|God Prepares for Sending the Saviour|
|Prepares the Way|
|Imprisoned, then Beheaded|
Jesus Christ testified that, "among those born of women there has arisen no one
greater than John the Baptist." Math 1111
It is thus instructive and wise for us to know why this is so.
The Old Testament reveals the first 4,000 years of world history and prophesies about all the years of this earth. Both the tragedy of universal sin and the sure hope of God's plan to overcome it. When Almighty God took such care in creating such a special planet and completed it by giving Adam and Eve the paradise of Eden, he knew that Satan would tempt them. He knew they would choose to disobey. He knew what it would cost him to redeem man. He knew how hard it is for man to hear the truth about sin and about forgiveness and salvation. Through all the years God raised up men like Abel, Enoch and Noah; he chose Abraham and his descendants, prophets who would to be responsible for revealing his judgement and mercy to a wicked world. Not for a single moment has the Almighty given up his plan for a righteous kingdom. But what he said to the two as he walked with them going to Emmaus has always been true: "How foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Did not the Christ have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?" And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself." Lu 2425-27
God's plan is centred on his two Comings to earth; first to bear the judgement and appease the wrath of God for sin by being crucified, and secondly by his return to establish his eternal righteous kingdom. John the Baptist was born 6 months before Jesus to blow the trumpet, to herald the first Coming of the Son of God as our vital Saviour. Of all the prophets he alone would be able to declare:
"Behold! the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world." Jn 129
God prepares for sending the Saviour [Top]
Malachi had declared:
"See, I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me. Then suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to his temple; the messenger of the covenant, whom you desire, will come," says the Lord Almighty. Mal 31
"See, I will send you the prophet Elijah before that great and dreadful day of the Lord comes." Mal 45
But then there was silence for 4 centuries - No 'messenger' had appeared.
10 generations had passed by.
The Almighty and Faithful God waited for exactly the right moment.
But no one knew when that would be.
The priests continued their routine sacrifices and the burning of incense.
One day when old Zechariah was offering incense an angel appeared -
Gabriel, no less! With a personal message from Almighty God:
"Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to give him the name John. He will be a joy and delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth, for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He is never to take wine or other fermented drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit even from birth. Many of the people of Israel will he bring back to the Lord their God. And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous–to make ready a people prepared for the Lord." Lu 113-17
Zechariah would have immediately realised huge importance of this message.
But there was only one little snag. He and his wife were old - she was well passed the menopause. Gabriel soon put his doubts to rest:
"I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to tell you this good news. And now you will be silent and not able to speak until the day this happens, because you did not believe my words, which will come true at their proper time." Lu 119,20
When his time of service was completed, he returned home. After this his wife Elizabeth became pregnant. Lu 123
Almighty God always keeps his word, however impossible it may seem.
Meanwhile Gabriel visited Mary to tell her she would bear the Son of God.
And Mary went to see her cousin Elizabeth to tell her the news.
When they met, Elizabeth was 6 months pregnant with John. He leapt for joy in her womb. The coming of Jesus would always be his highest delight and purpose for life. Mary stayed with Elizabeth for 3 months (till just before John's birth).
John Born [Top]
There were no complications at his birth except in his name.
Relatives wanted to call him Zechariah, but first Elizabeth said is should be John.
Then Zechariah wrote on a tablet, "His name is John." (= 'YAHWEH is gracious')
Immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue was loosed, and he began to speak, praising God.
Thankfully Luke records what he prophesied: 168-79
"Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel,
because he has come and has redeemed his people.
He has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David
(as he said through his holy prophets of long ago),
salvation from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us -
to show mercy to our fathers and to remember his holy covenant,
the oath he swore to our father Abraham:
to rescue us from the hand of our enemies,
and to enable us to serve him without fear
in holiness and righteousness before him all our days.
And you, my child, will be called a prophet of the Most High;
for you will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for him,
to give his people the knowledge of salvation
through the forgiveness of their sins,
because of the tender mercy of our God,
by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven
to shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the path of peace."
From conception and birth John was clearly to be a very special prophet.
He would prepare and herald the coming of the 'Most High'.
