The Way Up is Down (Chapter 1 Verses 6-7)
The dress John wore marked him out as a prophet (Zechariah 13.4), the rough hairy garment was the usual dress. The prophet Elijah fore-shadowed John the Baptist in his stern preaching of repentance (Malachi 4.5; Mark 9.11-12; Luke 1.17). This is a missing element in preaching today, repentance I mean. When was the last time you heard a good full-blown sermon on repentance that was applied directly to everyone present? A while ago? But that is the gospel fore-runner, without repentance can there be forgiveness, salvation? John the Baptist’s dress, eating habits, dwelling place and his preaching, his whole being was a sermon on repentance. It was a challenge to all who made food and drink, houses and clothing, and much other such material concerns their primary concern in life (Matthew 6.33). When people came to hear John in the desert they left their luxurious lifestyles behind and were reminded for a time at least how little man really needs in this world, and of higher, greater, loftier, eternal matters. The message John preached included one who was coming v7, the Lord Jesus. Like any true preacher of God’s word, never pointing to himself, or any other, only the Lord Jesus, the mighty to save (John 1.29). Why? Because the preacher, John is a mere man, the preacher has no power to save, to change, alter the course of someone’s life or eternal destiny. But one more powerful than John comes, the Son of God v1, with the power, to forgive, to cleanse, to heal, and to save.
But do you notice how John takes a back seat here? The humility of John is a mark of his holiness, his greatness. The very purpose of John’s life is to exalt, to magnify Christ, but that is what you would expect a man full of the Holy Spirit to do, is it not? Because that is the office and work of the Holy Spirit (John 16.14). But is not John’s attitude of humility a refreshing one in a day when such arrogance abounds? People who think they have the answer to all, they pontificate about the origins of the human race, they boast proudly about their scientific achievements, enlightened, so sure, so powerful, yet still pathetically bound by addictions, unable to break the power of lust in their hearts. One does wonder why they have so many problems, they know so much. But God admires, smiles upon humility (Isaiah 66.2). Unless this, our own generation humbles itself, God will have to do it for them (Matthew 23.12). John had the attitude of his Saviour v7 cf. Mark 10.45. In the attitude of the servant bowing to untie the sandals, John demonstrates his understanding of the greatness of the coming One, the Messiah, the Son of God. Worship him today. Jesus I mean.
Baptism, in Water and Spirit (Chapter 1 Verse 8)
The difference in the persons, John and the Lord Jesus, has been highlighted in v7, now the difference in their work v8. Yes, both baptize, but Jesus will crown his redemptive work by baptizing with the Holy Spirit. Now to suggest that there was nothing of the Spirit in John’s ministry is false, John was filled with the Spirit from birth (Luke 1.13-15), how else would the Word of God come to him (Luke 3.2)? John’s ministry of repentance was worked upon the people by the power of the Spirit, for no one believes but by the Spirit, nor do they turn from their sin without the gracious gift of repentance from the self-same Spirit (Luke 11.18). “Repentance unto life is an evangelical grace, the doctrine whereof is to be preached by every minister of the gospel, as well as that of faith in Christ” (Westminster Confession Chapter 15 Section 1). The Spirit baptism declared by John was concurred by the Saviour’s own teaching (John 16.7; Acts 1.5, 8). The same Jesus Christ tells the very religious Nicodemus that Spirit baptism is imperative, for even understanding the Kingdom (John 3.3). The Pharisees, to whom Nicodemus belonged, refused John’s baptism. But Jesus tells him bluntly, you’re wrong, dead wrong, you need John’s baptism of repentance, and my Spirit baptism, both are essential, water and Spirit Nicodemus, just as John taught (John 3.5). Or there is no entrance to God’s Kingdom. Whatever our views may be on baptism, whether a little or a lot of water, you can be baptized in the Atlantic Ocean, but if you have not been baptized in the Holy Spirit you do not belong to Jesus Christ (Romans 8.9), you must be born again.
You see being a Christian is more than understanding certain truths of the Bible, more than religious emotion, or conviction, it is not simply the exercise of spiritual gifts (Matthew 7.21-23). It is not mere morality either (Luke 18.9-14). It is about a deep, radical change within the core of a person’s being, changing and renewing their hearts (2Corinthians 5.17). The Spirit of truth (John 16.13), he gives us a love for the truth (1John 4.4-6). That truth begins to mould and change our lives, we begin to think as God thinks, transforming our views (Romans 12.3), we now agree with what God says in his word and become more like his Son Jesus, the ultimate purpose of God for each of his children (Romans 8.29). Now how does that work you say? Well, as you prayerfully read your Bible each day, carefully, listening to what God says to you, applying it to your heart and life. Doing what he says (John 2.5). But that means discipline, straining toward the mark, sometimes we won’t feel like doing it, but we must. We go on in faith, faithfully, because God does bless faithfulness.
(©️James R Hamilton, June 2018)