John the Baptist

A Bright and Shining Light

By Mike Mazzalongo Topic: Bible Characters Posted: Sun. Jun 28th
In this lesson, Mike cuts through the many human and cultural views of John the Baptist in order to reveal the true character and mission of this important Bible personage.

Well, I'm want to talk about John the Baptist this morning, one of the most popular holidays where Lise and I come from, which is Quebec, you know, French Canada, where I grew up, one of the most popular holidays was St John the Baptist Day.

Imagine that, St John the Baptist Day, the fateness you know, and he was to John the Baptist, he was the patron Saint of Canada. Here you have the 4th of July, right? 4th of July the flags come out, the fireworks, you know, all that great stuff you know, in Quebec, the big holiday is Saint John the Baptist, the flags come out, the parades go on, you know, barbecues, let's go it's St John Baptist Day.

So next to Jesus and Mary, John the Baptist is probably the best known Bible character in the New Testament, and because of the summer holiday, which is on June the 24th, that bore his name John the Baptist is better known by Quebec Catholics than say Matthew, or Paul, or Peter for example.

John the Baptist is a more popular character because of that holiday. Now, before I go on to talk about, well, the John of the Bible, and the significance of his message and his life for us, I want to look at the John, you know, John the Baptist of the Quebec tradition, and how far removed from the Bible that character actually became as time went on.

Now, many feast days within Christianity were originated by the Roman Catholic Church, not only by them, but particularly by them, and they were initiated in the early and middle ages in order to replace pagan feasts that occurred at the same time of year.

In other words, the Roman Catholic Church did this in order to Christianize pagan practices, and thereby depaganizing unbelieving societies, okay? They'd replaced pagan feasts with Christian feasts so that the people of that time could have something to celebrate, something to do, but something that was more connected to Christianity than their former pagan religion.

They also assigned special days in honor of biblical characters for their birth or days when they died. You know, December 25th for example, "Birth day of Jesus." I'm not going to go into all of that.

I think we're all pretty familiar with that idea, but you know, that's one of those things, you know, the birthday of Jesus, December the 25th. Well, John the Baptist's birthday was considered to be June the 25th because in Luke 1:36, it says that he was born six months before Jesus.

So if Jesus was born on December the 25th, (congregation laughs) guess when John was born, but like all things, you know, Catholic, there was a twist. You see on June the 24th, there was a pagan feast that celebrated the summer solstice, the time when the sun is nearest to the earth, and different religions of that era, feasted a god called Baal, the sun god, and they would celebrate him by lighting bonfires, and by burning sacrifices.

Many people believe that Stonehenge in England for example, are the remains of one of these sun temples. Well, as the pagan nations were converted, this feast, you know, was Christianized to become a feast, celebrating Saint John the Baptist, and the date was moved back from June 25th to June 24th to you know, better fit the summer solstice if you wish.

Now the way that they celebrated St John the Baptist Day, June 24th, that it became was that they would burn bonfires, but the sacrifice part of it was discontinued. The fires that originally represented the sun were now made to represent John the Baptist, since the Bible said that he was a bright and shining light, John 5:35.

So this feast was celebrated in this way in various places in Britain believe it or not, and it spread to other countries like wherever the Roman Catholic Church had an influence in Normandy, a French speaking area, and also in Central and South America.

Now it came to Quebec where Lise and I come from, which is French Canada. It came to Quebec in this form via Normandy because of the French connection. At the beginning, only the parishes, a parish is simply a congregation, only the Catholic parishes that bore the name of John the Baptist would have the special feast day.

You see here we have, you know, the Choctaw Church of Christ, we have Nicoma Park Church of Christ, we have Eastside Church of Christ, we have Memorial Road Church, you know, we tend to name our congregations based on geography, fifth and direct solar, whatever, you know, wherever you are, we kind of give it that name, but it's always something main street Church of Christ. In Catholicism the different congregations are given name, biblical names of characters. So you have the Mother Mary, Mother of God Catholic Church, you have Saint John the Baptist Catholic Church. You have the Saint John the Baptist Catholic Church in Montreal, and then there's the Saint John the Baptist Catholic Church in Three Rivers, and there's the Saint John the Baptist Catholic Church in Quebec City. You see what I'm saying?

