John The Baptist’s Baptism Was for the Forgiveness of Sins

You have undoubtedly heard that John the Baptist’s baptism was a baptism of repentance and that the difference between John’s baptism and Jesus’ baptism was that Jesus’ baptism took it a step further by adding the effect of the forgiveness of sins (Acts 2:38). Well, was anyone even reading Mark 1:4? “And so John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” I have read that verse a zillion times and never picked up on it until this week when a good friend of mine pointed that out.

What is more, Jesus’ disciples baptized people during his ministry. John 4:1-2 says, “Now Jesus learned that the Pharisees had heard that he was gaining and baptizing more disciples than John — although in fact it was not Jesus who baptized, but his disciples.” I had always assumed this was the same kind of baptism John was doing and for the same purpose. Was this also a baptism for the forgiveness of sins? If that is what Jesus came to do it would only make sense that it was. Would Jesus baptize in a way less than what John was doing?

Honestly, this should come as no surprise. God constantly forgave sins under the old covenant. The sacrificial system itself came with the blessing of atonement and forgiveness of sins. Forgiveness of sins wasn’t a new idea in the new covenant. The means of that forgiveness certainly changed.

Then Why Did Jesus Have to Come?
When my friend shared this with me, he said the person who pointed this out to him then asked him “Why did Jesus have to die if John’s baptism brought forgiveness?” That is a question a lot of people would ask if you showed them Mark 1:4. I believe that question shows a gross misunderstanding of the ministry of Jesus. They might as well have pointed out the verses in the Old Testament where God said he would forgive their sins and ask why Jesus had to come if God could forgive sins any other way. The Gospel we have preached is too small when people ask questions like that.

Jesus certainly came to forgive sins but Jesus did more than wipe away the bad. Jesus came to bring us abundant life. Jesus came to give us his yoke. Jesus came to show us the inbreaking kingdom and reign of God. Jesus came to be victor of sin and death so that by his overcoming of those powers he would open the door to our having eternal life with God. Instead, we have chosen to boil down the ministry of Jesus to fixing our problem of sin only. We have preached it and taught that so much that people can’t even see why Jesus came once they understand forgivness of sins was already present prior to Jesus Christ. We have a lot of work to do in helping people have a biblical understanding of the message and mission of Jesus Christ and what the Gospel is all about.


Gospel of John 1:19-28 Who is John the Baptist?

I just love this picture of John the Baptist. His posture looks intense but his expression looks pretty bored. It reminds me of a passion play we saw last Easter. John the Baptist went down in the Jordan to baptize Jesus, not realizing his wireless was on he said, “@#*% this water is hot!” The crowd of several thousand people caught it and thought it was hilarious. I don’t think that line is found in any of the Gospels, maybe the Gospel of Thomas or something.

The prologue of John (1:1-18) introduced numerous things that are going to come back into play in the rest of the Gospel. The prologue introduced John as “a witness to testify concerning that light so that through him all might believe.”In the first three chapters of the Gospel of John we get a more details of who John the Baptist was and what he came to do. The prologue, the rest of chapter one and the end of chapter three clarify that John was not the Messiah but that he came to prepare the way for the Messiah to do what he came to do.

In John 1:19-28 the priests and Levites flat out ask John who he is. Turns out he isn’t the Messiah, Elijah (at least he doesn’t see himself that way but Jesus did (Mtt 11:14, Mark 9:13), or the Prophet (a Messianic figure from Deut 18:18). So who is he? John recognized his preparatory role for the Messiah and his fulfillment of the prophesy in Isaiah 40:3, “I am the voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way for the Lord.'”

John the Baptist as “Best man”:
This preparatory role comes up again in the part of John 3 that few people even remember exists. After some of the most quoted verses in the entire Bible we get John the Baptist calling himself the “friend of the groom” (3:29) who has great joy when the groom arrives at his wedding and the ceremonies go on without a hitch (well, one “hitch”). In the Ancient Near East it was customary for the “friend of the groom” or the best man as we would call him to make all the preparations for the wedding (Carson, The Gospel according to John (Pillar New Testament Commentary), 211). Can any of you imagine if the best man at your wedding was the wedding planner? Doesn’t sound like the best idea. But that is what they did. His job was to plan everything so well that the wedding would go smoothly. He did the prep work and when the marriage took place he would have great joy that he had done his job. In 3:30 John recognizes his role when he said, “He must become greater; I must become less.” Weddings are not to be remembered most about the best man and what he did or should not have done…that means something disasterous happened! So John understands that he is not even fit to untie the sandals of the one who comes after him (1:26). The focus of the wedding is on the bride (Israel) and the groom (Jesus) and when the preparations are done well the ceremony will go smoothly. That brings John great joy (3:29).

So John realizes who he is not (Messiah, Elijah, the Prophet) and he realizes who he is (one who has the task of prepping the land for the greatest wedding ceremony that the world has ever seen). We begin to get the puzzle pieces here in John 1:19-28 that will set the stage for the consummation of creation with her maker. It is important for us all to remember our role in the kingdom of God and not let us distract ourselves into thinking it is all about us or in our receiving an elevated position at the expense of the Gospel.

Gospel of Mark – Common Mission & Message (6:6b-30)

Mark is certainly a delicious book with all of the sandwiches he leaves throughout the narrative. We have another sandwich in Mark 6.

Crust – Jesus Sends out the Twelve (6:6b-13)

Meat – John the Baptist Beheaded (6:14-29)

Crust – The Twelve Return (6:30-30)

The inner part always illuminates the outer part. What does that have to teach us in Mark 6? The parallel is found in the mission and the message of the disciples in Mark 6 and in the ministry of John the Baptist. The last thing we have heard about John the Baptist up to this point in Mark goes all the way back to 1:14 When we learned he was put in prison. Notice the context of that verse (1:14-15) is about the beginning of Jesus’ ministry which when he preached two things: 1) The nearness of the kingdom of God. 2) To Repent. That was the same message John the Baptist was preaching and now is the same message that the twelve are to go out and preach.

