Friday, December 18, 2009

Who is this John the Baptist? Part 2

Do you know about the Mandaean Sabians?

The Mandaean Sabians, a Gnostic religion, regard John the Baptist as their last prophet and are said to be those who are baptized and who know the religion of God, known as The Great Life or The Eternal Life in the Ginza Raba, their holy book. The Mandaean Sabians direct their faces northward while practicing their religious rites because they believe that the world of Light (paradise) lies in that sacred place of the universe where souls go when the journey of life ends. Mandaean Sabians do not allow people to convert into or out of the religion and do not allow mixed marriages. The Mandaean Sabians believe that once they travel to the Light, they will enjoy immortality alongside God. The Mandaean Sabians live mainly in Iraq and Iran, but there are Mandaean Sabian communities located in Europe, the U.S. as well as in Australia. There are approximately 100,000 Mandaean Sabians worldwide.

Besides the Mandaeans, Christians, Muslims, and the Bahá'í Faith all believe in John the Baptist as a prophet.

So, who is this guy?

In looking at John the Baptist, we look at the Gospels. And while similar they offer slightly different perspectives.

Luke is probably the most complete because it is the only one that describes the details of John's birth and matches it up closely to the birth of Christ so that you can easily make the connection of the link between the two. After Luke, Matthew is also very good because it talks about John's ministry. John is good especially in it is the only one that provides John's own testimony about Jesus as the Christ. Mark is useful in corroboration but otherwise does not add any more details about John.

So what does it say? Let's see - I've stitched parts of them together so we can read it easier.

Mark 1.

The beginning of the gospel about Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

It is written in Isaiah the prophet:

"I will send my messenger ahead of you,
who will prepare your way, a voice of one calling in the desert,
'Prepare the way for the Lord,
make straight paths for him.'"

And so John came, baptizing in the desert region and preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. The whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem went out to him. Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River.

John wore clothing made of camel's hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey.

And this was his message: "After me will come one more powerful than I, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit."

At that time Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan.

Matthew 3 adds more detail:

But when he (John) saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to where he was baptizing, he said to them: "You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not think you can say to yourselves, 'We have Abraham as our father.' I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.

"I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me will come one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not fit to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor, gathering his wheat into the barn and burning up the chaff with unquenchable fire."

Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to be baptized by John. But John tried to deter him, saying, "I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?"

Jesus replied, "Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness." Then John consented.

Perhaps the best is from John 1 because it has John's own comments

Now this was John's testimony when the Jews of Jerusalem sent priests and Levites to ask him who he was. He did not fail to confess, but confessed freely, "I am not the Christ."

They asked him, "Then who are you? Are you Elijah?"
He said, "I am not."
"Are you the Prophet?"
He answered, "No."

Finally they said, "Who are you? Give us an answer to take back to those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?"

John replied in the words of Isaiah the prophet, "I am the voice of one calling in the desert, 'Make straight the way for the Lord.' "

Now some Pharisees who had been sent questioned him, "Why then do you baptize if you are not the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?"

"I baptize with water," John replied, "but among you stands one you do not know. He is the one who comes after me, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie."

This all happened at Bethany on the other side of the Jordan, where John was baptizing.

The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, "Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! This is the one I meant when I said, 'A man who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.' I myself did not know him, but the reason I came baptizing with water was that he might be revealed to Israel."

Then John gave this testimony: "I saw the Spirit come down from heaven as a dove and remain on him. I would not have known him, except that the one who sent me to baptize with water told me, 'The man on whom you see the Spirit come down and remain is he who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.' I have seen and I testify that this is the Son of God."

John even sent Jesus his first disciples, who were John's and included Peter.

The next day John was there again with two of his disciples. When he saw Jesus passing by, he said, "Look, the Lamb of God!"

When the two disciples heard him say this, they followed Jesus. Turning around, Jesus saw them following and asked, "What do you want?"
They said, "Rabbi" (which means Teacher), "where are you staying?"

"Come," he replied, "and you will see."

So they went and saw where he was staying, and spent that day with him. It was about the tenth hour.

Andrew, Simon Peter's brother, was one of the two who heard what John had said and who had followed Jesus. The first thing Andrew did was to find his brother Simon and tell him, "We have found the Messiah" (that is, the Christ). And he brought him to Jesus.

Jesus looked at him and said, "You are Simon son of John. You will be called Cephas" (which, when translated, is Peter).

Later in John 3

After this, Jesus and his disciples went out into the Judean countryside, where he spent some time with them, and baptized. Now John also was baptizing at Aenon near Salim, because there was plenty of water, and people were constantly coming to be baptized. (This was before John was put in prison.) An argument developed between some of John's disciples and a certain Jew over the matter of ceremonial washing. They came to John and said to him, "Rabbi, that man who was with you on the other side of the Jordan—the one you testified about—well, he is baptizing, and everyone is going to him."

To this John replied, "A man can receive only what is given him from heaven. You yourselves can testify that I said, 'I am not the Christ but am sent ahead of him.' The bride belongs to the bridegroom. The friend who attends the bridegroom waits and listens for him, and is full of joy when he hears the bridegroom's voice. That joy is mine, and it is now complete. He must become greater; I must become less.

"The one who comes from above is above all; the one who is from the earth belongs to the earth, and speaks as one from the earth. The one who comes from heaven is above all. He testifies to what he has seen and heard, but no one accepts his testimony. The man who has accepted it has certified that God is truthful. For the one whom God has sent speaks the words of God, for God gives the Spirit without limit. The Father loves the Son and has placed everything in his hands. Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God's wrath remains on him."

Further evidence of John's credibility as a holy man was that even when he is not present to testify, Jesus still refers back to John against his critics.

John 5

"If I testify about myself, my testimony is not valid. There is another who testifies in my favor, and I know that his testimony about me is valid.

"You have sent to John and he has testified to the truth. Not that I accept human testimony; but I mention it that you may be saved. John was a lamp that burned and gave light, and you chose for a time to enjoy his light.

"I have testimony weightier than that of John. For the very work that the Father has given me to finish, and which I am doing, testifies that the Father has sent me. And the Father who sent me has himself testified concerning me. You have never heard his voice nor seen his form, nor does his word dwell in you, for you do not believe the one he sent. You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life.

Even after John's imprisonment, his impact on Jesus ministry could still be felt.

John 10

Then Jesus went back across the Jordan to the place where John had been baptizing in the early days. Here he stayed and many people came to him. They said, "Though John never performed a miraculous sign, all that John said about this man was true." And in that place many believed in Jesus.

The scriptures agree that

After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. "The time has come," he said. "The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!"

John the Baptist had fulfilled his public ministry. He had been that voice in the wilderness to prepare the way for the Lord. Despite his fame, the adulation of the crowds, the multitudes that came to be baptized by him and his own disciples, John never lost sight of who he was. John knew he was not the Christ but the announcer.

And he was comfortable in that. He not only lost disciples but gave Jesus his own disciples which became Jesus' first disciples including Peter. John demonstrated the ultimate humility in acknowledging that Jesus must become greater and he less.

Many times, I have a tendency towards being proud. I am proud of my talents, my intellect, my work, my professional and personal accomplishments, and I can get a big head. In those moments, it is easy to forget where all these talents came from and whose glory it is really intended.

In our secular world, there is a lot of pressure not to thank God publicly. We don't want to make anyone uncomfortable.

But it is exactly in these moments, that we should thank God. When the spotlight is on us and we have our brief moment on the stage - that is the time to announce our gratitude to our loving God who makes all things possible. If possible, to make ourselves less so that our God is more because he is more.

To announce to whomever will listen that our God is alive, he loves us, and he wants to be a part of our lives.

In the words of our Savior,

"The time has come! The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!"

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