Wed, Dec 13: John says get ready for the One to follow Him

John 1: 6-8, 19-28

The announcement of God’s next move comes with immediacy – and mixed responses

6 There was a man sent from God whose name was John.

  • This is the apostle John writing about John the Baptist.

7 He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all might believe.

  • John the gospel writer uses the word for ‘witness’ or ‘testify’ far more than Matthew, Mark and Luke. His gospel sets out from the start to show that the facts about Jesus are well attested.
  • “So that through him…” John the Baptist’s ministry was a particular one – to testify about Jesus and point people to Him. They would not believe “in” John, but by means of, and “through” John.

8 He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light.

  • Such was his following that some people were getting exaggerated ideas about who John was – see v. 21 below.

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19 Now this was John’s testimony when the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem sent priests and Levites to ask him who he was.

  • This was a delegation from the religious ruling council, the Sanhedrin, to check out the activities of someone who was to them an unauthorised teacher. In the 16th and 17th centuries in England, people who taught without the authorisation of the established church were commonly penalised and imprisoned – like John Bunyan – or worse. John Wesley, an Anglican cleric, was much criticised for his “enthusiasm” and was generally not allowed to preach in church buildings.

20 He did not fail to confess, but confessed freely, “I am not the Messiah.”

21 They asked him, “Then who are you? Are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not.”

“Are you the Prophet?” He answered, “No.”

  • His appearance and ministry was in the style of Elijah, and Jews knew that Elijah had not died. So was this Elijah returned? Similarly “the Prophet”, Deuteronomy 18:15 . They were expecting various people to appear with the coming Messiah.

22 Finally they said, “Who are you? Give us an answer to take back to those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?”

23 John replied in the words of Isaiah the prophet, “I am the voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way for the Lord.’ ”

  • The Qumran community had applied Isaiah 40:3  to themselves. Their understanding of it? Isolating themselves to secure their own salvation. Here John is making a much more missional call to “make straight the way” for the Messiah and enabling people to make their own preparation by getting right with God – repentance.
  • Baptism, with the same connotations of turning decisively from the old life to the new, became the symbol of membership in Jesus’ kingdom.

24-25 Now the Pharisees who had been sent questioned him, “Why then do you baptize if you are not the Messiah, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?”

  • The Pharisees held to a conservative theological position and were expecting the Messiah. John, as a forerunner, looked like a candidate but denied being that.

26 “I baptize with water,” John replied, “but among you stands one you do not know.

27 He is the one who comes after me, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie.”

  • John tells them that the anointed One they are seeking is right there with them in the crowd and that this is to be a much greater ministry.

28 This all happened at Bethany on the other side of the Jordan, where John was baptizing.

  • Not the Bethany mentioned elsewhere that is close to Jerusalem.

Application

Who were the last of the Old Testament prophets? We think of Habakkuk and Zechariah and Malachi, and then there was a period of about 400 years without a prophetic word being recorded. Jesus came right at the end of the Old Covenant era, and by His life, death and resurrection He gave us a new and better covenant based on new life trusting Him as Saviour and Lord. The Old Covenant, the Jewish system of rules and regulations would have been difficult enough for us, even if as Gentiles we could be included.

Jesus was among the crowds that came to the Jordan for a baptism of repentance, and that baptism was carried out by a kind of Elijah figure, in the way he dressed and lived – an outsider. He had a message to proclaim, and it was a direct and challenging call. Get right with God! Someone far greater than me is coming after me, in fact He is here! Demonstrate your readiness by going into the water for baptism, an act of repentance!

John was the last of the O.T. prophets. His cousin, Jesus of Nazareth, spoke for God and challenged about the kingdom of God – but we would agree He was more than a prophet.

Discussion starters

6. Are we more ready to criticise what we don’t like, or more ready to look for how we can make straight the way or the Lord?

7. Does the call to repent sound like condemnation; or do we see it as encouragement into what God might be preparing us for?

Wed, Dec 6: Prepare the way! The Lord is coming right after me

Mark 1:1-8

John the Baptist, last of the Old Testament prophets, takes up Isaiah’s and Malachi’s announcement of the Good News in the style of Elijah.

1-3 The beginning of the good news about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God, as it is written in Isaiah the prophet:

“I will send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way — a voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.’ ”

  • As Isaiah 40:3-5 (above). It was not unusual for interpreters to treat Scripture as a seamless whole around a common phrase such as “prepare the way” and this quotation also includes Malachi 3:1 .

4-5 And so John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.

  • ‘The wilderness’ and ‘the Jordan River’ might seem to be inconsistent. In this part of the Judean wilderness a narrow fertile area around the river is surrounded by rugged and inhospitable terrain.
  • Jewish people were used to the idea of repentance – and also knew various rituals for baptism including baptism of Gentiles who converted to Judaism, where it signified a turning to a whole new way of life.

The whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem went out to him. Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River.

  • John’s assignment was to prepare the way for Jesus by clearing obstacles. The main obstacle? Proud, unbelieving sin. So John told his hearers to repent (turn) and recognise that the kingdom of God – God’s righteous rule and order – was at hand, Matt. 3:1-3. Jesus came with exactly the same initial message, Mark 1:15 .
  • Baptism does not achieve repentance, but brings an impartation that seals the change of heart. This impartation is seen clearly in Jesus’ own baptism by John with a visible sign of the Holy Spirit – the dove, Matt. 3:16, Mark 1:9-11.

6-8 John wore clothing made of camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. And this was his message: “After me comes the One more powerful than I, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. I baptize you with water, but He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

  • The “One more powerful… who will baptize… with the Holy Spirit” is John’s allusion to Jesus, who was John’s cousin. John’s whole purpose was to prepare people through their repentance, and point them to Jesus.
  • Malachi, whose prophecy is implied here, referred to the one who would come like Elijah, Mal. 4:5-6. Readers of the time would have seen the connection in the description. Elijah was not a priest or a court prophet in robes, but quite the opposite – an outsider. John is showing himself to be standing apart from the establishment, a voice from the wilderness proclaiming a way in the wilderness which was like a new exodus, a move of God which was about salvation and restoration for His people, Isaiah 43:16-21, also Isa 11:16, 19:23-25, 51:10-11 etc.
  • This was a season for Jews of faith to reflect on what they needed to put right with God, in preparation for the move of God which John’s preaching was alerting them to. There are seasons for us to reflect and ‘clear our own roads’ for God. The allusion to the Holy Spirit is important. To make room for more of Him, we have to identify the things that need to go!

Application

Before the gospel writer John tells us much about the Good news, he tells us how it works. It is all about Jesus, the ‘Anointed One’ or Messiah, who will baptise [drench us] not just with water but with the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is God and He is holy; He empowers us to be a bit different in a good way, showing others the character of God – in short, how we as humans can be ‘set apart’ and holy, while engaging with a world which is frequently the opposite. This is how we do it – by turning to Jesus and allowing ourselves to be empowered by the Spirit of Jesus. It doesn’t work any other way.

Discussion starter

5. Is this turning to Jesus one particular, memorable life event? Or are there many turnings, some particularly life changing and significant, others which are more of a regular course correction?