The Fifth in a Series of Sermons on the Gospel of John
Although we read about him in the New Testament, Jesus said he was the greatest of the Old Testament prophets. And given his rather odd diet (locusts and honey) and his distinctive attire (camel hair with a leather belt), it is easy to think of John the Baptist as some sort of religious eccentric who appears out in the Judean wilderness and begins preaching “the end is near.” But John the Baptist is an important figure in redemptive history, and is identified as such in the opening chapter of John’s Gospel when the Baptist appears as the messianic forerunner who bears witness to the fact that with the coming of Jesus, the light has come into the world of darkness.
We have completed our time in the prologue to John’s Gospel (vv. 1-18) and we now move into the body of John’s Gospel beginning with John the Disciple’s account of John the Baptist in verses 19-28 of chapter 1. In John’s prologue we have learned that Jesus is the eternal word (logos) who was with God in the beginning. Therefore, Jesus is God, yet distinct from the father. We have also learned that Jesus is the creator of all things who then took to himself a true human nature (the word “became” flesh) to save us from our sins. John speaks of the creator becoming our redeemer in terms of darkness (human sinfulness and willful ignorance of the truth) and light (the grace and truth of Jesus Christ). It is Jesus who gives us the authority to become children of God, something which cannot be accomplished by natural birth or through an act of the human will.
In the prologue, John the Disciple (and the author of this gospel) has also introduced us to the “other” John, John the Baptist. The Baptist is that one who sent by God to bear witness to Jesus Christ, the light who has come into the world to overcome the darkness. Says John (about the Baptist) in verses 6-8, “there was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness, to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him. He was not the light, but came to bear witness about the light.” In verse 15, the disciple adds, “John bore witness about him, and cried out, `This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks before me, because he was before me.’” In John’s prologue we learn who Jesus is so that when John begins to recount the details of our Lord’s messianic mission later in chapter 1, we already know that Jesus is the eternal God become flesh. In his prologue, John also tells us who the Baptist is, and what his mission as messianic forerunner will entail. John the Baptist’s calling is to give testimony about the one coming after him.
Given the important role that John the Baptist plays in redemptive history, it would be a good idea to go through the biblical background regarding John the Baptist to learn more about him and dispel the idea that he is some sort of self-appointed religious zealot. It is vital to understand the critical role he plays in preparing the way for the coming of Jesus Christ. If John the Baptist is the greatest of the Old Testament prophets, then we should know more about him.
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