Grace and peace in our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
Each of the four gospels begins the story of Jesus Christ with something about John the Baptist. The Gospel according to Saint John does not give us much information about the childhood of John the Baptist, like Saint Luke, nor the content of his sermons. The fourth gospel was written years after the others, and probably the author assumed that his readers already knew much of what the others tell us about Jesus.
John was baptizing the people next to the Jordan River when the delegation of priests and Levites arrived. The last verse in our text says, "These things took place in Bethabara, across the Jordan, where John was baptizing." This region was the same where Elijah had carried out many of his activities. In this area, Moses said goodbye to his people and handed over his authority to Joshua.
The question, Who are you? actually means, Are you the Messiah?
And he confessed, and did not deny; but confessed: I am not the Christ. And they asked him: What then? Are you Elias? And he said: I am not. Are you the Prophet? And he replied: No. "
The book of Malachi, chapter 4, says: “Behold, I am sending you Elijah the prophet, before the great and terrible day of Jehovah come. He will turn the hearts of the parents to the children, and the hearts of the children to the parents. " This is a prophecy of John the Baptist, equal to Isaiah 40: 3. And John identified himself thus: "I am the voice of one who cries out in the desert: Make straight the way of the Lord, as the prophet Isaiah said." Also, in our text last Sunday, Jesus said this about John: "This is the one about whom it is written: Behold, I send my messenger before your face, who will prepare your way before you" (Luke 7:27).
However, John told them it was not the prophet Elijah. Why? Even the angel said to his father, Zechariah, “For he will go before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous, to prepare a people ready for the Lord ”(Luke 1:17). And in Matthew 16:14, our Lord says about John the Baptist, "And if you want to receive him, he is the Elijah who was to come."
The prophets, the angel, and Jesus said that John was a prophet equal to Elijah. More likely, in this case, the question, are you Elijah?, was understood in a literal sense. This same region was where Elijah was taken up into heaven in a chariot of fire with fiery horses in the presence of his disciple, Elisha. That ancient prophet did not physically die, and then a mysterious man named John appeared in the same desert.
“The Prophet” refers to the prophet greater than Moses prophecied by Moses en Deuteronomy 13:11 But what John the Baptist wants was not the veneration of the people, nor to be recognized as a great prophet. In the Schmalkald Articles, in the article on repentance, Martin Luther described John the Baptist as “a preacher of repentance, but for the remission of sins. That is, (his mission) consisted of punishing all men and presenting them as sinners, so that they would know what they were before God and recognized themselves as lost men and so that they would then be prepared for the Lord to receive grace, wait and accept forgiveness of sins".
Now, we find the most important question in our text: “Why, then, do you baptize, if you are not the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet? John answered them, saying, I baptize in water, but there is one in the midst of you whom you do not know. He is the one who, coming after me, is before me; of which I am not worthy to untie the strap of his shoe. "
Baptism was not an invention of John the Baptist. We must know what was the relationship of John's baptism with that of the Jews on the one hand, and with the baptism instituted by Jesus on the other.
"And those who had been sent were from the Pharisees." The Pharisees also baptized, but only the proselytes. Which is to say, when someone outside of Abraham's ancestry converted to Judaism they not only had to be circumcised but also baptized. For the Pharisees, their Gentile slaves had to baptize them before allowing them to work in their homes. A child of a Gentile slave had to be baptized on the first day of its birth so that it would not be an unclean creature in the home of a son of Abraham. Infant baptism was not invented by the Roman church, as it already existed among the Jews before John the Baptist.
The Pharisees considered themselves pure and therefore were not baptized. John, instead, called the Pharisees to baptism as well. Thus he implied that before God they were as unclean and sinful as all nations. By allowing himself to be baptized, a person is publicly admitting that he is not worthy to enter the kingdom of God on the basis of his merits.
But, as the preaching of John the Baptist pointed to the proclamation of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the baptism of John was only a sign to the baptism of Jesus Christ. The baptism of John awakened in the baptized the desire to be changed, but it did not give the forgiveness of sins and the promise of eternal life. John also says in Matthew 3:11, also in Luke 3:16, “I indeed baptize you with water for repentance; but he who comes after me is more powerful than me; whose shoes I am not worthy to wear; He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit, and with fire. " For this reason, our catechism says, "Baptism is not just water only, but it is water included in the divine mandate and linked with the Word of God." In baptism, the Holy Spirit produces faith and thus creates in us a new spiritual life. But, mind you, this work of the Holy Spirit began with the Incarnation. Jesus Christ was conceived by the Holy Spirit and was born of the Virgin Mary. So at Christmas we not only celebrate the birth of the Child Jesus, but also the beginning of the work that bore fruit in the baptism of Jesus, which John the Baptist saw, with the presence of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. It also bore fruit on the day of Pentecost, which John did not see, when the Spirit was poured out on the church and three thousand were baptized by water and the Spirit in one day. Finally, it bore fruit at every Christian baptism when the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are all present for a spiritual birth. Therefore, in this Christmas season, I wish you the peace that passes all understanding. Amen.
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