John the Baptist (“Messenger of the New Covenant – 02”)

John the Baptist (“Messenger of the New Covenant – 02”)
[Message: Kobus van der Walt (Three Rivers Baptist Church – 03 December 2017)]

Matthew 3:1-12 (ESV) ~ “In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, 2 ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.’ 3 For this is he who was spoken of by the prophet Isaiah when he said, The voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord; make his paths straight.’ 4 Now John wore a garment of camel’s hair and a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey. 5 Then Jerusalem and all Judea and all the region about the Jordan were going out to him, 6 and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. 7 But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? 8 Bear fruit in keeping with repentance. 9 And do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father,’ for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham. 10 Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 11 ‘I baptize you with water for repentance, but he who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 12 His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into the barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.'”

Last Sunday, we’ve looked at John the Baptist’s background and the fact that he was the first prophet after the “400 years of prophetic silence” or the “intertestamental period” – i.e. the time between the last prophet in the Old Testament, Malachi and the appearance of John the Baptist whose primary mission was to announce the coming of the Messiah. Through his preaching, God prepared the stage for the coming of the New Covenant – the coming of the Messiah; the Saviour, Jesus Christ.

He preached in a desolate desert area – in the wilderness. He wore clothes made of camel’s hair and ate locusts and raw honey. He wasn’t afraid of the Pharisees and Sadducees and called them “a brood of vipers” (Matt.3:7). He called people to repent and he warned people of the coming judgement.

We also saw that the angel Gabriel announced the coming of John to his father Zechariah while he was burning incense in the temple. He and his wife were already old and his wife was well past childbearing age and yet, she conceived shortly after Gabriel’s announcement.

Barrenness in the case of Elizabeth (as in the case with Sarai, Rachel and Hannah, etc.) would eventually become her glory – her barrenness served as a staging ground for God’s glory.

John the Baptist was the child of promise and from her barrenness all the nations would be blessed. In a sense this child is the beginning of the blessing to all of the nations mentioned in Is.54:1.

The essence of John, the man that Jesus called “the greatest” (Matt.11:11), was that he would…:
” …be great in the sight of God.
” …be filled with the Holy Spirit.
” …turn many in Israel to God.
” …go before God in the spirit and power of Elijah.

We also saw that two main focus points in John’s ministry were the message he preached and the administering of baptism.

In reference to his preaching, we saw that the main focus of his preaching was Jesus Christ; the coming of the Kingdom; the demands of citizenship of this Kingdom and his warning of ultimate judgement.

I want us now to briefly look at John the Baptist’s administering of baptism:
o What was its mode? It is important for us to realise that the mode of baptism used by John was immersion and not sprinkling.

The Greek word that is used for baptism, is βαπτίζω (“baptizo”) which literally means to immerse or submerge an object into the water. It is clear therefore, that John immersed people in the river Jordan when he baptised them (Mark 1:5). We also saw that the Lord Jesus, after been baptised by John, came up “out of” the water (Mark 1:10), which clearly implies that He walked into the water – an act that more nearly suggests immersion than sprinkling. Furthermore, John baptised people in the Judean countryside because there was “much water”, or as we read in Joh.3:23 ~ “…because water was plentiful there…” Such a reference would hardly have been necessary if baptism can be administered with but a few drops of water. We also read in Mark 1:10 that when the baptism of Jesus by John was concluded the Lord came up out of the water, which clearly implies that he walked into the water – an act that more nearly suggests immersion than sprinkling.

o What elements accompanied the baptism? Several things were required of those submitting to John’s immersion (or baptism), in order for the right to have validity.
– First, the person that wants to be baptised, must possess a confidence in the Messianic message of the Old Testament and hence ~ “…to believe in the one who was to come after him (John), that is, Jesus” (Acts 19:4b).
– Second, the baptism was one “of repentance” (Mark.3:11), that is, resulting in a reformation of life.
– Third, John’s baptism involved a “confession of sin” (Matt.3:6).
– Finally, the purpose of the prophet’s immersion rite was “for the forgiveness of sins” (Mark 1:4).

