Today I would like to first look at the person named John the Baptist and the role he plays in the story of Jesus and second look collectively at the the religious rulers of this time. Unfortunately John’s role, if you will, is cut short with his untimely death so we know little about him but the religious leaders keep finding their way back into the Gospel account.
Some things to keep in mind about today’s message is...
Before we begin this passage I need to give some background information on our two key players (John and the religious leaders) and the religious system of this time.
John The Baptist – We don’t know a lot about John the Baptist but what we do know we find it in the Scriptures.
The Religious Jews – Most often when the term "Jews" is used in the Gospel account the Apostle John is referring to the religious leaders. The hierarchy of the religious order was a little complex and it was tied to the government. There was no separation of Church and state.
The Temple Order – There are many ranks and levels to the priesthood and they are as follows…
The Religious Leaders –
John 1:19 - 31
John the Evangelist (the author of this Gospel) introduces a new topic in verse 19. He did not witness the account so he is probably telling a well known second hand story of what happened.
Verse 19 – The religious leaders (probably the Sanhedrin) sent some priests and Levites to question John about who he was. They did not send in the big guns as of yet. They were to ask John who he was… This was not just a casual “Who are you?” question. They were coming to find out specifically if John was the Messiah, Elijah or the Prophet.
At this time Israel was under Roman leadership and they had lost their sense of independence. There was a great sense of anticipation and hope for the Messiah to come and deliver the nation because it seemed the board was set for his imminent coming. The Jews believed the Messiah was coming to set Israel free from captivity and establish his Kingdom through the nation of Israel.
Verses 20 - 21 – John the Baptist vehemently denies he is the Messiah. He also states that He is neither Elijah nor the Prophet (which was believed to be one like Moses). The Jews inquired about Elijah because Malachi 4:5 reads, “Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the Lord comes.” They were wondering if he was the fulfillment of the prophecy. They thought the prophet like Moses because Deuteronomy 18:15 says, “The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your brothers—it is to him you shall listen.”
Verse 23 – John states who he is and why he has come. He is the fulfillment of Isaiah 40:3, “I am the voice crying out in the wilderness, ‘make straight the way of the Lord.’” He was the one who laying the foundation for the One who all of Israel has been anticipating… The Messiah.
Verse 25 - 28 – By what authority was he baptizing? According to D.A. Carson in his commentary on John, “There interest is in what authorizes John’s baptismal practices. It is not that baptism is unknown. Some Jewish groups practiced ‘proselyte baptism’, i.e. proselytes were baptized in the process of converting to Judaism… Candidates baptized themselves. One of the things that characterized the baptism of John the Baptist is that he administered it.” He continues, “They want to discover by what authority John is baptizing Jewish people as part of the preparation for the Kingdom of God he is announcing. Looking around for an adequate authority to sanction so extraordinary a practice, they wonder if he is an (end times) figure.”
I have given a lot of background information and it has been given to assist us in better understanding some future events of John. However at this point I to want to stop and look at how all this can be tied together and apply to us today. As I was studying this passage I thought about not only are we introduced to two new characters in this story but also to two opposing attitudes when it comes to our relationship with God. I would characterize these groups into two categories; heart changers and rule followers.
John the Baptist’s ministry and life was devoted to pointing people to Jesus. He was a heart changer. He knew his place in life. He had a humble and strong spirit to him. He was not about self promotion, he was about Jesus promotion. He had no agenda of his own. He had God’s agenda. He was more concerned with people being right with God by preaching a message of baptism of repentance and forgiveness of sins. His purpose and goal was to show people a new way of life and a true relationship with God through the Messiah (Jesus Christ).
The Jews (or religious leaders) on the other hand were all about rules, conformity and power. Their whole lives and ministry were centered on keeping the law and being pious. Their “religion” was more about doing than being. They were very much into self promotion and power by imposing rules and regulations on people based on their own interpretations and beliefs. The clothes they wore were lavish and their attitudes were conceited. They had no concern for God’s agenda; they were more about God changing his agenda to fit their plans. There was no talk of repentance and forgiveness and submitting to God. It was all about the rules. Their righteousness was based on outwardly keeping the rules.
When I look at these two groups I am reminded of how these attitudes are still among us today. Thankfully there are heart changers in this world today. There are believers today who are caught up in Christ promotion and preaching a message of repentance and forgiveness through Jesus Christ. They understand that their spirituality or faith is not a result of keeping rules and pointing out the sins of others in a self righteous way. They are who they are because they are submitted to the One (Jesus) who has shown us the way to the Kingdom. A heart changer receives a new heart when Jesus becomes their Lord and Savior. They don’t just become better versions of themselves, they become new creations in Christ. The old has passed away and the new has come.
There are also people and attitudes among us today of the rule followers. These are individuals depend on “doing” more than “being”. In their minds their fulfillment of duties and “being a good person” are all they need in order to be a Christian. They attend church on a semi regularly basis, they try to be moral (but like all of us fail every so often). They will put some money in the plate when it comes around and feel good about their duties they have fulflled. There is little to no change in heart; they are the same person they have always been and maybe there is a little compartment in their life for God.
The question I want to leave with you today is… Are you a heart changer or are you a rule follower in your relationship with Jesus? Are you putting all your chips on the fact that you are a good person and follow the rules as insurance of eternal life? Or have you repented of your sins, sought forgiveness and given your heart completely over to Jesus to completely transform your life?
 Carson, D.A. (1991) The Gospel of John p. 145 Grand Rapids, MI: William Eerdmans Publishing Company
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Jeff has been in ministry for well over two decades. He currently serves as Campus Pastor at West Bradenton Baptist Southside Campus in Bradenton, Florida.
Jeff Has authored an Advent Devotional (The Advent of Jesus) and a devotional on the book of James (James: Where Faith and Life Meet). Both are available on Amazon.
He is married to Carrie and they have four children, Micaiah, Gabe, Simon, and Berea.
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