Water Baptism

John 01:06-08, 19-34, “The Witness”

How do you know what you know? In a court of law, the verdict is based not on hearsay or opinions but on facts that have been established by competent and reliable witnesses. So how do you know what you know? How do you know that what you believe about God is right? Is it simply hearsay, what others have told you? Is it just your opinion? Or is your faith in God based on facts that have been established by competent and reliable witnesses?

Today we are going to look at the testimony of John the Baptist concerning Christ.

Grünewald's Crucifixion

Grünewald’s Crucifixion

“There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. 7 He came as a witness, to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him. 8 He was not the light, but came to bear witness about the light” (John 1:6-8 ESV).

We have all heard about this man called John the Baptist. He was that strange man who lived in the wilderness and was “clothed with camel’s hair and wore a leather belt around his waist and ate locusts and wild honey” (Mar 1:6 ESV).

John the Baptist was a rather strange man, wouldn’t you say?

And one of the amazing things about the gospel is the important role that John had in preparing people for the coming of Christ. We may not have thought about it much, but each of the Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) give much attention to the ministry of John the Baptist, this man who came before Christ to prepare the way for him.

Seven hundred years before John’s birth, Isaiah the prophet had spoken of John the Baptist as one who would be a “voice crying in the wilderness:

Listen! It’s the voice of someone shouting, “Clear the way through the wilderness for the LORD! Make a straight highway through the wasteland for our God! 4 Fill in the valleys, and level the mountains and hills. Straighten the curves, and smooth out the rough places. 5 Then the glory of the LORD will be revealed, and all people will see it together. The LORD has spoken!” (Isaiah 40:3-5 NLT).

The last prophet of the Old Testament, Malachi, had also spoken of the coming of John the Baptist:

“Behold, I send my messenger, and he will prepare the way before me” (Malachi 3:1 ESV).

“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…” (Malachi 4:5-6 ESV).

That is exactly what the angel Gabriel said about John the Baptist when Gabriel announced John’s birth to Zechariah.

“for he will be great before the Lord. And he must not drink wine or strong drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb. 16 And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God, 17 and he will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready for the Lord a people prepared” (Luke 1:15-17 ESV).

Yes, even John’s birth was special because his parents were elderly. Elizabeth had been barren. But God intervened and Zechariah and Elizabeth were able to have a son, John the Baptist. He was a forerunner to Christ. He was to prepare the hearts of the people for the coming of Christ.

THE IMPORTANCE

The significance of John the Baptist’s ministry is not always seen, but it is clear from the gospels that John’s role in preparing the people for the Messiah was of great importance. As we have said, all four Gospels—Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John—give much attention to the ministry of John the Baptist as a forerunner of the Messiah. They speak of…

  • His miraculous birth of parents who had not been able to have children
  • His strange clothing
  • His bold preaching
  • His ministry of water baptism
  • His disciples
  • His baptism of Jesus Christ
  • His courage to confront King Herod
  • His imprisonment
  • His question about Jesus’ mission
  • His execution by decapitation
  • His burial

John the Baptist was the forerunner of Jesus Christ. No other religion puts such an emphasis on the forerunner of its founder. In fact, it would be difficult for us to name a forerunner for any other religion.

Who was Muhammad’s forerunner? Who announced his coming?

  • Who was Buddha’s forerunner?
  • Or Joseph Smith’s forerunner?

Look around at the religions and cults that were based on the teachings of a man or a woman and try to find that founder’s forerunner. Who announced that that man or woman would come?

Why is this important?

Because Jesus did not just show up and say, “I am come from God. I’ve had a dream. I’ve had a vision. I receive revelations from God. Follow me.”

No, for 4,000 years the people of God had been waiting for Jesus Christ. The prophets had spoken of him for centuries. They had told about his identity, his birth, his life, his death, his resurrection, and his coming kingdom. The prophets had even told about his forerunner, John the Baptist. And John the Baptist came and when he came, he pointed to Christ.

Furthermore, John did not come after Jesus and say, “Yes, I agree. He’s the one.” No. When John began his ministry of baptism, he did not know who the Messiah was going to be. He only knew that God had told him to prepare the way for the Messiah, and that God had given him a special sign so that he would recognize the Messiah when he came. We will see that sign in a few moments.

With everything else that we have mentioned about John (his birth, his life, his ministry, and his death), the most important thing about John is his witness. John pointed the people to Jesus Christ. As we read,

“There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. 7 He came as a witness, to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him. 8 He was not the light, but came to bear witness about the light” (John 1:6-8 ESV).

JOHN THE BAPTIST’S PURPOSE

This Gospel tells us clearly:

  • Origin: John the Baptist was sent from God.
  • He came as a witness, to bear witness about the light.
  • Ultimate purpose: that all might believe through him.

Notice that John was not the focus of his own ministry. He did not come speaking about himself. A witness does not talk about himself. He talks about something else. He talks about someone else. He talks about what he has seen. He explains, “This is what I saw. This is what I heard. This is what happened. This is what I know.”

