“As it is written in the prophets, Behold, I send my messenger before thy face, which shall prepare thy way before thee. 3 The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. 4 John did baptize in the wilderness, and preach the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins. 5 And there went out unto him all the land of Judaea, and they of Jerusalem, and were all baptized of him in the river of Jordan, confessing their sins. 6 And John was clothed with camel’s hair, and with a girdle of a skin about his loins; and he did eat locusts and wild honey; 7 And preached, saying, There cometh one mightier than I after me, the latchet of whose shoes I am not worthy to stoop down and unloose. 8 I indeed have baptized you with water: but he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost. 9 And it came to pass in those days, that Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee, and was baptized of John in Jordan” (Mark 1:2-9).
One of the distinguishing elements of the Christian faith is that it is based upon many prophetic utterances. Hundreds of years before Christ was born, men in Israel, filled with the Holy Spirit, made pronouncements concerning the Person and work of the Messiah. One of the prophets, Isaiah, spoke of a forerunner who would announce the appearance of the Kings of kings and Lord of lords. The messenger of the Messiah would be recognized by what He said, by what He did, and by where He dwelt.
Upon reflection, many years later, it was easy for Mark, and the other disciples of Christ, to clearly see that John the Baptist was the fulfillment of prophecy. John the Baptist was the voice of the one crying in the wilderness, “Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make His paths straight.”
To our modern ears, this word of exhortation seems to be more poetical than practical, but there was a literal sense to the words in the ancient world. It was the custom in an area, where the king was coming for a visit, to clean up the road on which he would travel. Local citizens would work together to make the path on which the king would tread as smooth as possible in order to enhance his comfort. Large boulders would be removed. Jagged rocks would be crushed. Ugly trees or shrubs would be uprooted. Everything would be done that was necessary to make the road way attractive and smooth.
Spiritually, the King of Glory was coming. He would be moving in the hearts of His subjects. Therefore, the hearts had to be prepared. The ancient gospel exhortations were to be heard and obeyed.
“Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the Lord, and he will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon” (Isa. 55:7).
The ways of the wicked are described by the apostle Paul. “Now the works of the flesh are manifest which are these: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations (jealousies), wrath, strife, seditions (divisions), heresies, envyings, murders, drunkenness, reveling, and such like: of the which I tell you before, as I have told you in time past that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God” (Gal. 5:19-21).
Not only shall such souls not inherit the kingdom of God, they shall never see the King of the kingdom. Their eyes shall never behold the Lord of Glory.
When John called upon his generation to prepare for the Lord, there was much work to be done, for Jewish society had grown cold in genuine religious fervor, and cruel in social behavior. Like the days of Noah before the Flood, the land was filled with violence, reflected in various facets of society.
There were the Zealots. The Zealots were a fanatical political party that despised any thoughts of peaceful coalition with the Romans. The Zealots were not opposed to political assassinations. They practiced terrorism in order to keep dark feelings stirred up.
There were the Pharisee. The Pharisees were the religious conservatives of their day, but without any compassion. Wanting to keep the Law of Moses, they went to excess, and placed unnecessary burdens on the backs of people. When others could not keep all of their man-made rules and regulations they were merciless in their judgmental condemnation.
There was the Arena. In the great cities of Rome, overshadowing civilization itself in all public places was the Arena. In the Arena, brutality and butchery mingled with blood and violence against the background of the mighty screams of the masses. Unspeakable personal contests took place between men and beasts, or between men and men.
These events were allowed, in part, to solidify the people into a Roman culture, through cultural urbanization. Another reason, was the desire of the rich to display wealth, and secure political power. Beginning in c. 254 BC, pretending to be part of something glamorous, prisoners of war, criminals, slaves, and even emperors engaged in the very popular gladiatorial games, despite the gore and shocking savageness of the situation. Spectators showed no mercy to those in the Arena.
Later, when the Christians were put on display in the Arena, they too were killed without qualm. As the Christian Saturus lay dying from the attack of a leopard, the crowd jeered him with shouts of, “Well washed! Well washed!” referring to the ritual of believer’s baptism.
Surrounded by a society filled with coldness of spirit, and cruelty of conduct, it took a tremendous amount of personal courage for John to cry out, and call people to repentance and reformation. In any generation, it always takes courage for individuals to listen to the voice of heaven, and invite others to hear it too.
John could do what he did because he was a special man. He too was the subject of prophecy. Prior to his birth, his parents were told that he would be born and that he should be called, John. Not only was John a special man but he was a separate man. He did not live, nor eat, nor dress like other people.
In a society that sought to make their homes as large and as attractive as possible, John lived in the barren wastelands of the wilderness. In a society that ate delicate foods well prepared, John ate grass hoppers, and honey out of the rocks. Whereas others enjoyed beautiful, comfortable clothing, John was content to wear garments made out of camel’s hair.
By his separate eating habits, and wearing of unusual apparel, John was not trying to show off. He was not making a statement. But he was reminding people of greater things than the comforts of this life. John was calling people by practice, and principle, to consider that there is more to life than the body. There is a heart that has to be prepared to meet the coming King. There is an immortal soul that is at stake.
Not all people appreciate the value of the soul. They live for time, and forget eternity. In Luke 12 the parable is told of a certain farmer whose ground brought forth good crops. “And he thought within himself, saying, What shall I do, because I have no room where to bestow my fruits? And he said, This will I do: I will pull down my barns, and build greater; and there will I bestow all my fruits and my goods. And I will say to my soul, Soul, thou hast much goods laid up for many years; take thine ease, eat, drink, and be merry. But God said unto him, Thou fool, this night thy soul shall be required of thee: then whose shall those things be, which thou hast provided? So is he that layeth up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.
Many people live life without thinking about their soul, or the value of it. In one of her college courses, my daughter Tara, told me that the professor began to talk about the soul. Openly an evolutionist, the Instructor was trying to lead the young people to believe that the soul does not come into existence until the baby is born. Until that time, he insisted, the zygote in the mother’s womb becomes just a mass of tissues called a fetus.
Today, liberal political leaders in Congress openly declare that the fetus is not a baby until it leaves the hospital. The problem with such thinking is that it cannot be proved. However, it does raise an interesting question for discussion: “When is the soul created? Does the soul come into existence at the moment of conception? Is the soul part of natural cell division?”
“Is the soul independently created, and then implanted by God sometime during the developmental stage, or at the first breath of air? What is the origin of the soul?”
Theologians have debated this subject over the centuries. There are two leading schools of thought. The first is called Traducianism, and the second is called Creationism. The term Traducianism comes from the Latin, and means “to lead across,” or, “to transfer”. Traducianism teaches that the soul is derived from the parents, and is passed on in the natural act of procreation.
John 3:6 says, “That which is born of flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.”
Romans 5:12 declares, “By one man sin entered into the world and death by sin and so death passed upon all men for that all sinned.”
Hebrews 7:10 speaks of Levi, “who was yet in the loins of his father when Melchizedek met him.”
Traducianism does seem to be able to account for the universality of sin, and the connection of sin from one generation to another.
Opposed to Traducianism is Creationism. This view asserts that the soul is not derived from the parents, but is directly created by God.
Isaiah 57:16 speaks of, “The souls that I have made.”
Zechariah 12:1 The Lord who formeth the spirit of man with in him.
Hebrews 12:9 Furthermore we have had fathers of our flesh which corrected us, and we gave them reverence: shall we not much rather be in subjection unto the Father of spirits, and live?
While the philosophers, doctors, and theologians continue to discuss the ultimate origin of the soul, one thing remains certain: man is more than just a body. He is made in the image of God, and so should consider eternal matters. In particular, there are three topics that deserve attention according to John, who spoke in Mark 1:7-8 of the Messiah, the act of baptism and the Holy Spirit.
First, the Messiah. John was very careful to exalt the Messiah and not himself, through many people had come out to hear John speak, he focused all attention upon the coming Christ. ”There cometh after me, he said, one mightier than I, the latchet of whose shoes I am not worthy to stoop down and unloose.”
John had in mind Jesus, and rightly so, for all of eternity hinges on this one inquiry: “What do you think of Christ?” “Whose Son is he?” “Is he the Son of God?”
We ask the Islamic religious rulers of the Middle East, and receive an immediate answer: “Jesus was a man and a prophet of God. But, there is only one God, His name is Allah and Mohammed is His final prophet.”
We ask modern day liberal ministers. “What do you think of Christ?” “Whose Son is He?” And the answer comes back, “We do not care for the old doctrines. Jesus was a good Moral Example, and that is enough for us.”
We ask various teachers of fragmented Christian movements, and the replies return. The Jehovah Witnesses say that Jesus is really the Arch-angel Michael. The Mormons teach that Jesus is the Eldest created Son of the God, who is the Father of this Universe. The Self-Esteemed movement says that Jesus is the supreme Egoist. The Bible says that He is very God of very God.
As John preached Christ, so he spoke of baptism with water. Baptism represents a cleansing from sin. When a person goes down into the waters they are identified with Christ in His death where blood was shed. The Bible says that without the shedding of blood there is no remission of sin. The Bible says that the blood of Jesus Christ, God’s Son, cleanses us from all sin. Baptism represents Christ in His death.
When a person comes up out of the waters, there is a picture of being identified with Christ in His resurrection. Jesus is alive for ever more. We serve a risen Saviour. And the hope is that one day we too shall know something about a bodily resurrection. The dead shall live again forever and ever provided that they have received the Holy Ghost. The Holy Spirit is set forth in Scripture as being very God of very God. The Holy Spirit comes and dwells in the hearts of all who receive the King of Glory. Every person who has believed in Christ has been baptized by the Holy Ghost. That happens at the moment of salvation. 1 Corinthians 12:13 explains. “For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit.
Spirit baptism is associated with salvation; water baptism is associated with sanctification, whereby we act in obedience to the known will of the Lord. There is no such thing as an un-baptized person in the New Testament for a simple reason: God puts into the heart of His people to express their love and appreciation to Christ through gospel obedience. Jesus openly confessed us before the world at Calvary, and He asks us to openly acknowledge Him to others.
On the day of Pentecost 3,000 people stepped forward to identify themselves with Christ in a crowded city in Jerusalem. They were not ashamed. They were not afraid. They were not embarrassed.”
In the lonely desserts of Judea, an Ethiopian official stopped his chariot in order to be baptized. One night in the city of Philippi, a prison guard came to faith, and at midnight he was baptized. Adults want to be baptized, and so do little children. And while the children might not understand all that is involved, there is a humble testimony which says,
“I am Thine, O Lord, I have heard Thy voice,
And it told Thy love to me;
But I long to rise in the arms of faith,
And be closer drawn to Thee.”
The King of Glory has come to prepared hearts, and to draw them closer to Himself. It is Christ Himself who says follow me. ”Follow me to Calvary. Follow me in the resurrection. Receive the Holy Ghost. Follow me in the waters of baptism. Follow me into glory.”
This is the Message of the Messenger of the Messiah.