By Whose Power Are We Baptized?

Heritage Presbyterian Church

December 6, 2020 
Second Sunday of Advent
Scripture readings – John 1:19-28 & Mark 1:4-11

It has been suggested from this pulpit that it is highly significant when all four Gospels mention the same story.  Those events that include:

  • Jesus feeding the 5000
  • The Last Supper
  • The betrayal of Jesus by Judas Iscariot
  • Jesus’ arrest, trial, crucifixion, and death on the cross
  • The resurrection on Easter morning witnessed by the women
  • And finally…for today’s message, the proclamation by John the Baptist.

Considering the fact that the four Gospel writers were addressing four different audiences and had four different purposes for writing their accounts, I consider this to be highly significant and worthy of our undivided attention.

On this second Sunday of Advent, we celebrate and remember the peace that Jesus Christ brings to believers.  However, “peace” was not exactly what John the Baptist brought in advance of Jesus.  First of all, he dressed just like an Old Testament – rough clothing, unkempt hair and beard, and a wildlife diet that most of us would give up quickly.  Second, he was not a nice person; he was loud, impatient, and driven – just like the prophets of old.  Third, he didn’t go to Jerusalem or to an important population center to begin his ministry; instead, he set up camp on the banks of the Jordan River in the wilderness and just started baptizing the sin out of the people.  Finally, when the religious officials heard about the Baptist and sent a delegation to talk with him, John was most likely impatient with them.  

After all, he was a busy prophet, and he didn’t really have time for their doubt or their questions like, “Who are you?” and “Are you the Messiah?” and so forth.  If you read any of the Gospel accounts of the officials asking John their questions, forget any sort of conversation in which John was polite and patient in his answers.  He barely had time for their troublesome interference, but those officials knew John the Baptist was a threat to them; he had credibility!  He was clearly a prophet, and the people flocked to hear his message and to be baptized.  This was major trouble for the officials and their status quo!

Yet, once John the Baptist had announced the coming of Jesus, once the baptism of Jesus was done, John the Baptist faded from the Gospel records.  He became quite possibly the greatest “second fiddle” in recorded history.  John pointed the people toward Jesus and away from himself.  John directed his own disciples – including Andrew and probably John – toward Jesus and away from himself.  

In the rest of the Gospels, the only information we have on John the Baptist is when Jesus referred to John’s work – and when King Herod had John beheaded at the request of Herod’s daughter. 

And that’s it…for one of the greatest prophets in history.

Yet, in John’s brief appearance in history, he managed to set three important themes for his own work that pointed to the coming Messiah.

First, John’s message of preparation challenged people then – and people today – to look to the coming of Jesus Christ with steady expectancy and sober excitement.  Throughout history, we have all heard the highly agitated, often screaming so-called prophets who call us to prepare for the return of Jesus Christ.  All of us have heard, read, or seen those who want to frighten us into behaving so we won’t be condemned at the End Times to the fiery pit for all of eternity.  This is NOT peace!

Second, John’s call to “repent and prepare” revealed our part in this new covenant that was being offered to God’s people once again.  The various covenants offered throughout biblical history always ALWAYS involved actions by the people and actions by the Lord; there was never a covenant that only involved action by the Lord.  In the case of the coming of the Messiah, John told people to repent of their sins, to be baptized, and to prepare for the Messiah’s coming.  This means that believers are called to do more than just stand still and smile as the Lord handles everything; we are called to repent; we are called to prepare; we are called to be in the right place and in the right frame of mind. This takes work on our behalf, and for some – it takes quite a bit of work.  But it is salvation that is offered for every single believer, not just those who are special, anointed, or somehow above the rest.

Finally, John agitates everyone – commoner and official alike –  when he says directly and clearly that he is NOT the one; he points to the one who is.  John was most likely not a man who was easily followed.  He certainly made a strong and unsettling impression on everyone he encountered.  But he constantly referred to the one who would come after him, and not to himself.  John established the relationship too when he declared, “I am not even fit to unfasten the strap of his sandals.”  That would be lower than the work of a common servant, yet John embraced it.  And if that were not enough, John sealed the deal when he also stated, “I baptize with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

By doing the things he did and declaring clearly the statements he made, John the Baptist established himself as a humble, willing servant of the Lord – and the greatest second fiddle” of all time.  

And John the Baptist did and said all these things because his Lord compelled him to do so…that’s all…no other reason.  

He was the ultimate servant who did as his Lord called him to do.

The only peace that any of us can expect in this life – and ultimately in the next – will be to follow the clear example of this prophet – and do as our Lord calls each of us to do too.