Uniquely both Zechariah and John saw Jesus not yet as Messiah,
but as the 'Author of Salvation', the One who brings forgiveness and mercy.
John was beheaded, Jesus crucified and the world has yet to know peace;
yet all believers know the peace of God - especially Christian martyrs!
John grew and became strong in spirit; and he lived in the desert,
probably with the Essenes after his elderly parents died.
Prepares the Way [Top]
John was now about 30 years old. What was he waiting for?
His Essene training had probably been completed years ago.
But wisely, he was patiently awaiting instruction from the Lord Almighty.
Then that day came:
The word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the desert. Lu 32
John left the insular Essenes near the Dead Sea:
He went into all the country around the Jordan,
preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. Lu 33
Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near. Math 33
With that sort of introduction some today would find it very surprising that crowds of people went to be baptised. God had put in their hearts the need for his forgiveness. None of the normal sacrifices of Temple worship satisfied this longing. Many longed to be righteous, but had repeatedly failed in their efforts. So the scripture simply states: People went out to him from Jerusalem and all Judea and the whole region of the Jordan. Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River. Math 35
Some went to hear John out of curiosity; they received a different message!
But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to where he was baptizing, he said to them: "You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not think you can say to yourselves, 'We have Abraham as our father.' I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. The axe is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire. Math 37-10 (and Lu 37-9)
John was clearly concerned far more about truth, than about popularity!
Others asked this earthy preacher with heavenly truth what they should do?
"The man with two tunics should share with him who has none, and the one who has food should do the same." Tax collectors also came to be baptized. "Teacher," they asked, "what should we do?" "Don't collect any more than you are required to," he told them. Then some soldiers asked him, "And what should we do?" He replied, "Don't extort money and don't accuse people falsely; be content with your pay." Lu 311-14
Some questioned if John was the Messiah; he gave them a definite answer:
"I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me will come one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not fit to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor, gathering his wheat into the barn and burning up the chaff with unquenchable fire." Math 311,12 (and Lu 315-17)
There came a man who was sent from God; his name was John. He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all men might believe. He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light. The true light that gives light to every man was coming into the world. Jn 16-9
Now this was John's testimony when the Jews of Jerusalem sent priests and Levites to ask him who he was. He did not fail to confess, but confessed freely, "I am not the Christ.'" They asked him, "Then who are you? Are you Elijah?" He said, "I am not." "Are you the Prophet?" He answered, "No." Finally they said, "Who are you? Give us an answer to take back to those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?" John replied in the words of Isaiah the prophet, "I am the voice of one calling in the desert, 'Make straight the way for the Lord.' " Now some Pharisees who had been sent questioned him, "Why then do you baptize if you are not the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?" "I baptize with water," John replied, "but among you stands one you do not know. He is the one who comes after me, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie." Jn 119-27
The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, "Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! This is the one I meant when I said, 'A man who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.' I myself did not know him, but the reason I came baptizing with water was that he might be revealed to Israel." Jn 129-31
This reveals the fundamental purpose of this great preparing prophet;
to introduce, to reveal the Saviour of the world to his sin-sick world.
John and Jesus both began their ministry with the same instruction:
"Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near." Math 32 417
A most surprising time for John was when Jesus came to him and asked to be
baptised. But John tried to deter him, saying, "I need to be baptized by you, and
do you come to me?" Jesus replied, "Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do
this to fulfill all righteousness." Then John consented. Math 313-15
Being without sin, Jesus obviously did not need a baptism of repentance.
Scripture explains this by adding: As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and lighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, "This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased." Math 316,17
It is also a surprise to many that John knew his ministry was successful not when people flocked to be baptised, but when a man came to him and said,
"Everyone is going to him" (to Jesus).
To this John replied, "A man can receive only what is given him from heaven. You yourselves can testify that I said, 'I am not the Christ but am sent ahead of him.' The bride belongs to the bridegroom. The friend who attends the bridegroom waits and listens for him, and is full of joy when he hears the bridegroom's voice. That joy is mine, and it is now complete. He must become greater; I must become less."
