Thursday, September 17, 2015

The Gospel of Mark: John the Baptist

So, who is John? He’s a prophet. In fact, you might say that he’s the last of the Old Testament prophets. And that becomes quite clear when you bear in mind who his audience is.

And all the country of Judea and all Jerusalem were going out to him and were being baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.

His audience are Jews. Like Isaiah and Jeremiah before him, John is calling the people of God to account. They have sinned grievously against their God and they need to repent of that sin and return to covenant faithfulness. The message of John is not a whole lot different from most of the Old Testament prophets.

That explains some things about John. First, there’s his clothing.

Now John was clothed with camel’s hair and wore a leather belt around his waist … 

So, what is this? Now, think Old Testament. Does his clothing ring any bells? I’m hoping that you remembered Elijah. (Take a look at 2 Kings 1.8.) In fact, Jesus teaches that the coming of John is the fulfillment of the prophecy about the coming of Elijah to prepare the people for the Messiah. (Matthew 11.13-14) John is a prophet to Israel like Elijah was.

Then, there’s what John was doing. He was baptizing those who repented. Again, you need to think Old Testament. John, like Zechariah, his father, was a Levitical priest. (Luke 1 explains.) So, as a priest, John is performing Old Testament washings for sin as prescribed in places like Leviticus. One example of this is found in David’s psalm of repentance.

Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. (Psalm 51)

The priests performed their washings by dipping a hyssop branch into blood or water and then sprinkled the person or object they were baptizing. (Leviticus 14 has an example.) As a result, the person or object was declared clean, acceptable before God. John’s (priestly) baptism was a part of his (prophetic) call for repentance. Those who repented were made clean – acceptable - before God.

Now, one point to take away from all of this is the Old Testament framework of John’s ministry. John is ministering as an Old Testament prophet to the people of God, Israel. As he does this, he opens the way for Jesus to do the same. More on this next time.

No comments: