A Closer Look at John the Baptist Part 1

June 1, 2020  - By Lauren Washer

WWW Blog _ A closer look at John the Baptist, Part One

Today we begin a series of posts that will coincide through our Community Group study in the book of Mark. We created a free reading guide that outlines a plan for studying the book in its entirety. Find this free guide here, and join the conversation in the Community Group here.

Studying with Purpose

If you spend more than a few minutes with a four- or five-year-old child, you will likely be bombarded with an endless stream of questions. Answer one, and you’re confronted with another. Reply with, “I don’t know,” and you’ll probably hear a quick, “But why?” Childlike curiosity is entertaining, precious, and sometimes tiresome. But we can learn a profound lesson about Bible reading from this type of persistent inquisitiveness.

We need to approach our Bible study with an endless stream of questions. When we open our Bibles with childlike curiosity and an eagerness to explore everything we can from a particular passage of the Bible, we will uncover endless treasures. As the Holy Spirit opens our eyes to God’s Word, we will begin to understand why God preserved these words in this way. Then we’ll be able to respond to what we learn with our minds, our hearts, and our lives.

Studying with Curiosity

As the Well-Watered Women community launches into a five-week reading plan through the gospel of Mark, I want to walk you through a process of curiosity by exploring the life of John the Baptist. 

Perhaps you know something about John the Baptist. Maybe you heard stories about him in Sunday School when you were a child. Perhaps some of you have begun the reading plan through Mark and asked questions similar to the ones I’m going to raise. Or maybe you don’t have a clue who I’m talking about and you’re already curious.

Regardless of how little or how much you know, the best way to learn with childlike curiosity is to set aside any previous knowledge we have about a passage of Scripture. Or in our case, a person recorded in the Bible. Hopefully, our study will produce a deeper knowledge of God, His Word, and a greater love for Jesus.

We’re going to study about this man, John, by answering four main questions: 

  1. Who is John the Baptist? 
  2. Why is John the Baptist important? 
  3. What does John the Baptist teach us about Jesus? 
  4. How does John the Baptist’s response to Jesus help us respond to Jesus? 

Without future ado, let’s allow Mark to introduce us to John the Baptist. 

Meet John the Baptist

Mark begins his Gospel with these words: “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God” (Mark 1:1).  But immediately, Mark quotes a passage of Scripture from the Old Testament. He launches into a little story about a man named John. Instantly I was intrigued. I thought Mark was going to tell us about Jesus.  

So, I wrote down some questions:  Who was John the Baptist? What does Mark tell me about him? Why does Mark want me to know these details? What was John telling people? What was his relationship to Jesus? Why did Jesus need to be baptized? Before long I had a list of things I wanted to understand this character who makes an appearance at the beginning of a story about Jesus.

Some of the answers to my questions were obvious. John the Baptist wore camel’s hair and a leather belt. He ate locusts and wild honey. He had a ministry in the wilderness consisting of baptizing people and proclaiming a “baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins” (Mark 1:4).

John the Baptist sounds a little strange and perhaps not very popular if he’s preaching about sin. Yet, Mark tells us that people were coming from the city and the countryside out to the wilderness to be baptized by him. John the Baptist was different, but he sure knew how to draw a crowd.   

Why were the people so drawn to him? 

The Importance of John the Baptist

For over 400 years, God was silent. No prophets, no angels, no burning bushes. God had promised a deliverer would come to rescue His people, and they were waiting for His appearance. He also promised someone would come before the Messiah, to “prepare the way for the Lord.”

The Israelites would have known this verse from Isaiah that Mark quotes in the opening of his Gospel. However, Mark wasn’t writing to people who knew those Old Testament prophecies. According to the Introduction to Mark in the ESV Study Bible, Mark’s audience would have been unfamiliar with Isaiah and Malachi. These men also prophesied about a messenger who would come before the Messiah (Malachi 3:1 and 4:5–6).  

In the gospel of Luke, we learn that God broke the silence with the angel Gabriel. Gabriel appeared to a priest named Zechariah. Zechariah and his wife would have a son, John, who would “be filled with the Holy Spirit”. He would also “turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God … to make ready for the Lord a people prepared” (Luke 1:15–16).

Just like prophets in the Old Testament, John proclaimed God’s Word to God’s people. He did this in order to warn them of judgment regarding their sin. But also to offer hope regarding the ways in which God would fulfill His promises. People had to see their need for forgiveness. They needed to learn identifying with the One who could forgive their sins was necessary for their salvation. John the Baptist would be the final voice from God before the very Word of God came to speak to and dwell among His people (John 1:14).

A Messenger before the Messiah

John the Baptist was important in the life of Jesus because God had promised a messenger would come before the Messiah. This man would come to prepare people for Jesus’ message about the Kingdom of God. John was the fulfillment of this prophecy. In order for Mark’s audience to understand the importance of Jesus, they needed to see the bigger picture of God’s plan and the fulfillment of it.

Doesn’t it move your heart to know God keeps His promises? Even though John the Baptist preached a judgmental message of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, we see God’s love demonstrated by His relentless pursuit of His people. The people of Israel were not yet ready to meet Jesus. They needed someone who would speak about Jesus and point them to Jesus. He would be the One who would come to save them from their sin.

Later this week, in Part Two of this closer look at John the Baptist, we will see how John’s life pointed to Christ. We'll also see how John’s response to Jesus can help us shape our response to our Savior.

Your friend, Lauren

Meet the Author: Lauren Washer is a wife, mom of six, and a lifelong student of God’s Word. She’s actively involved in the women’s ministry of her local church through teaching the Bible and leading small groups. She learned how to study the Bible at Columbia International University, where she received a B.S. in Bible and Intercultural Studies. When she’s not playing LEGOs, changing diapers, or helping her older children navigate preteen emotions, she enjoys reading, cooking, and getting a full night of sleep. You can find more of her writing on Instagram or her website.

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WWW BLOG _ A Closer Look at John the Baptist Part 1

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