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4. John the Baptist

Updated: May 4, 2023



New Testament


...The word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness. He went into all the country around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. As it is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet:


“A voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him. Every valley shall be filled in, every mountain and hill made low. The crooked roads shall become straight, the rough ways smooth. And all people will see God’s salvation.’”


John said to the crowds coming out to be baptized by him, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.” Luke 3: 4-9 (NIV)


The people were waiting expectantly and were all wondering in their hearts if John might possibly be the Messiah. John answered them all, “I baptize you with water. But one who is more powerful than I will come, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.” And with many other words John exhorted the people and proclaimed the good news to them. Luke 3: 15-18 (NIV)


All four gospels paint quite a detailed picture of John the Baptist. Jesus and his cousin are now 30 years old. Remember, Luke began his version with the announcement of the miraculous pregnancy of Elizabeth and Zachariah. These two cousins first met while both were still in their mothers’ wombs:


When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. In a loud voice she exclaimed: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear!... As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. Luke 1:41-44 (NIV)


Luke tells us that John is the result of a supernatural birth, full of the Holy Spirit, great in the sight of the Lord. Before his birth, John was prophesied to bring back many of the people of Israel to the Lord. He will go before the Lord in the spirit and power of Elijah to make the people ready and prepared for the Lord. He will live in the wilderness until the time is right for him to appear publicly to Israel.


If you read the first two chapters of both Luke and Matthew, you will know everything that our Christian Bible gives us regarding the childhoods of these two cousins. Both sets of parents were aware of the cosmic circumstances surrounding both births. Both sons, John and Jesus, were aware of the presence of the Holy Spirit indwelling in them; both sons knew the Lord intimately. I wonder how often these two sons played together. What did they talk about together? What did their parents talk about?


The nation of Israel, the mighty people of God, at the time of the birth of John and Jesus is now part of Rome. It is allowed to worship it's God in the holy city of Jerusalem but only under the military power of the Roman Empire. The second Holy Temple exists, but only with the permission of Rome’s authority. Jerusalem, uniting the twelves tribes of Israel during the time of King David, had been leveled by the Babylonians. Solomon’s Temple was destroyed. The inhabitants had been exiled from their holy home. The city was allowed to be rebuilt under Persian rule but at this time, the city has fallen under the powerful Roman Empire. Between the end of the Assyrian rule and the Roman occupation of Jerusalem, our Christian Bible is silent for some 400 years from the last prophet’s voice until the time of the angelic visitations to the parents of John and Jesus.


Now the time has come for the Messiah to be revealed. These accounts of John the Baptist are so full of meaning. Every gospel quotes Isaiah the prophet. John expresses such righteous anger at the Israelite leaders and warns of wrath if they do not repent: “You brood of vipers! “ He tells them that claiming Abraham as their father will not save them if they do not learn to produce good fruit. He tells the Jewish people that he is not the Messiah promised through the prophets but one more powerful than he is coming with the Holy Spirit. Salvation is promised; Jesus is coming. Yeshua.


The Jews are God’s chosen people, So, why is God’s Beloved, Israel, now under the oppression of Rome? If they are God’s favored, why have they been allowed to be enslaved and oppressed by other nations that do not recognize and worship the living God that has chosen Israel as his beloved? What has happened to that holy covenant with the Patriarchs in which the Lord had promised blessing and protection?

 

Discussion

  • Are you in an intimate relationship with God? What would that involve and look like?

  • What has kept you from being close to God? What in your life has made you closer to God?

 

Old Testament


Abraham


The Lord had said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you.


“I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing.

I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.”

So Abram went, as the Lord had told him...Genesis 12: 1-4 (NIV)


The book of Genesis is so full of history. It moves quite rapidly as it tells the sad story of God’s beloved creation as it falls away from God into sin and depravity. After the accounts of the flood and the Tower of Babel, Abraham is introduced. What made Abram so special that he would receive this covenant, this promise of blessing, from the almighty Lord? Maybe the answer is simply that Abram went, as the Lord had told him. God called Abraham to follow him and Abraham left everything he knew.


Genesis records a relationship between the Lord and Abraham that is very intimate and mysterious. The story of Abraham and his wife, Sarah, begins with God’s calling of Abram in chapter 12 and continues until Abraham’s death in Genesis 24. Abraham and Sarah are chosen and supernaturally blessed by God to birth a son in their old age. This small family would grow in number as the beloved nation of Israel and birth two other sons supernaturally in the fullness of God’s time: John to another mother old in years, and Jesus, the very Son of God, to a virgin.


