Were you ever at a place where an important person such as a president, an astronaut, or a sports star was to appear? And did you try to find a spot where you would be sure to see that famous person? If so, you can imagine what it must have been like when the crowds came to see John the Baptist and to hear him preach.
“Have you heard the prophet who’s preaching by the Jordan river?” people were asking all over Palestine. John looked like the prophets of old. He wore the rough clothes of the wilderness: a camel’s hair robe and a leather belt. In fact, he called himself “The voice of one crying in the wilderness.” Some people even thought John was one of the prophets come back to life. There was great excitement as everyone tried to hear this great preacher’s urgent message, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” (Matthew 3:1-12) Who was John, anyway?
John’s father, Zacharias, was a very old priest who was serving in the temple one day when an angel appeared beside the altar. Zacharias was frightened until the angel said, “Do not be afraid, Zacharias, for your prayer is heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John. And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth. He will also be filled with the Holy Spirit. And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God.” (Luke 1:5-25)
Even though he and Elizabeth had been praying for a child, Zacharias could not quite believe the angel’s words. He was sure they were too old to have children. “How shall I know this?” Zacharias asked the angel.
“I am Gabriel,” the angel answered, “and was sent to bring you these glad tidings. But behold, you will not be able to speak until these things take place because you did not believe my words.”
Time passed. Elizabeth did have a baby boy. When it was time to name him, the relatives and neighbors thought he would be named Zacharias after his father. When Elizabeth said, “No, he shall be called John,” everyone was surprised. They made signs to Zacharias asking what he would have the baby named.
Zacharias took a writing tablet and wrote, His name is John. Immediately he could talk again. There was great rejoicing because they all knew this was to be a special child.
Elizabeth was not the only woman during this time to have a special child. Mary of Nazareth, a relative of Elizabeth, had also been visited by the angel Gabriel. He had told her that she was to have a Son who would be the Savior of the world. Mary had visited Elizabeth and they had talked about their miracle babies.
John was born six months before Jesus. Jesus lived in His little home in Nazareth. He learned to help His father, Joseph, in the carpenter shop. John grew up in the wilderness. He lived very simply on a diet of locusts and wild honey until it was time for him to prepare the way for his cousin Jesus’ great work.
All sorts of people walked through the wilderness to find him. Rich people, proud priests, and rulers came riding in chariots or on camels. Many who heard John preach believed the message that Christ was coming soon, and they asked to be baptized. They wanted to be ready when the Savior came to establish this “kingdom of heaven.” They were sorry for the wrong things they had done. By being baptized, they were showing that their sins were forgiven and that they belonged wholly to God.
Some who had been looking for Christ to come asked John, “Who are you?” “I am not the Christ.” John said.
“What then? Are you Elijah? Are you the Prophet?” the people said.
John answered “No!” to each of these questions and said, “I am The voice of one crying in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord,”’ as the prophet Isaiah said.”
The people asked, “Why then do you baptize . . .?”
John replied, I baptize you with water but He who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”
The next day John saw Jesus, whom he had never seen before, coming toward him. He said, “Behold! the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” The Holy Spirit, who had directed John in his preaching, had now shown him that Jesus was the Son of God, the Savior of the world. (John 1:19-29)
Jesus came down to the edge of the water and asked John to baptize Him. John hesitated, “I have need to be baptized of You, and are You coming to me?”
“Permit it to be so now,” Jesus said gently, “for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” (John 3:13-15)
Although He had no sin to repent of, Jesus was demonstrating the truth of John’s preaching. He was setting an example for all who would follow Him.
John led Jesus down into the Jordan River and dipped Him beneath the water. When Jesus came up out of the river, He bowed in prayer. And at that moment the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove came through an opening in heaven and rested upon Jesus. A voice also spoke from heaven, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” (Matthew 3:16-17)
When John saw the dove and heard the voice, he remembered something that the Holy Spirit had told him: “Upon whom you see the Spirit descending . . . this is He who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.”
Now John was even more certain that Jesus was the Son of God. He continued preaching this exciting message. God’s great clock of prophecy now showed that it was nearly time for Jesus to begin His work of saving the world.
Find the book of Matthew and read the story of John in Matthew 3:1-6.
Find Isaiah 40:3. This is the prophecy that told about John’s work. Find
Luke 1:76 and read what Zacharias prophesied about his son.
Matthew gives us the Treasure Chest Verse for this lesson: “And suddenly a voice came from heaven, saying, ‘This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.’ ” Matthew 3:17