John’s Ministry Begins (series: Harmony of the Gospels)
by John Lowe
Harmony of the Gospels
(17) John’s Ministry Begins
(Malachi 3:1) Matthew 3:1, Mark 1:1-4, Luke 3:1-2, John 1:19-28
God planned the ministry of John the Baptist. We know this because we find him in prophecy. Malachi 3:1 says of him, “See, I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me. Then suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to his temple; the messenger of the covenant, whom you desire, will come, says the Lord Almighty.” John is the messenger “who will prepare the way before me.” Jesus Christ is the “messenger of the covenant.” Malachi was the last of the Old Testament prophets and his is the last book of the Old Testament. A curtain descended at this time and God was silent for 400 years. Then John the Baptist steps out on the stage of history. He is a New Testament personality, but I classify him as an Old Testament prophet, because of his character and his message. Let’s see what the Gospels say about his ministry.
In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the Desert of Judea. (Matthew 3:1)
Matthew doesn’t tell us anything about John, before we are introduced to him in this verse. He doesn’t tell us where he came from or anything about his background. The reason for that is clear. What is important, is it the message, not the messenger. John would make it clear that he was just the messenger, and Matthew does too. His message would be, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.”
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 crying in the desert, ‘prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.’” (Mark 3:1-3)
This is where the Gospel begins. The Savior of mankind has come to earth to live among men, to die for our sins, to be buried and to rise again. That is the Gospel.
There are three beginnings recorded in scripture. Let me mention them here.
1. “In the beginning was the word.” (John 1:1) The word is Jesus who was in the beginning and I don’t know when that was. To me everything has a beginning, because that’s how my mind works. But I can’t confine God to what I know with my limited knowledge, so no matter how far I can go back in time, it is not far enough, because Jesus was already there.
2. “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” (Genesis 1:1) If you can date the universe then you know the time when our world was created and when God formed men and women. I believe that this was 6,000-8,000 years ago. Other men, much more knowledgeable than I am, say it was millions of years ago. This is not as important to me as the date that I met my Savior. That was fifty years ago. I was born almost 69 years ago (physically), but I met Jesus 60 years ago, and I was born again.
3. “The beginning of the Gospel,” (Mark 3:1) is the same as, “That which was from the beginning.” (John 1:1) The Gospel begins at the precise moment that Jesus Christ took on human flesh. Jesus Christ is the Gospel.
Mark quotes prophecy from Isaiah and Malachi in verses 2 and 3 to give John the Baptist references. He was the one coming to fulfill these prophecies; to be the forerunner of Christ and to prepare the way for Him.
And so John came baptizing in the desert region and preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. (Mark 1:4)
It is important to note that John preached repentance and baptism for the forgiveness of sins, not of the forgiveness of sins. John’s ministry was to prepare the way for the Lord Jesus Christ, the only one who can forgive sins.
In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar-when Pontius Pilot was governor of Judea, Herod tetrarch of Galilee, his brother Philip tetrarch in Iturea and Tracenitus and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene-during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John the son of Zechariah in the desert. (Luke 3:1-2)
The six men mentioned in verse one allows us to date when this happened, because these men occur in secular history. We know something about these men. We have already discussed Herod. Tiberius Caesar was brilliant but brutal. He was clever, cunning, inhuman and profane. He tried to master the world.
Annas and Caiaphas were the high priests. Why were there two? Because of the power of Rome, Caiaphas was appointed by Rome to be the high priest, but Annas was the power behind the throne. Rome was involved with the religion of the nations that they conquered.
John should have served in the temple, like his father did, because he was from the priestly tribe of Levi. But John hated what he saw in the temple. It was wrong and not what God wanted and he knew it, so he refused the office of priest and went into the desert where I believe that God trained him in the office of a prophet.
John was one of those remarkable men that we meet in scripture from time to time. His methods were like those of Elijah, so some thought that he was that prophet. There were those that thought that he was the Messiah. His life certainly parallels the life of Christ. His birth was miraculous, even though he was not virgin born. After his birth we hear nothing from him until he begins his ministry; the same is true of Jesus. He was a preacher and a prophet and died a brutal death, and so did Jesus. However, unlike John, the death of Jesus brought the forgiveness of sins and eternal life, for all that will believe. John the Baptist prepared the way for Christ; he was a priest by birth, but was called by God to be a prophet.
Now this was John’s testimony when the Jews of Jerusalem sent priests to ask him who he was. (John: 1:19)
A delegation was sent from Jerusalem to ask John a question, “Who are you?” His response is very important, because this is a chance to make something of himself. Over in John 3:30 we find his response when his disciples wanted to make someone greater of him. He said, “He must become greater; I must become less.” That should also be every Christian’s desire; to give Jesus first place in your life. If He doesn’t increase and have first place in your life, He will never be your Lord. For many He is Savior, but He is not Lord.
He did not fail to confess, but confessed freely, “I am not the Christ.” (John 1:20)
They asked him if he was the Christ, because they hoped for the coming of the Messiah. He told them that he was not, so they continued to question him. What great person was he?
They asked him, “Then who are you? Are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not.” “Are you the prophet?” He answered, “No!” (John 1:21)
John says that he is not the prophet Elijah, and that he is not “that other prophet,” spoken of in Deuteronomy, who would be like Moses.
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 1:22)
The delegation needs to know who he is, because that was their assignment. How does John answer them?
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.’” (John 1:23)
John quoted from Isaiah 40:3. He only claims to be a voice. That is all he wants to be. Jesus is the Word. This should be a lesson for us. We should be a voice that speaks the word to declare the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The Word is what is important.
John has a great message, “Make straight the way for the Lord.” He is saying that the kingdom of God is at hand in the person of Jesus Christ, and that they need to get ready for Him by getting rid of all the crocked things in their lives. That’s also a great message for us today. We need to get rid of all the crocked things and all the sin in our lives, because we need His fellowship. 1 John 1:6 says, “If we claim to have fellowship with him yet walk in darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth.”
Now some Pharisees who had been sent questioned him, “why then do you baptize if you are not the Christ, nor Elijah, nor that prophet?” (John 1:24-25)
The Pharisees bring up a technical point. They say, “If you are none of these, why do you baptize?”
“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.” (John 1:26-27)
Was Jesus in the crowd? He could have been. I wonder.
We call him John the Baptist, but he only used water. The one coming after him would baptize with fire and with the Holy Spirit. That fire is the baptism of judgement that comes upon the earth. The baptism of the Holy Spirit took place at Pentecost.
John tells them that the one that is coming after him is greater than he is. He is just a servant of the Great One, actually he is not even worthy to be his servant or even worthy to unlatch his sandals.
This all happened at Bethany on the other side of the Jordan, when John was baptizing. (John 1:28)
In this verse, the Gospel writer sets the stage for Jesus to step forward to be recognized for the first time. In John 1:29, John the Baptist makes this great declaration, “…..Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!”