Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘John the Baptist’

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?

Read Full Post »

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

Read Full Post »

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

Read Full Post »

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

Read Full Post »

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

 

Read Full Post »

I want us to look at John the Baptist this Sunday and next for our Advent focus. Certainly a part of Advent is anticipating and preparing for the celebration of Christmas – the coming of Jesus to us. So we are getting ready for this. But a part of it is also looking ahead so that we are prepared for the second coming or second advent of Jesus.

And who better to prepare us than John, whose ministry it was to do just this. Today we will focus on how his message prepares us.

But first let’s look at –

John’s life and ministry

1. He was quite unique and that in several ways. He lived in the wilderness. He lived here before his ministry (Luke 1:80) and this is where he received his prophetic message (Luke 3:2). And he continued to minister from here. Matthew 3:1 says, “In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea . . .”

In terms of his food his diet was unique. Jesus said, he came “eating no bread and drinking no wine . . .” (Luke 7:33). He was known for fasting and certainly not for feasting. Rather he ate “locusts and wild honey” (Matthew 3:4).

In terms of his clothing, “John wore a garment of camel’s hair and a leather belt around his waist . . .” (Matthew 3:4). (2 Kings 1:8 – like Elijah)

2. He was a prophet. He was widely acknowledged to be this by the people of Israel. The Jewish leadership in Jerusalem bore witness to this, when they said, “all the people . . . are convinced that John was a prophet” (Luke 20:6).

Jesus also held this view. Speaking of John he said, “What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes . . .” (Matthew 11:9). As we will see, he had a strong prophetic message for the people.

3. He was the forerunner, the one sent to prepare the way. As Jesus said, John is “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.’” (Matthew 11:9-10).

This comes from Malachi 3:1. He is the fulfillment of this prophecy. And he has this unique role of preparing the people for the Lord’s coming.

Another text that sees John as a fulfillment of a prophecy about the forerunner is found in Luke3:4. It identifies John as “the voice of one crying in the wilderness: Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.” This prophecy comes from Isaiah 40:3-5.

He prepared the way for Jesus in several ways. One is that he called people to look for the one to come. 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. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into the barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.” – Matthew 3:11-12.

He also identified Jesus as this one. He said, “I saw the Spirit descend from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him (Jesus). 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.’ And I have seen and have borne witness that this is the Son of God.” – John 1:32-34

4. He was faithful to his call. John did what God told him to do without hesitation. He did not care what others thought and he was fearless with those who held power.

He called the Pharisees and Sadducees who came to him a “brood of vipers” (Matthew 3:7). And proceeded to warn them of judgment in they didn’t repent. He also criticized King Herod – Mark 6:18, which eventually led to his death

And he was faithful to death. Matthew 14:6-11 tells this story. “When Herod’s birthday came, the daughter of Herodias danced before the company and pleased Herod, so that he promised with an oath to give her whatever she might ask. Prompted by her mother, she said, ‘Give me the head of John the Baptist here on a platter.’ And the king was sorry, but because of his oaths and his guests he commanded it to be given. He sent and had John beheaded in the prison, and his head was brought on a platter and given to the girl, and she brought it to her mother.” He stayed true to God until the end.

Now we look at –

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

John’s message was a message of repentance. He preached, “repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” – Matthew 3:2

Repentance is the way to prepare for the proper celebration of Christmas, as well as the second Advent of Jesus.

  • Repentance is a change of heart and mind that leads to changed behaviors.
  • It is choosing to turn away from our sin so that we can do God’s will from now on.

Here are some examples of John’s call to repentance. 1. He pointed out personal marital sins. “John had been saying to Herod, ‘It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.’” – Mark 6:18. In this particular case Herod was guilty of both adultery and incest (Leviticus 18:16). And John was not afraid to call him to repentance.

2. He pointed out human greed. Our desire to have and to hold on to more than we need. “And the crowds asked him, ‘What then shall we do?’ And he answered them, ‘Whoever has two tunics is to share with him who has none, and whoever has food is to do likewise.’” – Luke 3:10-11. If you have more than you need, share your food and clothing with those who do not have these.

