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Posts Tagged ‘John the Baptist’

Series: Markan prologue

The literary structure of Mark 1:1-15

(Rewritten)

We’re back in Mark 1 this morning. And let’s begin by reading once again vs. 2-3 which give us –

The prophecy

– that is unfolding in Mark’s introduction.

2as it is written in Isaiah the prophet, “Behold, I send my messenger before your face, who will prepare your way, 3the voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.’”

We saw last time how by quoting Isaiah 40:3 and Malachi 3:1 here, Mark helps us to understand the big picture of what’s going on with the coming of John the Baptist and then Jesus.

God had promised Israel that they would return from exile in Babylon to the land of Israel; a kind of second exodus. And he promised that he would come to them and reign in glory in a splendid temple; and Israel would be established and at peace.

Well, the people returned, but otherwise the promises didn’t fully come to pass. This is where Malachi comes in. He tells them that this is due to their sin and tells how God will send a messenger to call the people to repentance so that when God comes, they can receive salvation and not judgment.

We also looked at how Isaiah 40:3 and Malachi 3:1 predict a sequential relationship between the two coming ones – the messenger, who is John the Baptist, and the Lord, who is Jesus. They tell us that the messenger comes before to prepare, and then comes the Lord.

 This brings us to –

Mark 1:9-13

and how Jesus is who the prophets foresaw as the coming Lord.

The fulfillment – Jesus in the wilderness

9In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan.

Just as with John the Baptist, Jesus is now in the wilderness. [Like with John the Baptist, Mark portrays Jesus fulfilling the prophecy of the Lord coming in two ways, in the wilderness and through his message, which we will look at next time.]

We always ask, ’Why was Jesus baptized?’ After all, he didn’t need to repent and be baptized for the forgiveness of sins. Well, just as the Lord God didn’t need to be baptized, but led his people through the waters of the Red Sea (Psalm 106:9),  so Jesus also goes through the waters with his people, the remnant John has prepared. Just as the Lord didn’t need to be baptized when Israel entered the promised land through the waters of the Jordan (the ark, Joshua 3), so Jesus also goes through the waters with his people.

And as the prophet Isaiah spoke of a second exodus to bring the people back to the land, he said in 43:2, “when you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you.” [Along these lines, Jesus may have seen this as a part of “the way of the Lord” that John prepared, and so saw it as fulfillment of the prophecies in Isaiah 40:3 and Malachi 3:1.]

The Lord, who is pure and holy, always goes through the waters with his people and leads them to salvation.

But two other things are also going on here. 1) His water baptism, as we will see, is the occasion of his anointing by the Spirit. This is where his title “the anointed one” comes from. He received the Spirit without measure (John  3:34 NLT). He was empowered to fulfill his mission as the Savior. And Spirit baptism, of which this is the most amazing example, and water baptism are connected in both the Old and New Testaments. (Spirit baptism)

And 2) his water baptism becomes the occasion where he publicly commits to his mission, which includes the cross. We saw in previous teaching, that baptism pictures a death and a resurrection (The cruciform shape of baptism. And as well, his water baptism pictures his coming death and resurrection – his true baptism, which he submits to here (Mark 10:38-39). And it is this baptism of blood, that will bring about the reality of salvation that water baptism points to.

10And when he came up out of the water, immediately he saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove.

The phrase “came up out of the water” refers to when he comes out of the Jordan river where he was baptized, that is onto the shore (See Acts 8:38-39).

He then has a visionary experience. Such experiences are connected to the idea of an open heaven (John 1:51). It says the heavens were “torn open.” This likely echoes Isaiah 64:1, a prayer to God – “Oh that you would rend the heavens and come down . . .” to bring salvation. (See Mark 15:38)

And then the Spirit comes upon him. As I said, this is his anointing, where his title, the anointed one (Messiah or Christ) comes from. That the Messiah would be anointed with the Spirit is spoken of in several passages, for instance Isaiah 42:1 says, “I will put my Spirit upon him.” (Also 11:2; 61:1)

The phrase “like” a dove could mean gently like a dove lands. But more likely it means Jesus saw the Holy Spirit descend upon him in the form of a dove (See Luke 3:22). What does the dove symbolize? Remember Noah’s water crossing (Genesis 8:8-12), which is a type of baptism (1 Peter 3:21) and the dove there (Passing through the waters, Baptism as a pledge to God)? It’s a sign of the end of judgment and the beginning of new life. The Spirit will bring new life through Jesus to all who seek him.

11And a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”

God’s speech here echoes Psalm 2:7 (LXX). This is a Psalm that speaks of the coronation of an Israelite king. God says to the king in part – “You are my son.” (This Psalm echoes 2 Samuel 7:14, which speaks of David’s son and a son of God.)

And the phrase, “I am well pleased” hearkens back to Isaiah 42:1, which we just looked at. It says, “Behold my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen in whom by soul delights.” (There is also a possible echo of Genesis 22:2 LXX, and Jeremiah 38:20 LXX). Jesus is God’s Son; his pleasing servant and Messianic king.

But not only this, he is God’s “beloved” or “dear” Son. This word can also mean only. He is God’s Son in a unique and special way that no one else can claim (Mark 9:7; 12:6).

[So Jesus’ baptism connects back to the titles from v. 1. Jesus truly is the anointed one and the Son of God.] [Now, although Mark’s presentation makes it sound like all this was private, Matthew’s account makes it sound public – and in John’s Gospel we know that John the Baptist saw the Spirit come upon Jesus (John 1:31-34).]

