John the Baptist

The message of John the Baptist was radical. Equally radical was his method. He dipped people underwater. His method became part of his name - John the Baptist. But it was not the baptism that was radical. Baptism was a common practice long before John appeared. What radical was who he baptized. Baptism was one of the requirements for a pagan proselyte to become a Jew, along with circumcision and temple sacrifices and a host of other requirements.

But John called not only pagan proselytes to baptism, but also the chosen people, the Jews. This radical behavior explains the visit made by a group of priests, Levites and Pharisees in the desert. John was in the tradition of the Old Testament prophets. He called the people to the bus. He condemned the corruption of the leaders, warned of the coming tribunal and predicted the arrival of the Messiah.

Geographically, John the Baptist lived on the margins of society. His ministry took place in the desert between Jerusalem and the Dead Sea, a rocky, barren environment, but countless people went out to hear his sermon. On the one hand, his message was the same as that of the ancient prophets, but on the other hand it was radical - the promised Messiah was on his way and soon to be there! John told the Pharisees who questioned his authority that his authority did not come from him - he was just a messenger to prepare the way to announce that the king was on his way.

John made no effort at all to promote himself - he proclaimed that his only role was to baptize for the one who was to come and who would surpass him. His task was merely to set the stage for the appearance of Jesus. When Jesus appeared, John said, "Behold, this is the Lamb of God, who bears the sin of the world." Our sins are not taken away by water or by committing ourselves to good works. They are taken away by Jesus. We know what we turn to in buses. But the bigger question is who our buses are aimed at.

John said that God sent Him to baptize with water - a symbol of the cleansing of our sins and that we turn our backs on sin and death. But another baptism would come, said John. The one who would come after him - Jesus - he would baptize with the Holy Spirit, a reference to the new life in Christ that believers receive through the Holy Spirit.

by Joseph Tkach

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