TOPIC: JOHN THE BAPTIZER: JEHOVAH’S SON’S WITNESS
- To define the man ‘John’, who Jesus Christ described as the ‘Greatest of Men’ out of the kingdom of God – Matt.11:1-14. Luke 7:28.
- Examine how John used his Humility, Obedience, and Courage to witness to the greatness of Jesus Christ.
- Examine how the factors of faith in God, focus on mission, humility and courage made John a great believer in God.
- How Christians can gain and apply these qualities in this life.
Defining the man ‘John’
Profiling the man ‘John’ the Baptist, a most distinctive character in the New Testament, is best to align with Jesus Christ who described him as the ‘Greatest of Men’ out of the kingdom of God – Matt.11:1-14. Luke 7:28. Even much more, is that, God selected John before birth to fulfill the prophecies in the OT that a forerunner would go before the Christ to prepare the way of the Lord.
- Name: Actual name was John which means “Jehovah is gracious” – Lk.1:13. “The Baptist” was a title given by the writers of Scripture or perhaps by the crowds. It means “an immerser, one who administers the rite of immersion” - Matt. 3:1; 11:11.
- Ancestry and family life: His father, Zacharias, was a Priest from the tribe of Levi and his mother, Elizabeth, descended from the lineage of Aaron.
- Events surrounding his birth: John’s birth, like that of Isaac, was a miraculous event as His parents were old. Elizabeth was barren. - Luke 1:13. Angel Gabriel noted that their petition was heard. Like the prophet Jeremiah, God chose John, gave him a name, and ordained him as a prophet, even before he was born! – Jer.1:5; Luke 1:13-17). His mother, experienced the baby John leaping in her womb for joy, the working of the Holy Spirit,. A miracle which the Lord did to show that this Child was special.
- Mission: To bear witness, challenge the people and prepare the way for the coming of the Messiah – Jesus Christ that all might believe on Him, repent by turning away from sin and be baptized as a symbol.
- Lifestyle and occupation: Characterized by abstinence, self-control, and the anointing of the Holy Spirit. His ministry was to turn the hearts of Israel back to the Lord and to prepare them to receive the Christ. John’s lineage put him as a priest, but his occupation was a prophet. - Mark 1:6 hints on his lifestyle - Lived in the wilderness, his clothes were of camel’s hair and he ate wild honey and locusts. This shows us he led a secluded life. There are a few characters in the Bible such as Elijah that lived similarly.
- His death: John’s public rebuke of King Herod for his immoral and incestuous relationship with his brother’s wife, led to his being unceremoniously beheaded. He died a martyr.
- Bible Reference of him: - Isa.40:3 and Malachi 4:5, foretold his coming. The Gospels mentioned John the Baptist: Matthew 3, 11, 12, 14, 16, 17; Mark 6 and 8; Luke 7 and 9; John 1. The Acts of the Apostles also referenced him.
- His Place in history: John preached the fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecies. In Jno.1:29-34. John was the very first to testify that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. In Jno.5:31-34 Jesus cites John’s testimony as one witness that He is the Christ. Luke 7:28. “There is no one greater born of a woman, than John, but that the least in the kingdom of God is greater than John”. (also 2Pt.1:5) Prior to Jesus Christ, John the Baptist was the most blessed individual because he was the one to prepare the way for the coming of Christ. This was a privilege and an honor as John himself actually baptized Jesus as well.
John was the last of the prophets of the Old Testament era who had a very important role in the Gospels.
“Virtue” in Greek often refers to “moral excellence”. It is generally a trait or disposition of character that leads to good behavior. Virtues provide inner sanctions on particular motives, intentions and outward conduct. The Christian moral life is one that seeks to cultivate and practice virtue. “A virtue can be defined as the habitual and firm disposition to do good deeds. It prompts a person to perform good acts, but to give the very best of himself” Christian upbringing and behaviour, expects us to display the virtues set out in Gal.5:22-23, - “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Against such things there is no law.”
The life of a Christian is one of virtuous living as admonished in 2Pet.1:5-7 and Phil.4:8. Christians cannot allow ill-thoughts in the heart and expect to live virtuously before God. These can pass for a biblical definition of virtue as things that are true (the truth), noble and just (fair), pure (holy living), lovely (as Christ is), and things of good report where there are reports of people doing good things for God.
Peter in his discussion on the “cause and effect” of living a virtuous life, said that the source of power to live a virtuous life is from God Himself, and that without faith, we cannot possibly produce any virtuous fruits.
Role of Humility, Obedience, and Courage in John’s witnessing
John’s witness of Jesus Christ was to the Jews at the time of his ministry on the theme “Repentance”. The witness took the form of a proclamation as follows:
- A warning of imminent judgement at the hand of the Coming One,
- A call for repentance in the light of the coming of the kingdom of heaven,
- A demand to express this repentance in concrete terms by public display via baptism.
Today, Christians are not called to witness to Jesus Christ but called to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the world in line with the great commission in Matt.28:18-20 and Mark.16:15-16, and the inspired revelations in 2Cor.4:5 and 2Tim.4:2. John’s displayed humility, obedience, and courage, amongst others, in preaching Repentance and witnessing to Christ.
This is the supreme lesson from our character study. It is an attitude that recognizes that all we have is a gift from God. It is the personal quality of freedom from arrogance and pride and having an accurate estimate of one’s worth. It is the recognition that all good deeds come from God, the author of all good things. God hates pride - Prov.8:13 and Humility is the opposite of pride.
Humility as a virtue stems from the followings:
- Understanding that I am who I am and not what I am not. People were wondering if John was the Christ, which he emphatically denied. Jno.1:20 - “I am not the Christ.” Now he reminds his disciples of what he has repeatedly said in Jno.3:28, - “You yourselves are my witnesses that I said, ‘I am not the Christ,’ but, ‘I have been sent ahead of Him.’ Jno.1:29 – “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world… this is He whom I said, after me comes a Man who is preferred before me, for He was before me”; Jno.3:14 - You come to be baptized by me; I should be baptized by you… Matt.3:11, Mk.1:7, Lk.3:16 Jno.1:27 – “it is He who comes after me and is preferred before me, I am not even worthy to unfasten his sandlestrap…”
- Understanding that everything we are and have, has been entrusted to us by God to be used for His purpose and glory. John recognized that his unique role in history was not to be achieved by his own brilliance or hard work, but rather, by God’s sovereign and gracious purpose for him.
Jno.3:27- “A man can receive nothing unless it has been given him from heaven.”
1Cor. 4:7, - “What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as if you had not received it?” When Pilate, frustrated that Jesus would not answer him, told Jesus that he had authority either to release Him or crucify Him, Jesus replied – Jno.19:11 “You would have no authority over Me, unless it had been given you from above ….”
- Recognizing that we are expendable and our role in God’s program is temporary. John gives his disciples and us a basic lesson in humility. In the face of Jesus’ growing popularity and his own waning popularity he gives us a one-liner to live by in Jno.3:30 - “He must increase, but I must decrease.” Christians must recognize that in preaching the Gospel, it is not about them but is all about Jesus Christ.
- Recognizing that we can ask for and receive God’s forgiveness and in turn forgive others. It is only through humility and forgiveness that relationship issues can be healed.
The life of John the Baptist provides Christians with six principles in humility.
- Obedience and faithful commitment: - He was obedient, focused and faithfully commitment to the call of God on his life. Taking the Nazirite vow for life, he personified the term "set apart for God." He knew he had been given a specific job to do and he set out with singular obedience to fulfill that mission. He didn't just talk about repentance from sin. He lived with a boldness of purpose throughout his uncompromising mission, willing to die a martyr for his stand against sin.
- Servanthood or service – He was humble because he used his life as a ministry to serve others - Jno.1:22:27. God saw true Servanthood in John the Baptist. God is looking for servants. 2Chron.16:9 says that “God's eyes are running up and down the world looking for those whose whole heart seeks Him”. They will be willing to be voices and God needs voices and John the Baptist was willing to be one for God. Note that Mark.1:2-3 quotes Mal.3:1 and Isa.40:3 and refer to John the Baptist, the ‘messenger’ and ‘voice’ sent by God to prepare the way for His Son (Matt.3; Luk.3:1-18; Jno.1:19–34).
- Patience - He was humble because he closed his mouth to complaining - Jno.3:22-27 . It is interesting to note that four of the greatest men in the Bible faced this problem of comparison and competition: - Moses in Num.11:26–30, John the Baptist in Jno.3:26–30, Jesus in Luke 9:46–50, and Paul in Phil. 1:15–18.
- Surrender/submission – He was humble because he opened his will to God's. - Jno.3:27
John answered and said, “A man can receive nothing unless it has been given to him from heaven”
John saw that his duty in life was to obey God. - 1Cor.3:1–9; 4:1–7.
- Contentment - He was humble because he closed his heart to self-seeking and opened his mind to Christ, - Jno.3:30 “He must increase……but I must decrease.” 2Cor.3:18 -“I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me, and delivered Himself up for me” ; (Gal.2:20). “For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Phil. 1:21).
