John the Baptist
- Main Text: John 1:19-34
- Accompanying text: Psalm 32:1-2
John’s “Gospel opens with two witnesses who both speak: John the author and John who baptises…the two witnesses point to who Jesus is. Nothing less than the whole story and theology of Israel lies underneath these stories, which is why, if you have ever heard preaching from them, it can go on for a very long time” (1).
The Apostle John’s detailed knowledge of John the Baptist’s life and his involvement with the Sanhedrin implies that the former was in all probability a disciple of the latter and that he had witnessed the events personally. Such details include places where events occurred (John 1:21; 3:23), exact timings of when things were said (1:29, 35,39), etc. The Sanhedrin would send their agents to judge the claims of prophets to see whether they were false. This explains the context of John 1:22 when the priests and Levites asked John the Baptist, “So they said to him, ‘Who are you? We need to give an answer to those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?’” (ESV). When they asked him, “Then why are you baptizing, if you are neither the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?” (1:25), the examination was continuing. The Pharisees’ tradition was that the cleansing of baptism was reserved ordinarily for proselytes, but John was baptising those who had been born Jews.
Thoughts re application today
Bear Grylls’ take on the baptism of Christ is of interest. He wrote, “If Jesus was without sin, why did he allow John the Baptist to baptise him? John asked the same question: ‘I’m the one who needs to be baptised, not you!’ he stated (Matthew 3:13-14 MSG). John knew that Jesus had no sins to wash away. Yet Jesus insisted. The location matters. The River Jordan flows into the Dead Sea. At more than 1,300 feet below sea level, it’s officially the lowest surface on earth. So when Jesus was submerged beneath the surface, He was below the lowest place on earth — below anyone else on earth. This was all so beautifully planned. Salvation was all so beautifully planned. Salvation would involve Jesus going to the lowest point — taking on the worst of humanity, the bottom of the pile, as the servant king. His baptism here was such a symbolic statement. The Bible says that the heavens opened and a voice spoke: ‘This is my son, whom I love, with him I well pleased’ (Matthew 3:17). A dove descended. Jesus rose out of the water. His ministry, his mission, now began, and it all started in the exact place God intended” (2).
Just as John the Baptist prepared the way for the ministry of the Incarnate Word, so Christians continue to prepare the way for the Word’s continuing ministry to the world and for Christ’s Second Coming. We are all involved in preparing the way of the Lord so that others can hear the Gospel message and be convicted by the Holy Spirit. This preparation involves our being “ready in season and out of season” (2 Timothy 4:2), our being “ready for every good work” (Titus 3:1), “and, as shoes for your feet, (our) having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace” (Ephesians 6:15). Sometimes our lifestyle choices, or what we say and/or do, can be stumbling blocks for others instead of part of the Gospel preparation. Therefore, “Build up, build up, prepare the way, remove every obstruction from my people’s way” says God (Isaiah 57:14). “How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who publishes peace, who brings good news of happiness, who publishes salvation, who says to Zion, ‘Your God reigns’” (Isaiah 52:7). We prepare others for the Gospel as we witness to the fact that “Our God reigns” through our grace-filled words and deeds.
- Luke 3:1-22
- Malachi 3:1-2
Footnotes and references
- Ian Galloway, Called to be Friends: Unlocking the heart of John’s Gospel, published by Hodder & Stoughton, UK, 2021:28.
- Bear Grylls, Soul Fuel: a Daily Devotional, published by Hodder & Stoughton, UK in 2019:294.