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Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Did God Abandon John the Baptist?

John the Baptist was one of the most anticipated babies in the Bible. His mother had pleaded with God for a baby for many years, but her womb just never bore a child. Elizabeth and Zechariah were faithful servants, both from the priestly line of Aaron. How they longed for God to give them a child.

One year Zechariah was the high priest for the celebration, so it was his turn to enter the Holy of Holies on behalf of his people. While there, the angel Gabriel brought a message to the childless couple. Naturally, Zechariah was startled. This is how Dr. Luke recorded it in the Gospel account he left for us, Chapter One:

“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 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.’” (Verses 13-17)

Wow, now that’s a tall order for Zechariah’s not-yet-conceived son, isn’t it? No wonder he was a bit shocked. His response is recorded in verse 18.

“Zechariah asked the angel, ‘How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years.’”

Since the focus of our study is not John’s beginning but his end, I’ll skip over the rest, and just say that John was, indeed, born just as the angel Gabriel had said. Zechariah and Elizabeth called him John, of course. (You can read the rest of the story for yourself if you just continue on in Luke Chapter One, from where I left off.)

Elizabeth and Zechariah raised John in the fear and admonition of the Lord. Like all Jewish families, they longed for the Messiah to come. From what the angel Gabriel had told Zechariah, their son would have a key role in the Messiah’s appearing.

Not much is mentioned about John’s childhood, so we’ll pick up his story in the Gospel of Matthew, when John’s ministry has already begun.

“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 was careful to keep the end-point of his ministry before the people. He was not the messiah they had been waiting for all those years. He was doing the job he’d been born to do, but the Messiah would come after him.

“I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me comes one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.” (Matthew 3:11)

Later, Jesus came to have John baptize Him, and that was a tough one for John. He knew Jesus was the One he had been preparing the people to receive. Jesus persuaded John that it was necessary and the right thing to do. John baptized Jesus, Who then went off into the wilderness where He was tempted by satan. As for John, he continued preaching and baptizing folks there at the Jordan.

Things went along well for John. His disciples were learning a lot from him, and every day there were more people to be baptized as a result of his preaching. Though he must have been tired at the end of the day, most of us would imagine that the thrill of seeing his ministry producing fruit gave John a lot of pleasure. Sometimes, we feel like it could go on forever, when things are going well, don’t we?

I don’t know if that’s how John felt or not, but trouble was right around the corner for John the Baptist.

****Did God Abandon John the Baptist? (Conclusion)…Next Post

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