The ministry of John the Baptist. Studying John 1:23-28

This post is a continuation of a study of John the Baptist in the Gospel of John. John the Baptist is found in all four gospels and is a figure who was prophesied in the Old Testament and who would come as a forerunner to Jesus. He discusses that divinely given ministry in John 1:23-28. But before we study that passage, it’s helpful to look at the context of the preceding section. 

19 And this is the testimony of John, when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?” 20 He confessed, and did not deny, but confessed, “I am not the Christ.” 21 And they asked him, “What then? Are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not.” “Are you the Prophet?” And he answered, “No.” 22 So they said to him, “Who are you? We need to give an answer to those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?”

-John 1:19-22

While John isn’t answering in the affirmative to any of his questions, that does not mean he’s insignificant. 

Verse 23: He said, “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’ as the prophet Isaiah said

That text from Isaiah 40 is applied to John in all four of the gospels. Isaiah 40 is a passage talking of a future time of deliverance for the people of God. It’s an incredibly hopeful passage. It talks of God’s faithfulness to his people in spite of their sin. It talks of God’s restoration. 

The heart of what this is getting at for John is that his purpose is to call people to repentance and preparation for the coming Messiah. They ask John about his baptism. 

25 They asked him, “Then why are you baptizing, if you are neither the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?”

Baptism was instituted in the New Testament for followers of Jesus. But baptism was not a foreign idea prior to that time. 

In the first century, when non-Jews would convert to Judaism, they would sometimes do something similar to baptism which was meant to be a cleansing ritual to symbolically wash away impurity and sin. 

A difference with John was that he administered baptism. The leaders question his authority. Hhe responds by turning the question right back to his purpose in the world. John 1:26-27:

26 John answered them, “I baptize with water, but among you stands one you do not know, 27 even he who comes after me, the strap of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie.”

John says that it points to someone who’s shoes he’s not worthy to untie. In other words, he’s unworthy of even doing the most menial and humiliating task. John would need a promotion in order to be worthy of untying Jesus’ sandals. 

John has authority to baptize because it’s been given to him by God but that baptism is meant to point to something greater. 

A once in history ministry

John the Baptist had a ministry to do for a time in history. He was not perfect. He was just a man. He lived a shorter life than Jesus. Much of his life was spent in seclusion. But he was faithful. Yes, we don’t have the ministry that John the Baptist had. He had a once in history ministry. He was the forerunner to Jesus. 

But just because someone has a different ministry or a different way to serve, that doesn’t mean that the ways you can serve the Lord are insignificant. No one would know who John the Baptist was without Jesus. Jesus is the thing that gives relevance and meaning to his life. 

But for anyone who’s a follower of Jesus, that’s the case. It’s Jesus who gives meaning. 

John’s ministry was to point people to Jesus. But that’s the ministry in which every follower of Jesus still shares in. Pointing people to Jesus in word and deed. Following where the Lord leads. Walking in faith. Standing up for the truth of God. 

Those things are a call which all Christians share. 

In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus talks of John the Baptist and says: 

I tell you, among those born of women none is greater than John. Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he” (Luke 7:28).

No one before John was greater than he. Yet Jesus says that for those who come after, the one who is least in the Kingdom of God is greater. The reason isn’t because we have anything great in ourselves. It’s because we have a fuller picture of who Jesus is and a fuller picture of God’s revelation to the world. 

John did have a once in history ministry to fulfill but he didn’t live long enough to see the fruition of Jesus’ ministry. He never heard about the resurrection or saw the risen Christ. 

What are you doing to serve the Lord today? It can be tempting to think that we don’t have what it takes to serve God. It’s not about your own abilities and your own power. John the Baptist was an effective minister without a lot of resources. 

You don’t have to have a lot of money to serve God faithfully. John the Baptist certainly did not have that. He came from the wilderness. Other gospels tell us that John wore a garment made of camel’s hair. You don’t have to have all of the degrees and credentials. John the Baptist didn’t have that….he came. from. the wilderness. 

You might think you’re too old. John the Baptist had a ministry that was shorter than Jesus’s. His public ministry was incredibly short lived. You don’t have to have decades of ministry to have a ministry that matters. 

You just have to follow the Lord, to love the Lord, to serve the Lord. 

What are you doing to serve the Lord? What are you living for? 

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