A beautiful summary of the Old Testament’s account of God’s chosen child, Israel, who grows into the beautiful Jerusalem, is found in the Book of Acts. Read Acts 7 as we skip far ahead in God’s story. Stephen’s story occurs after the death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus: Now Stephen, a man full of God’s grace and power, performed great wonders and signs among the people. As the Christian Church begins to grow following Jesus' resurrection, Stephen is being questioned by the Jewish leaders.


Listen to his scathing remarks to the Jewish leaders: “You stiff-necked people! Your hearts and ears are still uncircumcised. You are just like your ancestors: You always resist the Holy Spirit! Was there ever a prophet your ancestors did not persecute?” This sounds so like John the Baptist. Note that very little would change regarding the Jewish leaders even in the face of Christ’s countless miracles and resurrection.


Moses


Take a moment to note the Old Testament persons mentioned by Stephen. Moses, like Abraham, has a complicated and intimate relationship with the Lord. Because the Israelites were so childish and stubborn, the Lord must write his law on stone tablets in order to convict them of their sins. On the top of Mount Sinai:


…the Lord came down in the cloud and stood there with him and proclaimed his name, the Lord. And he passed in front of Moses, proclaiming “The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin....Moses bowed to the ground at once and worshiped. “Lord,” he said, “if I have found favor in your eyes, then let the Lord go with us. Although this is a stiff-necked people, forgive our wickedness and our sin, and take us as your inheritance.


Then the Lord said: “I am making a covenant with you. Before all your people I will do wonders never before done in any nation in all the world. The people you live among will see how awesome is the work that I, the Lord, will do for you. Obey what I command you today... Do not worship any other god, for the Lord, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God.” Exodus 34: 4-14 (NIV)


God is abounding in love, compassionate, gracious, faithful, slow to anger, forgiving, and...very jealous. But His jealousy is righteous. It is what a parent feels for a beloved child. This is the Lord’s personality. God has a personality? God is a person? Like us? No. The Lord is not like us. We get this so wrong, Yes, God is a “person,” but He was first, He will be last and we are like Him. The Holy Trinity were and are the first “persons.” We are but poor reflections of that image of God and their infinite ability to love.


Here’s a story I like to tell my high school students when we talk about our complicated God in the Old Testament. Before I start, I always tell them that the story isn’t true:


“One day, when my youngest son was in kindergarten, I got a call from his school. His teacher wanted to talk with me. When I entered the classroom, I found the teacher, my precious son, Robert, and another mother sitting at one of the little tables. The strange thing was that Robert was sitting on the other mother’s lap. I sat down, very confused.


Turning to the other mother, the teacher said, ‘I just wanted to tell you how lovely Robert is. He is such a good and smart little boy. You have done a wonderful job raising him.’ The other mother smiled and hugged Robert close. Robert snuggled into her and smiled up into her face. ‘I love you, Mommy,’ he said.”


Without fail, some of the high school students are shocked, “What? Why was he sitting on someone else’s lap?” And the other students say, “It’s just a story, didn’t you hear her?”


Then I ask them why this story so shocking? Who would I be upset with if it were true? The teacher? The other mother? Robert, my son?...All three, I would be angry, jealous, and hurt at all three. The teacher is praising another mother for my son. The other mother is accepting praise for something she didn’t do. And, most painful, my precious beloved son is loving someone other than me. He is calling someone else, “Mommy.” I’m his mother. I made him. I gave him life. I have given him everything he has and everything I have to give.


This is our God of the Old Testament. God’s beautiful creation, repeatedly refused to give Him glory, acknowledge Him and return His love as their father and creator. To this day, humanity continues to look elsewhere for other gods.


John the Baptist quotes Isaiah to the Jewish crowd in the opening passage at the beginning of this lesson. Isaiah’s name means “The Lord is salvation.” A wealthy and educated Jew, Isaiah lived in Jerusalem at the time of its Babylonian exile and was called by God to exhort and warn the nation of Israel of God’s righteous anger against them because of their faithlessness. His message of condemnation also contains a message of hope and salvation through the promise of the coming of the Messiah. Please take some time to read from the book of Isaiah. Its language is beautiful and rich:


Hear me, you heavens! Listen, earth! For the Lord has spoken: “I reared children and brought them up, but they have rebelled against me.

