June 24 – John the Baptist

These weekly “People to Commemorate” posts are a kind of calendar for the commemoration of the saints, reproduced here from a Uniting Church Assembly document which can be found in full here. They are intended for copying and pasting into congregational pew sheets on the Sunday closest to the nominated date.

Images (where provided) are of icons by Peter Blackwood; click on the image to download a high resolution copy of the image.

John the Baptist, witness to Jesus

Prior to Christ’s ministry we meet John, called the Baptist. John, whose name means “God has shown favour”, is found in all four Gospels. He is described as being from God, sent to bear witness to the light, the Messiah, who is on his way. He is not the light but rather is to prepare the way for the light. Matthew and Luke start their Gospels with an introduction before introducing John and starting their account of the ministry of the Messiah who was to come. Mark starts his Gospel with the Baptist and John’s gospel weaves the Baptist into the coming of the light into the world.

It was customary to begin historical narratives by dating them according to the years of rulers and officials. Luke, the historian, therefore shows that John began preaching somewhere during ad 27 or ad 28. This therefore is when Jesus started his ministry also. \

In the Christian Calendar he is remembered during Advent. He exemplifies the Advent message when we look back to what has gone before and look forward to what is to come.

John’s father, Zechariah, was a priest at the Temple, but John did not continue the family calling. He grew up in the desert and was said to have lived on locusts and wild honey. He dressed in a camelhair coat with a leather belt. This was the clothes of a prophet in the OT. The word of God came to John – the words used throughout the OT to denote a prophet.

As prophesied in the Old Testament, John is the one who is crying in the wilderness.

John had a new message to tell and a new rite to introduce. He preached a baptism of radical repentance for the forgiveness of sin. Repentance in the Judaism of the time meant a total change in direction. A person was not saved by outward reformation, changing only what other people could see.

What was needed was an inner transformation. His baptism was new in that he was asking the Jews themselves to be baptized as a sign of repentance.

The message that John gives is ‘By God’s grace, remove every obstacle that is stopping the Lord’s entrance into your hearts and lives’. He taught that God could turn stones into children of Abraham, what was required was repentance. It was not being one of the elect or being born an ethnic Jew that mattered.

For baptism, John needed water, so he remained in the region around the Jordan River.

John’s message was not about looking back but forward to the new age. God’s doing a new thing here. Part of his message is that the end has started. Someone was coming – John was getting the people ready. It is not clear if John understood who was coming but what John did with water, the coming one would do with the Holy Spirit.

We are told that Herod Antipas had John arrested and put to death due to John preaching about Herod’s sexual immorality.

Rev Peter Welsh