1In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, Pontius Pilate being governor of Judea, and Herod being tetrarch of Galilee, and his brother Philip tetrarch of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene, 2during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John the son of Zechariah in the wilderness. 3And he went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 4As it is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet, "The voice of one crying in the wilderness: 'Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. 5Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall become straight and the rough places shall become level ways, 6and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.'"
7He said therefore to the crowds that came out to be baptized by him, "You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? 8Bear fruits in keeping with repentance. And do not begin to say to yourselves, 'We have Abraham as our father.' For I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham. 9Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire."
10And the crowds asked him, "What then shall we do?" 11And he answered them, "Whoever has two tunics is to share with him who has none, and whoever has food is to do likewise." 12Tax collectors also came to be baptized and said to him, "Teacher, what shall we do?" 13And he said to them, "Collect no more than you are authorized to do." 14Soldiers also asked him, "And we, what shall we do?" And he said to them, "Do not extort money from anyone by threats or by false accusation, and be content with your wages."
15As the people were in expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Christ, 16John answered them all, saying, "I baptize you with water, but he who is mightier than I is coming, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. 17His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire."
18So with many other exhortations he preached good news to the people. 19But Herod the tetrarch, who had been reproved by him for Herodias, his brother’s wife, and for all the evil things that Herod had done, 20added this to them all, that he locked up John in prison.
----> The One Who Goes Before
If you recall, in Faith and Doubt 5, we discussed the idea of being a "forerunner" for Jesus—being the one who goes before to prepare the way for the Kingdom. John the Baptist is the original forerunner that we, as Christians, should model ourselves after. Sure, there were the prophets that foretold of the Messiah's coming, but John the Baptist was the man who was sent to prepare the hearts of Israel for the Messiah's coming.
John's only mission was to preach the good news of the Messiah's coming, to preach repentance, and to baptize the people; in many ways, Jesus's message is an echo of John the Baptist's. They preach the same topics (baptism, repentance, and morality), and they have the same attitudes—their relation is obvious. What should be noted here, however, is that John's baptism is different from the Christian baptism: John's baptism was a symbolic gesture to prepare to the Jews for the Messiah, the Christian baptism is a symbolic gesture of accepting Jesus as the Messiah. John's baptism anticipates the Spirit's coming, while Christian baptism reflects the Spirit's arrival through Jesus. The washing aspect of John's baptism allows it to be associated with forgiveness of sins, as its connection to the Ezekiel 36 imagery suggests. Here are people of contrite heart, looking to God expectantly for what he will do in the days to come. Acts 19:1-10 reinforces the picture that John's baptism is anticipatory and not an end in itself: when some disciples appear in Ephesus who only knew John's baptism, they are led by Paul to experience what John's washing anticipated—the experience of being indwelt by the Holy Spirit. When an Israelite takes John's baptism, he or she is declaring openness to God and his ways.
John's role is also to prepare the hearts of the Jews by preaching the same message of practical living that Jesus will later preach (verses 7-14), and he really doesn't hold back any punches—he calls it exactly how he sees it (which is exactly what Jesus does during his ministry). His message is very simple too: 1) judgement is near (verses 7-9), and 2) true repentance will lead to fruits of the spirit (verses 10-14). This sentiment is later echoed by Paul in Galatians 5:16-25.
"If our hearts are right with God, if we are truly walking by the Spirit, then the fruits of the Spirit will be evident in our daily lives."
What are we doing to let people know about the Messiah? Are we being forerunners? Are we holding back when people ask us "What then shall we do?" Jesus is coming again—what are we doing to prepare the hearts of the people for his return?