“‘I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me comes one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.'” – Matthew 3: 11
John the Baptist is a popular name among Christians, but the One who came after Him was far greater – and that man is Jesus.
Back in the day, if a king intended to make a proclamation to his people, he did not have television, the internet, cell phones, nor all the fancy gadgets we have today in order to reach people.
No, a king employed a man called a “herald” who would go to public places and project his voice outward to the townspeople while reading from an officiated decree. That way all the people in the land would know the king’s plan.
In God’s world, He is King. So, He obviously intended to have a herald Himself. [John’s birth story can be found in Luke 1; the confirmed prophecy of John as Christ’s herald is Isaiah 40: 3.]
But what did John the herald proclaim?
Repentance: Like all the prophets before him, John desired that his people would turn their hearts back to God and give up habitually practiced sin.
The Kingdom of Heaven (at hand): True salvation through Jesus Christ – the moment by moment life of Jesus on Earth, as He walked among us as a man.
Where did he proclaim these two ideas?
The wilderness/desert: Unlike a traditional herald, John was not dressed up and primped in order to please the masses. He dressed strangely and had a strange diet. In fact, he may have seemed like a lunatic. Whereas a traditional herald would be proclaiming the news for his king in a public and easily accessible place, John obeyed the Lord and went to the Jordan River. God’s Word through this man was so powerful that he didn’t have to go to them; they came to him. Flocks and flocks of people came to this strange man in the middle of nowhere. And their lives were changed forever.
But then trouble came. The snakes. Having heard of the popularity of water baptism, the Pharisees and Sadducees decided to be baptized as well. But John denied them. Why would he do that?
Pharisees: Once it seemed like “the cool thing to do,” the Pharisees considered adding the sanctity of water baptism to their religious ideas, without considering the serious commitment of their hearts back to God the Father. Religious tradition contradicts the will of God, that we truly desire Him above our own outward appearance of holiness. We are not meant to change ourselves in order to get closer to Him, but we strive to get closer to Him on a relational level, knowing that Jesus changes us by His power and His sacrifice.
Sadducees: First of all, the Sadducees did not even believe in the resurrection (Matthew 22: 23 – 33), let alone anything having to do with spiritual matters. They were well-educated in humanistic tradition as well. With this in mind, let’s look at the purpose of baptism:
“Don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.” – Romans 6: 3 – 4
Baptism mirrors the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. Without belief in Jesus as a once-living man, his death on the cross, his burial in the tomb, and his resurrection and ascension, baptism means nothing. So, like the Pharisees, the Sadducees intended to put on a show, not knowing in their minds what they were meant to do. So much for being well-educated.
But then there was Jesus, at the water’s edge, insisting to be baptized by the man who was unworthy even to hold his sandals. Why would Jesus get baptized if He did not need repentance, if He Himself was the Kingdom Come? Love. Humility. Obedience.
And the Father adored His obedience.
Are you a voice calling out in the wilderness? Do the words of your mouth carry witness to others about whom Jesus is? Would you consider yourself a herald for the King?
“‘The main character in this drama – compared to him I’m a mere stagehand – will ignite the kingdom life within you, the Holy Spirit within you, changing you from the inside out.'” – The Message