And then the scene shifts –

12The Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. 13And he was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan. And he was with the wild animals, and the angels were ministering to him.

That Jesus is tested after his water experience/anointing fits the biblical pattern. Israel went through the waters, had a Spirit experience (Exodus 15) and then went into the desert to be tested and ended up staying for 40 years. So also David was anointed king, but then was forced into the wilderness for a time of testing before his rule.

Jesus is actually already in the wilderness (vs. 4, 9) so he is led out further, away from all people.

The word “drove out” can also be translated “cast out.” It kind of sounds like the Spirit is eager to move things forward. There’s not a lot of detail. Satan is the agent of the testing. And Mark speaks of “wild animals” and “the angels.” There seems to be two sides here, Satan and the wild animals, which are hostile – and the Spirit and the angels who support Jesus.

This episode unveils the spiritual reality of what’s going on in Jesus’ mission.  There is a fight between two powerful spiritual forces. It points back to Psalm 91:9-13. This passage mentions angels supporting the righteous one, and him treading upon “the lion, the adder; the young lion and the serpent.” In this light, this short vignette pictures Jesus victorious – with the help of the Spirit and angels, over wild animals and the serpent – a reference to Satan via Genesis 3:15, when God said to Eve her offspring would “bruise the serpent’s head.”

Some highlights

 . . . to encourage and challenge us.

 As I said last week, when we see how God’s plans are from of old, are orderly and have come to pass in the coming of John and Jesus, we should take confidence in God’s plans that are still unfolding. He will come through! Jesus will come again!

John calls Jesus the Spirit baptizer. And Jesus himself was full of the Spirit. This was a key part of the promises of God, that Jesus brings to fulfillment. And so I ask, has Jesus baptized you in the Spirit? And if you have received this, are you continuing to remain full of the Spirit?

As we see in the testing of Jesus, there is a spiritual battle going on. We sometimes lose track of this. In Western culture we are not comfortable with supernatural categories. But not only is God working in this world by his Spirit and angels, there is Satan who opposes him. And we are caught up in this. And if we want to be victorious like Jesus, it will be through our faith in Jesus and the empowerment of the Spirit.

Are you alert to the fight? Or are you sleepwalking through life? Unaware. Never really knowing what’s gong on around you. We need to wake up!

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Series: Markan prologue

The literary structure of Mark 1:1-15

(Rewritten)

We’re beginning a new series today on the Gospel of Mark. A few things about Mark to begin with. It was most likely the first gospel written. And it likely contains the stories and teachings of Jesus that the apostle Peter passed down [Richard Bauckham, Jesus and the Eyewitnesses] and John Mark (Acts 12:12, 25; 13:5, 13-14; 15:37-40; Colossians 4:10; Philemon 1:24; 2 Timothy 4:11) later wrote out. These things are likely, I think, but they’re not from Scripture.

With regard to the Gospel itself, a few observations:

  • It’s fast paced. “Immediately” seems to be one of Mark’s favorite words.
  • Its stories are usually longer with more vivid details than Matthew or Luke.
  • And yet it’s the shortest Gospel, because it has less teaching material in it than either Matthew or Luke.

We begin with Mark’s introduction which covers the first 15 verses of the book. Notice that it’s bracketed by the phrase “good news” (or Gospel) in v. 1 and in vs. 14-15 (2x). And both of these sections have elements of timing in them – “the beginning” in v. 1 and “the time is fulfilled” and the kingdom is “at hand” in vs 14-15.

The whole introduction turns on the first three verses, which contain a prophetic word that a messenger is to come first, and then the Lord will come. [This sequence is reinforced in v. 7 by John’s message, “after me” he will come.]

Alright, let’s jump in.

Mark 1:1-8

The first phrase

1The beginning of the good news of Jesus, the anointed one, the Son of God –

When Mark says, “the beginning,” this has to do with the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, following John the Baptist’s work of preparation [see Acts 10:37]. But it can also refer to the whole Gospel. Mark is saying, this is how the Christian movement began.

We learn several things here about who Jesus is. 1) He is the “Christ.” This is the Greek version of the Hebrew word which means “Messiah” or more literally “the anointed one,” which is what I’m going with. This refers back to the Old Testament practice of anointing someone with oil when they are commissioned by God to do something. It was especially connected to the expected son of David who would come as the anointed one, to save God’s people.

2) Jesus is the “son of God.” This phrase is most often associated with the kings of Israel (2 Samuel 7:13-14; Psalm 2:7; Psalm 89:26-27), and sometimes Israel itself (Exodus 4:22-23; Hosea 11:1; Jeremiah 31:9, 20). It can also refer to divine beings or angels (e.g. the sons of God in Job). Basically it means one who rules, although we will see that Jesus is God’s son in unique and special way (e.g. Mark 1:11; 14:61-62).

3) Finally the phrase “good news” tells us something about Jesus. In Isaiah it refers to the coming of God to save Israel and to establish his rule or kingdom (Isaiah 40:9; 52:7; 61:1). In the Roman world it was used to announce the success of an Emperor or the birth of a new Emperor. In both contexts it is a royal announcement. And so this tells us that Jesus is a king.

By means of his introduction Mark gives his readers the privilege to know a good bit about who Jesus is before the story begins, while the people in the story struggle to understand who Jesus is, to the end.

The prophecy

2as it is written in Isaiah the prophet, “Behold, I send my messenger before your face, who will prepare your way, 3the voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.’”

This is the only place in all of Mark that he quotes Scripture. And, of course, this happens right at the beginning of his Gospel. So this is really important.

Although Mark says, “as it is written in Isaiah,” he is actually quoting two (or more) passages. This is just how they sometimes did things at this time, combining passages like this and just using one name.

Let’s look at the two key quotes here in reverse order. Isaiah 40:3 says in part, “The voice of one crying in the wilderness, ‘prepare the way of the Lord, make straight the paths of our God.’” (LXX). In context this refers to the announcement, by the voice, of the end of exile in Babylon and God’s promise to bring Israel back to its land. This is framed by Isaiah as a second Exodus from Babylon to the land of Israel. [The path here is God’s, but like with the original Exodus, it is God and his people who journey together to the land. The Isaiah Targum speaks of the way of God and the congregation of our God.] [Mark’s quote here can also be translated to match the parallelism of the Hebrew version – “A voice cries ‘In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord; make straight in the desert a highway for our God.” Witherington]

And then we have Malachi 3:1 which says in part, “Behold, I send my messenger, and he will prepare the way before me.” [Mark’s version is a little different, which we will look at later]. This person is further identified in Malachi 4:5-6 as Elijah, who is commissioned to bring about repentance in Israel before God comes to visit them.

In Mark’s narrative, John the Baptist is the messenger, as we will see today. But also Jesus is the Lord who comes. In both passages God comes after the messenger. This, then is an amazing statement about Jesus’ divine identity, which we will come back to in a later message.

Now, by quoting these passages we get Mark’s insight into what’s going on with the coming of John the Baptist and then Jesus. As I said, Isaiah speaks of a second Exodus out of exile back to the land. And several prophets spoke of how things would radically change; how God would reign in glory in a splendid temple and Israel would be established in the land and at peace. Well, the people came back, but they struggled, still under Gentile rule, the Persians, and still with no sense that anything had really changed. So there was disillusionment.

Well, the book of Malachi picks up in this context. He tells the people that the holdup on the fulfillment of the promises is due to their sin. And so he predicts that God will send a messenger, Elijah to prepare Israel for his coming in power to reign. And he is to prepare them by calling them to repentance so that when God comes, it won’t end in further judgment. [I am indebted to Rikk Watts for this construal of Malachi’s role.]

So Mark is saying – this is what’s going on with the coming of John and then Jesus. God is working to bring about his kingdom; to fulfill his promises to his people of salvation and blessing.

The fulfillment – John in the wilderness 

After the prediction of the messenger who will first prepare the way, John shows up doing just this.

4John appeared, baptizing in the wilderness and proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 5And all the country of Judea and all Jerusalem were going out to him and were being baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.

Now, not everyone came, of course, but Mark is emphasizing his success.

The connection between the messenger and John is clear. The messenger is to prepare the way, which includes calling for repentance on the part of Israel (Malachi 4:15-16). And John calls the people to repentance.

Also, the messenger is associated with the wilderness as is Elijah.  Well, John is in the wilderness and he is telling people to prepare the way.

And then we have v. 6.

6Now John was clothed with camel’s hair and wore a leather belt around his waist and ate locusts and wild honey.

The messenger is identified as Elijah in some sense and John looks just like Elijah. In 2 Kings 1:8 someone describes Elijah in this way: “He wore a garment of hair with a belt of leather around his waist.” As Jesus says later in Mark 9:13, “Elijah has come” and he is referring to John the Baptist. (See also Luke 1:17).

Notice how what John is doing fits with Isaiah and Malachi’s vision of the need to prepare the people for the coming of God. In the first exodus, Israel crossed through the Red Sea. And then with Joshua the Jordan river. John is symbolically having Israelites go through the waters again (here the Jordan river.) So John is calling Israel to be reconstituted as a new people, ready for the coming of God. And since the leaders in Jerusalem rejected him, he is calling out a remnant to make them ready for the Lord. All of this points to the fulfillment of the promise of the prophets about Israel’s salvation. It all fits together.

The fulfillment – John’s message

7And he preached, saying, “After me comes he who is mightier than I, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. 8I have baptized you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

A key part of John’s ministry was calling people to be ready for the coming one (Matthew 11:3, Acts 13:25). He describes him as the mighty one.

There’s a Jewish saying that a disciple is to act as a slave to their teacher, except for taking off their sandals (b. Ketub. 96a). But here John is saying he is not fit even to do this slave work for the mighty one.

John also speaks of the coming one as the Spirit baptizer. The one who will inundate people with the Spirit, like he does with water.

This has reference to several promises God makes to his people in the Old Testament:

  • Joel 2:28-29 – “And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions. Even on the male and female servants in those days I will pour out my Spirit.”
  • Ezekiel 36:27 – “And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.”
  • Isaiah 44:3 – “I will pour my Spirit upon your offspring, and my blessing on your descendants.”

John’s water baptism was preparatory. The coming One’s Spirit baptism brings the reality of the promises.

What do we learn?

This teaches us about God’s plans. They are from of old. This was all pointed to by the prophets, Isaiah and Malachi and repeated by John. God’s plans are orderly. The messenger come first to prepare and after this comes the Lord to bring salvation. God’s plans are sure and true. It came to pass just as it was supposed to, which is the story Mark is telling us about. This should lead us to trust in God’s full outworking of his plan to bring it all to completion, as we wait our Lord’s second coming.

And speaking of his coming, we need to continue to be prepared for God’s coming to us. Are we single mindedly focused on God and serving him? Or are we off following the world, waiting time, focused on this life and not finishing the mission he gave us to expand his kingdom? Are you prepared? He could come at any time.

