Major events require intense preparation. That was the job of John the Baptist.
Dr. Luke sets the Jesus story in a historical context, one that was familiar to his first-century readers. He gives the details down to the exact year when all the preparations of childhood and youth ended for John and Jesus.
John the Baptist
While the high priests Annas and Caiaphas carried on business as usual at the Temple in Jerusalem, John received a word from the Lord in the wilderness. The contrast between the high priests and John could not have been more stark:
- Regal robes, the finery of power compared with camel’s hair;
- Solemn, well-rehearsed prayers echoing from marble walls rather than the ruined voice of single man reverberating from canyon walls;
- A bland call to normalcy and un-rocked boats instead of an impassioned plea for repentance of sins and spiritual revolution; and
- Worn out lectures falling on deaf ears against knife-like sermons that cut to the heart.
All through the region of Judea around the Jordan River crowds came to hear John. He was the fulfillment of the prophecy of Isaiah, a voice crying in the wilderness.
“Prepare the way of the Lord; Make His paths straight. Every valley shall be filled
And every mountain and hill brought low; The crooked places shall be made straight
And the rough ways smooth.”
Action was required from those who longed to be right with God. Sin had ruled the nation long enough. It was time for righteousness again. The hunger of the multitudes for the glory of the Lord drove people to the wilderness abandoning the Temple. They wanted to see the glory again and this was what Isaiah promised.
“And all flesh shall see the salvation of God…”
Works of Repentance
The nation did not need more words; more mercy was the need. Instead of more ritual, real power was needed. Instead of good intentions, works worthy of repentance were needed. John went into detail.
- To be true sons of Abraham they must follow God as Abraham did.
- The ax was already at the root of the fruitless tree.
When people asked what he meant, he became even more specific.
- Be generous givers, not hoarding misers.
- Tax collectors, do not skim off the excess for yourselves.
- Soldiers, do your duty fairly with justice and not for bribes.
Lines of repentant sinners splashed through the Jordan at John’s hands.
John and Jesus
Many began to openly speculate if John was Messiah. John set them straight. His baptism was for repentance. The One to come would baptize with the Holy Spirit and with Fire. This holiness revival reached all the way to Herod and John was destined for prison. Before his arrest, Jesus came to him for baptism. John protested but Jesus prevailed. When Jesus came up out of the Jordan, the heavens opened and the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove descended upon Jesus. A voice from the sky declared His identity.
“You are My beloved Son; in You I am well pleased.”
The people who were prepared heard the voice. Those who refused to fill in their apathetic valleys, bring down their mountains of pride, straighten out their crooked methods and smooth out their careless, rough ways heard nothing but thunder on the winds of the wilderness.
Now in the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, Pontius Pilate being governor of Judea, Herod being tetrarch of Galilee, his brother Philip tetrarch of Iturea and the region of Trachonitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene, while Annas and Caiaphas were high priests, the word of God came to John the son of Zacharias in the wilderness. And he went into all the region around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the remission of sins, as it is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet, saying: “The voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord; Make His paths straight. Every valley shall be filled And every mountain and hill brought low; The crooked places shall be made straight And the rough ways smooth; And all flesh shall see the salvation of God.'”Then he said to the multitudes that came out to be baptized by him, “Brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Therefore bear fruits worthy of repentance, and do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I say to you that God is able to raise up children to Abraham from these stones. And even now the ax is laid to the root of the trees. Therefore every tree which does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.” So the people asked him, saying, “What shall we do then?” He answered and said to them, “He who has two tunics, let him give to him who has none; and he who has food, let him do likewise.” Then 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 what is appointed for you.” Likewise the soldiers asked him, saying, “And what shall we do?” So he said to them, “Do not intimidate anyone or accuse falsely, and be content with your wages.” Now as the people were in expectation, and all reasoned in their hearts about John, whether he was the Christ or not, John answered, saying to all, “I indeed baptize you with water; but One mightier than I is coming, whose sandal strap I am not worthy to loose. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fan is in His hand, and He will thoroughly clean out His threshing floor, and gather the wheat into His barn; but the chaff He will burn with unquenchable fire.” And with many other exhortations he preached to the people. But Herod the tetrarch, being rebuked by him concerning Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, and for all the evils which Herod had done, also added this, above all, that he shut John up in prison. When all the people were baptized, it came to pass that Jesus also was baptized; and while He prayed, the heaven was opened. And the Holy Spirit descended in bodily form like a dove upon Him, and a voice came from heaven which said, “You are My beloved Son; in You I am well pleased.”
Lord Jesus, I want to live in a continual state of preparation. Keep my heart clean from sin. Fill in the valleys in my knowledge of the truth with holy facts. Blast away any stubborn boulders of pride in my life. Show me the crooked places so I can straighten them according to Your word. Give me the grace to smooth out may rough, careless ways. I want to witness it when Your glory is revealed to all mankind! I want to be prepared for what it is next! Amen.
Revive Us Again
Words: W.P. Mackay; Music: John. J. Husband
1 We praise thee, O God, for the Son of thy love,
For Jesus who died and is now gone above.
Hallelujah, Thine the glory!
Hallelujah, Thine the glory!
Revive us again.
2 We praise thee, O God, for thy Spirit of light,
Who has shown us our Savior and scattered our night.
3 All glory and praise to the Lamb that was slain,
Who has borne all our sins and has cleansed ev’ry stain.
4 Revive us again – fill each heart with thy love;
May each soul be rekindled with fire from above.
© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved