November 29, 2020 John the Baptist

John the Baptist

 

Scripture reading: Mark 1:1-8.

 

These verses introduce us to one of the greatest men of God in the entire history of God’s people. Indeed, our Lord said that John was the greatest prophet of all time:

 

Truly, I say to you, among those born of women there has arisen no one greater than John the Baptist. Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.[1]

 

There is a day coming when the kingdom of God shall be established upon this earth. In a hidden way, the kingdom is here now in the form of the church. We have a foretaste of the coming kingdom if we are enjoying the church presently. This is because God’s love and God’s ruling are experienced in the church when God’s people are obedient. Yet, when the Lord returns to the earth, he shall establish his kingdom in its fullness. This is the kingdom to which Jesus refers when he says, “the one who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater” than John. Hence, even now, John is the greatest person of all time. (Besides the Lord Himself, of course.)

 

Because he is, we have much to learn from him. His life can be and should be a prototype of our lives. I wish to consider four of John’s callings that he fulfilled, so that they became his traits. I affirm that each of these can be and should be the calling of all those who name the name of Christ.

 

[1] John was a priest. But, he was a very different kind of priest. He came from a priestly family. His father was a priest. Under the old covenant, if you were born in a priestly tribe then you were in the priesthood as soon as you became of age. John should have been living a priestly life, serving in the temple, as did his father. Instead, he went into the wilderness and preached the gospel. With the coming of John, the priesthood began to change from that of offering sacrifices to that of bringing sinners to God so that God may gain them and they may gain God.

 

You see, all along, even under the old covenant, the function of a priest was to draw people to God. This was mainly done outwardly, with sacrifices, purification rites, and regulations. When John came, he forsook the outward ways and drew people to God in a living way, in a dynamic way, by preaching away from the temple and away from the holy city in the byways of the wilderness.

 

Actually, he lived very contrary to the ways of a priest. He was kind of wild.

 

Now John was clothed with camel’s hair and wore a leather belt around his waist and ate locusts and wild honey. [2]

 

As a priest, according to the regulations of the law, he should have been wearing a priestly garment made of fine linen.[3] He should have been eating priestly food made of fine flour and the meat from the sacrifices.[4] But, instead, he was clothed with camel’s hair, wore a leather girdle (sort of like a large leather jock-strap!), and ate grasshoppers and wild honey! None of this was according to the priestly culture.

 

To wear camel’s hair is a drastic blow to the religious mind, for the camel is an unclean animal. John was wild, so he ate wild honey. He ate insects!

 

It is ok to be wild according to the religious and cultural concepts. You don’t have to wear camel’s hair (it’s probably scratchy). You don’t have to eat grasshoppers (they probably don’t taste good). You don’t have to wear a leather jock strap. But neither do you have to do what people expect of you.

 

John lived this way because he separated himself from all corruption, all religious mediocrity. John was a Nazirite. There was a threefold consecration in the vows of the Nazirite. There are three items of separation. First, a Nazarite should not drink or eat anything of the grape, from its seeds to its skin. In typology, wine or anything of the grape signifies earthly pleasure or worldly enjoyment.

To be separated from worldly enjoyment is very difficult because this is a nation of worldly enjoyment. Christians in this country find it hard to realize the genuine priesthood because of the many temptations, earthly pleasures, and worldly amusements. If we allow ourselves to be captured by entertainment and media, we are ruined for the priesthood. By regeneration all Christians have become priests and kings, but nearly all of them have been spoiled by the wine of earthly enjoyment.

Oh how we need to be priests to one another! Each one of us can bring others closer to the Lord. And, we need this same ministration for ourselves. We need others to help us, to guide us, to point us in the right direction. We need someone to listen to us and tell us, “Hey, you might not be looking at this situation in the right way. Let’s explore God’s word and see if we can get a divine perspective.” If we do not get that, even if you’re smart, even if you are usually successful, you will go down the wrong path now and then. That happened to Christian in Pilgrim’s Progress and it will happen to you. We need one another. We don’t need government social workers. We don’t need worldly psychologists. We need friends who know Christ well.

And, do you know what else? We need to be that person for someone else, too!! But, if we are captured or distracted by worldly pleasure and entertainment we can neither be that person for someone else and we are too busy to have that person in our lives.

After Josie and I were married for about three years we started noticing that we went from watching a half-hour or an hour of tv per night to three hours per night. I remember we watched the Tonight show almost every night, meaning we didn’t get to bed until almost midnight. We decided to get rid of the tv altogether and did not have it for 5 or 6 years. That was like a separation from wine. It was like a Nazirite vow. We discovered that we read our Bibles more, we talked more, and we enjoyed Kai more. He was only a toddler then. (We did that a second time, too.)

Separating from worldly pleasure is a good thing. I am not saying that we may not be entertained. Entertainment is a kind of rest – a rest of the mind and emotion. But, in the West we have far too much and it steals our time away from the work of the Lord.

The second item of the Nazirite’s consecration is that his hair should not be cut. What does it mean to forbid the Nazirite to cut his hair? First Corinthians 11:14 says that long hair is a shame to a man. It is not a glory, but a shame. Long hair is a glory to a woman, but a shame to a man. A Nazirite is one who is willing to bear shame for the Lord. To have long hair means to be separated from self-glory. The self has been put to death; hence, there is no self-righteousness or self-glory. As long as we have something of self-glory, we can never be a Nazirite. We must bear the shame for the Lord’s testimony and for His purpose.