- Prayer – He was humble because he opened his heart to spend much time in prayer - Matt.7:7, Luke 11:1, Jas.1:5, 5:13
Conviction and Courage in Witnessing
An author, defined courage as “acting on your conviction in spite of the consequences”. Christian courage is the willingness to say and do the right thing regardless of the consequences. Courage is rooted in character, it is revealed by conviction and it reflects Christ - Acts 6:5-10
Courage involves undertaking uncompromising decisions in the light of obedience to God’s word and for the welfare of other people. Courage is motivated by the realization that God is holy and one must obey Him no matter what the consequences will be. It is the one virtue that is most endangered by the peril of the danger of death. How did this play out in the life of John for our learning?
- He was a man of conviction not convenience –Jno.11:7. He did not “flip-flop”, was not a vacillating man; not swayed by public opinion but the truth.
- He was a man of conviction, boldness and courage –Jno.3:7-8; 11:2; 14:3-4. He boldly preached repentance; did not retract his reproof of Herod’s immoral relationship. He stood for truth despite opposition, persecution, arrest and subsequently the payment of the ultimate price with his life – (the greatest act of courage ever displayed was Christ’s obedient death on the cross, where we see courage lived out in obedience to God’s command for the ultimate salvation of lost sinners).
The general concept of obedience both in the Old and New Testaments relates to hearing or hearkening to a higher authority. It means to hear or to listen with a sense of submission. “It is the evidence of belief.”
Obedience is defined as “dutiful or submissive compliance to the commands of one in authority.” Using this definition, we see the elements of biblical obedience. “Dutiful” means it is our obligation to obey God, just as Jesus fulfilled His duty to the Father by dying on the cross for our sin. “Submissive” indicates that we yield our wills to God’s. “Commands” speaks of the Scriptures in which God has clearly delineated His instructions. For the Christian, obedience means complying with everything God has commanded. It is our duty to do so.
Biblical obedience to God means to hear, trust, submit and surrender to God and his Word. Obedience to God is without limit, whereas obedience to man is limited by the divine or higher laws that must not be transgressed by the competency or authority of the one who gives the commands. Deut.11:26-28, sums it up like this: "Obey and you will be blessed. Disobey and you will be cursed." In the New Testament, we learn through the example of Jesus Christ that believers are called to a life of obedience. Obedience is an attitude of heart toward a higher authority. As Christians, that higher authority is God Himself. The Lord said in Jno.14:15, "If ye love me, keep My commandments." It also deals with the individual's own attitude toward God.
Humility and obedience go hand in hand. Without one, the other is a near impossibility. We have a choice, and when called by God to do a thing, we can disobey in defiance or we can humbly obey the instruction. John the Baptist accepted/obeyed.
To obey or not to obey the Lord God has been and still is the crucial question for mankind. Obedience as opposed to disobedience is a life-and-death matter. God has given humankind the innate power of choice:
- The choice of obedience leads to God's promised blessing of eternal life;
- The choice of disobedience leads to curse, judgment, death and eternal damnation.
Christian Virtues and their application
How do humility, obedience, and courage in witnessing relate to the different parties in evangelism?
- Humility: relates to the disposition of the witness before God and the preached.
- Obedience: relates to the witness attitude to God’s command.
- Courage: relates to the witness character and attitude to the command or assignment. - Phil.1:27-28; 2Tim.1:7
How factors of faith in God, focus on mission, humility and courage made John a great believer in God.
The factors of faith in God, a focus on mission, humility and courage promoted John to be a great believer in God. How can Christians apply this in evangelism? In our character study, the following reasons amongst others help explain John the Baptist absolute belief in God.
- His calling was prophetic as it was in the fulfilment of the OT prophesies about the Messiah. - Isa.40:3, Mal. 3:1; 4:5-6. Like the prophet Jeremiah, God chose John, gave him a name, and ordained him as a prophet before he was born! - Jer.1:5; Luke 1:13-17.
- He was from the stock of the Levites, his father was a priest.
- The Holy Spirit was in him. - Luke 1:41
Can Christian’s belief be likened to that of John the Baptist?
- In being called to ministry? – Acts 1:8, Eph.4:11-13, 2The 2:14
- In Priesthood? – 1Pt.2:5; Rev.1:6
- Work of the Holy Spirit? – Acts.13:52, Rom.8:16, 1Jno.4:13.
Lessons Christians can learn from the life of John the Baptist.
- Steadfast faith in Jesus Christ – John knew the Messiah was coming, believed this whole-heartedly and spent his days "preparing the way" for the Lord's coming - Matt.11:10. Daily he faced doubters who did not share his faith for the coming Messiah. The Pharisees questioned his belief but he was focused. - "I baptize with water but among you stands one you do not know. He is the one who comes after me, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie" – Jno.1:26–27. He had conviction in his belief and his great faith kept him steadfast until the time he saw Jesus approach, "Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!" – Jno.1:29. As believers, we can have this steadfast faith of John, whose faith was being tried to the point of being imprisoned and killed. –Matt.11:2-6; Jno. 1:29-34; 3:25-30; Luk 3:19-20.
- Human Frailty – From the silence of his prison cell, John began to reflect on his life’s mission, teachings and beliefs. Yes, Jesus had appeared, baptized and had begun His ministry just as predicted, but John could not understand why Jesus had not declared Himself the Messiah that He is, nor proceeded to establish the kingdom of God. Lonely and troubled, John began to have self-doubt of his beliefs and his ministry. He sent some of his disciples to visit and ask Jesus the pointed questions. As Christians, we will have our faith put to the test at some time, and we will either falter or, like John, cling to Christ, by seeking the truth, and standing firm in our faith to the end just like John.
- Commitment to service – We see an example of serious commitment to calling with which we are to approach our Christian life and call to ministry. John lived to introduce Jesus Christ to others and was focused on the mission God had given him. He knew the importance of repentance of one's sins in living a holy and righteous life. As a servant of God, he was unafraid of speaking the truth, even when it meant confronting Herod and the Pharisees for their sinful behavior. We are not afraid to stand for truth, equity and justice for that’s right. Truth be said, standing on the truth has its consequences and can bring one into trouble. John the Baptist called sin a sin. He called it as it is. It took a lot of courage to counsel the king for his sinful behavior. Truthfulness, equity and justice promote a blessed life. Truth must build our faith, character and conduct. Do not be scared to offend people with the message. Remember also Paul who said he became all things to all men. - Lk.3:2-3; Mk. 6:18; Jno. 8:31-32, 2Tim.4:2-5; 1Pet.3:15
- Obedience: John was entrusted with the unique ministry to herald the coming of the Messiah and preach “repentance”. Christians are called upon to preach the Gospel (salvation) to the world. We can follow John's example of faithful and obedient trust in God as we live and proclaim His Gospel, as opportunities present. – Matt.28:18-20; Mk.16:15, Jno.13:34-35; 2Cor.5:16–21; 1Pet.3:15.
- Sacrifice: John was a man of sacrifice not comfort, lived in the desert with his food being honey and locusts, his dress were camel’s skins - Mark 1:6. Not a man of self-indulgence, he was devoted to God and was different for God’s sake. Christians should be ready to sacrifice personal resources and comfort for the sake of the Gospel. Mission work, evangelism, crusades, etc. will make great sacrificial demands of us. We should be ready. – Lk. 1:15,3:4, 9:23; 14:33, Jno.11:8; Rom. 12:1-2 Phil.3:8
- Zealousness: - We must always be prepared – Prior to preaching Christ’s coming, repentance and baptism of water, John had prepared for the work set before him, even in the womb before his birth. Christians need to be zealous in God’s work and make it their top priority. Just like John the Baptist, we need to have the burning desire to preach the Gospel to the world. Matt.3:1-2 that John was very enthusiastic and motivated to preach the Kingdom of God. Likewise, it is our Christian duty to be prepared to preach, defend and await the second coming of our Lord and Savior Jesus. - Luke 21:36, 2Tim.4:2, Tit.3:1, 1Pt.3:15.
- Humility: Let Christ live in us. Jno.3:30 - “He must increase, but I must decrease.” This is the mindset that we must all have. We need to make sure that we are decreasing and Christ is increasing in us. – Gal.2:20: - “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.”
- Role Model: John served as a good role model to his disciples and fellow Jews. The godly character of John inevitably made him a good example to others. With zeal and passion in doing God’s work, people were drawn to praise and glorify God. Jesus said that John “was a burning and a shining light” (John 5:35). Matt.11:11 - I tell you the truth: Among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist; yet he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.” With this description, we can see that John was an excellent example of Christ’s and beacon of light to the world. - Matt.5:14, 16.
Conclusion and Essence of this Teaching
From the beginning of the New Testament we read about preaching/witnessing. First we see John the Baptist “preaching in the wilderness of Judea” (Matt.3:1). Then we see “Jesus began to preach” (Matt.4:17) and went “throughout all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom” (Matt.4:23). Finally, Jesus commands His disciples on different occasions to go out and preach the gospel (Luke 9:1-6; Mark 16:15; Acts 1:8). Throughout the New Testament, this is what we see – the gospel being preached from the day of Pentecost in Acts 2:14 by Peter and so on. This study focussed on John, the Baptist.
Christians are enjoined to live out the life of Christ, by exhibiting the virtues listed above and most importantly, those of humility, courage, and obedience, as exemplified by John the Baptist in his of witnessing for Christ. Jesus Christ has directly commanded us in Matt.28:18-20, Mk.16:15, to witness for Him and the Holy Spirit further instructs us to that effect in Acts.5:20 and 2Tim.4:2. We are to preach Christ and not ourselves – Act.8:35, 9:20, 10:36; 1Cor.1:23 and 2Cor.4:5.