The Final Act of John the Baptist

Heritage Presbyterian Church

Baptism of the Lord
Sunday, January 8, 2023

Scriptures: Matthew 3:13-17; 14:1-12 and John 1:29-34

Today we celebrate and remember the day in which our Lord went to the Jordan River to be baptized by one of the greatest prophets who ever lived: his cousin, John the Baptist.

The reason that Jesus did this will not be addressed in today’s message; Jesus’ motivation and his reason could be any of a dozen things.  That might be a good idea for a future message – but not today.

Today I want to focus our attention on what John did and why.

As we all know, John the Baptist prepared the way for the coming of Jesus Christ and his ministry. John came at a time in Jewish history in which just about everything bad that could happen to the people of God had occurred: 

  • a strong nation conquered and carried off into captivity;
  • their magnificent Temple torn down and destroyed;
  • their way of life almost forgotten by the people;
  • ruled by a corrupt king who was a vassal of the Romans;
  • taxation that broke the financial backs of the people;
  • corrupt religious officials who only seemed interested in their own power and influence;
  • and the worst thing of all: a lack of hope for their own future as the undisputed people of God.

Into this setting came John the Baptist with his message of repentance and forgiveness.  This was a little different from past prophets. 

  • Those prophets offered only consistent warnings of the coming disasters and judgment of their Lord; 
  • most of those prophets delivered their messages and then disappeared into the dusty pages of ancient history;
  • those prophets never spoke of forgiveness…they only howled about repentance.  

John the Baptist was different, and his message fell on the ears of God’s people like a soft rain on a thirsty field of grain.  Even though he was in the countryside near the Jordan River, the people flocked to him and were baptized in that river – probably by the hundreds.  

John was getting the people ready – even though most of them had no idea what he was talking about.  But John had a job to do, and he did it relentlessly, efficiently, daily, probably tirelessly, and without putting up with ANY distractions or discussions or deliberations.  

The man was a baptizing machine!

Then his cousin, Jesus of Nazareth, arrived at the Jordan and asked to be baptized.  John may not have known his kinsman was to be the Messiah, but it sure didn’t take him long to figure it out.  When Jesus asked, John hesitated and said, “It is I who should be baptized by you.”  But Jesus would not be deterred, and he insisted on John doing the same for him as he had for hundreds of others.

I can only imagine what was going through John’s mind at the moment he and Jesus waded into the river; fortunately, repeated practice enabled John to baptize his cousin and his Lord without faltering.

Then the dove appeared from Heaven, followed by the voice of God telling all who had ears that “this is my Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.  Listen to Him.”

Later on, Jesus himself said of John: “Truly I tell you, among those born of women no one has arisen greater than John the Baptist.”

It is virtually impossible to disagree with these words of Jesus in describing John.

Finally…John’s work was finished…and he virtually disappeared from the pages of history and Scripture.

He only reappeared one more significant time, and that was when he was murdered by King Herod after the King was tricked into doing it by his wife’s daughter.  Herod made his hasty promise in front of witnesses that she could have anything she wanted.  So, his wife wasted no time in telling her daughter to ask for the head of John the Baptist – who had dared to criticize her for marrying Herod.  That wicked, foolish King had no choice, so the Baptist’s voice was silenced forever.

That marked the absolute end of John the Baptist’s ministry.

In the final analysis, what exactly did John the Baptist do?  What was his purpose?

  • He prepared the way of the Lord, just as ancient prophets had predicted;
  • He introduced the people to forgiveness of their sins by God their Father;
  • He assisted Jesus in beginning his ministry by baptizing him; when he did this, John helped Jesus put himself in solidarity with the sinners he came to save;
  • He denounced the rich, powerful, and well-connected; namely the Pharisees, the Sadducees, and of course – King Herod himself;
  • He pointed his followers away from himself and toward Jesus of Nazareth; in doing this, perhaps the greatest prophet of all time, John the Baptist, set himself up as subordinate to Jesus.

But John the Baptist, the herald of Jesus Christ, did one more thing, and it was his final act.

Have any of you ever heard of the phrase “dying to self?”  It means putting everything and everyone ahead of yourself.  In the considering John’s work, I think he knew he would never die an old man in his bed.  I think John knew he would be killed because of his actions at some point.

Look at how he behaved.  He cursed the Pharisees and Sadducees when they came to observe him, calling them a “brood of vipers.”

Look at how he confronted King Herod RIGHT TO HIS FACE about his scandalous marriage to his own brother’s wife.

John the Baptist was completely unafraid.  He was dying to self because he saw his duty and he did it boldly…as all of us should.

His final act was to die a martyr’s death.  In doing so, John removed any link to himself and made certain that Jesus was the one the people followed.  Hear again the last line from Matthew’s Gospel that we heard today:

“John’s disciples came and took his body and buried it. Then they went and told Jesus.”

That is dying to self…and that was the final act of John the Baptist.

He gave his life so that the Messiah’s voice would not be swayed or interfered with.  

He gave his life so that his followers would recognize that he was only the herald of the “one to come.”

He gave his life because he loved the Lord his God.

May each of us, in our own way, be as brave as the Baptist.