Jul 12th, 2020
Hello and welcome to season 2 episode 86 of The Berean Manifesto, brought to you by The Ekklesian House. This is Pastor Bill and over the next 10 minutes, or so, we are going to be looking at John the Baptist VS Jesus of Nazareth.
First off, John the Baptist was not called “the Baptist” due to any denominational affiliation. Honestly, I had no idea anyone even thought that was a thing until I was preparing to write this episode. John had the title of “the Baptist” because it wasn’t normal to be out in the wild offering the baptism of repentance to anyone happing by and the oddity stuck. The baptism of repentance was a highly institutionalized, and in practice exclusive religious ceremony of purification or conversion to the religion. John the Baptist said he baptized with water to reveal the Messiah. He is then recorded in John 1 as saying, “The One who sent me to baptize with water told me, ‘When you see the Spirit come down and rest, this one is The One who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’” John only baptized with water to reveal The Messiah, calling for repentance to prepare the people for His arrival.
Both John’s mother and father were descendants of Moses brother Aaron, the first High Priest. This placed John’s family in the pinnacle of societal circles. It got him invited to all the exclusive parties where he could rub elbows with the rich and powerful. He would’ve been the man that every guy wanted to be, and that every woman would’ve wanted their parents to betroth them to. So when John abandoned modern culture, strapping a thick leather belt around a tunic of camel hair and headed out into the wilderness to start baptizing and preaching repentance he, no doubt, was the hot gossip that spread throughout Israel. Crowds flocked to the shores of the Jordan river, probably at first to gawk at the spectacle. A remarkable number of people responded to John’s call to repentance and were baptized.
Jesus, His life was very different than John’s upbringing and reputation. Mary and Joseph, Jesus parents, despite both being descendants of King David were lowly, and unremarkable. Joseph was from a town named Nazareth. There was a common turn of phrase in Israel, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” This is because Nazareth was a low-income slum, or ghetto might be a good modern English equivalent. The only less respectable place for an Israelite to be from in that day would to have been born in a leper colony, or perhaps a Samaritan community. For Mary’s parents to betroth her to a man from Nazareth, was a sign of desperation, poverty, or both on her family’s part. Or perhaps they lost a bet or owed a debt.
Jesus was then born to an unmarried teenage Mary whose fiancé, Joseph, hid her from public view to save her from scrutiny and ridicule. Joseph and Mary having travelled to Bethlehem for a census, their impoverished little family would’ve spent the first two years of Jesus life scrounging for every cent until the delegation of Magi showed up with gifts of Gold, Frankincense, and Myrrh. I know, Joseph was a carpenter, carpenters were rich. Except, trades come by reputation, reputation comes by word of mouth, and nobody wants to hire a carpenter from the ghetto in the middle of the rich town of Bethlehem. That would’ve been a very steep uphill battle to get any customers in a new town that you just moved to for the census, coming with the reputation that you have. After they get that gold, frankincense, and myrrh they flee to Egypt to escape the murderous intentions of King Herod and live there until the news of Herod’s death is delivered to Joseph by an angel in a dream. Upon returning to Israel, Joseph fears that Herod’s son will want to finish his father’s work, so they settle in Nazareth to hide out from the authorities. We know they must have spent all the riches of the gold, frankincense, and myrrh in Egypt. Because when you come back to your country and you’re wanted by the authorities you don’t go live in the slums when you’re rich. You don’t go back to the ghetto to hide; you hire private security, or you go get a lodge out in the wilderness where you’re hidden by separation. This is a sign that they came back just as penniless as they were before the Magi showed up.
We fast forward to the age of twelve and it should be no surprise then that young Jesus would have absolutely no fear of setting off in the streets of Jerusalem, rich high class Jerusalem, alone having lived the last 8 years or so with the hard streets of Nazareth as His playground.
