John the Baptist (7.4.20)
John the Baptist is one of my favorites to study and look up to in scripture. I pray today’s study is a true blessing for your spiritual life.
Who is John the Baptist?
John the Baptist lived the first thirty years of his life in the obscurity of the Judean desert. The story of his miraculous birth is told in Luke 1.
Read Luke 1:5-17.
Here is what the angel says about John the Baptist:
“… for he will be great before the Lord.”
“… he will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb.”
“… he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God.”
“… he will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready for the Lord a people prepared.”
Mark’s Gospel also begins with the testimony of John the Baptist.
Mark 1:1-3 The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. As it is written in Isaiah the prophet, “Behold, I send my messenger before your face, who will prepare your way, the voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight’”
So, John is the promised voice calling out and preparing the people for the Lord. He is the announcer that the Lord has come, but more than the angels who announced His birth. He is a special man, chosen by God, and led by the Holy Spirit, to ready God’s chosen people for the work of Christ to save them from their sins.
John 1:6-7 There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness, to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him.
John the Beloved (the author of the Gospel of John), unlike the other Gospel writers, is not concerned with the history of John the Baptist. Instead, he is concerned with the message of John the Baptist.
So, to John, it doesn’t matter where he lived; it doesn’t matter what he wore; it doesn’t matter that he wore a camel-hair coat; it doesn’t matter that he ate locusts and wild honey.
The history of this man, as remarkable and wonderful as it is, isn’t the focus of John. What matters is what he said. So that is what we must focus on.
We will see this as we dig into verse 19. The priest and the Levites are trying to focus on who John the Baptist is and all John is concerned about is what John the Baptist has to say. Look with me.
- Not the Christ
John 1:19-20 And this is the testimony of John, when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?” He confessed, and did not deny, but confessed, “I am not the Christ.”
Huge numbers of people are flocking to hear this strange preacher in the wilderness, and many have been baptized by him. A great stir has been made—so much so that many begin to wonder if he is the promised messiah. Remember that Christ means messiah. Here he says clearly, “I am not the Christ.” Why is it a big deal for him to say this so bluntly?
John’s ministry has become so big that it has drawn the attention of the big-time Jewish, religious leaders of the day—so much so that they have traveled to come and see what all the buzz was about. In order to understand why John was growing such a big following, we have to understand the culture at the time.
The Roman Empire is ruling over everything and dominating all of life. The Jewish world is already on edge and now they are hearing a great deal of talk about the coming of the messiah—the greatest news they could imagine—the promised one of God. People are ripe for a deliverer. John is testifying of one. He is preaching a new beginning. “Come, repent of your old ways and look to the messiah.”
What I love about John is this: here come the top guys in his game, the coolest cats in town, the guys by whom you want to be known and recognized. Instead of letting the fear of man sway him—instead of putting the light on himself—he is all about pointing to Jesus and he wants no credit.
This is why he says so bluntly, “I am not the Christ,” and leaves it at that. He doesn’t say, “Hey, check out my portfolio, let me show you how much I have accomplished.” Again, this is huge considering that, in these guys’ eyes, he would have had a lot to prove considering he isn’t an established or trained rabbi.
Now, realize that John is a nobody in the Jewish elite circles. He has not been trained in the schools of the rabbis. He has held no position of honor in the temple, and he is not identified with either the Pharisees, the Sadducees, or the Herodians.
So, from whom then, has he received his authority? Who has commissioned him to preach and call men to “repent?” By what authority does he baptize people?
What I love is that he boldly stands his ground. Why? Because he knows who sent him—the Holy God. He knows who he came to proclaim. But the inquiry continues.
- Not Elijah
John 1:21a And they asked him, “What then? Are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not.”
Now, why do they ask him if he is Elijah? Elijah had been carried into heaven almost 900 years earlier.
It was because Elijah didn’t die, but was carried into heaven, that people believed Elijah would come again to the earth. This commonly held belief is confirmed later by the disciples who answer Jesus’ inquiry about who they thought He was.
Matthew 16:13-14 Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”
Now, this expectation of the Jews to look for Elijah has a scriptural foundation. In the last verses of the Old Testament, it says:
Malachi 4:5-6 “Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the Lord comes. And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the land with a decree of utter destruction.”
The problem is, this prophecy refers to the return to earth of Elijah to perform a ministry just before the second coming of Christ. What we will see is that the work of John the Baptist, just prior to the beginning of the ministry of Christ in His first coming, is remarkably similar.
This similarity is so much so that the word given to John’s father, in Luke 1:16-17, was “he [speaking of John] will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God, and he will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready for the Lord a people prepared.”
The grilling and inquiry continue.
- Not the Prophet
John 1:21b “Are you the Prophet?” And he answered, “No.”
To whom is “the Prophet” a reference? The answer is the “prophet” predicted through Moses. This is a prediction recorded in Deuteronomy.
Deuteronomy 18:15 and 18 “The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your brothers—it is to him you shall listen” “I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers. And I will put my words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him.”
This is one of the many messianic prophecies given in Old Testament times which received its fulfillment in the person of the Lord Jesus Christ. So, again, John says, “No.”
John 1:22-23 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?” He said, “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’ as the prophet Isaiah said.”
When John refers to himself as “the voice,” he is employing the very term which the Holy Spirit had used, seven hundred years earlier, when speaking through Isaiah the prophet.
Isaiah 40:3 A voice cries: “In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord; make straight in the desert a highway for our God.”
Stop and consider with me the difference, and yet the tie, between the title of Jesus as “the Word” and the title of John as “the voice.”
A.W. Pink points out something wonderful in its connection here:
“In the first place, the word exists (in the mind) before the voice articulates it. Such was the relation between Christ and His forerunner. It is true that John was the first to appear before the public eye; yet, as the ‘Word,’ Christ had existed from all eternity. Second, the voice is simply the vehicle or medium by which the word is expressed or made known. Such was John. The object of his mission and the purpose of his ministry was to bear witness to ‘the Word.’ Again, the voice is simply heard but not seen. John was not seeking to display himself. His work was to get men to listen to his God-given message in order that they might behold ‘the Lamb.’”
We need not miss how we can apply this to our own lives today. Like John, may we embrace our God-given call to testify to and share witness of Christ to others—to be his “voices.” Most importantly, though, that we be heard but not seen! In other words, that we make our lives about Him and not about us. When they hear us speak, or see us live, may we be like John and constantly point to Jesus. May our hearers and watchers see and know Jesus as a result of their time spent around us.
Another great point is this: once the voice or the testimony goes silent, it is the word that endures. The word endures after the voice is silent.
May this be true of us, also—that long after we have left the scene, or even this world, the Word, Jesus Christ, is the one people remember. If you forget who I, Joshua Kirstine, am, but as a result of my life, testimony, preaching, and influence, you know, walk with, and enjoy Jesus, praise be to God. When approached to speak about what I have done, I want my answer to point to all that Jesus has done. To Him be the glory. To Him be the fame.
So, when John says that he is the voice, he is saying, “It is my great privilege to point to Jesus.”
John is essentially saying, “I am just a man who has been called to point to the One in the spotlight. I am just one voice in a big land that is very lost saying, ‘Get ready. The messiah is coming; hope is coming; the one that can save us from ourselves, our fleeting pursuit of our fame, and the lie we have lived in for far too long is coming—freedom is coming!’”
He is saying: I am just a little, tiny, galactic nobody of a man; the one who is coming, the one for whom I live and to whom I point—He is the holy God! He is everything, and I am not. Please don’t mistake me for Him.
John is saying, “My name is, ‘I am not,’ but you are looking for ‘I am.’”
The inquisition, and challenging of John’s authority to baptize, continues.
John 1:24-28 (Now they had been sent from the Pharisees.) They asked him, “Then why are you baptizing, if you are neither the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?” John answered them, “I baptize with water, but among you stands one you do not know, even he who comes after me, the strap of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie.” These things took place in Bethany across the Jordan, where John was baptizing.
Do you see what John does in this answer? He doesn’t engage with them about his merits to practice water baptism. Instead, he confirms that he does, indeed, practice water baptism, but he makes it clear that the formality, or religious practice, of baptism is not the issue.
The issue is Christ. The most important topic is Jesus, and who Jesus is to them. He declares that they do not know the one who stands among them—the one whom he has been sent to point to and announce, the one who will change everything, the only one through whom one can have new life—Jesus Christ.
Here is another big take away for us today: we, the body of Christ, are often guilty of allowing the religious world, and the secular world who do not know Jesus personally, to argue and debate over secondary issues—about form and function, or secondary doctrines—when the doctrine that brings new life is ignored or set aside.
These people claim Jesus, but they know Him not! We must, first and foremost, talk about Jesus.
I watched an interview once with a prominent pastor who was being interviewed on a TV show. He was being grilled about what he thought on one issue after another, but the pastor simply said, “What we must first talk about is who is Jesus and who is Jesus in your life?”
Why is this so important? Because, until one has new life in Christ and his heart is spiritually discerned, he cannot obey God’s law. The word of God, and the ways of the Christian, will be folly to him. So, to turn to discussions of secondary issues, is to talk about something he has no power, or will, to obey—not until God has given him new birth, a new heart, and a trust in Christ as Lord and Savior of his life. And so, because Jesus must come first, John doesn’t get caught up in the secondary issues. He keeps the focus, first and foremost, on Christ.
Humbly Living for Him
Next, John says, “This one I speak of, the one whom you do not know, is so important and big that, ‘even he who comes after me, the strap of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie.’ Even though he is physically younger than I; even though I am his elder, I am not worthy to do the work of the lowest slave and untie his sandals.”
Remember John 1:15 John bore witness about him, and cried out, “This is he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks before me, because he was before me.’”
John knows that even though Jesus was born after him, He was already in the story long before him. Why? Because, as we have already covered, Jesus is eternal. John knows that Jesus is the eternal Son of God. Jesus is so vast, and worthy, and magnificent, that John is not even worthy to untie His sandals.
We have to get this, too! We have to start seeing what John saw so clearly—this thing called life, that you and I do every day, is not for all the stuff for which we typically do life.
Hear this from me today: In recognizing our place in the shadow of the Lord Jesus, we should feel humbled and not humiliated. Recognizing who Christ is, compared to ourselves, doesn’t mean we are to wither into a hole and feel lonely, miserable, unloved, and down.
John doesn’t do that; he joyfully lives life, even though he has a right view of who he is in comparison to Jesus.
Let’s think about this for a moment:
John has many reasons to proclaim that he is someone important. He is no ordinary man. He is the key subject of Old Testament prophecy, the son of a priest, born as the result of the direct intervention of God’s power. He has been filled with the Holy Spirit from his mother’s womb, engaged in a ministry, which has drawn great multitudes unto himself. And yet, John understands, rightly, who Jesus is and, therefore, who he is in His shadow. In the shadow of the holy and divine, he is not even worthy to hold His sandals at the door.
The question for us is: what else, what other stuff, what little waste-of-time trophy or personal glory, do we make our lives about instead of Jesus?
No matter where you are with God today, you have to hear the massive revelation this is to our everyday lives. You have to see that Jesus is what your entire existence is about—why you breathe, why you go to school, why you work, why you parent, why you date, why you eat and drink, why you do anything.
We are to live, and lead, like John did, making a big impact on the things we do and the people we are around, but at the same time realizing every step of the way that, when we accomplish great things or taste success, we do so knowing that God has been on the scene a long time, and He is the source for our vision, giftedness, opportunity, creativity, energy, and breath.
It is for His glory, not our own, that we do good things and we succeed!
John says that he is not even worthy to untie His filthy sandals. You have to understand what a lowly task it was, in that day, to even touch someone’s sandals—covered in feces, filth, and grime. To do this task was to interact with nothing you would ever want to touch with your bare hands, and John says he is not even worthy to do that job.
Now, this acknowledgement is either a recognition of how lowly he is or how high the person is of whom he speaks. In this case, I believe it is both. John understands how low he is in the towering shadow of the Son of God! John knows who he isn’t and who God is.
Do you get this in your life? If you say you get it, does your life truly represent this fact? One of the greatest blessings we can give each other is to model this for each other. When the world sees us getting low and serving others, may they see us pointing to Jesus who humbles the proud and lifts up the downtrodden.
There is a lot we can learn from John the Baptist. This is just a taste. I pray it is a helpful and inspiring look at how we can better live humbly for our King.
By His grace and for His glory,
Soldiers for Jesus MC