Think about the last time you found yourself talking about your beliefs to someone who did not agree with you. Maybe it was over a particular political issue. Maybe it was in a conversation about a social issue, or religion, or morals. Maybe someone asked you what makes you think that your beliefs are any better than someone else’s beliefs. Maybe you were defending truth against a more hybrid view.
How did you do? Were you confident? Were you able to talk about your faith in a knowledgeable way? Did you invite this person to “come and see”?
God has given each person a longing to know Him, and to relate to Him, though not everyone recognizes that longing for what it is. Often people think that what they long for is happiness, or stability, or at least one good relationship, or success in some fashion.
But meaning in life is found in God.
In last week’s passage, John the Baptist said if you want to know who God is, then you need to know who Jesus is, because Jesus is the one who makes God known.
This week, we’ll hear John the Baptist answer questions from Biblical scholars who represented the leading religious authorities of their day.
Before dive in, though, I thought I would dig up some background on John the Baptist, that we can glean from the other gospels (especially Matthew’s and Luke’s gospel):
- Parents: He was the only child of elderly, Godfearing people from a small village just outside of Jerusalem. Both his parents were of the tribe of Levi, his father was a priest in the temple, and his mother was actually descended from Aaron himself, the first high priest of Israel.
- Birth: An angel was sent to Zechariah, John’s father, to announce John’s miraculous conception, as Zechariah and Elizabeth (John’s mother) were both past childbearing age.
- Spirituality: Even before he was born, John was already filled with the Holy Spirit.
- Cousin: John met Jesus—who was John’s cousin—when both were in utero (John was at 6 months’ gestation, Jesus may still have been a zygote).
- Nazirite: John was born into the Nazirite vow (just as Samson had been) and remained a Nazirite all his life, by God’s express command.
- Character: As John grew up, he became “strong in spirit.”
- Lifestyle: Because he seems to have gone to live in the wilderness early in his life, some scholars associate him with the Essene community.
- Timeframe: We know the exact time when John began his career as a prophet: 26-27 AD, the fifteenth year of Tiberius Caesar’s reign. Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod Antipas was tetrarch of Galilee.
- Dress: John adopted the garb and diet that would most associate him with the prophet Elijah, who had been described as wearing a garment of hair and leather belt.
- Board: John’s menu of locusts and honey has an intriguing twist to it. According to one scholar, “The Greek word for locusts (akris/ἀκρίδες) is very similar to the Greek word for ‘honey cake’ (enkris/έγκρίς) that is used for the ‘manna’ that the Israelites ate in the desert in the days of Moses.
- Message: John’s directive was simple and clear: Prepare the way for the coming Messiah.
- Popularity: No prophets are recorded between Malachi and Matthew, indicating a time of dormancy, so as the last of the great Hebrew prophets, John became wildly popular, with people thronging the desert to hear him preach, both Judeans and Gentiles, including Roman centurions and the Sanhedrin alike.
- Baptizer: John was acclaimed for his clarion call to cleanse from all unrighteousness in preparation for the king and kingdom to come. Positioning himself by the Jordan River, John baptized thousands.
- Baptism: Though at first reluctant, John agreed to baptize Jesus, thus inaugurating Jesus’ own official ministry.
- Disciples: John had close followers throughout his ministry, though he regularly pointed them to Jesus, saying “He must increase, but I must decrease.” Two of John’s most well-known disciples were Andrew and another John, the one who would later become known as “the one Jesus loved.”
- Questioning Ministry: Some of John’s disciples questioned Jesus’ disciples why they did not fast. Jesus explained it was because they had Jesus, the bridegroom, with them. The time would come when they would fast.
- Questioning Identity: Whether John himself experienced a moment of unsureness, or whether his disciples were unsure, John sent an envoy to Jesus questioning his identity and purpose, prompting Jesus’ firm and public proclamation of who he was with an accompanying sermon on the dangers of wavering faith.
- Imprisonment: Herod Antipas had John arrested and imprisoned for publicly denouncing Herod’s affair and marriage with his brother Philip’s wife Herodias (to whom he was also related).
- Beheading: At the request of his stepdaughter Salome (who, in turn, acted on behalf of her mother, Herodias) Herod, during a drunken party, agreed to have John beheaded.
- Burial: John’s disciples were permitted to lay John’s body in a tomb. John’s head had already been delivered to Salome on a platter. Were the head and body ever reunited?
So, John grew up, and he grew strong in the Spirit. At some point early in his life, perhaps when his aged parents had died, John moved out into the desert and sort of dropped out of sight.
Then, seemingly out of nowhere, John reappeared, now a grown man, rugged, dressed in camel’s hair and leather, eating only wild honey and locusts (or manna?), and preaching what we would call hell-fire-and-brimstone sermons.
His big message was that -everyone- was a sinner, even good Jewish people were sinners, and they all needed to repent and get ready for the Messiah Who was coming very soon. As an outward sign of their repentance, John was baptizing people in the River Jordan—baptizing everybody: Greeks, Roman soldiers, and even Judeans alike.
That those of the Jewish faith were willing to do this is downright amazing, because no prophet or religious leader had ever done this. Before only people trying to become Jewish went through baptism. But John was saying nobody was right with God, not even those of Jewish faith or descent.
This made him a very controversial figure.
People came by the thousands, out into the wilderness, to hear the prophet John preach and to get baptized by him, because of the great spiritual hunger during that time.
People wanted to know God.
It was also politically a very turbulent time, and the whole known world (not just Judea) was expecting a Messiah, a great king who would come as redeemer, bringing liberty and peace.
Everyone expected a great leader to emerge, who would be bigger than life, maybe even supernatural.
[John the Baptist | The LUMO Project, Free Bible Images, http://www.freebibleimages.org]