These contrasting details between the lives that John and Jesus lived; John living this luxurious high class life rubbing elbows with the rich and popular, and Jesus growing up hard on the streets of the ghetto would have added a layer of absolute scandal when Jesus came to be baptized by John and was greeted with, (John 1:29b-30 CSB), “ Here is the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!  This is the one I told you about: ‘After me comes a man who ranks ahead of me, because he existed before me.’” While to us that statement may sound straight to the point and clear cut. And while when we look at their lives we think this is going to cause some kind of scandal because of that. To John’s disciples, and the crowd on the shore, the statement seems to have come across as the gracious praise of the better to do stroking the ego of his poorer cousin from the “wrong side of the tracks,” as it were.
We see some of this in John 3:22-26 CSB it says, “ After this, Jesus and his disciples went to the Judean countryside, where he spent time with them and baptized.  John also was baptizing in Aenon near Salim, because there was plenty of water there. People were coming and being baptized,  since John had not yet been thrown into prison.  Then a dispute arose between John's disciples and a Jew about purification.  So they came to John and told him, ‘Rabbi, the one you testified about, and who was with you across the Jordan, is baptizing-and everyone is going to him.’”
Here we have a great example of not every statement in the Bible being Gospel truth. When John’s disciples say that Jesus is baptizing and everyone is going to Him, we know this complaint to be 100% false. First, it’s an over exaggeration, if everyone were going to Jesus to be baptized then it couldn’t be said that John was baptizing, because everyone would be over with Jesus and no one with John. Second, as a reader you could get the impression that Jesus Himself is performing water baptisms like this disciple of John is saying, but the Gospel writer of this Gospel book clarifies in the next chapter that Jesus isn’t baptizing anyone in water. In John 4:1-3 CSB it says, “ When Jesus learned that the Pharisees had heard he was making and baptizing more disciples than John  (though Jesus himself was not baptizing, but his disciples were),  he left Judea and went again to Galilee.” Jesus didn’t baptize here, his disciples did. In fact, there’s not one scripture telling us that Jesus ever baptized anyone in water. Unless you count the washing of feet as a water baptism, but probably not.
John’s response to his disciple is in verses 27-30 of John 3 CSB he says, “ ‘No one can receive anything unless it has been given to him from heaven.  You yourselves can testify that I said, 'I am not the Messiah, but I've been sent ahead of him.'  He who has the bride is the groom. But the groom's friend, who stands by and listens for him, rejoices greatly at the groom's voice. So this joy of mine is complete.  He must increase, but I must decrease.’”
John was actually baptizing in this particular location when this conversation happened in an effort to hide from the authorities who were seeking his arrest for publicly criticizing the legality and morality of Herod Antipas and his sister-in-law divorcing their spouses so they could marry each other. He would eventually be arrested and after a time Herod would be tricked by his wife into beheading John. During his time in jail John would, very humanly, question if he had misunderstood and was mistaken about whether Jesus was in fact The Messiah. Another Biblical note that isn’t Gospel truth. Just because John questioned it doesn’t mean it’s worthy of being in question. After John’s death Jesus would tell His disciples Peter, James, and John that the prophet Elijah had already come to prepare the way for The Messiah just as the prophets had said he would. In the Gospel account of Matthew, John the Baptist is identified as to whom Jesus was referring to as Elijah.
Jesus, of course, went on into full-time ministry to the people of Israel. The very ministry God had desired the Israeli people to be performing all along to the rest of the world. This presented a challenge to the religious leaders of the day. A challenge that they couldn’t let go unpunished. As they were wolves in sheep’s clothing, so to speak, they had to get their retribution on the one who shined the light on what they were doing. With every miracle performed and sermon taught Jesus took one step further toward His crucifixion and the salvation of all who would place their faith in Him.
So while we as Christian say, “I want to be Christ-like.” And that’s not wrong. Paul says, “Imitate me as I imitate Christ.” Ultimately, we should be imitating Christ. But when we place John the Baptist and Jesus side by side, I would like to think of myself as I must decrease so that He can increase. I challenge you to have the same outlook. We must decrease, our desires, our need for focus and attention must decrease as we place that focus and attention on the One who must increase.
This is Pastor Bill saying, “Until next time…”