JOHN THE BAPTIST AS MODEL
In the previous essay, we studied Zechariah and his wife Elizabeth, Simeon, and Anna the prophetess as models of empowered discipleship, as seen in the first two chapters of Luke. Now we want move to another important model of discipleship, namely, John the Baptist; and we again begin with Luke chapter one. As before, I suggest you look up the passage in your Bible. In the last study we saw in Luke 1:13 a promise from God to Zechariah that he and Elizabeth would have a long-desired child. That child became John the Baptist.
Verses 15-17 are a prophecy given to Zechariah by an angel. The angel declared that the promised child, John, would be great before the Lord; he would be filled with the Holy Spirit from his mother’s womb; he would turn many sons of Israel to God; and he would fulfill the Elijah prophesies by preparing the way of the Lord. Every aspect of that prophecy eventually was fulfilled.
Now let’s move to another passage about the Baptist. It’s located in John’s Gospel, in John 3:26-30. This passage, which is part of a report about Jesus’ early Judean ministry, records a testimony to Jesus by John the Baptist. The context was this. Some of John’s disciples came to him with a complaint that Jesus had begun his own ministry and was attracting many people.
Notice John’s reply in verses 27 and following. “No one can receive anything except what is given him from heaven.” In other words, the ministries of both John and Jesus were from God, and God provided the fruit for both. There was no room, nor need, for jealousy. Then John reminded his disciples that he earlier had told them he was not the Christ, but the forerunner. He was not the groom, but the “best man,” (vv. 28-29). “He [Jesus] must increase, but I must decrease,” said John
What grace and humility! The Baptist willingly and happily yielded his life and ministry to Jesus, the Christ. In effect he said I’m happy to have less, to be less, if it will glorify Jesus. That makes John a powerful model of empowered discipleship. He was filled with the Holy Spirit, and he yielded himself completely, including his ministry, to Jesus. Is that our attitude? Is that the desire of our hearts? I hope so.
JESUS AS MODEL:
Now then, I want us to look at one more model of discipleship. I refer to the model of models, the Lord Jesus himself.
The passage we will turn to is Matthew 3:13-17 and parallels (Mark 1:9-11; Luke 3:21-22; John 1:29-34). When Jesus sensed that it was time to begin his public ministry, he came to John the Baptist for baptism. Notice that John objected to the idea of baptizing Jesus, because he knew Jesus should be baptizing him with the Holy Spirit. But Jesus told John, “Let it be so now; for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Jesus wanted to undergo this baptism that symbolized repentance from sin, even though he was sinless, in order “to fulfill all righteousness.”
Since Jesus was sinless, we know the word “righteousness” was used here in an ethical rather than a legal sense. In other words Jesus’ righteousness had to do with his desire to do the will of the heavenly Father, rather than with pardon for sin.
For Jesus, ethical righteousness was doing the will of the Father. And Jesus’ baptism symbolized the primary purpose of his becoming human; namely, to die for our sins. Thus did Jesus fulfill all righteousness, that is, fulfill the Father’s will.
By being baptized with a baptism symbolizing repentance for sin, Jesus symbolically took the sins of the world on himself. And of course that was something he would do in reality on the cross. Therefore we can say that Jesus at his baptism made a symbolic commitment to do the will of the Father in all things.
Jesus’ example becomes a general principle for us. Ethical righteousness for us is the same as for Jesus. It is doing the will of the heavenly Father in everything.
I want to believe I’m committed to this principle. But what if that means dying for others? Sometimes I don’t seem willing to go out of my way for others, let alone die for them. It’s a scary thought for any Christian.
Although there was no doubt that Jesus was willing to die for the world, his commitment quickly was tested. And we shouldn’t be surprised if we are tested, because that is exactly what the Father did with Jesus. He immediately arranged a major test.
The Scripture passage is Matt. 4:1-11 and parallels (Mark 1:12-13; Luke 4:1-13). At that crucial juncture of Jesus’ life, the Father chose to test him by leading him into the wilderness to be tempted by Satan. If you are wondering why the Father would do that, it is because it was going to happen anyway. Every human being is tested by temptation, and Jesus had become a real human being. As you know, Jesus passed the test! There in the wilderness Jesus modeled discipleship by using the written Word to overcome temptation, and he also modeled prayer and fasting.
Three times Satan attacked Jesus with powerful temptations, but Jesus did not yield. Each time Jesus overcame the temptation by quoting from the book of Deuteronomy. In the written Word Jesus found the will of the Father clearly spelled out. And we have the same advantage. Indeed we have the New Testament as well as the Old to guide us.
In regard to fasting, we are told Jesus fasted 40 days and nights. From the nature of the specific situation (being tempted by the devil), and the larger context (beginning his public ministry), we can safely assume that Jesus joined prayer with his fasting. Additional support is seen when Jesus, in another situation that was spiritually difficult (the casting out of a demon from a boy), Jesus declared “this kind does not come out except by prayer and fasting” (Matt. 17:21).
This time Jesus’ example demonstrates two spiritual principles. First, we are to know God’s written Word well enough to use it successfully as a weapon in spiritual warfare. And second, at critical times in our Christian lives we are to fast and pray.
I have been, and continue to be, dedicated to knowing the written Word. But I confess that I have failed to exercise the discipline of fasting in any consistent way. I pray that you are doing better than I with this particular spiritual discipline.
In summary, in the opening chapters of Luke we have seen four outstanding models of discipleship, three of which lived most of their lives before Jesus was born. They were Zechariah, Simeon, Anna and John the Baptist. These people had several characteristics in common. They were righteous before God, and obeyed his commandments. They were faithful to the duty to which the Lord had called them. They were expectant. And they were persistent in prayer. Of Simeon it was said, in addition, that the Holy Spirit was on him. I believe that was true of the others as well. Indeed the Baptist was filled with the Holy Spirit from the womb (Luke 1:15). And Anna fasted as well as prayed.
And the result of all this devotion was amazing. First, the Lord revealed himself in various ways to those faithful folk. For example, he answered their prayers. He gave Zechariah and Elizabeth a miracle baby who would grow up to be the forerunner of the Messiah. And he gave Simeon and Anna revelations about the Messiah. Second, the Lord gave them wonderful spiritual experiences. Simeon and Anna especially were blessed to participate in the presentation of the Messiah at the temple, with Simeon actually holding the child and blessing God. And the Lord gave John the Baptist the honor of preparing the way of the Lord.
We also looked at Jesus himself as a model for us. Jesus demonstrated discipleship by his commitment to the will of the Father. And like Jesus, we are to do the will of the Father in everything. Like him, we are to learn the written Word of God, so that we will know the Lord’s will when we are faced with temptation. And finally, like Jesus, we are to learn how to fast and pray.