So each Catholic Church has its own name, and many of these churches had the name of John the Baptist. And so at the beginning, only the parishes that bore the name, John the Baptist would celebrate something on June the 24th, but in 1834, that day became Quebec's national holiday, and the religious holiday began to be mixed with politics.

So it was during this period that the Society of Saint John the Baptist was founded by a man called Ludger Duvernay, and this group was formed to promote French culture, and every year since 1924, the Saint John the Baptist holiday, which had been strictly a religious holiday was merged if you wish, with the political holiday, and it became the national holiday of the French Canadian people, as we say today in 2020, it is Fête Nationale. It is the national holiday of Quebec, Saint John the Baptist.

Well, by the 20th century, the feast had little to do with religion because originally on St John the Baptist Day, they would fast, there would be a mass, you know, special prayers, you know, it was truly a religious type of feast or holiday, but, you know, by now by the 19th and 20th century it's strictly secular holiday, little to do with religion, it had become a symbol of French nationalism, and a time of holiday celebration, parades, concerts, everybody got the day off, barbecue, fireworks parties, beer parties, you know, this is all in celebration of Saint John the Baptist now.

Interesting to note that the Saint John the Baptist holiday are celebrated in different ways, actually in different parts of the world. For example, in Ireland they had legends that it was on the eve of St John the Baptist Day that souls left their bodies in order to search for a last resting place for their bodies when they came to die.

In Mexico, Mexico has a John as the patron Saint of the waters, and so they threw flowers into lakes and fountains, they took special baths during the St John the Baptist Day. In South America they have parades and festivals, lots of fortune tellers operate during this time.

China doesn't celebrate the saint, but it still celebrates the day with the dragon boat festival to honor the gods of the water for a good harvest. Now we can see therefore that this festival in its many forums is a mixture of paganism, Christian ideas and characters and politics, and in Quebec had no real religious significance or moral impact not anymore, it did at one time, but not anymore.

On the contrary, as I said, the celebrations surrounding the feast usually lead to immoral abusive alcohol, and food, and sexual adventures, and certainly all things that the true John the Baptist of the Bible would uphold.

All right, so that's a little bit about, you know, what people have done with the character in the Bible. Let's talk now about the Bible character himself in contrast to what the world, let's examine the true the John the Baptist if you will.

Luke 1:5-25, too long, but I think we're familiar enough with the story. His parents were older, they were beyond childbearing years, but nevertheless produced the child, a boy, they were righteous people, they both came from priestly families.

His birth was announced by an angel to his father Zacharias as well as what his name would be, and what his calling was to be. He was a great man before God, he abstained from alcohol, he lived as an ascetic, he was filled with the spirit the Bible says, his task was to prepare the way for the Messiah, he was born surrounding signs and wonders.

John was not divinely conceived like Jesus, but he was divinely appointed to prepare the way, to announce the coming of the Messiah. His ministry, his preaching of course, was that the kingdom was near, and we take one small portion of some of his preaching in Matthew 3.

1Now in those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the wilderness of Judea, saying, 2"Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." 3For this is the one referred to by Isaiah the prophet when he said, "The voice of one crying in the wilderness, 'Make ready the way of the Lord, Make His paths straight!'"
- Matthew 3:1-3

Little sample of his preaching. The kingdom is near get ready people, something great is about to take place. His role was to sensitize the Jewish nation to the fact that the coming of the long awaited Messiah was finally at hand.

Other prophets had said, there is a Messiah coming, there will be a Messiah. They all said, one day a Messiah will come and it'll be a great day and so on and so forth, but John the Baptist's message was that Messiah is here.

This generation needs to prepare, okay? So that was the essence of his preaching, and so of course the people, they expected that the Messiah would be a person who would ultimately free them from Roman domination.

They saw the Messiah as some kind of prophetic religious, military political, you know, leader, dynamic person who hopefully would free them from Rome and return them to the glory days of King David and King Solomon.

So of course they were in a hurry for the Messiah because they felt, you know, when the Messiah comes, good times are coming. Good times are coming when the Messiah comes, yes, we're happy to hear this, John however, in his preaching preached a message, not of liberation, but a message of judgment.

He said, the coming of the Messiah was to be a time of judgment of the nation, not political liberation. The Messiah is not coming to, you know, bring you better political times or a better economy, the Messiah is coming in order to judge the nation and you need to be ready for that.

7So he 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? 8Therefore bear fruits in keeping with repentance, and do not begin to say to yourselves, 'We have Abraham for our father,' for I say to you that from these stones God is able to raise up children to Abraham. 9Indeed the axe is already laid at the root of the trees; so every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire."
- Luke 3:7-9

And so the proper response therefore to his message of judgment was a repentance. It was repentance and baptism that was the response not hey, great, good times are coming. No, no, no, no, no, no, no, no. The response of the coming of the Messiah was repentance and baptism again in Luke 3, this time verse 10 to 14, he says,

10And the crowds were questioning him, saying, "Then what shall we do?" 11And he would answer and say to them, "The man who has two tunics is to share with him who has none; and he who has food is to do likewise." 12And some tax collectors also came to be baptized, and they said to him, "Teacher, what shall we do?" 13And he said to them, "Collect no more than what you have been ordered to." 14Some soldiers were questioning him, saying, "And what about us, what shall we do?" And he said to them, "Do not take money from anyone by force, or accuse anyone falsely, and be content with your wages."
- Luke 3:10-14

In other words, your first response, this repentance here, there needs to be a change in your life. If you're a tax collector and you're an embezzler or you cheat, and so stop cheating. If you're a person that has authority like a soldier, you know, stop using your authority to rob the people or to extort the people.

You know, if you're a liar, start telling the truth, if you're impure start being pure, you know, repent. That was the message in 10 to 14. And of course, baptism was also the response. And he came and says into all the district around Jordan preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sin.

Now, the interesting thing here is that normally only Gentile converts to Judaism received a ritual water cleansing before they were circumcised and then offered sacrifice. In other words, if you were not a Jew, if you were a Gentile and you wanted to be come a Jew, the process was, first you were baptized, you had you know, water cleansing, then you were circumcised, then you offered sacrifice.

And that was the process in your conversion, you know, your conversion process from being a Gentile to being a Jew. However, only the Gentiles had to have the water purification, but now John comes along and in his preaching, he requires even the Jews themselves to be baptized in order to be ready for the coming of the Messiah.

I mean, we're so familiar with baptism we go, yeah, sure, that's what we do, you know, but if you're a Jew and for generations you've been seeing Gentiles purifying themselves in order to enter into your religion, and now all of a sudden, John the Baptist comes along and says, it ain't only the Gentiles that need the baptism, you need to be baptized, you need to repent, and you also need to be baptized.

You know, baptism and washings they were familiar to the Jews since the priests had purification rights that they would often do to prepare themselves for the priesthoods, and as I said, Gentiles were baptized before they could become Jews, but John's baptism was unique, it was different than both of these things.

First of all, it was part of the messianic prophecy that the nation would have to be purified for the coming of the Messiah, and preaching baptism was actually part of messianic preaching. For example, in Ezekiel 36, Ezekiel says,

25Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from all your idols. 26Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.
- Exekiel 36:25-26

Ezekiel in his preaching of the Messiah was saying that a purification was going to take place.

Zechariah another Old Testament prophet says,

"In that day a fountain will be opened for the house of David and for the inhabitants of Jerusalem, for sin and for impurity.
- Zechariah 13:1

So this was no like huge surprise to anyone who understood the Old Testament Scriptures and prophecies about the actual coming of the Messiah, and John in his preaching was fulfilling the messianic promises by including both repentance and baptism as part of the message that the Messiah was now here.

