John the Baptist Prepares the Way
John the Baptist was Jesus’ cousin, three months older than Jesus. Luke gives a detailed account of the birth of both Jesus and John (Luke 1). Zechariah and Elizabeth bore John at a very old age, after an angel of the Lord appeared to Zechariah while he was chosen to serve at the altar. The angel of the Lord foretold the purpose of John to Zechariah.
He will bring back many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God. And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the parents to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous—to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.Luke 1:16-17
The angel of the Lord told that John would be a joy and delight to them and would be great in the sight of God. Zechariah was instructed that John should never take wine or other fermented drinks and that he will be filled with the Holy Spirit even before his birth.
John grew up and started preaching in the wilderness of Judea, asking people to repent as the kingdom of heaven was near. The prophecy by Isaiah was fulfilled.
This is he who was spoken of through the prophet Isaiah:Matthew 3:3
“A voice of one calling in the wilderness,
‘Prepare the way for the Lord,
make straight paths for him.’”
John lived a life of a wild man. He wore clothes made of camel hair and ate locusts and wild honey. He seemed to be quite popular as people from Jerusalem, all of Judea and the whole region of Jordan went to him. They would confess their sins and would be baptized by him and hence, the commonly known title, John the Baptist.
Soon after, the Pharisees and the Sadducees also came to John. It is not quite clear in Matthew why they came but perhaps they came to find out if John was the Messiah whom they were waiting for (Luke 3:15). When John saw them he said,
… You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath?Matthew 3:7
John doesn’t try to be nice to these Jewish authorities but told them plainly to repent. He also told them that just because they were from the lineage of Abraham, didn’t mean they had secured their place in heaven. He went on and told them that unless they repent and produce good fruit, they will be thrown down into the everlasting fire of hell.
And do not think you can say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham.Matthew 3:9
John also told the Pharisees and the Sadducees about Jesus, for whom he was preparing the path. He told them that he baptized with water for repentance but the one coming after him will baptize them with the Holy Spirit and fire.
Baptism of the Spirit is something we all need and our desire should be for that. But sadly much like the Pharisees our desires are for the ritualistic aspects of baptism and we equate it to any other phase in our lives, like our 18th birthday, when we first vote or get our drivers license or our wedding day. This was not what Jesus intended when he gave us the great commission. (Matthew 28:19-20)
The Baptism of Jesus
Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan river to be baptized by John. Why did Jesus need to get baptized? John tried to deter Jesus saying it was rather he who needed to be baptized by Jesus,
Jesus replied, “Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.” Then John consented.Matthew 3:15
As soon as Jesus was baptized, heaven opened and John saw the Spirit of God descending on Jesus like a dove and alighting on him along with a voice saying,
…“This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”Matthew 3:17
This was probably the reason why Jesus was baptized so that Jesus could then start his ministry and John could give a witness of this incident. It is unclear if there were other people also that time but at least the presence of John is clearly mentioned.
Jesus and John, both preached in a similar manner but their lifestyles were different. The former lived a normal life and the latter lived in the wilderness. However, not many people took their message. Maybe people went to John not to repent or to get baptized but to see how was he living and similarly, people might have gone to hear Jesus not because they wanted to know his message but probably to find fault in him.
We too have a similar attitude. We either admire the outward attractions or try to find faults. Among all this, we leave out the message of Christ, repentance, salvation and eternal life that we can freely get with the sacrifice of Jesus. Jesus came and left us with the Holy Spirit, making this connection even easier for us. Let us try to know the heart of God instead of just worshiping him outwardly.