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Series on baptism

We are continuing on in our series on baptism this morning.

We know that baptism is important:

  • It was crucial for John the Baptist. Matthew 3:6 says, “They were baptized by John in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.” This was the proper response to his prophetic ministry.
  • Jesus used the symbol of baptism. A little later in time, John 4:1-2 notes, “. . . Jesus was making and baptizing more disciples than John (although Jesus himself did not baptize, but only his disciples).”
  • Jesus commissioned his disciples, including us, to baptize. He said, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit . . .” – Matthew 28:18-20.

But where does water baptism come from? And what does it mean? The answer is found in the water crossings that we looked at last time, and especially the Red Sea crossing. This is where it comes from, and this is how to understand what this symbolic water experience means.

From last week:

Slide2

You have a handout from last week – Passing through the waters chart  that summarizes the meaning of “the waters,” various water crossings and the five themes of water crossings and how water baptism fits with these ideas.

Today, I want to show you three ways that the New Testament makes this connection clear. So let’s dive in!

1. In the New Testament baptism is linked to these water crossings

The Flood is called a type of water baptism. 1 Peter 3:20-21 says,  “. . . eight persons, were brought safely through water. Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you.” The word corresponds refers to an event that points forward to something in the future which is its counterpart. Another way to say it is that the flood gives us background and context for understanding what Christian water baptism is about.

The Red Sea crossing is called a baptism. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 10:1-2 – “ . . . our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea.” So here we have baptism language describing the Red sea crossing. Not only is it called a baptism, in the context of 1 Corinthians 10 it is used as an analogy to Christian baptism. These two things are alike.

So from these examples we can see that there’s a connection between water baptism and passing through the waters. Indeed, water baptism is a passing through the waters.

2. In the New Testament there is a historical connection with the Red Sea crossing

Remember that after the Israelites crossed through the Red Sea they went on to fail in their commitment to God in the wilderness. So, that generation of Israelites never went into the promised land. Thus when Joshua entered the promised land with the next generation they crossed through “the waters” again; through the Jordan river. The waters upstream were stopped and they walked through it on dry ground (Joshua 3).

This was a reenactment of the Red Sea crossing. God was symbolically reconstituting Israel after their failure in the wilderness. And then, low and behold John the Baptist comes baptizing people in the Jordan river! The symbolism is there to be seen. Like Joshua, John is calling for Israel to be reconstituted, to be made new. What I’m saying is that John was reenacting Joshua’s reenactment of the Red Sea crossing.

All we need to do, then, is recognize that Jesus continued John’s baptismal practices and we have an unbroken chain back to the Red Sea crossing:

  • Moses and the Red Sea
  • Joshua and the Jordan river
  • John the Baptist and the Jordan river
  • Jesus and Christian baptism

 Finally –

3. In the New Testament the five themes line up

 That is to say, the symbolism of Christian water baptism in the New Testament matches the five themes of water crossings that we looked at in the Old Testament.

  • The waters represent Satan, judgment, slavery to Sin and Death. These powers keep us away from God and seek to destroy us.
  • But God has intervened. Through Jesus God delivers us from Satan, judgment, slavery to sin and death. Because of what God has done, we are able to cross through to the other side.

1. When we come to the waters of baptism, we symbolically portray that we are leaving behind our old life through repentance. Our sinful past in the world is behind us now. This is our commitment.

As Peter says on the day of Pentecost, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ . . .” Acts 2:38. Repentance means that we have a change of heart and mind so that we practice God’s will now. And repentance and baptism go together.

Here’s another way of saying it. Baptism portrays our death to sin – Romans 6:2-3. “How can we who died to sin still live in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?” This is another way of talking about “repentance” – our old life in sin has come to an end; it’s dead.

2. When we go through the waters of baptism we symbolically portray that we are set free and forgiven. All the powers of evil can’t touch us anymore because our sins are forgiven. They have no claim on us. That’s why we can go through the waters safely to the other side.

In a baptism context Paul talks about how we are set free from Sin & Death, which are personified as powers, who enslave us and seek to destroy us – Romans 6:7

Once again, Peter says, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins” – Acts 2:38. There is a connection between baptism and forgiveness.

3. As we come up out of the water on “the other shore,” as it were, we symbolically portray that we receive new life through the Spirit.

Baptism is associated with receiving the Spirit. After Peter’s invitation to baptism he says, “and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” – Acts 2:38. Also, water baptism is connected to our receiving “newness of life” in Romans 6:1-4. I’ll say more about this later when we look at Spirit baptism.

4. When we come up out of the waters we symbolically portray that we are now a part of God’s people. We have switched communities and allegiances. We have left the world and we are now a part of the church.

This is the communal component of baptism. This is usually just assumed in the New Testament, but it does come out in several places. Luke says, “So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls.” Acts 2:41. These were added to the fellowship of believers, not just a spiritual, invisible reality but the actual, visible church of Jerusalem. They became a part of that congregation.

Paul says, “For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body – Jews or Greeks, slaves or free. . .” –    1 Corinthians 12:13. Baptism incorporates us into a new community – the church.

5. When we come up out of the waters we symbolically portray that we commit to follow Jesus. We commit to a new way of life; to doing God’s will from now on just as Jesus has taught us.

Jesus talks about, “ . . . baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” – Matthew 28:19-20. Baptism is connected here to obedience to everything that Jesus teaches.