John did not come boasting about himself, or his birth, or his ministry, or his anointing. John’s purpose was to lift up Jesus Christ. His purpose was to point people to the light. John 1:19-22 (NLT) tells us,

This was John’s testimony when the Jewish leaders sent priests and Temple assistants from Jerusalem to ask John, “Who are you?” 20 He came right out and said, “I am not the Messiah.” 21 “Well then, who are you?” they asked. “Are you Elijah?” “No,” he replied. “Are you the Prophet we are expecting?” “No.” 22 “Then who are you? We need an answer for those who sent us. What do you have to say about yourself?”

Notice that John the Baptist is not talking about himself. That was not his purpose. His purpose is to point people to the light, to point them to Christ. He doesn’t tell them who he is, but who he is not!

“I am not the Messiah.”

“Are you Elijah?”

“No.”

“Are you the Prophet?”

“No.”

Elijah

John the Baptist did not see himself as Elijah, though the angel Gabriel had said of John, “he will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah” (Luke 1:17).

And Jesus said that John the Baptist was the Elijah prophesied by Malachi, though the people failed to recognize him (Matthew 17:12).

The Prophet

What about the prophet? The Pharisees asked John, “Are you the Prophet that we have been waiting for?”

What prophet is this? What prophet are they talking about? This is another prophecy concerning the coming of Christ. The Pharisees are talking about a prophecy that Moses had made in Deuteronomy 18:15 about another prophet who would come. Moses had told the Israelites,

“The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your brothers– it is to him you shall listen–(Deuteronomy 18:15- ESV).

[The LORD said,] I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers. And I will put my words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him. 19 And whoever will not listen to my words that he shall speak in my name, I myself will require it of him (Deuteronomy 18:18-19 ESV).

But when we come to the end of the book of Deuteronomy, we find these words:

And there has not arisen a prophet since in Israel like Moses, whom the LORD knew face to face, (Deuteronomy 34:10 ESV).

There had been many prophets in the history of Israel—Samuel, Elijah, Elisha, Nathan, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and many others—but none had a “face-to-face” relationship with God. They were still looking for him, waiting for him.

“Are you the Prophet?” they asked John the Baptist. No, I’m not the one.

The one who was face to face with God was Jesus Christ. “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God…” That is a face to face relationship with the Father. Jesus was the Prophet that Moses had spoken of. That is another one of over 300 prophecies that Christ fulfilled.

You remember the story of Jesus multiplying the five loaves and two fishes and feeding the multitude of over 5,000 men plus woman and children:

When the people saw the sign that he had done, they said, “This is indeed the Prophet who is to come into the world!” (John 6:14 ESV).

Again in John 7,

On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and cried out, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. 38 Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.'” 39 Now this he said about the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were to receive, for as yet the Spirit had not been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified. 40 When they heard these words, some of the people said, “This really is the Prophet” (John 7:37-40 ESV).

“Are you the Prophet we are expecting?” they asked John.

“No.”

So they said to him, “Who are you? We need to give an answer to those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?” (John 1:22 ESV).

John the Baptist is finally forced to say something about himself, but he will only say that he is to prepare the way for the Lord’s coming:

23 John replied in the words of the prophet Isaiah: “I am a voice shouting in the wilderness, ‘Clear the way for the LORD’s coming!'”

This tells us more about the one who would come than it does about John. John is simply preparing the way for the LORD. The one that John points to is the LORD.

JOHN’S BAPTISM

Clearly the Pharisees are not satisfied with John’s answer.

 24 Then the Pharisees who had been sent 25 asked him, “If you aren’t the Messiah or Elijah or the Prophet, what right do you have to baptize?”

John’s baptism was a baptism of repentance. John was calling the nation of Israel to repent of their sin. But this was God’s nation! This was the people of God! They were a people of faith! They saw themselves as the children of God.

John calls them to repent. He tells them that being a descendent of Abraham, the father of faith, is not enough. They are unclean. They must be cleansed of their sins. Their lives must be changed. They must repent. No more corruption. No more immorality. No more lying.

John Points to Jesus

But once again, John points to Jesus. He is a witness to the presence of Christ:

26 John told them, “I baptize with water, but right here in the crowd is someone you do not recognize. 27 Though his ministry follows mine, I’m not even worthy to be his slave and untie the straps of his sandal.”

John tells them that there was another one. Someone who was present in the crowd. Someone whom they had not recognized. Someone who was infinitely greater than John himself: “Though his ministry follows mine, I’m not even worthy to be his slave and untie the straps of his sandal” (v. 27).

JESUS THE LAMB OF GOD

29 The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Look! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!

John identifies Jesus as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. God made it clear in the Garden of Eden that without the shedding of blood there was no forgiveness of sins. A price had to be paid. God Himself clothed Adam and Even with the skins of the first animal that was sacrificed. But year after year after year, lambs were slain, showing that the blood of animals has not taken care of the sin problem.

  • Animals are not equal to us.
  • They are not voluntary victims.
  • They cannot take our place. Our sins are offences against God. No one but God can remove those offences.

Then why the sacrifice of animals in the Old Testament? They were a shadow pointing to the reality that is in Christ. Finally, the sin problem would be dealt with. Christ would be our sacrifice. Christ himself would bear our sins. Paul tells us,

Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed (1 Corinthians 5:7 ESV).