The Instructions & Results:

– Pack minimally. Rely on God for what you need. Depend on the hospitality of others. This will also allow them to move quickly throughout the region because their mission is urgent and important. They are the representatives of Israel (12 disciples) going throughout the land preaching about the coming of the kingdom and the impending need for repentance. Their mission was a success (6:12 & 30). Judas himself probably even drove out demons, preached repentance, and saw the fruits of that ministry. Ben Witherington thinks the shaking of dust off their feet is a sign of judgment basically removing even the connection of the land by the dust on their feet leaving even that behind as they shake it off. Why send them in pairs? They will act as witnesses (needing two witnesses for a guilty verdict) as another sign of judgment on those who reject the message.

John the Baptist Beheaded:

Mark cuts to another scene about another man who preached repentance who will now face the ultimate rejection for his preaching – death. He will not merely face the rejection the twelve may face on their journey. He is facing death. Larry Hurtado points out several parallels between John’s death and Jesus:

  1. Executed by civil authorities
  2. Hesitation by the officials
  3. Officials are pressured by others
  4. Both Jesus and John are taken away by their disciples and buried.

In the case of John the Baptist, the Twelve, and lastly Jesus – the kingdom is to be preached with boldness and urgency and how it is received will not always be with pleasantries and hospitality. But the sending of the twelve leaves us with a glimmer of hope as they had received acceptance along the way. Their need for shelter and food had been met. What is more demons had been cast out and the kingdom and repentance had been preached.

A Twist on the Divine Name

“Moses said to God, ‘Suppose I go to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers sent me to you’, and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ Then what shall I tell them?’ God said to Moses, ‘I am who I am.’ This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I am sent me to you.'” (Exodus 3:13-14)

Not only is that one of the hardest verses in the Bible to figure out where to put the quotation marks, it also gives us some insight into the nature of God. The name “I am” implies eternal existence. Jesus repeatedly expressed his identity this same way in the Gospel of John – the two most significant being in 8:58 – “before Abraham was born, I am!” and in 18:6 & 8 at his arrest. Jesus is clearly expressing his divinity in these passages in John.

In contrast to Christ, the I am, are those who are not the “I am.” Two stand out in the Gospel of John:

John the Baptist, when asked if he was the Christ (the I am) replied – “I am not the Christ” (John 1:20)

When confronted by the campfire outside the residence of the high priest Peter was asked if he was one of Jesus’ disciples. To that he twice replied, “I am not“. (John 18:17,25).

Just one more reminder that “He is God and we are not!”

Gospel of Mark – Authoritative Witness to Who Jesus Is (1:1-15)

Mark begins his Gospel by laying out a series of witnesses who testify to Jesus’ true identity:

  1. The first witness is Mark himself who tells the reader who Jesus really is, “the Son of God.” That title bookends the Gospel of Mark as it will not be said by another human in the Gospel until the soldier at the foot of the cross says it in response to what he witnessed that day on Golgotha (1:1, 15:39). The only other testimony using that phrase will come from the mouth of demons (3:11 & 5:7). Mark calls him the Christ. This title will not be spoken again until Peter says it in the hinge verse of the Gospel of Mark half way through the Gospel! (8:29). The only other two times this word is used in the Gospel of Mark it comes as a question during his trial and as an insult when he is on the cross (14:61 & 15:32).
  2. The second witness to the events that are unfolding is the prophet Malachi (Mark 1:2/Mal 3:1).
  3. The third is the prophet Isaiah (Mark 1:3, Isa 40:3).
  4. Next comes John the Baptist who begins the message of the coming kingdom and the need for God’s people to repent in preparation for it (Mark 1:4-8).
  5. Fifth comes the Holy Spirit who descends on Jesus (1:10).
  6. The sixth witness to who Jesus is is God the Father (1:11).

In Mark’s characteristic style of action packed narrative he gives us six witnesses to the true identity of Jesus in just eleven verses. What is even more striking is how divinely initiated these events are:

  1. God inspires the prophets Malachi and Isaiah hundreds of years prior
  2. God sends John the Baptist
  3. God rips open the heavens (a violent action)
  4. the Spirit descend on Jesus
  5. God speaks his approval of Jesus
  6. The Spirit leads him into the wilderness to be tested

Christianity has often been very Christ-centered (Christocentric) but the New Testament is very much more God-centered (theocentric) than it is Christ-centered. God’s people had been expecting Him to act for hundreds of years and now to release them from Roman oppression. Mark begins his Gospel by recounting how God was acting in sending Jesus. The beginning of Jesus’ ministry is going to focus on liberation (a topic for another post). With all this leading up to it you can imagine the anticipation by the original audience for Jesus to say something! And he does in 1:15). “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!” Not a lot of content but what he did say is loaded with meaning. By the time Jesus actually speaks you can be sure the original audience was ready for him to say something! With all these voices of authoritative witness behind him he is going to set something new in motion that is going to generate a lot of controversy.

Before we move on to Jesus calling his disciples there are a few things we have to get under our belts first in order to understand what Mark is doing here: why he structures things the way he does, why he keeps his stories centered in Galilee (Mark 1-10) and finally in Jerusalem (chapters 11ff), why he repeats geographical features (such as mountains, deserts, and the sea), and the reason Mark is so repetitious in using key words and phrases (except for the ones we expect! like Messiah and Christ). After we spend a post or two on that we will work back through the John the Baptist narrative, the baptism and temptation and on to calling his first disciples.