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.
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.
must object: the human experience is bound up in rite and ceremony. We use
such things for a variety of purposes:
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.
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.
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.
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
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!
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
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.
baptism of Christ
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:
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).
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.
there is the divine example. What nobleman could refuse baptism because
of his high position when the King of Kings was baptized?
worth noting that John’s ministry is prophesied in the Old Testament.
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
of the prophet
role of a prophet in the Old Testament does not seem at all to be “get along,
In fact, it is quite the opposite – which generates opposition.
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.
most common function of the prophet (at least in our view) is foretelling
the future. In this case, the foretelling is about Christ.
sermons, unpopular prophecies; it is no wonder that John is the “voice in the
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.
But we might see it as an example for us in other ways:
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?
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?
man walked the talk. Go and do likewise.
our own lives
we took this man seriously. What effect would it have on our own lives today?
would be repentance – a turn from the sins of this lazy world back to the
righteousness that only comes from God.
would be confession – the admission, publicly, that we need to turn
around. What an example this would be!
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.
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.
true servant of God knows…
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?
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.
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.
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.
true workman of God does…
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?
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
then teaches those disciples. He does not teach them his own pet
theories; rather, he passes on his craft to the next generation.
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 you received from us. (7)
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."
friend of God
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?
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.
a friend means sharing your Friend with your friends. So it is with John,
many of whose disciples became disciples of Christ.