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Life of Christ (2007-2009)

John the Baptist

All Four Gospels

Lesson audio

The reader will please note that we have not included copies of the Scripture for this lesson. They are extensive, and might violate the standard copyright permissions for the NIV. The relevant Scriptures are Matthew 3, Mark 1:1-11, Luke 3:1-14 and John 1:6-27.

Rite and Ceremony

It is a tradition at our church that we have only one tradition – which is that we have no traditions. The view seems to be that traditional ways are those of meaningless rites and ceremonies. These, we are told, encourage a Christianity which is ceremonial only.

One must object: the human experience is bound up in rite and ceremony. We use such things for a variety of purposes:

  • Sometimes we must say something which is beyond words. We have Communion to portray the great sacrifice of Christ – the symbols portray the deed, and we have yet to find words which equal this.
  • Other times we use ceremony to mark important changes in life. We have baptism to mark the beginning of the new life in Christ; weddings to mark the beginning of life together; funerals to mark a passing.
  • Perhaps most important of all: we use rite and ceremony to engage the experience and memory of others. Wedding ceremonies provoke a reflection on the joy of marriage. Funerals teach us of our own mortality. Our national anthem invokes our personal patriotism. These ceremonies reach within our hearts, personalizing the experience for each of us.
Jewish conversion

With these principles in mind, then, we may ask what the hearers of John the Baptist would have seen in his baptizing. To understand this, we need to know that the process of converting from Gentile to Jewish in those days involved baptism. John’s audience would have this background for his ceremony; what would they see?

  • First of all they would see an act of humility. The Gentile must adhere to God the one and only, renouncing his previous worship of many gods. Humble yourself in the sight of the Lord!
  • They would also see it as a new beginning. All the sins of previous life are now washed away. From then on, sin had its atonement in sacrifices at the Temple.
  • Perhaps most disturbing to them would be the reminder that God does not play favorites. You don’t have to be born a Jew; you can become one.
The baptism of Christ

With this in mind, then, we may gain some insight into Christ’s baptism – and John’s objection to it. John sees it as a baptism of repentance. He knows that the Christ is sinless; it would be completely fitting for Christ to baptize John, but not the other way around. So John is surprised when Christ asks to be baptized. Like John, we may be puzzled by this. But there are answers:

  • Christ tells John that this is to “fulfill all righteousness.” This is a difficult thought. One explanation is that Christ is to be our High Priest, and this priest was to undergo ceremonial cleansing before taking office. Thus Christ would fulfill the Law. (We must remember that Christ suffered under the Law so that he could be our atonement).
  • This also emphasizes the humanity of Christ – so that all who thought him something other than completely man would have to explain the physical fact of baptism. For example, those who taught that Christ was a specter who left no footprints would need to explain how you baptize a specter.
  • Finally, there is the divine example. What nobleman could refuse baptism because of his high position when the King of Kings was baptized?

John, the Prophet

It’s worth noting that John’s ministry is prophesied in the Old Testament.[1] It is therefore no wonder that Christ refers to him as the greatest of the prophets. He is the quintessential Old Testament prophet, and we may learn from this.

Role of the prophet

The role of a prophet in the Old Testament does not seem at all to be “get along, go along.”[2] In fact, it is quite the opposite – which generates opposition.

  • The prophet is to “forth tell.” Listen to “you brood of vipers, …” This does not tend to get you in the good graces of the establishment. The well read among us will recall that John lost his head this way.
  • The most common function of the prophet (at least in our view) is foretelling the future. In this case, the foretelling is about Christ.

Unpopular sermons, unpopular prophecies; it is no wonder that John is the “voice in the wilderness.”


Most of us would be extremely unwilling to adopt a life style that called for a camel hair shirt accompanied by a diet of honey and locusts.[3] But we might see it as an example for us in other ways:

  • What does it say to us about materialism? If so great a prophet can reject things material, should we not be able to reject the cycle of greed, envy and acquisition in our own lives?
  • Such a life style is a continuous sacrifice. Is this not an example too? How many Christians today are willing to sacrifice – as long as it doesn’t cost them anything?

The man walked the talk. Go and do likewise.

In our own lives

Suppose we took this man seriously. What effect would it have on our own lives today?

  • There would be repentance – a turn from the sins of this lazy world back to the righteousness that only comes from God.
  • There would be confession – the admission, publicly, that we need to turn around. What an example this would be!

It’s not just that we would confess and repent, but we would also work to “make straight the path” which leads to Christ. A true Christian is a light in the world by which others may discern the path that leads home.

The Greatest Servant

Mat 11:11 NIV I tell you the truth: Among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist; yet he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.

The true servant of God knows…

It is obvious that if one aspires to greatness as a servant of God, there are some knowledge requirements. So, what does the true servant of God know?

  • He knows his tradition. He does not stand only on his own experience, but he adds the experience and wisdom of those who have gone before. This has prevented many a stupid mistake.
  • He knows his position. It is not for him to claim the credit, the glory, due to God. Rather, he has the humility to be what he has been called to be. His reward is not from men but from God.
  • He understands his mission. He understands his role in the kingdom, accepts it as such without complaint and then works hard to fulfill the tasks that position brings. It is a form of craftsmanship.
The true workman of God does…

There is something encouraging about watching a craftsman work his trade; you know that things are going to be done right. So what does the true workman do?

  • He gathers his disciples around him. There is no sense of solo flight for the workman; rather, he needs to have others to whom he can pass on the craft.
  • He then teaches those disciples. He does not teach them his own pet theories; rather, he passes on his craft to the next generation.
  • In so doing, he acts as a model for his disciples. As Paul expressed it:

2Th 3:6-10 NIV In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, we command you, brothers, to keep away from every brother who is idle and does not live according to the teaching[1] you received from us. (7) For you yourselves know how you ought to follow our example. We were not idle when we were with you, (8) nor did we eat anyone's food without paying for it. On the contrary, we worked night and day, laboring and toiling so that we would not be a burden to any of you. (9) We did this, not because we do not have the right to such help, but in order to make ourselves a model for you to follow. (10) For even when we were with you, we gave you this rule: "If a man will not work, he shall not eat."

The friend of God

The highest honor bestowed by God before the Resurrection was the title, “friend of God.” John shows us how this is done. May we see just two things about this?

  • There is nothing standing between the friend and God. For John this meant an ascetic life style; for Abraham, not so. But the principle is the same: God is first in each life.
  • Being a friend means sharing your Friend with your friends. So it is with John, many of whose disciples became disciples of Christ.

[1] Isa_40:3; Mal_4:5-6; Luk_1:11-17

[2] Followers of the cartoon strip “Drabble” may recognize the quote: “Every time I go with the flow, I get soaked.”

[3] I’m sure that some species of locust must be endangered.

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