Lesson 12: John's Preaching and John's Baptism
Luke 3:4-6, Matthew 3:1-2, Mark 1:2-5, John 1:23
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A Blending of The Four Gospel Records. Welcome to Lesson #12. In our last lesson we read Luke 3:3-6; then we got all bogged down with the geography of the Jordan Valley and the lifestyle of John the Baptist and didn't get that section completed. I suggest you re-read v.3-6, right now. In Luke 1:15, we read that Gabriel said John was filled with the Holy Ghost from his mother's womb. Thus, I conclude that John miraculously understood something about his mission even as a child. As John preached there along the west side of the Dead Sea, he could undoubtedly look up and see the sun coming up every morning right over the summit of MT. NEBO, where Moses went up and looked across into the promised land about 1500 years before; and, Moses died there in that mountain. Mt. Nebo is not a city, but I made the summit of Mt. Nebo #4 on your map-worksheet. So, write that in...Mt. Nebo...N-E-B-0. As he baptized there in the Jordan River he must have waded right into the water at the very place where that river had miraculously opened-up about 1500 years before and Joshua had crossed with all Israel. Thus, O.T. history was alive in this young man's heart. He must have been taught about all these things by his old priest father Zechariah. His predecessor named Elijah had left foot prints in that same valley almost 1000 years before. It was that same river (Jordan) where Elijah smote the waters with his mantle, the waters divided and Elijah and Elisha crossed over on dry ground. It was just across on the east side of .that river where Elijah was taken up in a chariot of fire, in a great whirlwind (II Kings 2:11). That valley has the distinction of being the lowest elevation on the face of the earth. The Dead Sea is about 1200 feet, or a quarter of a mile BELOW sea level. Thus, the air down in that valley must have gotten a little heavy at times and those big mountains on each side of the valley must have seemed like walls and possibly shortened the daylight hours a little. But, that's where John preached!
Now, what did John preach? What was his message? Luke 3:3 here said he preached the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins. What is Luke saying? Now, I hope you understand; that's a summary of what John preached. That's not a direct quote. Repentance simply means a change in mind or attitude. But, in this context that change of will or change of mind was in relation to sin, i.e. to resolve to sin NO MORE. When John's constituents reached that resolve of mind they were baptized, i.e. immersed in water. Beyond that it was understood by John's constituents that the act of repentance and the subsequent baptism was preparatory to the kingdom, i.e. in preparation for the coming messiah. Because we learn in Matthew's record (Matt. 3:1-2) that John emphasized that point. Let's read the first two verses of Matthew ch. 3. Are you ready? "In those days came John the Baptist, preaching in the wilderness of Judea, and saying, Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." Thus, John gave the coming of the kingdom as an incentive or motivation for repentance. Now, the expression "is at hand" implies some expectation with reference to the near future. No definite time interval is expressed; but the figure implies you can almost reach out and touch it. Get prepared! The time is short! Thus, John preached with urgency.
In John 1:23, John the Baptist said: "I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness, Make straight the way of the Lord, as said the prophet Isaiah." Are you listening? Matthew quotes the Isaiah prophecy (3:3), Mark quotes the Isaiah prophecy (1:2-3), Luke quotes the Isaiah prophecy (3:4-5-6). John the Baptist applied Isaiah 40 to himself and all four writers make that point. This is not something I concocted. Luke gives the longest quote from Isaiah here in v.4-5-6. So, Get your eyes on that! What is John saying? What is the figure and what is John's point? John was a moral and spiritual ROAD BUILDER. That's implied in the statement: "prepare ye the way" here in v.4, which, as I said, is a quotation from Isaiah ch. 40. Mark and Matthew say "path." John says "way." Isaiah 40:3 in the KJV said: "a HIGHWAY for our God." Do you get it? John was the ROAD BUILDER. Now, re-read Luke's statement here in v.3-4-5-6. Luke says in v.3 (I'm paraphrasing): John came to Jordan country preaching the baptism of repentance. How Luke? "As it is written in...Isaiah." Thus, Luke's quote from Isaiah, v.4-5-6 here, is a description of HOW John came and HOW John preached in the Jordan valley. Now, what do road builders do? Look at Luke 3:5, "Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be brought low; and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways shall be made smooth..." That's the way those Romans built roads or highways. As a matter of fact, that's the way we do it today. The NIV says it like this: "Every valley shall be filled in, and every mountain and hill leveled off. The crooked roads shall become straight and the rough ways smooth." You see, John was building a highway for Jesus in a moral sense. Jesus would travel that highway, i.e. "all flesh shall see the salvation of God." (Luke 3:6). Do you remember what Simeon, the old man in the temple, said in his prayer when he held the baby Jesus? "...mine eyes have seen thy salvation..." (Luke 2:30). The messiah is the thought in Luke 3:6. It's a quote from Isa. 53:10. You see, when John said: "Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand," he was straightening out some crooked sinful ways, filling in some immoral and offensive valleys gulled out by sin and smoothing up some hearts crumpled up and devastated by sin. John was preparing the way for Jesus. That's Luke's point. That's the way John preached.
Now, what is a kingdom? John said, the kingdom was coming. You have a KINGDOM WORKSHEET, remember? Keep your eyes peeled. John said at that time the kingdom was still future and it was almost within an arm's reach. But, right now let's tune-in Mark 1:4. Are you ready? Let's read! "John did baptize in the wilderness, and preach the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins." O.K., then what happened? V.5, let's read it! "And there went out unto him all the land of Judea, and they of Jerusalem, and were all baptized of him in the river of Jordan, confessing their sins." John's preaching was very effective. He aroused the whole Jewish nation. They were willing to listen to this old country boy with crude dress and an unusual diet. V.4 said, John did baptize. Then v.5 tells us John used the river of Jordan for that purpose. Nobody disputes this was immersion in water. John was the first to introduce baptism. Now, someone is going to dispute that! But, I believe there is good evidence in the N.T. to indicate John was the first to introduced baptism. God gave Moses some health rules, one time, for the children of Israel concerning leprosy, body discharges, etc. You might read Leviticus 15:16. Some have thought. THAT was a primitive form of baptism. But, that misses the point; it was altogether different than baptism, as John did it. First, it was not administered by ANOTHER in the sense of baptism. Secondly, it was NOT an immersion. It was a washing. There's no connection whatsoever. Now, please get this! This baptism, like John's preaching/ WAS NOT just something John made up as he went along. John 1:33 is a direct quote from John the Baptist himself. Please read it with me. Starting with the second phrase: "he that sent me to baptize with water... said." Now, we won't get into WHAT he said at this point; but John makes reference to God. God sent John for what purpose?...to baptize WITH WATER. It was part of John's mission. Thus, John's baptism was FROM God, NOT some tradition that John learned from men. Jesus confirmed this! In Luke 20:4, Jesus was teaching in the temple. Some chief priests and scribes heard Jesus. They got a little pungent and demanded of Jesus, Who gave you authority to teach this? Jesus made them a proposition, if they would answer one question first; then Jesus would tell them who gave him this authority. This is the question Jesus asked: "The baptism of John, was it from heaven, or of men?" Realizing they were in a corner, they told Jesus they didn't know. The implication is, they DID KNOW but wouldn't admit it. So, as agreed upon, Jesus didn't answer their question either; although, the answer was implied about Jesus’ authority by the very incident itself. But, our point here is that Jesus (in a round-about way), CONFIRMED that John introduced baptism. Also, the very fact that John was given the nickname or surname of "Baptizer", implies this. This name distinguishes him from all other Johns. It describes his occupation, religion. In English, it really should be, John the Immerser. The word "Baptizer", "Baptism" and "Baptize" all come from a Greek form. These Greek words should never have been placed in an English translation. But a few doctrinal biases and some heavy politics caused these Greek words to be left in the KJV English text about 1611 AD. Some English texts DO SAY "Immerse" instead of "baptize", as it should be. This Greek word was used before the time of John. When I say John introduced Baptism; I'm talking about the act of ratification to repentance that John introduced that became known by this term. I don't mean John coined the word. The word is also used in a figurative sense in the Bible and even John used the word that way.
Now, while we're at this point; let’s talk about baptism a little more. Why did John baptize? I.e. immerse? What did it accomplish? In other words, what change did this effect upon those WHO honestly and eagerly submitted to John's Baptism? Well first of all, you need to understand that John's baptism was different than Christian baptism (or so-called. Great Commission baptism) today...i.e. it was different in purpose. Now, the physical act was identically the same (a burial in water). Only the PURPOSE was different. Both were UNTO or FOR the remission of sins. Remission of sins, simply means, forgiveness of sins. Now, the sins we're talking about is on the part of a man. But, the forgiveness we're talking about is on the part of God, i.e. God must effect the release from sin. Man cannot do that! As I said, both baptisms were FOR or UNTO the remission of sins. But, HERE'S the difference: John's baptism was based upon repentance. On the other hand, great commission baptism today (that makes one a Christian, if properly administered) is BASED upon FAITH in Jesus Christ as God's Son. John's baptism was preparatory, but baptism today in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Ghost is transitional. Or, in the words of II Cor. 5:17, "OLD THINGS are passed away...ALL THINGS are become new." Here's the point: Jesus died on the cross for the sins of the whole world (I John 2:1-2). Now, that INCLUDES the WHOLE WORLD, those who lived before the time of the cross (including the ones that John baptized in Jordan) as well as those of us who live (and have lived) after the time of the cross. See Heb. 9:15 on this point. You see, John preached (according .to Matt. 3:2) the kingdom of heaven IS AT HAND. I.e. (if I might paraphrase): John was saying, you can't enter the kingdom now. Because, the kingdom hasn't come yet! But, you can get prepared, and be ready. He was saying, here's what you must do: repent (or turn from sin) AND be baptized. In other words, enter a covenant relationship with God, now. Submission to baptism_ was a ratification of their entry into that covenant relationship. It's like signing a note at the bank. In one sense, your signature is nothing more than a little ink that it. Took you about five seconds to smear on a piece of paper. But, it sure separates the sheep from the goats. Because, in so doing, you thereby show ratification that you voluntarily accept responsibility. Thus, you thereby agree to be held accountable. So, it's one of those things you don't do flippantly. AND, John preached that this baptism of repentance was for remission (or forgiveness) of sins. In other words, God agreed to release the guilt of all past sins, as His part in the agreement, when that complete CHANGE OF MIND occurred and the act of ratification by baptism took place. You must remember though, the sacrifice for sins was NOT yet offered, at that time. I'm talking about Jesus Christ dying on the cross of Calvary for the sins -of the world. Thus, John emphasized the kingdom was coming. It wouldn't be long! Thus, as I said before: John's baptism was PREPARATORY to the coming of Jesus Christ and his death on the cross when that sacrifice, that taketh away the sins of the world, would be offered and effective. Therefore, John's baptism was based upon repentance, NOT faith in Jesus Christ as is required of us today. On this side of the cross, repentance is still required, YES! But, since Jesus came and the establishment of the kingdom; faith in Jesus Christ as God's Son PLUS repentance is required before baptism and remission of sins. Thus, John's baptism is NOT in effect today. You can't get prepared for the King's coming after he CAME! 'That point is made very clean in the first verse of Acts ch. 19. But, remission of sins is IMMEDIATE today, upon faith, repentance and baptism properly administered. When Jesus came and the kingdom was established, John's baptism was finished. It became null and void. It was in effect for a short transition period between the Old Testament and the New Testament, that's all.
Now, we have been discussing the PURPOSE of John's baptism. This was part of John's mission. This is the way John went about PREPARING THE WAY (or the highway) OF THE LORD here in Luke 3:4. It was a spiritual ROAD BUILDING process, in the mind of Isaiah, as quoted here in v.4-5-6. And this is simply another way of saying the very same thing Gabriel said. Consider what Gabriel said (back in Luke 1:17): "he [i.e. John the Baptist] shall go before him [i.e. Jesus Christ] in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just; to make ready a people prepared for the lord." That was John's mission! And John did a spectacular job of carrying out that mission.
The old clock is coming down on us fast. But, let me touch a couple more things here before the bell, if we can. First, let me call your attention to the first three verses in Hebrews ch. 10. John's baptism was under the Old Testament age. Just like all the sacrifices offered back there, they did .not make the comers there unto perfect, Heb. 10:1. The blood of bulls and goats could not take away sins, v.4. There was a remembrance made again, every year under that system, v.3. They had a conscience of sin (v.2) although they had made the required offerings under that system. Finally, that system was changed. "He taketh away the first, that he may establish the second." (Heb. 10:9). This happened by, "the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all." v.10. Then finally down in v.18, "where remission of these is, there is no more offering for sin." You see, John's baptism was still under the old system. Sins were not forgiven forever and permanently until paid for by the blood of Christ. Secondly, this change over from the Mosaic Law to the Law of Christ is another way of expressing John's reference to the coming kingdom. John preached "the kingdom of heaven is at hand." (Matt. 3:1). Thus, John preached with urgency, to get prepared for the new system, i.e. kingdom epoch. O.K. we'll get back to John the Baptist and his preaching in the wilderness of Judea in our next lesson. Have a good day! And hurry back!