The ox knows its master, the donkey its owner’s manger, but Israel does not know, my people do not understand.”

Woe to the sinful nation, a people whose guilt is great, a brood of evildoers, children given to corruption! They have forsaken the Lord; they have spurned the Holy One of Israel and turned their backs on him. Isaiah 1: 2-4 (NIV)


In the fullness of time, the Son of God would come to the broken earth to atone for its sin and make a way for its children to return to their Father. This is what John the Baptist was called to announce, the need for repentance and the coming of the Yeshua. John the Baptist, the answer to his father's prayers, whose very conception was announced in the Holy Temple, will usher in Christ, the answer to the creation's prayers.


 

Discussion

  • Have you ever been asked by God to do something that would put you out of your place of comfort? Did you do it? Why or why not? What was the result of your following or your refusal to follow?

  • What or who have you ever been jealous of?

  • What was the purpose of John never drinking wine? What did he drink instead?

  • What happened to Steven? Why does he speak in such righteous anger? Has nothing changed since John the Baptist’s exhortation?

 

The 29:11 Story


Near the beginning of the New Testament, John the Baptist, ushers in the Messiah, Christ, fulfilling Isaiah’s prophecy. A beautiful brown bead, he follows the pink bead of Mary and precedes the cross bead of Christ.


Every 29:11 Story includes the story of Abraham, his wife, Sarah, and their son, Isaac; this is the small family to be made into a chosen nation blessed by the Lord. Jacob and Joseph, grandson and great-grandson, follow with a bronze bead that represents the Twelve Tribes which would grow into the nation of Israel.

Every 29:11 Story contains several bronze beads, all representing God’s love for his stiff-necked child, Jerusalem, the nation of Israel, the Jewish people. The major prophets, Isaiah, Elijah, Jeremiah, Daniel, and Ezekiel are represented by bronze beads that follow the story of King David who would unite the Twelve Tribes and his son, Solomon, who would finally build the Temple for God. These major prophets cried out to Israel with God’s words of pain and judgement as the Holy Family mourned their wayward daughter, Jerusalem.

 


Discussion

  • What does bronze represent to God? Read Isaiah 48: 1-4

 

Salley's Story


My son, William, had an intimate relationship with God. Sometimes when I talk to people about what I do with The 29:11 Story Ministry, they will ask how my faith became so strong. I assure them that my faith is not so strong. I waver daily in what I believe. But my son didn’t have that luxury. William knew that he was dying. He made a choice to believe and trust God. He was a beautiful 17 year old boy, almost a man, when he learned that his cancer had spread throughout his body and his time was almost up.


Every evening, as we watched William move ever closer to his death, our house was so full of life. Our dinner table was crowded to overflowing. So many friends and so much love in that house! It felt like we were enveloped in a holy brilliance.


And, every morning, as he woke up to yet another beautiful and heartbreaking day, he would tell me about what God had revealed to him that night, “Mom, you know how you worry about your parents? You don’t need to worry, God has it all planned out.”


All his friends were getting ready to apply to college, going on dates, learning things in school but he was home contemplating his death. William was born to be an artist. Close to the end of his life, he began to lose the ability to hold a pencil well. That was a hard thing for him.


After he died, one of his sweet youth group friends came to see me. Randall told me that she knew where Willam was. She told me about a time that the two of them had sat in the dark in the sanctuary of the church one evening, hiding from everyone else. William had said, “You know, Randall, I can’t wait to get to heaven.”

 

Discussion

  • Everyone's life has a purpose. What do you think your purpose in life is?

 

Closing

  • What surprised you today?

  • What new connections in the Bible did you make today?

  • What questions do you want to explore further about today's study?

 

Digging Deeper

  1. I invite you to read the story of Abraham and his wife, Sarah, in the book of Genesis. It begins with Genesis 12 and continues until Genesis 25. What do you learn about the relationship that the Lord had with Abraham?

  2. Read Genesis 13: 14-17 and Genesis 15. This is more of the covenant between the Lord and Abraham.

  3. Read Genesis 26: 1-6. This is the covenant confirmed between the Lord and Isaac.

  4. Read Genesis 28:10-15, and Genesis 35: 10-12. God’s confirmation to Jacob.

  5. Read Romans 11. What does Paul tell us about the beloved nation of Israel?

  6. Read Revelations 7: 1-8. Who is involved in this passage?

 




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