I grew up in the 70’s. Back then long hair was cool and it could be a glory. But that is just a sub-culture. We do not judge the norm by the exception. We must remember that the vows of the Nazirite are all symbolic. They are meant to represent spiritual conditions that should be real in the life of the Nazirite.

Not cutting one’s hair means being separated from self-glory. It is to bear shame for Christ. Are you ready to bear shame for Christ? If so, step out in faith and open your mouth, as did John.

Denial of self-glory is a powerful and strangely unique attribute, for it leaves glory behind in the present only to grant strength and then glory later.

The third item of the Nazarite’s consecration is that he must not be defiled by anything dead, especially by the death of his nearest relatives. Our nearest relatives, representing our natural affections, can be a means to deaden us. We must be separated from our natural affections, which so easily deaden. We can easily be deadened by other people’s deadness.

Verses 6 and 7 in Numbers chapter 6 read: All the days that he separates himself to the Lord he shall not go near a dead body. 7 Not even for his father or for his mother, for brother or sister, if they die, shall he make himself unclean, because his separation to God is on his head. 8 All the days of his separation he is holy to the Lord.

Natural affections are not a bad thing. It is good to bury your father, mother, brother, sister if they die. Remember, these vows deal with physical matters in the OT, but these physical things picture spiritual realities. Our loved ones may not, often not, do not have the life that they should have. During the Nazirite’s period of consecration they must separate themselves from anything dead. This is a picture that, for the one consecrated to God, their living relationship with the Living God should not be drawn down by the spiritual deadness of their relatives. This part of the vow symbolizes keeping our spiritual fervor as we seek God over and above our natural relations. We must set aside a time for seeking Him even when natural affections call us away.

Earthly enjoyment, self-glory, and natural affections were all forsaken by John the Baptist. We, too, can place these things behind our consecration to the Lord. We can live in such a way that others think we are strange and wild. It’s ok if they do. You will be in the company of John!

 

So, John was a priest not in the way of tradition. He was a priest in the way of the Nazirite. Every believer has been called to be a priest in this age. But do not be a priest in the traditional way. Be a Nazirite!

 

[2] John was a proclaimer of repentance.

 

John appeared, baptizing in the wilderness and proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.[5]

 

Baptism took on greater significance when it was instituted under Christ just two years after John’s baptism. Although it took on greater significance, it did not lose its foundational meaning, that is, as a demonstration of repentance. Repentance is a change of mind and heart that brings about a turn in our purpose. It is a turning away from our sin and a turning to God.

 

There is a false teaching, known as the so-called “free grace” doctrine that says that one does not need to repent to be saved. This is nothing less than heresy. Repentance is essential for the forgiveness of sins.

 

We can imagine a king during a war coming across a traitor to the kingdom. He is caught, expresses sorrow and says that the king is his true king, but that he still intends on helping the enemy. His words mean nothing. His refusal to repent shows where his real fealty lies. The king will never pardon him. So it is with the Lord Himself. We must turn away from our sins in true repentance if we desire forgiveness.

 

Repent therefore, and turn back, that your sins may be blotted out, [6]

 

John preached repentance. We, too, need to speak to others about the necessity of repentance. You will be in good company. John preached it. Jesus preached it. The apostles taught it. You are only following in the steps of John and Jesus. If you speak about the reality of sin and its consequences, then repentance naturally follows in a conversation.

 

[3] John was a turner of hearts.

 

Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the Lord comes. 6 And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the land with a decree of utter destruction.”[7]


Jesus said that John the Baptist came in the spirit and power of Elijah and stated that John was Elijah (Mark 9:13). Thus, this prophecy is about John. He turned the hearts of fathers to their children. And, the hearts of children to their fathers. This is what people need – a changing of their hearts. Of course, it was not John, of himself, that brought about this change. It was the Holy Spirit, working through John’s words, that changed hearts.

 

It is the same with us today. It will not be your eloquence nor your ability to convict people of their failings that will bring about any change. It will be the Spirit of the Living God working upon their heart. It will be his doing. We only allow the Spirit to use us. But, we still need to talk to others so that the Spirit can operate.

 

You can be a turner of hearts, as was John.

 

[4] John was a magnifier of Christ. He pointed to Christ. John did not talk about himself, as so many prosperity preachers tend to do. He talked about and magnified Christ. He directed people to a Person. This Person is the most wonderful Being in the universe. He heals broken hearts. He takes away sin. He grants a new beginning to those who have made a mess of their lives. He satisfies lonely hearts.

 

John’s calling is our calling.

 

We can and we ought to:

 

  1. Live as a priest, consecrated to God away from the common things.
  2. Proclaim repentance.
  3. Turn people’s hearts.
  4. Introduce people to Christ and magnify Him.

 

Go into the wilderness, that is, outside these church walls and introduce people to Christ.

 

 

[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Mt 11:11). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[2] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Mk 1:6). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[3] Exodus 28:4. 40-41; Lev. 6:10; Ezek. 44:17-18.

[4] Lev. 2:1-3; 6:16-18, 25-26; 7:31-34.

[5] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Mk 1:4). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[6] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Ac 3:19). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[7] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Mal 4:5–6). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.