Peter tells us,

… you know that God paid a ransom to save you from the empty life you inherited from your ancestors. And the ransom he paid was not mere gold or silver. 19 It was the precious blood of Christ, the sinless, spotless Lamb of God (1 Peter 1:18-19 NLT).

John the Baptist points to Jesus as the Lamb of God who will take care of the sin problem. Again in the book of Revelation, we read of Christ our Lamb who was slain:

11 Then I looked, and I heard around the throne and the living creatures and the elders the voice of many angels, numbering myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands, 12 saying with a loud voice, “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!” 13 And I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, saying, “To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!” (Revelation 5:11-13 ESV).

Worthy is the Lamb!

Jesus the Eternal One

When John saw Jesus coming toward him, he said, “Look! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!

 30 He is the one I was talking about when I said, ‘A man is coming after me who is far greater than I am, for he existed long before me.’

How is this? John says that Jesus was coming after him. This means two things:

  1. First, Jesus was born after John the Baptist. Elizabeth was already six months pregnant with the angel Gabriel appeared to Mary and announced that she would conceive and bear a son named Jesus.
  2. It also means that John was the forerunner. John’s ministry would come first. Jesus would follow him. Jesus would come after him.

But now John makes the amazing remark that Jesus is “far greater than I am, for he existed long before me.” John says that the reason that Jesus is “far greater” than he is, is that Jesus existed long before John.

If Jesus came after John, how did he exist before John?

John the Baptist is pointing here to the fact that Jesus’ existence did not begin with his birth or his conception. As verse 1 says, In the beginning, the Word was already, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

This is what the prophet Micah had said when he prophesied that the Christ would be born in Bethlehem:

“But as for you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, Too little to be among the clans of Judah, From you One will go forth for Me to be ruler in Israel. His goings forth are from long ago, From the days of eternity” (Micah 5:2 NAU).

Christ was greater than John the Baptist because he came from eternity.

Recognizing the Messiah (or the Christ)

When John the Baptist began his ministry, he did not know who the Messiah was.

31 I did not recognize him as the Messiah, but I have been baptizing with water so that he might be revealed to Israel.”

John the Baptist was sent from God. He was sent to reveal the Messiah to Israel. But how would John know who the Messiah was? John knew Jesus for they were related; they were family. But he did not know that Jesus was the Messiah. He only knew that Jesus was a righteous man. So when Jesus came to John to be baptized by him,

… John tried to talk him out of it. “I am the one who needs to be baptized by you,” he said, “so why are you coming to me?” 15 But Jesus said, “It should be done, for we must carry out all that God requires.” So John agreed to baptize him (Matthew 3:14-15 NLT).

That’s when it happened!

10 As Jesus came up out of the water, he saw the heavens splitting apart and the Holy Spirit descending on him like a dove. 11 And a voice from heaven said, “You are my dearly loved Son, and you bring me great joy” (Mar 1:10-11 NLT)

Here the Father is speaking to His Son, and the Holy Spirit is descending from the Father and resting on the Son. We see interactions between the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Not three gods, but three persons in one true God.

John was a witness! He saw it happen!

32 Then John testified, “I saw the Holy Spirit descending like a dove from heaven and resting upon him. 33 I didn’t know he was the one, but when God sent me to baptize with water, he told me, ‘The one on whom you see the Spirit descend and rest is the one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.’ 34 I saw this happen to Jesus, so I testify that he is the [Son of God, ESV] Chosen One of God” (John 1:19-34 NLT).

John the Baptist was a man sent from God to prepare the hearts of the people for the coming of the LORD Jesus. God had told him that he would recognize the Messiah by this: the Holy Spirit would come down on the Messiah and stay. And God told John, “He will baptize with the Holy Spirit.”

John baptized with water. It was preparation for the One who would baptize with the Holy Spirit. That’s what the prophets had promised:

“Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean. Your filth will be washed away, and you will no longer worship idols. 26 And I will give you a new heart, and I will put a new spirit in you. I will take out your stony, stubborn heart and give you a tender, responsive heart. 27 And I will put my Spirit in you so that you will follow my decrees and be careful to obey my regulations (Ezekiel 36:25-27 NLT).

That’s what we need! A new heart! And God’s Spirit within!

Education is wonderful, but education will not give you a new heart. Our problem is that we are sinners by nature. When Adam fell, we fell with him. And we have all chosen to go our own way.

But Jesus Christ is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. What sin are you carrying? What sin dominates your life and gets you down and is destroying you? Jesus Christ came to take away your sin. He came to break the power of sin in you. He came to give you a new heart and a new spirit. He came to put His Spirit in you so that you would follow his ways and obey his commandments. You need more than water baptism. You need Jesus to baptize you in the Holy Spirit.

John was a witness to Jesus. No other founder of a religion had a forerunner like John. Every Gospel—Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John—every Gospel puts John in a place of prominence, but John himself says, “It’s not me. Jesus Christ is the One. I baptize you with water, but He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit. He is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.”

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