Peter calls baptism a “pledge of a good conscience toward God” in 1 Peter 3:21. This is covenental language, speaking to a commitment to do God’s will from now on.

 Slide3

I hope you can see in all this that baptism is rich in symbolic meaning and that it has to do with every part of beginning the Christian life. And anyone who comes to be baptized needs to understand what this all means and what they are saying when they go through it.

Let me end with a challenge. If there are any here who are not baptized this is an invitation to you. Is this what’s in your heart? If it is, I encourage you to seek this out as a public witness to your faith in Jesus. And I would be glad to talk to you.

And for those of us who are baptized, I ask, “Are you living out what water baptism means?” Maybe you did when you were baptized, but are you now? Make sure your life now lines up with what your baptism proclaimed.

For all of us, the world calls us to accept its symbols, its story, its values. But Jesus calls us to accept his symbols, his story, his values and to live out the reality of this before an ever watching world. Will you heed Jesus’ call this morning?

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We looked at John the Baptist’s identity last week. We saw who he was not. He was not the Christ, or Elijah or the prophet. And we also saw who he was. He said, “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord’ . . .” (John 1:23). Today our focus is on John the Baptist’s identification of who Jesus is, found in v. 33 of our passage. Jesus is “he who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.” Let’s read this text –

31 “I myself did not know him, but for this purpose I came baptizing with water, that he might be revealed to Israel.” 32 And John bore witness: “I saw the Spirit descend from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. 33 I myself did not know him, but he who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain, this is he who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ 34 And I have seen and have borne witness that this is the Son of God.”

John’s identification of Jesus

Let’s follow the train of thought in these verses. In v. 31 John tells us – “for this purpose I came baptizing with water, that he (the Messiah) might be revealed to Israel.” [Now in the Synoptics (Matthew Mark and Luke called this because they are very similar to each other), the emphasis is on how John prepares the people for the Messiah by calling them to repentance – “Messiah, here are your people.” But in the Gospel of John the focus is from the other end – he is saying, “People, here is your Messiah.” Like the best man or friend of the bridegroom (3:29).]

However, twice in this passage he says that he didn’t know who the Messiah would be. “I myself did not know him.” [Now in the Synoptics we learn in Luke that John and Jesus were cousins. And who knows if they knew each other growing up – probably not. But John’s point, even if he knew Jesus, was that he did not know that he was the Messiah.] So this creates a problem. How will he know who the Messiah is? Well, God gave him a sign. v. 33 – God said, “He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain” – this is the one.

And John saw this happen to Jesus. [Now in the  Synoptics it is Jesus who sees the “Spirit come upon him like a dove. But here John also sees this.] v. 32 – “I saw the Spirit descend from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him.” And he “bears witness” to this.

So Jesus is the one! As v. 33 says, Jesus “is he who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.” John declares to us a key component of the identity of Jesus – he is the one who gives the Spirit. [Of course he doesn’t fully give the gift of the Holy Spirit until Pentecost – Acts 1:5; John 7:39; 14:26]

This then raises the question –

What does it mean to be baptized with the Holy Spirit?

If this is what Jesus is known for,as John the Baptist makes clear, what does it mean? We begin first with the expectation of the coming of the Spirit in the Old Testament.

The Spirit was active in the Old Testament, but there are a number of texts that speak of a time when God would pour out his Spirit in great measure (for instance Isaiah 32:15; 44:3; Ezekiel 39:29.) Joel 2:28-29 is a good representative passage: “And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions. Even on the male and female servants in those days I will pour out my Spirit.” The Spirit will come in a powerful way on all God’s people, not just a few representatives or leaders.

And also the Messiah was seen to be a person of the Spirit. For instance, Isaiah 11:1-2 says, “The Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him.” (also Isaiah 42:1). So it makes sense that Jesus would be the one that gives the Spirit.

But what is this baptism with the Holy Spirit?

The word “baptism” has to do with a water experience. It has to do literally with water when, for instance

  • Noah and family went through the flood. And Peter tells us in 1 Peter 3:20-21 that this was a kind of baptism.
  • Or when Israel went through the waters of the Red Sea, which Paul calls a baptism in 1 Corinthians 10:2.
  • Or when new Christian converts were baptized with water in the book of Acts.

But the word “baptism” can also be used figuratively, where there is no literal water involved.

  • You can be baptized with suffering. Jesus uses baptism language in this way in Mark 10:38 to talk about the cross. This is because ‘deep waters’ can figuratively speak of going through difficulties.
  • You can be baptized with fire. John the Baptist talked about this in Matthew 3:11. It is an image of judgment. And baptism language can be used because fire or judgment can be ‘poured out’ like water.
  • And in our case you can be baptized with the Spirit. That’s because, as we saw in Joel, the Spirit will be “poured out.” This is also a water image. And so baptism can be used of it.

When we look at the way the word baptism is used in all these cases, the best definition might be “inundation.”

  • Noah was inundated with water as he floated on top of the flood and got rained on.
  • Israel was inundated with water as they went through the Red Sea.
  • In times of suffering we are inundated with difficulties.
  • When judgment comes it inundates those who are judged.

And so Spirit baptism means to be inundated with the Spirit. It means to be flooded, overwhelmed or engulfed with God’s presence, with the life that comes from God, and empowerment and gifts to serve God.

