Bible Study Lesson:
Study on John the Baptist:
Q. Who was John the Baptist? His Background?
- John the baptist was son of a priest Zacharias and Elizabeth. Luke 1 gives detailed account of birth of John the baptist.
- People may remember him and his miraculous birth in Elizabeth’s old age and Zacharias’ miraculous healing at his birth.
- It is quite interesting to see John’s harsh treatment of Pharisees and Sadducee, considering the fact that he was son of a priest. (Matthew 3:7-10)
Q. Where did John the baptist start his preaching ministry?
- In the desert of Judea!
- He did not choose his preaching place (podium) in Jerusalem, center of all happenings, but rather in remote place in wilderness in Judea, along the Jordan river.
- Apart from any historical or theological reasons, his choice of place is very different from what we may think. He could have chosen Jerusalem as his ‘Base’, he can get instant response from the people. People from all over the places visited Jerusalem regularly for different feasts. “There could not be a better place to start a ministry” – we would have said.
- But rather, he chose a wilderness, hard place to survive. There won’t be any pass-by’ers. People who really wanted to listen, learn and seek his message would come to such a far deserted place.
- It is not the place that counts in the end, but the ‘Message’! People from all over the regions went to him, because he had powerful message.
- Since he was getting such a huge response, Pharisees and Sadducees probably would have decided to check on him, may be to find fault with him. It is to be noted that they came to see where he was baptizing, not to be baptized. (Mat 3:7)
Q. What was the major theme of John’s message?
- “Kingdom of Heaven” (Beatitudes and Kingdom of Heaven)
- It is not the Kingdom of the earth, he is talking about.
- Jews who were under the Roman rule, always sought an earthly kingdom. But the message of John (and Jesus, Mat 4:17) was very clear from the beginning. “Repent, for the kingdom of Heaven is near.” Even when Jesus sent twelve disciples, the message was the same. (Mat 10:7)
- It is interesting that the phrase ‘Kingdom of Heaven’ is only used in gospel of Matthew. Matthew represents Jesus as the Savior and King prophesied in Old Testament.
- Repentance is the prerequisite of Kingdom of Heaven.
- Repentance is a real change of mind and attitude toward sin and its cause, it means to turn back, to regret, to be sorry. Repentance is not a new idea found in New Testament. There are about 110 instances of repentance in whole bible! It is one of the major theme of the bible.
- Repentance is not just to be sorry for the things that you have done and then continue in same old ways, but it is a total transformation, U turn. It is not just emotional outpouring of heart, but it is a sincere active commitment and change of mind.
Q. Significance of Baptism and its reference to Old testament?
- Baptism is a term derived from Greek word ‘baptisma’ meaning -washing or cleansing. In Old testament, it is first found in Exodus 30:17-21 in Mosaic law of purification.
- Priests were to wash their hands and feet with water from bronze basin before they entered the tent of meeting or when they approach an alter, so that they may not die.
- There are many other instances where this word is used for ceremonial cleansing, notably in 2 King 5:14.
- The concept of purification by water in Old testament relates exactly to baptism by water preached by John the baptist. So, this idea of water baptism was not alien to the Jews.
Q. What was John the Baptist’s ministry?
- “Prepare Ye the Way” for the Lord!
- He was the Messenger of the coming Messiah.
- It was an eastern custom for a messenger to come before the arrival of King or Prince to make provision for His way, to make sure everything is appropriate for the King.
- He is to clear out any thorns, leveling the roads, also preparing people for King’s arrival, so that He may get the due respect and honor he deserves.
- Accordingly, John’s ministry was to prepare people’s heart for the coming Messiah.
- Those who heard John quoting Isaiah 40:3, would instantly know that he is claiming to be the messenger before Messiah.
Q. How can we “prepare the way” for the Lord, today?
- One of the key aspect of a christian ministry is to make the way for the Lord.
- It is to prepare people’s heart and mind for God. But what does it mean? How to do it?
- To my opinion, to prepare one’s heart is to have a heartfelt need for the Lord, Savior, to realize that our way is not right or clean or pure.
- We are programmed in such a way that we know right from wrong! If you ask, most of people would agree that they have done something wrong at sometime in their life.