When these requisites were satisfied, the individual received pardon, hence, was a part of that people, according to Luke 1:17, “prepared” for the Lord. He was “ready” to be set in the Saviour’s Kingdom when such was formally launched on Pentecost.

o What was the consequence of rejecting John’s baptism? We read in Luke 7:29 ~ “When all the people heard this, and the tax collectors too, they declared God just, having been baptized with the baptism of John.” Submitting to John’s baptism was described as “justifying” God, i.e., “…by receiving the baptism, they declared that it had been prescribed by God rightly.”

A rejection of the baptism, therefore, would have, in effect, “condemned” God for requiring it. Those who refused John’s immersion rejected for themselves the “council of God” i.e. “the purpose of God respecting salvation” as fulfilled in Christ.

One cannot but ask: “if the rejection of John’s baptism incurred such divine displeasure, what must be the fate of those who refuse the baptism of Him which is far greater than John?”

Many people ask the question whether those baptised by John, required to be “re-baptised” in order to enter the Church following the day of Pentecost? Accept for the fact that there is no clear evidence in the Bible that a “re-baptism” for John’s disciples were required, the work and baptisms by John in preparation for the coming of the Messiah, was effective, and those genuinely converted under John’s preaching – or for that matter under the Lord’s disciples (Joh.4:1-2), were not required to be immersed on Pentecost or afterward.

John’s message was, “repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matt.3:2). This implies that they surrendered to his “baptism of repentance” (Luke 3:3) and that would have granted them entrance into the kingdom when it arrived. Why require baptism in view of the coming Kingdom, if that baptism had nothing to do with entering the Kingdom? John baptised “for the forgiveness of sins” (Mark 1:4). If the sincere people who yielded to his baptism did not receive pardon from their sins, then John’s message was deceptive. We read following in Luke 1:77, when Zechariah said the following about John ~ “…to give knowledge of salvation to his people in the forgiveness of their sins.” If they did receive salvation through John’s baptism, why would they need salvation again on the day of Pentecost?

I just want to emphasise, that the act of baptism did not save the people, but it was through their faith in the Messianic message of the Old Testament and hence believing in the coming Saviour, Jesus Christ. Secondly through their confession and repentance of their sins.

John was eventually put in prison by Herod Antipas the then ruler of Galilee, because John denounced Herod and his “unlawful” live-together sister in law, Herodias’ sinful lifestyle. Herod influenced her to divorce his brother and they lived together. Herodias couldn’t stand John’s call to repentance and she was instrumental in the imprisonment of John.

The queen had a daughter, Salome, by her previous husband. On Herod’s birthday, he held a party and Herodias’ daughter danced a sensual dance for Herod. Herod was so pleased with her performance that he offered her whatever she wanted. She quickly consulted with her mother and we find her response in Mark 6:24-29 ~ “…And she went out and said to her mother, ‘For what should I ask?’ And she said, ‘The head of John the Baptist.’ And she came in immediately with haste to the king and asked, saying, ‘I want you to give me at once the head of John the Baptist on a platter.’ And the king was exceedingly sorry, but because of his oaths and his guests he did not want to break his word to her. And immediately the king sent an executioner with orders to bring John’s head. He went and beheaded him in the prison and brought his head on a platter and gave it to the girl, and the girl gave it to her mother. When his disciples heard of it, they came and took his body and laid it in a tomb.” John the Baptist – the messenger of the New Covenant; the “preparer,” was dead.

What can we learn from the story of this eccentric man?

“Whole-hearted believing in Jesus Christ is possible. John the Baptist could have believed in and worshipped any number of gods available to him before Jesus arrived on the scene. But at some point in his life, John knew that the Messiah was coming. He believed this with his whole heart and spent his days “preparing the way” for the Lord’s coming (Matt.11:10). But the road was not an easy one to prepare. Daily he faced doubters of various influence and popularity who did not share his enthusiasm for the coming Messiah. Under hard questioning from the Pharisees, John shared his belief ~ “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” (Joh.1:26-27). John believed in the Christ and his great faith prepared him for hardships, it also kept him steadfast on his course until the time when he could say as he saw Jesus approach ~ “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (Joh.1:29). As believers, we can all have this steadfast faith and endure hardship.