The picture of Spirit baptism. The water in water baptism has to do with deep waters that symbolize judgment, suffering and death. And the picture of water baptism is one of being saved from these and coming up on the other shore. But the water of Spirit baptism is good water; fresh water, drinking water. This is the picture of Spirit baptism:

1. The Spirit is poured out like water, as in Joel 2.

2. We “drink” the Spirit. Jesus said concerning the Spirit, “Let the one who is thirsty come to me and drink” – John 7:37-38. Paul says, “For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body . . . and were made to drink of one Spirit” – 1 Corinthians 12:13.

3. When we drink we are filled with the Spirit. We are, as it were, a container of the Spirit that if filled to the top. Acts 2:4 says, “All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit.” Ephesians 5:18 says, “be filled with the Holy Spirit.”

There is a contrast in these last verses between being filled with one kind of drink versus another. Many thought the disciples were drunk on the day of Pentecost, but they weren’t. They were filled with the Spirit. And Paul says don’t be drunk with wine, but rather be filled with the Holy Spirit. You can be filled with wine – and have this affect you (drunkenness). Or you can be filled with the Spirit  – and have this affect you.

Let me end with the most crucial question today –

Are you baptized with the Holy Spirit?

Have you received this from Jesus, who in known as the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit?

Perhaps you see yourself as a Christian but have never received the Spirit at all. You just went through the motions of conversion/baptism. You went through the symbolism, but didn’t receive the reality to which it points.

A part of the symbolism of water baptism is that when you come through the deep waters and up on the other shore, you receive new life from God. Well, Spirit baptism is the reality to which this points. When the Spirit comes, this is when you receive new life.

Peter in his message on the day of Pentecost said, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” – Acts 2:38. This is the gospel message and it includes the gift of the Spirit.

So put in place repentance and forgiveness; put in place the faith in Christ – and then receive the gift!

Let’s say you are a Christian and thus have received of the Spirit. The question for you is are you still inundated with the Holy Spirit? [Baptism language may well refer to the first or initiatory experience of the Spirit (just as baptism language is initiatory) with filling language being more flexible and especially applied to later experiences. But in either case the idea of filling and being inundated is the same.] Having received the Spirit at one time, are you still full of the Spirit, of God’s presence, life and power to serve?

A one-time experience of the Spirit at salvation is not enough. And a second experience of the Spirit after salvation is not enough. We are to be continually filled with the Spirit as we just saw in Ephesians 5:18. Notice the present tense, “be filled with the Holy Spirit.”

But too often I fear we live at a level far below this. God has given us a pipeline for the Spirit to flow through to us, but from our end the faucet is barely turned on – just a few drips. Maybe it’s because there is sin in their lives that blocks the Sprit. Or maybe we are distracted by the things of the world. Whatever the case may be, so often we are not living into what God has given us.

If we want to live the kind of Christian lives God calls us to – we must be filled with the Spirit! And if we want to do the work of the kingdom that God has called us to do in this place – we must be filled with the Spirit. We need to open ourselves up and receive of all that God has for us.

So receive the Spirit! God’s promise to us comes from the word of Jesus in Luke 11:13 – “The heavenly Father give(s) the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”

As John the Baptist has taught us, this is who Jesus is. He is the one who inundates with the Spirit. Will you receive the blessing he gives?

William Higgins

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The title today is “Knowing our place in God’s plan.” Now the phrase “knowing our place” doesn’t sit well with many Americans, being free spirited and independent as we so often are. We don’t like this idea of having “a place.” We say, “I’ll be who I want to be and do whatever I want.”

But the Scriptures teach us that we will only find true peace when we find our place in God’s will for our lives. There is a paradox here: the one who does whatever they want is actually a slave; a slave of sin, which eventually makes us miserable and destroys us. But the one who is a slave of God, doing what God wants,  is free; free to find true peace and contentment.

That’s because God made us; God designed us to walk in his ways. And specifically God has given each one of us gifts and callings. And it is only when we align our lives to his will that we will know true contentment and joy. Even if things are hard, we can know we are right where we should be.

John the Baptist knew his place in God’s plan. He was crystal clear. So I want us to look at two passages from the Gospel of John to see what we can learn from him.

John 1:19-27

John is not the Christ. 19And this is the testimony of John, when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?” 20He confessed, and did not deny, but confessed, “I am not the Christ.” 21And they asked him, “What then? Are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not.” “Are you the Prophet?” And he answered, “No.”

So this delegation from the powers-that-be come from Jerusalem to check John out because he is drawing big crowds. This was a cause of concern for them, since they were mindful of keeping the peace with the Roman overlords.

And as John answers all their questions, he reveals that he has a really clear understanding of who he is, and who he is not. Beginning in reverse order of who he is not – he is not “the prophet.” This is a reference to Deuteronomy 18:15-18 and how it speaks of a prophet like Moses who would come. And he is not Elijah, or at least he is not literally Elijah come from heaven after going there in a fiery chariot.

But most importantly he is not the Christ, or the Messiah. v. 20 – “He confessed, and did not deny, but confessed, “I am not the Christ.” He is very clear.

The lesson here for us regarding who we are not is that we also are not the Christ. This seems so basic that it shouldn’t have to be mentioned. And I don’t know anyone who would literally claim to be the Christ, apart from mental illness.

But there are some who, I think, have a “Messiah complex.” People, and yes, Christians, who think they are God’s gift to the world. Who have an all too high opinion of themselves. Who think that they know best about every situation; who have an answer to any problem; who think that everything hinges on them, and that without them things will just fall apart. They are here to save the day!

And then more commonly there is our simple self-centeredness. Where we live for ourselves and our self-interests. We make ourselves the Lord of our lives so that we are functionally claiming to be the Christ and Lord of ourselves and our domain. We don’t learn from Jesus, we don’t listen to Jesus, we don’t submit to Jesus. We just do what we want and what’s best for us.

In both of these cases we learn from John the Baptist that we too must submit ourselves to Christ and his Lordship.

  • He is the Savior, God’s gift to the world – not us.
  • He is Lord – and we are not.

This is the most basic first step in finding our place in God’s plan. We subordinate ourselves to him. This is the path to peace and joy.

Well even though he is not the Christ, John does have a role to play. He knows who he is not, but he also knows who he is. 22So they said to him, “Who are you? We need to give an answer to those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?” 23He said, “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’ as the prophet Isaiah said.”

John is quoting Isaiah 40:3. He was given the unique role of preparing the way for Jesus as was prophesied by Isaiah. His job was to clear the obstacles out of the way for the coming of the Messiah. And he did this through calling people to repent of their sins and find forgiveness.

He is not the Christ, but he does have a role to play in God’s plan.

Our second lesson then is that we have a role in God’s plan too. In a parable in Matthew 25 Jesus makes the point that all of us have various responsibilities to work for him. Vs. 14-15 say, “For it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted to them his property. To one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability.”

In Romans 12:4-6 Paul teaches us that we each have been given gifts to serve God. “For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them”.

So we are to be clear about who we are not, but we also need to be clear about who we are – what God has called us to do, what gifts God has given to us. And we need to use them. What is your role? What is your specific place in God’s plan? I encourage you to find out; find your place and then do what God has called you to do.

John’s humility before Christ. 24Now they had been sent from the Pharisees. 25They asked him, “Then why are you baptizing, if you are neither the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?” 26John answered them, “I baptize with water, but among you stands one you do not know, 27even he who comes after me, the strap of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie.”

There are several “comes after me” statements from John the Baptist in the Gospel of John. In 1:15 he says, “He who comes after me ranks before me, because he was before me.” In 1:30 he says, “After me comes a man who ranks before me, because he was before me.” And here we have, “He who comes after me – the strap of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie.” In each case they refer to Jesus’ superior status or rank over John.

v. 27 is the most specific. To take off and put on someone’s shoes was considered slave work. And so John is saying that he is not even worthy to be a slave of Christ. Now, Jesus said of John that he was the greatest person in the period of the Old Covenant (Matthew 11:1). But even so, John knows his lowly place in relation to Jesus.

John models for us here how we are to be humble before Christ. Even though we have a role, and it may be a great one, we are under Christ. We too are not worthy to be Christ’s slave. We are as low as you can be. Not a master, not just a free person, not just a slave, but unworthy to be Christ’s slave.

As Jesus says in Luke 17:10, “when you have done all that you were commanded, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.’” We are “unworthy servants.” This is our place in relation to Christ.

And then we come to our second passage –

John 3:26-30

Here we see that John’s place is to exalt Christ. 26And they came to John and said to him, “Rabbi, he who was with you across the Jordan, to whom you bore witness—look, he is baptizing, and all are going to him.” 27John answered, “A person cannot receive even one thing unless it is given him from heaven. 28You yourselves bear me witness, that I said, ‘I am not the Christ, but I have been sent before him.’ 29The one who has the bride is the bridegroom. The friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice. Therefore this joy of mine is now complete. 30He must increase, but I must decrease.”

When some heard of Jesus’ success, they thought John the Baptist might be jealous. But John recognizes that whatever our place is, it is given by God. “A person cannot receive even one thing unless it is given him from heaven.” He has his own place, given him from heaven, just as Jesus has his own place given from heaven.

He also makes the point that he is not in competition with Jesus – he is not the Christ as he has been clear all along. Rather his place is to go before Christ.

John describes himself as the friend of the bridegroom, who is Jesus. And as the friend he takes joy in the success of the bridegroom and his blessings. “He must increase, but I must decrease.” John’s goal is to exalt Jesus, not himself.

He is content and filled with joy in doing this. As he says in v. 29, “Therefore this joy of mine is now complete.”

The lesson for us is that our place is to exalt Christ, not ourselves. Life is not about us; our accomplishments; our name; our legacy. Always striving, grasping, panting for more and more. It is about Christ and who he is and what he has done. We must decrease, and he must increase.

And like John, when we do this our joy will be complete. When we are in God’s place for us we will have joy, peace and contentment.

William Higgins

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John the Baptist is our Advent focus this year. John prepared the people for Jesus’ coming. And he can also prepare us as we get ready to celebrate the coming of Jesus at Christmas and also as we await the second coming of Jesus; his second advent, which could happen at any time.

Last week we saw how he prepares us through his message of repentance. We are to set aside our sin and our excuses for our sin, and commit to do God’s will in all of our lives. And then, just as the people did in John the Baptist’s day, we can come and confess our sins and find forgiveness.

Today we focus on how John’s example of humility prepares us. But first, a bit more on the person of John the Baptist. We looked at some things last week, but today we take note of –

John’s exalted status

John was chosen by God and given a special role in God’s scheme of things; God’s plan for this world. And not only this, he is spoken of very highly in Scripture. Let’s look at this.

1. His birth was announced by an angel in the Temple – Luke 1:13. Not many people can claim this.

2. He received the Spirit ‘in utero.’ The angel said, “He will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb” – Luke 1:15.

3. His birth was special. When people heard about the circumstances of his birth, about his mother being older and not able to have children and his father not being able to speak and then speaking to name him John, when they heard all this, they said, “‘What then will this child be?’ For the hand of the Lord was with him.” – Luke 1:65-66.