3. He pointed out oppression, or using your power to take advantage of others and enrich yourself. “Tax collectors also came to be baptized and said to him, ‘Teacher, what shall we do?’ And he said to them, ‘Collect no more than you are authorized to do.’” – Luke 3:12-13. That is, don’t do what most tax collectors do, take more than required in order to pad your own income. Only take what you are supposed to.

Not only did he address very specific issues of sin, he undercut their excuses for their unfaithfulness. They thought, Abraham is our father. We are the chosen people. It’s OK. We’ll be alright.

John said, “do not presume 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.” – Matthew 3:9. So what if you are Abraham’s children. God can turn a rock into a child of Abraham. Repentance is what is necessary.

As he said to them, “Bear fruit in keeping with repentance. . . 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.” – Matthew 3:8, 10. Bearing the fruit of repentance is necessary.

What about you? Where are you allowing yourself to continue in wrong behavior? Where are you holding out on God? Those areas that you would rather not think about? And what are your excuses? You think, well God doesn’t really care about that issue. Or, hey, I go to church. Well God can make church members out of rocks too!

John teaches us that getting ready for Jesus’ Advent means dealing with our sin through repentance. It means setting aside our excuses, our rationalizations and justifications so that we begin to do God’s will.

And then, like the many sinners who responded to John in his day (Matthew 21:32), we too can confess our sins and find forgiveness (Mark 1:4-8). And then we will be ready to welcome Jesus and follow him in all of life.

William Higgins

Read Full Post »

Our text today is often called the parable of the two sons. I think parents with teens will relate to it. It’s about a father trying to get his kids to do chores. One kid is rude about it and the other doesn’t do anything.

But in all seriousness, it’s an important Scripture because it gives us a very clear understanding of what God wants from us.

It comes right in the middle of a fairly long confrontation between Jesus and the leaders of Jerusalem – the chief priests and the elders of the people (21:23). And this is the first of three parables intended to give them a message.

First, let’s work at –

Understanding the parable

Jesus initiates this stage of the conversation with a question. v. 28 – “What do you think?” They had just refused to answer a question he posed, but as we will see in what follows, this parable forces them to answer him.

Now before we move on, let me say here that in some ancient manuscripts of the New Testament the order of the two sons is actually reversed. So if your Bible has this you will know what is going on. For instance the older New American Standard Bible. I am using the ESV as always.

The first son. v. 28 – “A man had two sons. And he went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work in the vineyard today.’” The word translated as “first” can also mean “older,” as in the oldest son. Some translations take it this way.

“Sons” is actually the word for “children.” And when the father says, “son, go and work,” it is actually “child, go and work,” a more affectionate way of putting it. He is asking him to do some work on the family farm.

v. 29 – “And he answered, ‘I will not.’” The son’s response is rude and disrespectful. In its culture this would be seen as rebellious and unacceptable. And it’s a real contrast to the father’s affectionate address to him.

The story goes on, v. 29 – “but afterward he changed his mind and went.” Although he said no, he does work.

The word behind the phrase, “changed his mind” can also be translated as ‘he regretted it’ or ‘he thought differently about it,’ or even ‘he repented.’

This part of the parable has some connection to Luke 15 and the parable of the prodigal son, the only other parable of Jesus that involves a father and two sons. The first son here is quite similar to the prodigal son. And both show us what repentance looks like. They changed their minds and acted differently.

The second son. v. 30 – “And he went to the other son and said the same. And he answered, ‘I go, sir.’” This is a very respectful answer, in contrast to the first son’s words to his father. The word “sir” is actually the word for ‘lord’ or ‘master.’

v. 30 – “but did not go.” He said yes, but he was full of hot air.

Now let’s look at –

Jesus’ interpretation

v. 31 – “’Which of the two did the will of his father?’ They said, ‘The first.’ Jesus said to them, ‘Truly, I say to you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes go into the kingdom of God before you.’”

  • From this we see that the father represents God.
  • The first son represents the tax collectors & prostitutes. They said no to God initially, but when they heard the message of the kingdom, they changed their minds and began to do God’s will.
  • The second son represents the chief priests & elders. They said yes to God, but when they heard the message, they did not act.
  • And most likely the vineyard represents Israel – the people of God.

The point of the parable is clear. Those who refuse God but later repent and obey, like the first son, will go into the kingdom. And they will go in before those who say yes, but don’t obey God, like the second son. (Indeed the leaders won’t get in at all unless they repent.)

Jesus gives his strong affirmation to this lesson when he says, “Truly I say to you.” He is saying, ‘take note!’ ‘This is absolutely the truth.’

Finally, notice how Jesus forces them to answer. The only possible answer to his question is that the first son did the father’s will. Yet the first son undeniably represents well repentant sinners – those moral outcasts that these leaders looked down on.

And the leaders look very much like the second son, in that they did not take heed to the message of the kingdom. So they, in effect, condemn themselves.

Now this parable can be applied quite broadly, but in this context Jesus applies it specifically to –

John the Baptist’s ministry

– the subject of the argument at this point between Jesus and the leaders of Jerusalem.

v. 32 – “For John came to you in the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him.” Even though they had said yes to obey God, they did not believe John was from God. So they didn’t do what he said.

Although John came in the way of righteousness, that is, he was righteous and preached a righteous message from God, they rejected him.

v. 32 – “but the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him.” Even though they had said no to God, they believed John and repented.

Finally, Jesus says, v. 32 – “And even when you saw it, you did not afterward change your minds and believe him.” Even after they saw others respond, they rejected him, and would not change their minds about him, and heed his message of repentance. They blew it twice with John, just like they were blowing it with Jesus as they spoke with him.

Lessons for us

1. We learn what God wants from us. God wants us to believe and respond to the message of the kingdom. And how do we respond? We are to respond by obeying God. To say it another way, God is looking for a change within that leads to obedience; so that we come to do our heavenly father’s will, instead of ours or anyone else’s.

This is the bottom line of what God wants from us.

2. Don’t be the second son. As Christians we have said “yes” to God, and so we are reminded in this parable that we need to come through on our commitment. We need to make sure we are working in the vineyard, doing God’s will; using our gifts and doing all that God tells us to do.

Now, the second son echoes Matthew 7:21. “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.” Both use the address of “Lord,” and both don’t obey the will of the father. And both are, as Jesus interprets the parable, excluded from the kingdom of God. (Davies & Allison)

This is a word to us not just the ancient leaders of Israel. We must come through on our commitments to God.

3. Don’t be self-righteous. We need humility so we don’t become like the leaders of Jerusalem.

Think about it. Who are the ones who will never repent? Rank sinners? No. There’s a chance for them. The ones who will never repent are those who think they don’t need to repent; who don’t see the need; who think they are in the right.

Paul says, “Let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall” – 1 Corinthians 10:12. This is a warning for us. You never get to a place where you can’t receive God’s message to you; where you don’t need to be open to repentance.

4. The gospel is great news for sinners! So if you are here today and you have sin in your life – I mean even really bad sin; you have made terrible and shameful choices – it isn’t too late.

You haven’t done God’s will so far? Jesus teaches that you can change your mind! You can have a change within so that you believe the message and start to obey your heavenly father. It isn’t too late.

And if there is anyone here today who wants to do this very thing I invite you to come forward . . ..

[Note: This is not an example of the first and the last from 20:16. In this last verse the first and the last has to do with equalization, not reversal – both the first and the last were made equal.]
 
[Note: Literary structure of the parable.
A. Question/two sons: What do you think? A man had two sons.
B. First son: And he went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work in the vineyard today.’ And he answered, ‘I will not,’ but afterward he changed his mind and went.
`B. Second son: And he went to the other son and said the same. And he answered, ‘I go, sir,’ but did not go.
`A. Question/two sons: Which of the two did the will of his father?” They said, “The first.”

William Higgins

Read Full Post »