the Baptist is a figure of mystery to most modern Christians; a footnote found
at the beginning of Christ’s ministry. We shall examine today who he really
was, what was his life-message and then see how the Trinity is first revealed
in those days John the Baptist *came, preaching in the wilderness of Judea, saying, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." For this is the
one referred to by Isaiah the prophet when he said, "THE VOICE OF ONE
CRYING IN THE WILDERNESS, 'MAKE READY THE WAY OF THE LORD, MAKE HIS PATHS
STRAIGHT!'" Now John himself had a garment of camel's hair and a leather
belt around his waist; and his food was locusts and wild honey. Then Jerusalem was going out to him, and all Judea and all the district around the Jordan; and they were being baptized by him in the Jordan River, as they confessed their sins. But
when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism, he said to
them, "You brood of vipers, who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?
"Therefore bear fruit in keeping with repentance; and do not suppose that
you can say to yourselves, 'We have Abraham for our father'; for I say to you
that from these stones God is able to raise up children to Abraham. "The
axe is already laid at the root of the trees; therefore every tree that does
not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. "As for me, I
baptize you with water for repentance, but He who is coming after me is
mightier than I, and I am not fit to remove His sandals; He will baptize you
with the Holy Spirit and fire. "His winnowing fork is in His hand, and He
will thoroughly clear His threshing floor; and He will gather His wheat into
the barn, but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire." Then Jesus
*arrived from Galilee at the Jordan coming
to John, to be baptized by him. But John tried to prevent Him, saying, "I
have need to be baptized by You, and do You come to me?" But Jesus
answering said to him, "Permit it at this time; for in
this way it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness." Then
he *permitted Him. After being baptized, Jesus came up immediately from the
water; and behold, the heavens were opened, and he saw the Spirit of God
descending as a dove and lighting on
Him, and behold, a voice out of the heavens said, "This is My beloved Son,
in whom I am well-pleased."
(Mat 3:1-17 NASB)
of the Messiah
would do well to remember here that Matthew’s primary objective is to present
Christ as the Messiah and King of the Jews. His Gospel is dedicated to proving
to the Jews that Jesus is indeed the Messiah. The thrust of this chapter is
that the last of the Old Testament era prophets, John the Baptist, testifies
that Jesus is the Messiah. So let’s look at John in that light.
note that at this point in Matthew’s history Jesus has yet to perform his first
miracle. Indeed, most scholars think that the wedding at Cana is yet to
happen. Despite this, John’s testimony is clear and strong. It is so strong,
and John so convincing a prophet, that later the Pharisees must waffle on
John’s message – because they know the people all saw him as a prophet.
role of a prophet
thing is clear: John sure looked and acted like the typical Old Testament
prophet. He lived in the desert, dressed in poor clothing and – did what
was one who would forthtell the words of God. He had no hesitation
about calling the hypocrites a “brood of vipers.” It is the
distinguishing mark of the preaching of a prophet: he really doesn’t care
which earthly powers he might be offending, as long as he is bearing the
message of God.
was also one who would foretell what was to come; in this instance,
the soon arrival of the Messiah.
is the last of the Old Testament prophets; indeed, his own coming was
The people heard him gladly for he was a voice from God, offering repentance to
must pause to wonder about the church today:
we really familiar with the prophecies yet to be fulfilled?
we really think they could be fulfilled?
this were the church, do you not think that things would be different?
how, even today, John the Baptist’s life is an example to all of us. While not
being fond of camel hair, and having no desire to eat locusts, there are some
things to which we should pay attention:
this is a man who rejects the materialism of his day. He has reduced his
lifestyle to the purely necessary.
his life is one of sacrifice – to the glory of God.
the church today even be faintly thought guilty of these virtues?
in the wilderness
is ever the role of the prophet: the voice in the wilderness. A man running
around in a camel hair jacket (and camels are unclean animals), preaching in
the desert. He was a clear alternative to the happy connivance of “religious”
life in his society. He walked the talk, as we say. God honors such men;
indeed, John had the distinct honor of being a martyr for God, of which our
Lord tells to be glad, for great is the reward in heaven.