4. It is the testimony of Scripture that “He was a righteous and holy man” – Mark 6:20.

5. He baptized Jesus – Matthew 3:13-17. An amazing privilege.

6. He was the first to confess Jesus’ identity. He said, “I have seen and have borne witness that this is the Son of God” – John 1:34.

7. He was immensely popular. “And all the country of Judea and all Jerusalem were going out to him and were being baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.” – Mark 1:5.

8. He was respected by the king. “Herod feared John . . . and he kept him safe. When he heard him, he was greatly perplexed, and yet he heard him gladly” – Mark 6:20

9. Jesus said about him, “He was a burning and shining lamp” – John 5:35.

10. Jesus said, “John came to you in the way of righteousness” – Matthew 21:32.

11. His father prophesied great things about him at his birth. “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 in the forgiveness of their sins” – Luke 1:76-77.

12. He is the fulfillment of Malachi 3:1. Jesus said, “What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. This is he of whom it is written, ‘Behold, I send my messenger before your face, who will prepare your way before you.’” – Luke 7:26-27.

13. He is the fulfillment of Isaiah 40:3. “For this is he who was spoken of by the prophet Isaiah when he said, ‘The voice of one crying in the wilderness: Prepare the way of the Lord; make his paths straight.'” – Matthew 3:3.

14. He is the fulfillment of Malachi 4:5-6. This speaks of Elijah coming before the day of the Lord. “And the disciples asked Jesus, ‘Then why do the scribes say that first Elijah must come?’ He answered, ‘Elijah does come, and he will restore all things. But I tell you that Elijah has already come, and they did not recognize him, but did to him whatever they pleased’. . . Then the disciples understood that he was speaking to them of John the Baptist.” – Matthew 17:10-13. (Also, Matthew 11:14; Luke 1:17)

15. John is the dividing line between old covenant and the new. Jesus said, “The Law and the Prophets were until John; since then the good news of the kingdom of God is preached.” – Luke 16:16.

16. John was the greatest of the old covenant. Jesus said, “I tell you, among those born of women none is greater than John” – Luke 7:28. That is, those among the old covenant. Neither Moses, nor David, nor Elijah is greater than John.

It is difficult to find someone in Scripture spoken of more highly, and certainly none in terms of the words of Jesus. What an amazing person! And what an amazing ministry he had!

Now lets’ look at –

How John’s example prepares us for the coming of Jesus

He presents an example to us of true humility. And given all the accolades, this really stands out.

He saw himself as unworthy in comparison to Jesus. He said, “I baptize you with water for repentance, but he who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry.” – Matthew 3:11. He sees himself as not even worthy to do slave service for Jesus; not worthy to carry his sandals.

He claimed no titles. “He confessed, and did not deny, but confessed, ‘I am not the Christ.’ And they asked him, ‘What then? Are you Elijah?’ He said, ‘I am not.’ ‘Are you the Prophet?’ And he answered, ‘No.’” – John 1:20-21. Jesus called him the prophet and Elijah. But he was uncomfortable with these titles. He simply saw himself as the one who prepares the way.

He felt unworthy to baptize Jesus. When Jesus came, Scripture tells us, “John would have prevented him, saying, ‘I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?’” – Matthew 3:14.

He willingly let his disciples follow Jesus. “The next day again John was standing with two of his disciples, and he looked at Jesus as he walked by and said, ‘Behold, the Lamb of God!’ The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus.” – John 1:35-37.

John deferred to Jesus’ ministry. Someone said to John, “Rabbi, he . . . to whom you bore witness – look, he is baptizing, and all are going to him.” – John 3:26. Would he be envious? John answered them, “The one who has the bride is the bridegroom. The friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice. Therefore this joy of mine is now complete.” – John 3:29. He is simply the friend of the bridegroom. The party is for the groom, not the friend. And he is happy for Jesus.

Finally, and succinctly, John said this about Jesus, “He must increase, but I must decrease.” – John 3:30.

What an amazing portrait of humility! He was socially humble, claiming no status. He was economically humble, being poor. He was personally humble, as a virtue in his relations with others. And he was humble before God and submitted to him. Whatever you want God, that’s what I want.

And this stands out all the more in contrast to king Herod and the Pharisees and Sadducees, where we see arrogance, pride, self-righteousness, and self-sufficiency.

But notice that John, in his humility, was blessed by Jesus when he came. But all these others, because of their pride, found themselves opposing Jesus and being opposed by Jesus. They lifted themselves up and so they were not ready for the coming of the Lord.

What about you? Where is there pride, arrogance, self-righteousness or self-sufficiency in your life? Do you strive to be recognized, as opposed to lifting Jesus up?

Do you have areas of our life where you think you don’t need Jesus? Are there issues where you think you know more than Jesus, and so you don’t listen to him or obey him? When he challenges you, do you resist because you are too arrogant to listen or yield?

John teaches us that getting ready for Jesus’ advent means getting rid of our pride and learning true humility before God.

Jesus said in Luke 14:11 “everyone who exalts himself will be humbled,” that is by God when he comes. But he also said in the same verse, “he who humbles himself will be exalted,” that is by God when he comes – just as John was exalted and blessed.

And if we follow John’s example, we too can be blessed, when celebrate and worship our Lord this Christmas, and as we await his second coming.

William Higgins

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You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruits in keeping with repentance. And do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham. Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.

– Luke 3:7-9

 

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