Wednesday, September 19, 2012

John the Baptist: Herald of the Promised King it is written in Isaiah the prophet: “I will send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way”— "a voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.’”
And so John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. The whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem went out to him. Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River. John wore clothing made of camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. And this was his message: “After me comes the one more powerful than I, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”
Mark 1:2-8
Every king needs a herald... someone to go before him to announce the greatness of his arrival...someone to make sure that the people have been prepared...that there will be a reception fit for a king. This is no less true of the promised Messiah. The coming of this Messiah had been foretold many times for more than a thousand years before Jesus. So there was great expectation, especially in Jesus' day, for the coming of the great king from the line of David who would restore the people of God to their rightful place. But Mark weaves Isaiah 40:3 and Malachi 3:1 together in verse 2 of his gospel to remind his readers that the Messiah wasn't the only one who was prophesied to come. For over five hundred years now the people of Israel had awaited the herald, one like Elijah (Malachi 4:5-6), who would announce that the time of the coming king was finally at hand. This herald would make ready and prepare the way before the Messiah. Let's look and see what the herald has to teach us.
First, let's look at his actions. John the Baptist appears out in the wilderness offering a baptism of repentance in the Jordan River. This action was rich with history for the people of Israel. God had long ago rescued Israel from slavery in Egypt. He led them through the waters of the Red Sea on dry ground and through the wilderness on their way to the Promised Land (God's promised inheritance for His people). Then they passed through the Jordan River (also on dry ground) to enter the Promised Land. This story of the Israel's exodus is the context for understanding what John the Baptist is doing. By his actions John is saying, a new exodus has begun. We have fallen short of living like the people of God should, so repent and let's start over. The king is coming, now is the time to repent before he gets here. We want him to find us washed of our sin and living rightly when he gets here. So prepare yourselves for the coming of the king! Come back to the wilderness with me. We will pass through the waters again in repentance and in preparation for the coming of the Messiah. God is doing a new thing. Now the people of God will receive the true promised inheritance.

What a powerful message! You know this message is still relevant today. The Bible tells us that King Jesus is coming yet again at some time in the future to take his new people into their Promised Land (Heaven). So make ready and prepare yourself for the coming of the king is at hand! What do you need to repent of in order to be prepared for the king's arrival?
Second, let's look at his words, and what powerful words they are! John says that he is unworthy to even stoop down and untie the straps of Jesus' sandals. The ESV Study Bible notes that untying the straps of the master's sandals was usually the job of a low servant in the household. You see, the roads and well worn paths of that day were often littered with animal waste and other filth, so this was an undesirable job to say the least. In fact, Jews were not supposed to ask their Jewish servants to do this task. This disgrace was reserved for the already unclean Gentile servant.* John uses this everyday activity from their culture to make a powerful statement about his place in relation to Jesus. He says that he is not even worthy to be Jesus' lowliest servant. That is how high Jesus is above him. Let me ask you, do you serve the Lord with this kind of humility?

John continues by comparing their baptisms. "I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” What a wonderful thought, to be immersed not in water but in the Spirit of the living God! This is truly a salvation experience, to know God and be immersed in His presence. And this is what Christ has done, He poured out the Spirit for all believers on the day of Pentecost and He continues to pour out the Spirit into the lives of those who believe in Him today. I can say from experience as a redeemed sinner that nothing in this world compares to knowing this kind of intimate fellowship with God. And this isn't something that you can secure for yourself. Only Jesus can give this to you. If you haven't yet experienced it, then I encourage you to accept Jesus as your Savior. Surrender your life to God today by following the simple formula in Romans 10:9. And seek after God. He will not run from you for His Word tells us to, "Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you" (James 4:8- English Standard Version).
For further reading...
  • Exodus 1-14: Read the story of the Exodus.
  • Joshua 1-3: And the story of the crossing of the Jordan River.

* ESV Study Bible note on Mark 1:7-8. Crossway Bibles, Wheaton, IL. 2008.

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