- So, first and foremost requirement is to realize our own shortcomings and to repent for it.
- Self-righteousness is the major obstacle or hurdle in accepting our failures. Pharisees and Sadducee were the main examples of self-righteousness.
- It takes courage and humility to confess that you have not been right and that you need help and to be repentant for your sins.
- To summarize, to prepare the way for the Lord is to realize the sinfulness of heart and to repent for it.
Q. Why is John the Baptist’s attire mentioned?
- It is quite unusual to see such a detailed description of John’s attire and his life style, not only in Matthew but also in Mark. (Mark 1:6)
- Such details are not even given about Jesus, in fact, NT writers have seldom mentioned physical appearances of people or person. So why is this description mentioned?
- Matthew 11:7-15 offers a possible answer. Jesus himself pointed out that this unique lifestyle of John, rough garments are the mark of a Prophet.
- In OT, Zech 13:4 mentions hair as prophet’s garment. In 2 Kings 1:7-8, Elijah was quickly recognized by his garment of hair and leather belt around his waist.
- So, by this description, Matthew presents John as a prophet. Jesus called him more than a prophet in Mat 11:9, since he had not only prophesied about the coming Messiah, but actually seen it come true in his life time!
- People from all over the regions went out to him and were baptized by him in the Jordan river. People knew that he was a prophet. They all accepted him as a prophet. (Luke 20:6)
Q. What are the parallels in attitude of John and Jesus towards Pharisees and Sadducees?
- There are many parallels. John’s distinct title for the Pharisees and Sadducees (“Broods of Vipers”) were also used by Jesus in Mat 12:34 and Mat 23:33. Their arguments with Jesus regarding Abraham is mentioned in John 8:31-59.
- This goes to show that they did not learn from John’s advice of “producing fruits in keeping with repentance” in Mat 3:8.
- All four Gospels seldom mention any Pharisee or Sadducee coming to Jesus as a seeker, but mostly as a accuser, doubter or a skeptic. It is often religious, pious people who failed to recognize Jesus due to their self righteousness.
- These religious leaders remind us of the danger of having righteousness of our own. Paul rightly says in 2 Cor 11:30: “If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness.” In Gal 6:14, Paul says again, “May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.” The first of the beatitudes (Mat 5:3) is “Blessed are the poor in the spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.” This is a fascinating and heart warming discovery, this is the heart of God.
Q. Judgment and Kingdom of Heaven in Mat 3:7-10?
- Kingdom of Heaven also brings with it God’s wrath.
- Ax represents judgment. Judgment is already upon us. Jesus in Mat 7:15-20 explains the parable of tree in details.
- Parable of tree, vine, seeds, fruits are used many times by Jesus and NT writers. This is one of the most effective ways to communicate to ordinary people from all the walks of life, as they all can relate to it.
- A same tree cannot produce good and bad fruits. It can either produce good fruit or bad fruit. You will recognize them by their fruits.
Q. Baptism with Fire and Holy Spirit?
- Water often cleanse from outside, but fire cleanses from inside out. Any impurities cannot withstand fire. It is the same analogy used here. Holy Spirit offers greater, more powerful cleansing of Heart.
- John also called Jesus a baptizer, a greater baptizer.
Q. What was John’s testimony about himself as compared to the coming Messiah?
- John admits that he is not even worthy of carrying his sandals. That must have shocked and surprised many people.
- An essence of true conviction about Jesus is a deep overwhelming concern over who I am, and not what I have done. When we really understand who God is, our first response is to realize who we are, how unworthy we are!
- We see this many times in the scripture. Isaiah’s first response after his encounter with God was,”Woe to me! I am ruined. For I am a man of unclean lips” (Isaiah 6:4-5)
- When Moses saw God in burning bush, his first reaction was, “Who am I?” (Ex 3:10-11)
- When Simon Peter realized who Jesus was, he said, “Go away from me, Lord, I am a sinful man!” (Luke 5:8)
- Again, here John’s response is that, “I am not even worthy to carry his sandals.”
- (This picture is a stark contrast to many other beliefs and faith in which people “reach” to the stage or self realization or realization of God. And they claim to be like God or in one with God.)
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