John's goal was not to promote himself or his ministry, but to herald the long awaited promise of the Christ. Now the Saviour of the world had come. At last men could be assured of God's forgiveness. John could physically point to Jesus and say, 'there he is, go, follow him'. He had faithfully and effectively completed what God had called him to do.
Imprisoned, then Beheaded [Top]
John was never shy to speak the truth and condemn sin even that of 'the rich and famous'. And that included king Herod. But when John rebuked Herod the tetrarch because of Herodias, his brother's wife, and all the other evil things he had done, Herod added this to them all: He locked John up in prison. Lu 319,20
Some time later Jesus went to Nain at the very moment of a funeral of the son of
a widow who lived there. So Jesus raised him from the dead!
The people were all filled with awe and praised God. "A great prophet has appeared among us," they said. "God has come to help his people." This news about Jesus spread throughout Judea and the surrounding country. John's disciples told him about all these things. Calling two of them, he sent them to the Lord . ... When the men came to Jesus, they said, "John the Baptist sent us to you to ask, 'Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?' At that very time Jesus cured many who had diseases, sicknesses and evil spirits, and gave sight to many who were blind. So he replied to the messengers, "Go back and report to John what you have seen and heard: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor. Blessed is the man who does not fall away on account of me." Lu 711-2
Jesus encouraged John to believe the prophecies of Isaiah were being fulfilled.
People were being wonderfully healed and delivered from demons and sin.
Is 2918 355,6 4218 611
Then he continued to tell the people about John and his ministry.
"What did you go out into the desert to see? A reed swayed by the wind? If not, what did you go out to see? A man dressed in fine clothes? No, those who wear expensive clothes and indulge in luxury are in palaces. But what did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. This is the one about whom it is written: " 'I will send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way before you.' I tell you, among those born of women there is no one greater than John; yet the one who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he." Lu 724-28
He was the greatest because he alone was able to say, 'Here is the Christ'.
All the people, even the tax collectors, when they heard Jesus' words, acknowledged that God's way was right, because they had been baptized by John. But the Pharisees and experts in the law rejected God's purpose for themselves, because they had not been baptized by John.
To what, then, can I compare the people of this generation? What are they like? They are like children sitting in the marketplace and calling out to each other:
'We played the flute for you, and you did not dance;
we sang a dirge, and you did not cry.'
For John the Baptist came neither eating bread nor drinking wine, and you say, 'He has a demon.' The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and you say, 'Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and "sinners.' But wisdom is proved right by all her children. Lu 729-35
The children playing 'weddings and funerals' were wholeheartedly involved.
It was so sad that the religious leaders, the Scribes and Pharisees had no desire to be included in God's gracious plan of salvation. They had no hunger for God, no consciousness of their own sin. They were so self-satisfied with their own hypocritical righteousness. See the seven woes that Jesus fired at them in Math 23 to awaken them from their folly. But they remained content without God
Like the rich man in the parable Jesus told in Lu 1619-31.
Like the elder brother in Lu 1511-32
Like the proud man who went up to the Temple and prayed, 'God, I thank you that I am not like other men–robbers, evildoers, adulterers; or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.' Contrasted to the tax-collector who stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, 'God, have mercy on me, a sinner.' Lu 189-14
These proud men had no idea what they were missing. By their own foolish choice they rejected their day of opportunity for eternal life with Almighty God.
The Scribes and Pharisees were not the only fools living in Israel at that time;
Herod the tetrarch was also a fool.
Herod had seized John and bound him and put him in prison for the sake of Herodias, his brother Philip's wife, because John had been saying to him, "It is not lawful for you to have her." And though he wanted to put him to death, he feared the people, because they held him to be a prophet. But when Herod's birthday came, the daughter of Herodias danced before the company and pleased Herod, so that he promised with an oath to give her whatever she might ask. Prompted by her mother, she said, "Give me the head of John the Baptist here on a platter." And the king was sorry, but because of his oaths and his guests he commanded it to be given. He sent and had John beheaded in the prison, and his head was brought on a platter and given to the girl, and she brought it to her mother. Math 143-11
This concludes the brief life of John the Baptist on this earth; but what a life.
On that final day he would have heard his master say, "Well done, my good and faithful servant," as this greatest of all the prophets entered the joy of the Lord.