Yesterday the children and youth were learning more about John the Baptist and his ministry to “prepare the way for the Lord.” A few weeks previous, we’d taught the lesson on Elizabeth and Zechariah and we are now showing John as an adult, albeit a pretty odd one.
Now I can’t tell you how long I have known this story; just that it’s been a pretty (very) long time. Yet one of the things that I love about my job is that I learn new stuff all the time. Or I re-learn stuff that I had forgotten. That’s what happened with this story. Here is what I know that I know about John the Baptist:
1. John was born to Elizabeth and Zechariah. Luke 1
2. His calling was to ‘prepare the way of the Lord.’ Isaiah 40:30
3. He prepared people for Jesus by calling them to repent and be baptized. Mark 1:4
4. His was the “voice crying out from the wilderness.” Isaiah 40:3
5. He ate locusts and honey. Matthew 3:4
6. He baptized Jesus and heard the voice of God from Heaven, which marked the beginning of Jesus’ ministry on earth. John 1:33-34
7. He was imprisoned and ultimately beheaded. Mark 6:14-29
I’m sure you’ll agree that this is a basic and true overview of John. Yet preparing for the lessons this past week, some other truths appeared. Here’s that list:
1. John was odd, perhaps even a little crazy by the standards of his day (and ours). I knew that part, just never looked into why he was so. His strangeness was advantageous because it got the people’s attention. His sense of urgency allowed him to get to his point quickly. And it worked! Matthew 3:4
2. All of the people of Jerusalem went to hear him speak. This is, of course, hyperbole, but the exaggeration lets us know that many people went to hear him, and were persuaded by him to repentance and baptism. I didn’t realize that John had such a large following. Matthew 3:5-6.
3. The Hebrew word for sin is “khatta’ah” which means to miss the way/path or go in the wrong direction. In other words, the original understanding of sin for the Israelites was not about ‘bad actions.” Instead, sin meant you were off-track or perhaps aimed at the wrong target. I had always assumed that they thought about “sin” the way that we do today.
4. The Hebrew word for repent is metanoia and it means to turn around. Putting these two words together then we find that John is telling people to turn around. Not a 360 but a 180. Like if you were going the wrong way on a one-way street.
Another way to look at John is to compare it to when we go to see a doctor. First, we’ll see a nurse who will check our weight, take our temperature and blood pressure, and get any pertinent history. The nurse is preparing us for the doctor like John prepared the Israelites for Jesus.
Finally, Jesus chooses to begin his ministry with baptism, which acts like dominoes falling. Because of his choice, the Holy Spirit descends upon him and that enables and directs Jesus’ time on earth and the rest of the story begins. Matthew 3:16 talks about the heavens opening up which underlines a strong theme of Jesus’ entire ministry: The kingdom of God is at hand.
Kind of like that “earth as it is in heaven” phrase that we say so often…
Grace & peace,
P.S. If you missed any of the Sunday messages, you can view them on YouTube here.