Yesterday, I did a lot of speculation about what it might have been like for John the Baptist as a child. Since we don’t have a lot of biblical proof to go by, we can only imagine what it might have been like for John to grow up with the knowledge that he would become the last prophet to the Messiah. From our own human experiences, we can only imagine what kind of sacrifices during John’s childhood that he might have experienced in preparation for that incredible job.
Today, we’ll fast forward to John’s ultimate sacrifice for the sake of Jesus.
As I pointed out yesterday, John the Baptist and Jesus started out parallel to one another, but once Jesus was born their lives diverged. We do not have biblical proof of whether or not they ever even crossed paths again during their childhood and early adult years, even at family gatherings or in Jerusalem during Passover.
There’s a huge gap in Luke’s gospel in both Jesus’ and John’s lives. Chapter two ends ends with Jesus as a child in the temple with the teachers, having his parents worried to death that they had lost him in the city someplace.
Chapter three fast forwards to John and Jesus as adults “around 30 years of age“.
I like Luke’s account of Jesus’ and John’s birth story, but I think he falls a little flat recounting the scene when the two distant cousins meet again. Luke just doesn’t give a lot of details, so we have to look at the other gospels with Luke to fill in those details that really put us into the story that sets the tone for John’s martyrdom.
God prepares John
Apparently, John had been living in the wilderness for quite sometime. What a lonely existence it must have been for John, living alone eating only wild honey and locusts. But, he wasn’t fully alone.
Luke 1:80 says that John grew strong in spirit. The Greek word used here is pnӗuma (sorry for the split, but wordpress does not recognize the symbol above the “e”). According to Strong’s Concordance, there are three possible meanings of the Greek word: “spirit or Spirit”, “wind” or “breath”. Since the only one of the three that makes sense in this context is “Spirit”, and Strong’s says that this is the most common application of the word, we can conclude that the Holy Spirit was with John all the time John was in the wilderness, preparing his heart and mind for the task of preparing the way for Jesus Christ.
He needed God to be with him, because it wasn’t going to be an easy job. He was going to face a lot of criticism and trials. John couldn’t go it alone.
We know from all four gospels that John was the one who baptized Jesus Christ. That was the end of God’s work for John. Prepare, baptize the people, and then baptize Jesus Christ.
The road was not going to be easy. Life of a prophet never was.
When John emerged from the wilderness, many of the people thought he was a crazed mad man, even possessed with a demon (Matthew 11:18).
While the lowly members of society such as the tax collectors and soldiers (Luke 3: 12-14) accepted John’s message of repentance and baptism, others didn’t appreciate it one bit.
The Levites, priests, Pharisees and Sadducees questioned John’s authority to baptize.
“Why then are you baptizing if you are neither the Messiah, nor Elijah, nor the prophet?”
The end draws near
Herod and his mistress Herodias did not like John’s condemnation of their affair, and had him locked up in prison and had him beheaded (Matt. 14:6-12)
We often forget that John was the first one to lay his life down for the sake of Jesus.
John knew that this was the way things had to be. He willingly accepted his fate for the sake of Christ. He never once complained about it, but rather rejoiced.
“The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” – Mark 1:7, 8
“You yourselves bear me witness, that I said, ‘I am not the Christ, but I have been sent before him.’ The one who has the bride is the bridegroom. The friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice. Therefore this joy of mine is now complete. 30 He must increase, but I must decrease.” – John 3:28-30
John knew that once Jesus was baptized, his work was complete. In order for Jesus to be taken seriously by the people as the Messiah, John would have to face the ultimate sacrifice. His time on earth was coming to a quick end.
John’s demise came at the hands of Herod and his mistress Herodias. They did not like that John’s told them that their affair was wrong in God’s eyes. They did not accept the message of repentance and had John arrested, bound, thrown in prison and beheaded (Matt. 14:1-12). He was killed because he spoke God’s truth.
Before John was martyred for the sake of Christ’s ministry, Jesus publicly praised John, confirming John’s place in history.
“As they went away, Jesus began to speak to the crowds about John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to look at? A reed shaken by the wind? What then did you go out to see? Someone dressed in soft robes? Look, those who wear soft robes are in royal palaces. What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. This is the one about whom it is written,‘See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way before you.’ Truly I tell you, among those born of women no one has arisen greater than John the Baptist; yet the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence, and the violent take it by force. For all the prophets and the law prophesied until John came; and if you are willing to accept it, he is Elijah who is to come. Let anyone with ears listen!” – Matt. 11:7-15
Lessons from John the Baptist
As we head into Lent, a time when we traditionally think about our own baptism and walk with God, let us remember John’s example.
There was a thirst among the people for word from God. There was a period of about 400 years prior to John where God was silent. When John appeared out of the wilderness, preaching, teaching and baptizing, the people flocked to him to quench that thirst.
In his popularity, John could have grabbed the power for himself. He could have elevated his own purpose.
But instead, John humbly accepted that he was merely God’s messenger. Nothing more, nothing less. He pointed the people in the direction of Christ. John gladly “decreased” his own stature, so that God’s glory would be known through Christ.
He also willingly accepted that he would have to lay his own life down for the sake of Christ.
During this Lenten season, let our hearts be as humble as John the Baptist’s, and help us to make less of our own lives and more of Christ’s. Let us be the light of Christ for people who are desperate to hear the good news of Christ, even if our message might seem a little harsh at time. Let us be bold in our witness, just as John was. Let a great revival for Christ begin just as it did in John’s time. Let it begin with us and end with Christ, like it did with John and Jesus. Let God prepare our hearts and minds, just like he did for John, to carry out God’s mission and ministry on a daily basis. And let us remember that our Christian lives are never meant to be easy, but God is always with us.
In John the Baptist’s honor, sing with me Prepare Ye from the musical Godspell
During Lent, I will be writing a special series “Around the World in 40 days”. Every day during Lent, except on Mondays when I’ll still feature “Weekly Saint”, we will take a look at a different country and what is going on with Christians in that country. Every day, I will also feature a special cultural recipe, craft or experience about that country. But most importantly, we’ll learn about how we can pray and act on behalf of our brothers and sisters in Christ in the daily featured country.