Wild and crazy. Extreme. Camel-hair clothes and a leather belt. A diet of insects and honey. These are some of the phrases that first come to mind when you think of the man known as John the Baptist. But what was he really like, what did he do, and what can we learn from him?
John’s story begins with Jesus.
1 The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. 2 As it is written in Isaiah the prophet: Look, I am sending My messenger ahead of You, who will prepare Your way. 3 A voice of one crying out in the wilderness: Prepare the way for the Lord; make His paths straight! 4 John came baptizing in the wilderness and preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 5 The whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were flocking to him, and they were baptized by him in the Jordan River as they confessed their sins. 6 John wore a camel-hair garment with a leather belt around his waist and ate locusts and wild honey. 7 He was preaching: “Someone more powerful than I will come after me. I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the strap of His sandals. 8 I have baptized you with water, but He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”
John the Baptist prepared the way for the Lord (vv2-3). The people in John’s day were wishing and hoping for an earthly ruler who would free them from the oppression of the Roman government. They had not heard a spoken word through the prophets in hundreds of years. Prophesied by Isaiah some 700 years prior, John’s role was to prepare the way for the Lord, telling everyone that Jesus was the Promised One. But Jesus was not coming as a political or military ruler. Jesus had come as the spiritual ruler that they (and we) most desperately needed.
We follow the example of John when our words and our lives point people to Jesus, helping to prepare their hearts to put their faith and trust in Him.
John the Baptist preached a message of repentance and forgiveness (v4). The religious leaders of John’s day were worried about ceremony, appearance and outward obedience to a long list of rules and regulations. John the Baptist knew the heart of God. He knew that God desires to see people who are broken over their sins, who are willing to turn away from their sins and walk in a different direction (repentance). Such people receive the mercy and forgiveness of God, who will remember their sin no more.
We follow the example of John when we help people to see that God is not wanting them to focus on religious rituals or outward obedience, but rather God calls them to trust in Jesus as Lord and Savior, believing that His death on the cross and His resurrection from the dead have provided everything needed for them to have forgiveness, salvation and eternal life. When a person repents of their sins and places their faith in Jesus, they are changed from the inside out!
John the Baptist baptized people in the Jordan River (vv4-5). As they confessed their sins to the Lord, the people were baptized by John. The word “baptize” literally means “to immerse under the water.” The picture of baptism is the picture of death to the old way of life and being raised to a new way of life. The baptism of John foreshadowed the baptism practiced by Jesus’ disciples (and us today) who baptize people who have not only turned away from their sin but also placed their faith and trust in Jesus. The picture of baptism is therefore also a public profession of our faith in Jesus, believing in His death and resurrection.
We follow the example of John when we first of all are baptized ourselves. The correct order according to the Bible is to believe and then to be baptized. If you have not been baptized since you surrendered your life to Jesus as Lord and Savior, then talk your pastor about scheduling your baptism soon. If you have any questions, let me know.
We also follow the example of John when we encourage others to be baptized. Perhaps you know someone who is a new follower of Jesus. Encourage them to get baptized as a public profession of their faith in Jesus. Perhaps you know someone who was sprinkled as an infant, many years before they made a personal decision to follow Jesus. That person should be baptized as a believer. While we appreciate the heart of a parent who would have their infant sprinkled, the baptism of the Bible is the baptism of a person who has repented of their sin and trusted in Jesus as Lord and Savior.
John the Baptist pointed people to Jesus. John lived away from everyday society. He ate locust beans with honey (you can make locust bread from locust beans). I’m not saying he didn’t eat insects, but it’s not likely. His appearance reminded people of the Old Testament prophets and they flocked to see and hear him. Yet, John didn’t allow his fame to go to his head. He knew that his role was to decrease as Jesus increased (John 3:30). John realized that he was not even worthy to untie the straps of Jesus’ sandals. John the Baptist humbly submitted to Jesus, and stepped out of the way so that people would flock to Jesus.
We follow the example of John when we point people to Jesus. We should live our lives with humility and faith in Jesus, not seeking worldly attention or fame. We should constantly be encouraging people to look to Jesus as the famous one. He is the one who can truly change their lives and their eternity.