John shows us how to stand firm in our faith no matter what the circumstances. Paul reminded Timothy that “everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Tim.3:12). But for many of us who live in freedom, persecution takes on a very mild form. As he lived in an occupied country, John had to be aware that anything contrary to utter devotion to the king or emperor, was asking for trouble. Yet his message was unchanging, bold and strong. It was John’s belief, his message, and his continual rebuke of King Herod that landed him in prison. As Christians, we all will have our faith put to the test, and we will either falter in our faith or, like John, cling to Christ and stand firm in our faith to the end.

The appearance of John the Baptist has long been prophesied in the Old Testament. From these fulfilled prophecies, we can have the confidence that God is truly the Living God who will do what He pleases.

God demonstrated through the life and ministry of John, that He is the One who does great wonders and miracles. Sometimes, God causes women to conceive and shows everyone that He has caused it to happen. Therefore, any accomplishment that the child will achieve in his life, should give glory to God and all credit should come back to Him.

We read in Matthew 3:1-2 that John was very enthusiastic and motivated to preach the Kingdom of God ~ “In those days came John the Baptist, preaching in the wilderness of Judaea, and saying, Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Just like John the Baptist, we need to have the burning desire to preach the Gospel to this dying world. From his early life, John already knew what he needs to do. He made it his lifetime commitment to really put God’s work first in his life.

One of the primary missions of John was to prepare a people for the coming of the Messiah. By preaching about repentance and baptizing people in the water, John was fulfilling the work set before him right before his birth. In the same way, it is our Christian duty to be prepared for the second coming of our Lord and Saviour Jesus. We don’t have the guarantee that we will still be alive tomorrow, next week, next month, or next year. Thus, it is a must that we should be prepared anytime.

There’s one statement made by John the Baptist that we must all take heed of. He said in Joh.3:30 ~ “He must increase, but I must decrease.” This is the mind-set that we must all have. We need to make sure that we are decreasing and Christ is increasing in us.

There’s no doubt that standing on the truth can bring you into trouble. This is certainly what happened to John the Baptist. He called sin a sin. He called it as it is. After criticizing the king, he was imprisoned and ultimately executed. Should this stop us from doing the right thing? Of course, not! This should rather inspire us and be more resilient and brave even in the face of death.

John had a divine revelation from God; he had a message. But more than that, the message “had him.” You and I have the Word of God – we are men with a message. But that message will never have great impact in our times until it has taken hold of us. May we be marked out in our communities as those men and women whose lives manifest that God is in us. May God grant this to be true in our lives.

Not only should we learn from John, let us also learn from Herod. Herod was a man strangely attracted by John’s preaching, yet also repelled by it. Herod’s problem, like many of us, is that his morality had control of his theology. Man’s rejection of the Gospel is seldom based, in the final analysis, upon theology, or upon intellectual hang-ups, but on morality. Believing the Gospel would mean cleaning up our act. Herod attempted to straddle the fence. He was somehow trapped between Herodias and John. Just as his morality finally was his downfall, so will it be with all who reject the Gospel. My friend, if you understand your sin and understand that Jesus Christ has died for your sins, don’t delay. Surrender to Him who can save.

John’s ministry has much to say to us about Evangelism. Today, Evangelistic methodology seems to be best summarised by the words, “Accentuate the positive, eliminate the negative.” We avoid the ugly matter of sin and the wrath of God. The fires of hell and the future judgement of eternal damnation are considered pass. John, as the Lord and his apostles, did emphasise the day of judgement. The way we present the Gospel, there is no more urgency about conversion then buying a set of books or joining a social club.

When sharing and preaching the Gospel, we must preach the message of John. We should not only speak of grace and love and salvation, but we must also speak and preach of sin and damnation. The problem of today’s Evangelism is that it speaks to little of sin and damnation – if at all! Let’s be reminded by John’s preaching that the Gospel of God begins with the bad news of man’s sin and impending damnation and ends with the Good News of Jesus’s work on the cross.

The godly character of John inevitably made him a good example to others. Are you also a good example to others?

The life of John the Baptist is filled with lessons we can apply in our time. We need to take heed of them and ensure that we really understood what it means to live a life wholly dedicated to God.

Kobus & Jeanne van der Walt

We can summarise this message as follows:
” Repentance;
” Endurance;
” Christ must increase and I must decrease;
” Spread the Word.

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