John the Baptist

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Devotional Word for Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Today, June 24th, is a significant day on the Church calendar. But I bet you cannot guess why such should be the case. Let me give you some hints. Six months from today it will be Christmas Eve. We all know Christmas is when we celebrate the birth of Jesus. What would we celebrate six months prior to that? The birth of His forerunner, that is, the birth of John the Baptist. It really was extraordinary, and we can learn much from it.

Do you remember John the Baptist’s parents? Here’s how they’re introduced in Scripture: In the days of Herod, the king of Judea, there was a priest named Zacharias . . . and he had a wife from the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. [Luke 1:5] That’s a great introduction; it sounds idyllic. Their marriage was a good match. They were both righteous in the sight of God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and requirements of the Lord. [v.6] There was just one problem: But they had no child, because Elizabeth was barren, and they were both advanced in years. [v.7]

I’m a preacher, so I’m tempted to go through the whole account step by step, explaining the significance of each point along the way. But I will not do that today. Instead, I’ll just mention what the angel Gabriel told Zacharias when he appeared to Zacharias: The angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zacharias, for your petition has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you will give him the name John. [v.13] 

So, this boy is to be named John, at the direct instruction of God. Why? Because the name “John” means God is gracious. It’s not the same as Jonathan, for that name means gift of God. No, this is God is gracious. If we were to use an OT term, it would be lovingkindness, the lovingkindness of God. This child will grow up and become the specific means by which the lovingkindness of God comes to the people of God. Here’s how Gabriel explained it: It is he who will go before Him [i.e. Christ] in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers back to their children, and the disobedient to the attitude of the righteous, so as to make ready a people prepared for the Lord. [v.17]

Guess what? In due time that’s exactly what happened! Luke lays it out plainly: . . . the word of God came to John, the son of Zacharias, in the wilderness. And he came into all the district around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. [3:2-3] What did that message sound like? Luke tells us: John began saying to the crowds who were going out to be baptized by him, “You brood of vipers, who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Therefore bear fruits in keeping with repentance.” [3:7-8] 

Wow! That sure doesn’t sound like the lovingkindness of God. We might think John got off-track a bit. He’s pretty harsh. Jesus, though, describes John the Baptist in these words: I say to you, among those born of women there is no one greater than John.” [Luke 7:28] How did real people respond to John’s message? Here’s what we’re told: When all the people and the tax collectors heard this, they acknowledged God’s justice, having been baptized with the baptism of John. But the Pharisees and the lawyers rejected God’s purpose for themselves, not having been baptized by John. [7:29-30] 

Here we see just how it is that God’s lovingkindness is extended through the ministry of John the Baptist. His was a call to repentance. His was a proclamation of the justice of God in sending people to hell. That’s the wrath to come. If we ignore that, then we’re in big trouble. For that wrath is certain to come and no human will be able to stand before it when it does come. We need a Savior. We need Someone who will bear God’s wrath in our place. Here I’m speaking of individuals, not of the entire world. We individually need a Savior. So often, though, we don’t think such is the case. That was the attitude of the Pharisees and lawyers, they didn’t need a Savior, they thought all they needed was a teacher. Not so. Not for them; not for us.

John’s message was a difficult message, but it was a message full of the lovingkindness of God, just as his name signifies. A key verse for us to hold close to our heart all the time is Romans 2:4. Or, do you think lightly of the riches of His kindness and tolerance and patience, not knowing that the kindness of God leads you to repentance? Did you hear that: the riches of His kindness! That means the abundance of God’s lovingkindness. It leads us to repentance. It leads us to THE Savior, our Lord Jesus Christ. 

As God’s people we are a repentant people. Among the items for which I’ve repented already today are pride, ingratitude, impatience, presumption, undue fear and anxiety. While those are general categories, they were applicable in very specific instances. And, let me tell you the good news, they brought me to Jesus and the lovingkindness of the Lord in such a way that the joy of the Lord is still my strength. Hallelujah! What a great thing to remember and celebrate: the birthday of John the Baptist, the one who goes before Jesus, the one who leads us to Him. 

Let us pray: Lord Jesus, thank You for confirming to us the importance of John the Baptist’s ministry, which is really the ministry of You, the Father, and the Holy Spirit. We are given the light of life, the light that reveals and dispels our darkness and impels us to flee to You. What joy! What delight in having You draw us near to Yourself that we might receive from the bounty of Your lovingkindness. We love You and give ourselves to You. May You receive all praise as You reign with the Father and Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen.