time prophets, who had spoken out boldly in past centuries, speaking God's words of warning to a people who had sometimes drifted from their earlier teachings.

In his belief that the kingdom of God was at hand, John was not alone. He only voiced what was at the time a widespread conviction, and for that very reason his announcement found a receptive audience. And yet his influence seems to have been confined largely to the common people. John avoided the cities, preferring rather to preach in the countryside. Most of his time was spent in the rugged area near where the Jordan river empties into the Dead Sea. Despite his eccentricities, John was very popular with the people, they flocked to him in great numbers. Many would come from Jerusalem and Judea and Galilee to hear his message. "Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." The leaders held aloof, John was not the Messiah, so there was no reason for interest; there was no indication that they ever took steps against him, it was utter indifference.

I must decrease is the term that John the Baptist used and it simply means what Jesus answered with and that is that we are to deny ourselves. As we put on humility, the Lord is able to use us to His glory, not ours. As we put on the servant attitude instead of being prideful, we put on the same humility that Jesus had. John knew, if not actually, at least in the spirit, that Jesus was the redeemer and that the sin was to be taken from us in our relationship to Him. Without Jesus, we cannot get rid of sin in our lives.

John the Baptist had come among the Jews, purifying people by baptism and predicting a new day at hand. In those days, non-Jews who wished to adopt Judaism as their own religion were baptized as a symbol of spiritual cleansing. Jews were not used to thinking that they needed baptism. The self-righteous, of course, think nothing of repentance. The Jews practiced religious washings of the body as legal purifications, but no baptism before this of John had so great and so mystical a signification. It chiefly represented the manner in which the souls of men must be cleansed from all sin to be made partaker's of Jesus' spiritual kingdom, and it was an emblem of the interior effects of sincere repentance, a type of that sacrament of baptism which was to come with our Lord. As those who were baptized by John in Jordan confessed their sins, his baptism must have been adult baptism.

John had selected Jericho to be his headquarters because it was the largest of the towns along the banks of the Jordan and he wished to stir up expectation and preparation for the coming of the Messiah. When the scribes and Pharisees came out from Jerusalem, the ordinary crowd made room for these exalted persons, but they got no deference from John. On the contrary he met them with a rebuke which must have amazed and halted them as completely as though he had struck them in the face. "O generation of vipers, who has warned you to flee from the wrath to come." His eyes ablaze, he stood on the riverbank and exhorted all who came to repent of their sins and prepare for the coming day of judgment. John's voice was commanding. The believers were tempted to heed John's call, but the skeptics sat on the bank and sneered in disbelief.

John's crowd became huge, all Israel was tingling with his announcements. The Baptist's growing fame had drawn pilgrims from all over the land. They were eager for miracles. Yet only two caught his message of the lamb, open minds and hearts ready to be drawn the lamb. Men felt in him that power of mastery which is always granted to self-denial. And so Pharisee, Sadducee, scribe and soldier, priest and publican, all thronged to listen to his words. Even those who did not submit to his baptism were yet "willing for a season to rejoice in his light." The synoptic tradition emphasizes the preparatory role of Elijah, who makes ready the Lord's way, equating Elijah with John. "The voice of him that crys in the wilderness, prepare the way if the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God. And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken it." And they asked him, What then? Are you Elias? And he said, I am not. Are you that prophet? And he answered no. "The Lord your God will raise up unto you a prophet from the midst of you, of your brethren. like unto Me; unto him you shall hearken." John was like a burning torch; the whole man was an apocalypse. John "came for a witness, to bear witness of the Light."

When Jesus came to John, the latter promptly recognizing his qualities, declared he was not fit to tie Jesus' shoelaces. That act of recognition and homage started the young prophet on his way. Why was Jesus baptized? Certainly He did not need to repent. He did it for us and represented sinners. It was for our sake, not His. Jesus represented all people, demonstrating that we all need repentance, we all need to be cleansed from the original sin of Adam. After his baptism, Jesus retired to the barren hills in the wilderness of Judea, where "the Spirit sent Him," and He fasted and nourished His visions. Jesus was tempted of the devil for 40 days and after, He returned to where John was baptizing at Bethabara. The Jews at Jerusalem had sent priests and Levites to the Baptist, asking him who he was. As John's preaching became the occasion of the sense of divine call, so John's imprisonment was the event which inspired the beginning of Jesus' public ministry.

Not all John's disciples became Christians and there are even echoes in the gospels of controversy between the two groups. As Jesus left the river bank, Andrew and John followed him. Cana was a three day journey from that part of Judea where the Baptist was. John continued to administer his baptism at Ainon near Salim even after the disciples of Jesus began to baptize. Nevertheless one day a kind of dissension did arise. The disciples of John and a certain Jew began to argue concerning purification. Perhaps the Jew thought the rite administered by the disciples of Jesus was more purifying than that of John. The latter's disciples, indignant, running to their master they told him of the rival activity of Jesus. Jesus must increase, henceforth John was content to decrease; content that his little light should be swallowed up in the boundless dawn. In the weeks before John's arrest his disciples had told him that all men were coming to Jesus. John answered that Jesus was the bridegroom, himself only the bridegroom's friend. This was john's last testimony. A few weeks later, possibly in May of 28, the austere censor of the court scandal was imprisoned.

John the Baptist was many things but a diplomat was not one of them. As outspoken as a prophet could be, it could only get him into trouble. John confronted evil with boldness, no matter who was involved. John spoke out against the sins of the ruler, Herod Antipas and for this, he was cast into prison. The Baptist had been imprisoned in the fortress palace of Machaerus. The principle object of John's imprisonment was to withdraw him from circulation because of his attacks on Herod's marriage to Herodias. Some of John's disciples were allowed to visit him and he was kept informed and heard in prison the works of the Messiah. John remained in prison about ten months, the prolonged stay could not have been very agreeable to Herodias. Then, with the second Passover approaching, we have the murder of John the Baptist, the feeding of the 5000 and the sermon on the bread of life.

John was executed about the time of the journey of the apostles, perhaps between Feb. and March of 29. According to Jerome, the adulteress gave vent to her hatred by thrusting a bodkin through the tongue. Herodias ordered the headless trunk to be flung out over the battlements to be devoured by dogs and vultures. The disciples of John - perhaps Manaen the Essene, the foster-brother of Herod Antipas, may have been among them - succeeded in recovering his body and burying it. Their next care was to go and tell Jesus. The whole nation lamented his death.
[290, 308, 309, 311, 318, 319, 322, 324, 316, Isaiah, Matthew 3, Luke 1, John 1:7, Deuteronomy, 330, 331, 355, 08, 12, 15, 373, 380, 383, 400, 401, 402, 415]

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