Also, priestly washings and proselyte baptism restored an unclean person to a pure state, but John's baptism prepared them to enter a state that they had never experienced before not even as Jews. And then only certain ones were candidates for Jewish purification rights, but in John's preaching everyone in the nation had to receive John's baptism.

This is the reason why Jesus Himself was baptized, He was part of the Jewish nation, He went to be baptized. John recognized right away. Yeah, I don't need to baptize you, you should be baptizing me, you know.

And what is Jesus say to John? We got to do this to fulfill all righteousness. Yes, I'm the Son of God, the divine Son of God, but I'm also a man, and as a man I'm also a part of the Jewish nation, and those who are preparing for the coming of the Messiah, who are part of the Jewish nation must respond to this requirement given by the prophets.

And so John's baptism was a baptism with water for the remission of sins, and it was a preparation for the coming of the Messiah. However, Christian baptism, our baptism, what we practice today, Christian baptism is also with water, and it's also for the forgiveness of sins, but now at baptism, we also receive the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, and we enter into the kingdom of God, which is the church, Acts 2:38-41.

So the first purpose of John's ministry was to preach a baptism of repentance. In other words, the people had to get ready for the coming of the Messiah by repenting and by being baptized as a way of purifying themselves.

He had another purpose in his ministry and that was to witness. His other purpose was as a witness, or to point out who was this Messiah. Not just the Messiah is coming, who was this Messiah, and I want to read another passage here that talks about that in John 1:29, it says,

29The next day he saw Jesus coming to him and said, "Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! 30This is He on behalf of whom I said, 'After me comes a Man who has a higher rank than I, for He existed before me.' 31I did not recognize Him, but so that He might be manifested to Israel, I came baptizing in water." 32John testified saying, "I have seen the Spirit descending as a dove out of heaven, and He remained upon Him. 33I did not recognize Him, but He who sent me to baptize in water said to me, 'He upon whom you see the Spirit descending and remaining upon Him, this is the One who baptizes in the Holy Spirit.' 34I myself have seen, and have testified that this is the Son of God." 35Again the next day John was standing with two of his disciples, 36and he looked at Jesus as He walked, and said, "Behold, the Lamb of God!"
- John 1:29-36

So ultimately John's ministry reached its peak when he was able to publicly identify the Christ as the Jesus of Nazareth. In other words, the beginning of his ministry was preaching repentance and baptism, and this took up most of his ministry, but at some point he began pointing out, there He is, there's the Son of God, there's the Messiah, that person right there, and when that part of his ministry began, that was the peak, and then it began to go down after that.

Of course as John's ministry faded, Jesus's ministry increased. Now his call to repentance, of course, angered the Pharisees and especially the king who had unlawfully taken his own brother's wife and had John imprisoned, and later had him beheaded at the request of the daughter of his wife.

With his death came the end of the line of the Old Testament prophets, and the greater momentum of Jesus's ministry as John's disciples began to follow Jesus. Many of the apostles may have originally been John's apostles.

And so Jesus summarizes well John's life in ministry, couple of other Scriptures I want to share this morning. He was divinely appointed, and he was the greatest of the prophets before the kingdom was established.

10This is the one about whom it is written, 'Behold, I send My messenger ahead of You, Who will prepare Your way before You.' 11Truly I say to you, among those born of women there has not arisen anyone greater than John the Baptist! Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.
- Matthew 11:10-11

This is why John the Baptist baptism didn't put people into the kingdom, it got them ready for that particular event.

33You have sent to John, and he has testified to the truth. 34But the testimony which I receive is not from man, but I say these things so that you may be saved. 35He was the lamp that was burning and was shining and you were willing to rejoice for a while in his light.
- John 5:33-35

And so he was also a shining light to the people. Jesus's testimony concerning John was high praise, very high praise. And so, as you can see, there's a big difference between you know, the John of the Bible, and then John the Baptist that is celebrated in holidays in various nations around the world.

Couple of things I want to mention about that, and then we'll close out our lesson. If we've learned anything this morning, we've learned that the superstitions and worldly celebration surrounding not just John the Baptist, but a lot of other kind of religious Christian feasts, you know what I'm saying? Many times have absolutely nothing to do with the true purpose and character of the actual people in the Bible.

These things many times are merely one more excuse to indulge in the fresh at the expense of spiritual things, and so the warning is, we all need to be careful, you know, at these quote religious holidays that even we participate in, you know, we need to be careful at Christmas or Easter or for the folks in Quebec Saint John Baptist, that we don't do in the name of a Bible character or an event, things that we would be ashamed of doing as Christians, just a reminder, you know, Christmas season isn't here yet, but an early warning, if you wish.

And then the true biblical person John is a character I believe worth emulating. Usually the person the most mentioned in my own preaching even, aside from Jesus to emulate, if you're looking at a male character is Paul, Paul, I admire Paul the apostle.

You know, if we want to show someone, you know, you should be like Paul emulate him, but I also think that John the Baptist is someone that we can emulate. I mean, Jesus said that he was the greatest, that he was a bright and shining light, and that this man's life can be a model for my own life.

You realize that John the Baptist is the only contemporary Jew that Jesus actually commends? He's the only one that is commended by Jesus Himself. He did not compromise with sin, even in a difficult time, it cost him his life when he defied even the king, he was willing to be second, serving God was important, and he wasn't interested in winning fame or gaining position.

It is said that he's the greatest in the Old Testament of the prophets. You know, there's only two people that are actually commended for a certain quality, and it's John the Baptist then Moses, and the thing about them that is remarked by the Holy Spirit is that they were both humble men.

Imagine that humility this is the quality that is lifted up as the most, that should be emulated by Jesus. He knew Jesus, I'm speaking of John. He knew Jesus and he pointed others to Jesus. You know, when we turn on a light in a dark room, let's say, you're looking at the screen now is dark, in a dark room, right? When you turn on the light, you don't admire the light when it comes on, right? When the light comes on what it does is, is it helps you see the things that are admirable.

Like imagine this is a dark room, and then you turn on the light and the light comes on, and then all of a sudden imagine, are you admiring the light here in this image, just the light? Well, of course not, we admire what the light has revealed.

An object of beauty. It's the same idea, if my light is shining properly, people will see Jesus, a thing of beauty, a person of beauty, and they'll worship Him, and they will appreciate Him, not appreciate me, that's not the point.

I let my light shine, you let your light shine in order to reveal the Christ, just like John the Baptist. So I hope we've kind of enjoyed the, you know, the nice weather, and you know, the vacation occasion by our own holidays, but I pray for all of our holidays, especially I think of my friends back in Quebec, that they remember, you know, the John the Baptist, this is the John the Baptist of Quebec.

Usually in the parade, to give you a little anecdotal history here. When there was a parade Saint John the Baptist, every year, they would choose who would be in the float to personify John the Baptist, and they always seriously, they always chose a little boy, eight or nine year old boy with blonde curly hair who would wear a little, you know, a little something, you know, a little skin thing like this, with a little pouch on the side, you know, and this was the personification of John the Baptist.

Well here, if you can see in the float, a little blonde haired boy, you know what I'm saying. This is the image that they have, and he leads a noisy parade where people get excited, and, you know, shine their light and have a drink.

Let's not let this be the light that we shine, you know, let's show the bright and shining light that Jesus spoke of, and the John the Baptist demonstrated as being a true man and in our situation, a true woman of God.

So my question this morning very simple is, does the light that we turn on in our lives tend to shine, you know, just on ourselves, or is it the type of light that reveals Christ and His truth to those who only see darkness with the kind of light that they have? The question I suppose, that we need to ask ourselves this morning is, what kind of light am I shining? And if you need assistance in prayer and encouragement to you know, be a brighter shining light, then of course our elders are here to pray with you.

If you need to repent and be baptized in order to receive the forgiveness of sins, and the spirit of God, and enter into the kingdom as well, then we're you know, even though there's paint and construction, the baptistry is ready for you this morning.

Whatever you may need, we encourage you to come forward now as Bob leads us in our song of encouragement. Shall we stand in order to sing that please.