Knowing the man, we may now look at his message.
is a fascinating thought: the wicked were drawn to this man. The hypocrites
of the day, the Pharisees and Sadducees went into the desert to hear this man.
And what did they hear?
brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?” It is a fact
that Christ reserved his anger solely for the hypocrites. It seems the divine
style, as John uses it here. This habit will eventually cost John his head –
but even there, Herod is drawn to John like moth to flame.
message is simple and easily understood. Repent – and prove it. Don’t just
mouth the words, show God that you mean it. And if you won’t? The
unquenchable fires of hell await you.
can see that this man would have a tough time getting a job as a pastor. The
politeness of modern Christianity is almost suffocating. We speak of a
“Christless eternity” instead of hell. For those who are in this life without
Christ, what does this sound like? Certainly not hell.
message, shortly put, is Christ Himself. It is so high and holy that John
fears to wash the feet of Christ. His understanding of Christ is that He is so
far above the Baptist that he could not even help with the man’s sandals.
we life Christ up like that? Do we proclaim Him as the Good News?
is one way to tell if we are doing it right: confession. Non-Catholics view
this as a Catholic ritual; it is much, much more than that. We are told to
confess our sins to each other.
From the earliest days of the church, confession was a requirement of the
Confession precedes repentance, in the Old Testament and the New Testament.
is one huge difference between the two, however. In the old covenant, you had
to go find the prophet in the wilderness. In the new covenant, Christ comes to
you, for He wills all to be saved.
cannot pass through this section of Scripture without recognizing its primary
intellectual problem: the Trinity. We see the Trinity complete at the baptism
of Jesus. We know that John’s baptism is by water; Christ’s by Spirit and
But this instance raises two difficult questions:
why does Jesus need to be baptized? Baptism is for cleansing from sin,
and He had none.
what is the nature of the Trinity? How can God, who is one, also be
Baptism of Jesus
question seems obvious at once; certainly John had no difficulty in stating it.
Christ should baptize him, not the other way around. But please note
something: there is no recorded instance of Christ ever baptizing anyone.
His disciple baptized; the church baptizes – but Christ does not. Evidently it
is something reserved for his children. This is our first clue. The early
church held that while Jesus was indeed sinless, He bore in his flesh the sin
of the world. Thus it was that the baptism of his flesh was necessary.
are other reasons as well. Some of the earliest writers hold to a different
view: that by accepting baptism he was in a sense cleansing the water so that
it might now cleanse us of sin.
that, there is a practical side. In the millennia to come, many times the
Gospel would be brought to someone who was considered nobility. The preacher
might be indeed a peasant, and the duke might think it beneath his dignity to
be baptized like a common peasant. The answer is here: if the King of Kings
was willing to be baptized, what’s your problem?
is the foremost puzzle of Christian life: how can God be one and yet three?
We cannot really answer that question, but we can gather some clues from this
heavens open and the Father speaks. Do you not see that the heavens MUST
open? God is Spirit, not matter or energy.
He must breach the wall between heaven and earth to proclaim His Son.
Spirit comes “as a dove.” It is not certain whether or not this means a
physical bird or simply the way in which the Spirit descends. But the
human heart is the destination of the Spirit. Perhaps the dove is chosen
in memory of the dove that returned to Noah with an olive branch. For by
the Atonement God brings peace to his rebellious children.
– God in the flesh – humbly submits as one under the Law of Moses. This
is so that He may be crucified and die; this is the purpose of His
Trinity is still a mystery. We may never really understand its nature, but we
can know the Father’s glory, respond to the call of the Spirit and call Jesus
to our hearts. Perhaps we know enough of the mystery after all. Now that we
know, let us do.