Thought for the Day by Nigel Greenwood from St Chad’s:
MATTHEW 3 / 11.2-15 / 14.1-12 : JOHN THE BAPTIST
Today, as we commemorate the death of John the Baptist, gives us an opportunity to reflect upon the life and ministry of one of the best-known and significant figures in the New Testament. John was a contemporary of Jesus, sent to prepare the way for Him as predicted in the Old Testament – ‘a voice cries out in the wilderness, prepare the way of the Lord’ (Isaiah) and also ‘see, I am sending my messenger to prepare the way before me’ (Malachi). John the Baptist is then featured in all four Gospels.
The identity of John as the messenger is confirmed in each Gospel, as with Matthew:
‘For this is the one of whom the prophet Isaiah spoke’. Jesus himself affirmed John as more than a prophet, saying “This is the one about whom it is written – truly I tell you, among those born of women no-one has risen greater than John the Baptist”.
Matthew describes the proclamation of John the Baptist followed by his baptism of Jesus, and later his death at the order of Herod – who clearly saw him as a threat.
John acquired his reputation for baptising crowds of people, as we are told the people of Jerusalem, all Judea and all the region along the River Jordan confessed their sins and were baptised by him. But when members of the ruling religious sects came for baptism, John chastised them as a ‘brood of vipers’ who metaphorically needed to bear ‘fruit worthy of repentance’ – showing they had really turned from their sins.
John baptised with water, but acknowledged that one much more powerful than him was coming to baptise with the Holy Spirit – so when Jesus arrived to be baptised by him, John protested that it was he who should be baptised by Jesus. However, when Jesus insisted, John baptised him and the Spirit of God descended upon Jesus like a dove and a voice from heaven declared “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well-pleased”.
Matthew goes on to describe the temptation of Christ, calling of the disciples followed by a period of intense ministry. During this time, according to the historian Josephus, John was arrested for publicly criticising Herod’s marriage. Throughout his time in prison, John heard of Christ’s ministry and sent word via the disciples asking if He was the Messiah – Jesus referred to healing, raising of the dead, relief for the poor and praised those who never lose faith in Him. As the disciples left, Jesus paid tribute to all that John had done, concluding with his urging: “Let anyone with ears listen!”
Although wanting to put John to death, Herod feared reprisals from the crowd because they regarded him as a prophet – but he was manipulated into ordering the beheading of John. The disciples buried his body before telling Jesus, who withdrew in a boat to a deserted place on his own, surely reflecting on the life of a loyal companion.
This link takes us to the baptism of Jesus from the film ‘Jesus of Nazareth’: