Meeting religious expectations and observing spiritual rites cannot substitute for a personal relationship with the Lord. This is John the Baptist’s message. Unless there is true confession of sin and evidence of genuine repentance, you simply do not know God.
So far in our chronological study of the life of Christ combining the Gospel accounts, we’ve uncovered eight scenes relating to Jesus’ birth and childhood.
- The first scene was His birth in a stable (Luke 2:7-20).
- The second scene is when He was circumcised on the eighth day (Luke 2:21).
- The third scene was a month later when Mary and Joseph took their baby boy to the temple to present Him to God (Luke 2:22-24).
- The fourth scene is in a house in Bethlehem, nearly two years later when some wise men arrived from Persia, giving gifts to Jesus (Matthew 2:11-12).
- Scene five opens with Joseph and his little family escaping to Egypt as King Herod tries to hunt them down (Matthew 2:13-15).
- Scene number six shows them returning to Nazareth to live, following the death of Herod (Matthew 2:19-23).
- Scene number seven finds twelve-year-old Jesus, asking and answering questions with the religious leaders in the temple. And in this scene, Jesus reveals He is fully conscious that He is God the Son (Luke 2:41-49).
- Scene eight is the longest scene of all. It is going to last about eighteen years as Jesus grows from the age of twelve to around the age of thirty, when he begins His ministry (Luke 2:52).
And this eighth scene is silent. In fact, we are given only one brief verse that describes His boyhood—and that is Luke 2:52: “And Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man.”
Now some would say Jesus already had all the wisdom He needed, but that is not what Luke says here. In His humanity Jesus kept increasing in three areas: wisdom, stature, and favor with God and man.
Jesus is 100 percent divine, but we must remember, He is also 100 percent human. He will grow up like any other boy in Nazareth—from immaturity to maturity, from naivete to discernment, from doing things that are childish or even dangerous to becoming a wise young man.
That also means as a boy, Jesus would have caught a cold like everybody else; His nose ran, and He stubbed his toe and scraped his knees playing outside. He might have wanted to sleep in one morning, but He got up in obedience.
And there is the difference! Jesus never sinned. The Holy Spirit protected and guided Him safely and sinlessly through His boyhood years.
By the way, parents, keep in mind that there is a difference between being immature and being sinful. Being silly or dangerous as a child is not the same thing as sinning. And Jesus would have grown through all these stages too, as He matured.
And as He grew, He would fight temptation like any young man—but never fail once. The author of Hebrews writes, “In every respect [He] has been tempted as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15).
He had—and has—a human nature and a divine nature in one person. This is the mystery of the incarnation. But we tend to forget He was 100 percent human and we think of Him as living some kind of superhero life.
In fact, that is how religious legends describe His childhood. Some early writers just could not stand the thought that He lived a normal human life. One legend says He fashioned clay birds and then breathed on them, giving them life. Other legends say He miraculously corrected mistakes Joseph made in the shop, He made trees bend down so His mother could pick the fruit, and other children in Nazareth would bow down to Him when He came out to play.
Nothing could be further from the truth. The children were not bowing down, and Mary was not getting any miraculous help with dinner. Jesus was the child of a carpenter in Nazareth, and they were ordinary peasants.
In fact, when, at about age thirty, Jesus preached His first sermon in His hometown and claimed to be the Messiah, people were so offended they tried to push Him off a cliff. Matthew records their response: “Is not this the carpenter's son? Is not his mother called Mary?” (Matthew 13:55). In other words, “Who does He think He is?” Nobody was saying, “We knew it—we knew Jesus was special all along!”
For the previous eighteen years, Jesus had worked as an ordinary carpenter, learning from His stepfather, Joseph. We know from history that carpenters worked with stone, metal, and wood. They were the ones who made the plows used by farmers all around.
You might wonder if Jesus was a good carpenter. One early church father made the interesting statement that farmers in his day were still using plows Jesus had crafted a hundred years earlier.
But now it is time for Jesus to leave His family and carpentry and begin announcing that He is the King of a coming kingdom. And this brings back into view the forerunner of Jesus—John the Baptizer. Luke records:
The child [John] grew and became strong in spirit, and he was in the wilderness until the day of his public appearance to Israel. (Luke 1:80)
John is about to break the silence of God. The last time God spoke to Israel, it was through the prophet Malachi some 400 years earlier. During those 400 years, the Jewish people had gained their independence for a while, but by John’s time, Rome ruled Israel.
John breaks the silence in Matthew 3:2, which gives the essence of his sermon: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”
John’s Gospel, in chapter 1, introduces John the Baptist:
He came . . . to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him. He was not the light but came to bear witness about the light. (verses 7-8)
So, John the Baptist breaks God’s silence with good news, calling for repentance because the Light of the World has arrived.
Over in Matthew 3 again, John is identified as “the voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord; make his paths straight’” (verse 3). That is a quote of a prophecy in Isaiah 40:3. The point is this: If John is himself the fulfillment of prophetic Scriptures, then the nation of Israel had better listen to his announcement.
All four Gospels—Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John—have John the Baptist’s ministry beginning in and around the Jordan River. He will call sinners to confess their sins and be baptized there in the Jordan as a sign of repentance.
Keep in mind we are still, effectively, in Old Testament times. The New Testament era actually begins with the creation of the church, following the coming of the Holy Spirit in Acts 2. So, John is an Old Testament prophet, and his baptism by immersion needs to be understood in Old Testament terms.
The word for baptize means “to dip or immerse.” It was a symbol of changing your identity and your relationships in life. Back in Old Testament times, a Gentile who wanted to become a follower of Jehovah had to be circumcised, baptized by immersion, and begin living in obedience to the Mosaic law.
Now the fascinating thing about John’s baptism is that he is asking Jews to submit to it, not just Gentiles. The Pharisees and scribes would have been scandalized by such an offensive demand.
So, here comes the prophet John, wearing a camel-hair tunic, carrying a lunch box full of locusts and wild honey, and demanding that everybody who wants to follow God confess their sins and wade out into the Jordan River for baptism.
Listen, the ministry of John the Baptist was one of simply connecting people with the coming Messiah. He was the go-between; he was the messenger boy. And he is about to introduce the Savior of the world.