Bible Study

Why Is The Story Of John The Baptist Important?

The story of John the Baptist is highly significant as his birth, life, and ministry, reveal the fulfilment of many of God’s promises. John the Baptist lived at a unique time in history, as one era ended and another began, and his story is relevant to us today. He was a man who knew his calling, who had the privilege of serving the Lord Jesus, and who kept the faith to the very end.

An Outline of The Story of John the Baptist

The story of John the Baptist is unusual as it begins even before his conception. He was a man who was commissioned by God and his ministry was foretold before his birth.  If we go back to John the Baptist’s parents we find an exemplary couple, Zechariah and Elizabeth. They both came from priestly families and faithfully served God through the turbulent times that they lived in.

But Zechariah and Elizabeth had reached old age, without the blessing of children. Then one day while Zechariah was serving in the Temple he saw an angel, who had a special message for him:

“But the angel said to him: ‘Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to call him John. He will be a joy and a delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth, for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He is never to take wine or other fermented drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit even before he is born. 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 1:13-17 NIV

This was the time when Zechariah and Elizabeth’s prayers were finally answered in the way that they desired. In God’s perfect timing, they would know the delight and joy of a child! They would be vindicated in the sight of their community as God poured out His blessing on them. Their child was to be named John, which means, ‘the Lord is gracious’.

Zechariah and Elizabeth would not live to see John’s ministry. Scripture infers that they died while John was young and that he grew up in the desert of Judea.

You may also like to read: Zechariah And Elizabeth – An Authentic Faith

John In the Wilderness

The story of John the Baptist continues with the beginning of his ministry where he is found preaching in the wilderness of Judea. He was unconventional, living on the edge of society and with a simple lifestyle.

In a time of political upheaval and economic instability, the people of Israel were looking for answers. The Roman military occupation was harsh and maybe a religious leader would be the one to sort out all their problems…

The people of Israel recognized John as a Prophet of God, and the words that he spoke were authentic. They went out from Jerusalem, from Judea, and all around the region, to hear what John had to say.

“John’s clothes were made of camel’s hair, and he had a leather belt around his waist. His food was locusts and wild honey. People went out to him from Jerusalem and all Judea and the whole region of the Jordan. Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River.” Matthew 3:4-6

John’s ministry was one of preaching repentance, for the people to turn back to God. He was not afraid to call out the religious leaders, the Pharisees and Sadducees, that they too needed to repent. Their lives, as all our lives, should bear fruit to the forgiveness received and the faith that is proclaimed.

A picture of a river and in the distance a man leading some camels along the desert bank with the text Isaiah 40 v3 'Prepare the way for the Lord make straight in the desert a highway for our God.'
Why Is The Story of John The Baptist Important?

Why Is John the Baptist Important?

The story of John the Baptist is important because of his role as ‘The Messenger.’ He was a prophet, and a preacher, but also a sign to the people of Israel of the fulfilment of Old Testament prophecy. His ministry of repentance was intended to prepare the hearts of the people of Israel to receive their Messiah.

“A voice of one calling: ‘In the wilderness prepare the way for the Lord; make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be raised up, every mountain and hill made low; the rough ground shall become level, the rugged places a plain. And the glory of the Lord will be revealed, and all people will see it together. For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.’” Isaiah 40:3-5

Isaiah spoke these words more than seven hundred years before they were fulfilled. In the New Testament, three out of four of the gospels quote these verses assigning them to John the Baptist preparing the way for Jesus. When asked by representatives of the Sanhedrin as to who he was, John the Baptist quotes this verse, applying the phrase to himself.

The Israelites would have understood from the Old Testament scriptures the signs to be associated with the coming of the Messiah. In the climate in which they were living, under Roman occupation and rule, they were all looking for the Messiah to rescue and deliver them. One of the signs would be ‘The Messenger’ the one who would come beforehand, with a call to prepare!

Isaiah declared that an announcement would be made to prepare the way for the Lord. A cry would go out alerting the people, that someone important was coming! This custom was a familiar one of sending representatives ahead to prepare for the visit of a monarch. This would include clearing a path and removing anything unpleasant from the view of the King…

But God sent a messenger ahead to prepare the people of Israel, morally and spiritually, for Jesus’ ministry. The preparation was not about the practical, or the visible, to make everything look nice on the surface. This was all about the spiritual, preparing the hearts and minds of the people to receive their Messiah.

“I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me. Then suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to his temple; the messenger of the covenant, whom you desire, will come,” says the Lord Almighty.” Malachi 3:1

Jesus is Baptized by John the Baptist

A picture of a winding river at the edge of the desert with the words, John the Baptist, The Messenger and the text from John 1 v34 'I have seen and testify that this is God's Chosen One.'
Why Is The Story of John The Baptist Important?

All the gospels record that at the beginning of Jesus ministry, He came to the Jordan River to be baptized by John. However, John, recognizing who Jesus was, did not think it was right for him to baptize the Lord. In fact, he tried to deter Jesus, acknowledging that it should be the other way round, for Jesus to baptize him!

But Jesus over-ruled John. This was to be the marker of the beginning of His ministry and a sign of Jesus’ consecration to God. The baptism of the Lord set an example to His followers then, and now. It also demonstrated that He would be our substitute, being washed and cleansed for our sin.

The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! This is the one I meant when I said, ‘A man who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.’  I myself did not know him, but the reason I came baptizing with water was that he might be revealed to Israel.” John 1:29-31

As John baptized Jesus in the Jordan River and brought Him up out of the water, God marked Jesus with His seal of approval. At that moment heaven was opened – a visible phenomenon – and the Holy Spirit descended onto Jesus like a dove. Then an audible voice from heaven declared, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”

What an astonishing sight for all those present, a moment to remember and to cherish, as confirmation of Jesus, the Son of God, and the promised Messiah.

Then John gave this testimony: “I saw the Spirit come down from heaven as a dove and remain on him. And I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water told me, ‘The man on whom you see the Spirit come down and remain is the one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.’ I have seen and I testify that this is God’s Chosen One. John 1:32-34

The Holy Spirit came upon the Lord Jesus, to equip and enable Him now for His time of ministry. But after this empowering event, Jesus full of the Holy Spirit was led into the wilderness. The next step in His preparation for ministry would be a period of testing. And the Lord Jesus would come out of the wilderness, victorious, in the power of the Holy Spirit.

He Must Become Greater, I Must Become Less

The story of John the Baptist now entered its final chapter. John’s role as ‘The Messenger’ had been accomplished, and he recognized that fact. Jesus and His disciples were now baptizing people. Crowds had started to follow Jesus everywhere, and miracles were happening. John’s disciples came and reported to him what was occurring, apparently concerned, that he was losing followers to Jesus:

To this John replied, “A person can receive only what is given them from heaven. You yourselves can testify that I said, ‘I am not the Messiah but am sent ahead of him.’ The bride belongs to the bridegroom. The friend who attends the bridegroom waits and listens for him, and is full of joy when he hears the bridegroom’s voice. That joy is mine, and it is now complete. He must become greater; I must become less.” John 3:27-30

John was arrested, and imprisoned, by Herod Antipas (Herod the Tetrarch) who ruled over the region of Galilee and Perea. John spoke out when Herod married his brother Philip’s wife, Herodias. This was unlawful and forbidden by Mosaic law, while the brother was still living.

Because of John’s uncompromising stance, Herodias bore a grudge against him. Herod, however, knew that John was a righteous man and a prophet who was well-regarded by the people. He didn’t always understand the things that John the Baptist said, but Herod liked to listen to him. Although he may have wanted to silence John’s criticism, Herod was afraid to go against popular opinion.

While languishing in prison, and alone with his thoughts, John began to wonder about Jesus’ ministry. He sent some of his disciples to question Jesus as to whether He was the One, or should they expect someone else?

Jesus’ gracious reply to John’s disciples was to go back and report on what they had seen and heard. Testimony is always powerful to silence the enemy of doubt. The miracles pointed to Jesus as being the Messiah, the Son of God, and no-one should stumble on account of Him.

Salome With the Head of John the Baptist

On Herod’s birthday, he held a banquet at court to celebrate the occasion. He invited important people from around the region, officials, leaders, and army commanders. During the feast, entertainment was provided and Herodias’ daughter came in to dance for the guests. Although Scripture does not give her name, the Jewish historian Josephus calls her Salome.

Her dancing pleased Herod and his guests – the suggestion is that it was provocative, but it is not explicitly stated. Herod, in an expansive mood, offers to give Salome whatever she asks for, even up to half of his kingdom.

That, of course, was not a literal statement but designed to demonstrate his generosity in front of his guests. Salome goes out to confer with her mother – who sees an opportunity to get rid of John the Baptist once and for all. Herodias tells her daughter what to say.

At once the girl hurried in to the king with the request: “I want you to give me right now the head of John the Baptist on a platter.” Mark 6:25

Herod was distressed but could not go back on his word in front of his dinner guests! He cared more about losing face in front of people than doing the right thing in the sight of God. His pride became his downfall and eventually led to his death. (Bible Gateway Acts 12:19-23) Herod sent word to the executioner to bring the head of John the Baptist, which was then presented on a platter to Salome.

The story of John the Baptist ends with his disciples coming to collect his body for burial. He would be mourned by his many friends and followers. Jesus had publicly acknowledged John as a prophet, and more than a prophet, as ‘The Messenger’.

“For all the Prophets and the Law prophesied until John. And if you are willing to accept it, he is the Elijah who was to come. Whoever has ears, let them hear.” Matthew 11:13-15

Keep The Faith To The End

When the news of John’s death, a life seemingly cut short, was brought to Jesus, He withdrew to a solitary place. Jesus grieved, and mourned, the loss of His friends just as we do. But the story of John the Baptist was complete, his mission was accomplished, and a new era would soon begin. What lay ahead for John was far greater than anything he had left behind, in the words of the Apostle Paul:

I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.” 2 Timothy 4:7-8

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