So often, we call Stephen the first martyred Christian that we forget about John the Baptist.
I came across an interesting painting of Mary, Stephen and John the Baptist by the 16th century artist Parmigianino that reminded me of John’s sacrifices for Jesus. It reminded me that we cannot forget that John was also a Christian martyr.
John’s and Jesus’ start in life
All four gospels talk about John the Baptist, but I like Luke’s account the best because it provides a parallel birth story to Jesus’.
Both Jesus’s and John’s births were prophesied about in Isaiah.
Jesus’ mother Mary received an angelic announcement of her impending miraculous pregnancy. John’s father Zechariah was visited by the same angel who told that he would have a son in his and his wife’s old age, a miracle in itself.
Both Jesus’ mother and John’s mother thought that they were incredibly blessed to be pregnant with sons that would change the world.
Both Jesus’ and John’s naming “ceremonies” and circumcisions were emphasized in Luke’s gospel.
Luke’s gospel also makes the family connection between John and Jesus: they were distant cousins.
John’s childhood: The first sacrifice for Jesus?
While there are similarities surrounding their birth stories, their childhood is where John’s and Jesus’ paths diverge.
As a child, Jesus spent time in exile in Egypt. After the exile, he grew up in the fairly populated town of Nazareth. He probably learned his father’s carpentry. We also know from Luke 2 that he traveled every year to Jerusalem with his family for Passover. Jesus traveled, was educated and knowledgeable about God’s ways. Well, as the Most High incarnate, of course he was.
Conversely, we know very little about John’s childhood. There is no evidence to support that John’s parents had to leave their home to register for Augustus’ census. John lived in Hebron, so his parents probably did not have to flee to escape Herod’s killing of all male infants in Bethlehem. And we do not know that John ever had any training or education.
We only know that he “grew and became strong in spirit, and he was in the wilderness until the day he appeared publicly to Israel.” (Luke 1: 80).
At what age did John leave his parents and go into the wilderness? When did he start wearing a camel hair garment with a leather belts and eating only locusts and wild honey (Matt. 3:4; Mark 1:6)?
These are question we cannot answer.
Some scholars say that John had no knowledge of who Jesus was. They base this theory on John 1:29-34 where John does not recognize Jesus when Jesus came to be baptized by John.
But, I am sure that John would have had knowledge of Jesus, even if he didn’t recognize him as an adult.
He must have been taught about his life’s role in relationship to his cousin’s from an early age because the circumstances of John’s birth was a legend.
all these things were talked about throughout the entire hill country of Judea. – Luke 1:65
I live in a small town and know that local legends rarely die. Stories of major significance are passed down from generation to generation. John’s birth was a legend, especially in relation to the coming of the Messiah, whom John’s parents knew was Jesus. So, it’s easy for me to believe that John must have been told the story from time to time, and must have been told that he would become a prophet for the Messiah.
Additionally, Zechariah was a proud dad, prophesying about his baby boy’s role in the coming of the Messiah.
And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High;
for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways,
to give knowledge of salvation to his people
by the forgiveness of their sins.
By the tender mercy of our God,
the dawn from on high will break upon us,
to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the way of peace.” – Luke 1:76-79
Surely, Zechariah’s prophesy, heard by all the people at John’s naming and circumcision, would have been part of that legend talked about throughout the land.
John’s parents thought it was a blessing for their child to be the last prophet to the Messiah, but others might not have seen it that way. Prophets, while considered among the Jewish people to be God’s holy spokespersons, were not wildly popular because their message often told the people that they were disobedient to God in someway and needed to repent or suffer the consequences.
If John grew up with the knowledge that he would become a prophet, this would have been the first sacrifice that he made on behalf of his cousin.
To grow up knowing that you will become someone who is often considered an outsider, someone who will be making proclamations about some very important people and telling people what they’re doing wrong against God might have been a pretty heavy burden for a child.
But, God’s spirit was with John. Instead of being jealous of his cousin, he took on the role of prophet on Jesus’ behalf, and obeyed and fulfilled God’s will.
Tomorrow, I will continue this two-part edition of “Weekly Saint” where we’ll look at John’s Ultimate Sacrifice.
See you tomorrow!
Good night, and may God bless and keep you until then.