JOHN THE BAPTIST, FORERUNNER OF CHRIST
[Luke:1:1-25], [Luke:1:57-80]; [Matthew:3:1-12]; [Matthew:11:2-14]; [Matthew:14:1-12].
"Every tree which bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire” (Matthew 3:10).
John's Part in God's Plan
John the Baptist had a very important place in God's plan of redemption. God inspired the prophets of the Old Testament to write that He would send a messenger to prepare the way for the Messiah Who was to come to redeem the world. All the Old Testament prophets were dead when John the Baptist was born. For four hundred years, from the time of Malachi, who wrote the last book of the Old Testament, no new promises had been given. However, there were faithful men of God who were waiting for the promises of God to be fulfilled.
John's parents were holy people, and his father was a priest in the Temple. One day when he was burning incense unto God, an angel stood beside him and told him he was going to have a son "and he shall be filled with the Holy Ghost. . . . And he shall go before him in the spirit and power of Elias," -- just as Malachi had said of him hundreds of years before ([Malachi:4:5-6]). The angel told Zacharias (John's father), that the baby would be holy from the time he was born, and would bring great joy to many people. Zacharias and Elisabeth were very happy that they were going to have such a wonderful son. The angel also said that the baby's name was to be John.
“And the child grew, and waxed strong in spirit, and was in the deserts till the day of his shewing unto Israel" (Luke:1:80). That is all we are told about the childhood of John He lived in the desert and ate only the wild things he could find -- locusts and wild honey. He didn't care about having fine houses and good clothes. He wore only rough raiment of camel's hair with a leather belt.
We studied last Sunday about the years of preparation it took to make David ready to be a king; and Samuel was trained from the time he was a child to fill the office of prophet. Now we read that John the Baptist was thirty years old before he preached his first sermon, and all that time he was preparing for the tremendous work God had sent him to do. God had given him a great commission, and he must not fail! His ministry lasted only six months, but what a story he had to tell!
For many hundreds of years the Jews had been waiting for the Messiah to come Whom God had promised. They were in Roman captivity, waiting for a day of deliverance. Sometimes it seemed like that day would never come. Suddenly John came forth with the electrifying news that the Kingdom of Heaven was at hand! How excited the people were! Their day of release had finally come! They thought Jesus was going to be an earthly king who would overthrow the Roman rulers and make them free men again.
"Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight," was the message John proclaimed. He took no glory to himself, but told the people he was the "voice of one crying in the wilderness," of whom Isaiah had prophesied ([Isaiah:40:3]). God's people had wandered away from His teachings and were not living good lives. John told them they must repent so they would be ready when Jesus came. That is what he meant when he said, "Prepare ye the way."
We know Jesus is coming again; and God's true children are telling sinners to repent so they will be ready to meet Him when He comes. Those who love the Lord are preparing themselves for the day when Jesus will come to take His people Home.
Many people obeyed the message of John and came to him to be baptised in water, confessing their sins. They wanted to be ready for Christ's Kingdom and asked what they should do to prepare themselves. John told them that if they had more clothes and food than they needed they should divide with those who did not have enough. (God's children are always ready to help the poor who are not so fortunate as they.) Jesus said, "Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me" (Matthew:25:40). The publicans wanted to know what they should do, and John answered that they should take no more tax money from the people than they were supposed to. He told the soldiers they should be violent with no man, and they should be content with their wages. Do you notice that John taught men to live just like Jesus wanted them to live? Every true minister will tell his congregation that they have to live without sin, as Jesus said. When He forgave men's sins He told men to go "and sin no more."
Repentance and Salvation
The Pharisees and Sadducees also came to be baptised of John, but they did not repent. They thought they were good enough because they made a great pretence of keeping the Law. But John was a real man of God, and he could see that they were just plain sinners. And he wasn't afraid to tell them so. He said, "O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come?" Vipers are poisonous snakes, so you can see what John thought about hypocrites. John let them know they could not get into Christ's kingdom by baptism, without repentance.
Some people believe today that all one needs to do to be ready for Heaven is to be baptised in water; they think that baptism will wash away their sins. But Jesus and John both taught us that we must first repent and be saved from our sins. Then Jesus wants us to be baptised by immersion, "in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost" (Matthew:28:19).
“Mightier than I"
It did not make John proud that he had such an important commission to fulfil, and that so many people were responding to his call. He told the people that another was coming Who was much greater than he. In fact, the Lord about Whom he talked was so great that John didn't feel he was worthy to carry His shoes or help Him unfasten them. John said he had baptised the people in water, but Jesus was going to baptise them with the Holy Ghost.
So far as we know, John had never seen Jesus, but his heart longed for the day when the Messiah would come. One day while John was baptizing in Jordan, the One long awaited appeared. John made the greatest announcement of his ministry: "Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world." All the hopes of generations were fulfilled in that statement! A new era was born; the dispensation of grace was launched.
John had enjoyed great success in his six months of ministry, but not everyone liked his preaching. The king of that country was married to a woman who had been married before and whose husband was still living, and John was not afraid to tell him that it was a sin. That displeased the king, so he put John in prison. The queen was very angry with John; and when she had the opportunity, she had him killed. John had to die for being true to God, but we know he went to Heaven to receive his reward. Many martyrs have been willing to die rather than give up their faith in God. That is what it means to be a real Christian.
1. What relation was John the Baptist to Christ?
2. How much older than Jesus was John?
3. Why was John sent to the world?
4. What was John's food and his clothing`?
5. Were people saved under John's preaching?
6. What were some things John taught the people?
7. Why was John beheaded?