|LESSON 3||*July 12 - 18|
|John the Baptist:
Preparing the Way for Jesus
Read for This Week's Study:
" 'I tell you the truth: Among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist; yet he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he' " (Matthew 11:11, NIV).
|John the Baptist had a special calling from God; we, as a church,
have been called in a similar way. What can we learn from the example of
Followers of the ancient Mandaean religion venerate John the Baptist as the last and greatest of the prophets. Today Mandaean believers still can be found, mostly in Iraq and Iran. The great irony is, that although they venerate John, they believe that Jesus was a false prophet, which is hard to understand since the whole purpose of John's message was to prepare the way for Jesus.
From his base near the Jordan River, John preached a message of repentance, forgiveness, and social justice, all to prepare people for the coming of the Messiah. Large crowds gathered to hear him speak; and many followed his teachings. In fact, several of Jesus' disciples were first disciples of John the Baptist.
*Study this week's lesson to prepare for Sabbath, July 19.
A Special Calling
John is one of a small group of people whom the Bible says God chose before birth for a special mission, people such as Samuel and Samson, and even Jesus Himself. Hundreds of years earlier, the prophet Isaiah prophesied the ministry of John as one who would be "a voice of one calling: 'In the desert' " (Isa. 40:3-5, NIV; see also Luke 3:4-6). John's father, Zechariah, also predicted that his son would prepare the way for the Lord (Luke 1:76).
Skim over Luke 1, where John the Baptist's mission and calling are prophesied. Make notes on the things that it said that John would accomplish. Compare those prophecies with what we know about John the Baptist. In what ways were they fulfilled?
After looking at John's accomplishments, look at John's ignoble end (Matt. 14:1-12). How does that end match all the glorious things predicted about him?
John the Baptist's calling and ministry brought him to a hard and difficult path, one that ended almost as ignobly as His cousin's, Jesus. Despite the trials, the sufferings, and the misunderstanding, he remained faithful, fulfilling the prophecies made about his life. John is an example of the suffering that any of us could face if we seek to remain faithful to God and to whatever calling He has for us.
By most standards, John the Baptist's life and, especially, his death would not have made him someone whom the world would call successful. What should that tell us about the difference between God's ideals and the world's? Are your standards of success more like God's or the world's, and what does the answer tell you about yourself?
Preparing the Preparer
The Lord made many predictions about the life of John the Baptist, saying even before John was born what he could accomplish in his life. This raises the difficult question: Was John predestined to do these things simply because God predicted that he would? In other words, did John have any choice other than to do what God had predicted? Though the question of God's foreknowledge and our free will has challenged theologians and philosophers for centuries (and so we certainly cannot answer the question right now), we can be sure of one thing: John needed a special preparation for the work he was to undertake.
Read Luke 1:80. What is found in the text that helps us understand some of the preparation John needed? What principles can we draw from here that could help us strengthen our own spiritual life?
Luke 1:15 says that John would be filled with the Holy Ghost " 'even from his mother's womb' (NKJV)." And yet, even with that special promise, he needed the kind of preparation found in the harshness of the desert. Often in the Bible the desert or wilderness is portrayed as a place for spiritual discipline and growth. Here it was that "the word of God came to John" (Luke 3:2, NIV). Certainly, John became a man of prayer and later taught his disciples how to pray (Luke 11:1) and fast (Mark 2:18). He knew the importance of a spiritual connection to heaven.
The spiritual power John received from God allowed him to proclaim his message with great force. He was a voice crying in the wilderness or, according to the literal Greek, "bellowing like an ox."
As Jesus later suggested, nobody went to see John because he was some kind of weakling" 'a reed shaken by the wind' " (Matt. 11:7, NKJV). On the contrary, they went to hear a man who spoke the truth with power and conviction.
|Take an honest look at your own spiritual life. How often do you pray? How often do you study the Word? How immersed are you in the world and worldly things? What changes do you need to make? Might you need to spend some time in a desert somewhere?|
The Spirit of Elijah
The angel who appeared to Zechariah alluded to Malachi's prophecy and applied it directly to John (Luke 1:17). Jesus Himself confirmed it" 'If you are willing to accept it, he [John] is the Elijah who was to come' " (Matt. 11:14, NIV; see also 17:11-13).
Elijah stands tall among the great prophets of the Old Testament. He called on King Ahab and the people of Israel, who were steeped in idolatry and apostasy, to return to God and reform their ways. The test on Mount Carmel, where he stood up for God against the pagan prophets, is one of the watershed moments in the entire Bible.
The "Elijah message" is a phrase deep with meaning for Seventh-day Adventists. Ellen G. White parallels the tasks of Elijah, John the Baptist, and God's end-time people. She describes the "Elijah message" simply as " 'Prepare to meet thy God.' "Ellen G. White Comments, The SDA Bible Commentary, vol. 4, p. 1184.
THE ELIJAH MESSAGE
John the Baptist
God's End-Time People
|Called to reform Israel and call them to obedience to God's laws. He delivered a message of judgment to King Ahab and a chance of repentance to Israel.||Preached repentance and the principles of the kingdom of heaven. Delivered a message of judgment to religious leaders and people. Prepared people for Jesus' first coming.||Reformers who preach righteousness by faith call people to worship God, repent, and obey His commandments. Message: " 'The hour of his judgment has come'" (Rev. 14:7, NIV). Prepare people for Jesus' second coming.|
The apostle John wrote about three angels with special messages to proclaim to the world (Rev. 14:6-12) at the end of time. These messages include a call to worship God (because His judgment has come) and to remain faithful to Jesus. The gospel is central to this warning message. Ellen G. White wrote, "Several have written to me, inquiring if the message of justification by faith is the third angel's message, and I have answered, 'It is the third angel's message in verity.' "The Review and Herald, April 1, 1890.
Read Revelation 14:6-12, the three angels' messages. Where do you see warnings, as well as hope, mingled? In what sense was John's message both warning and hope? How can we use warnings to point people toward hope?
There were two key parts to John the Baptist's messagerepentance and behavior. Both were closely connected. The Greek word John uses for repentance (metanoeo) is a compound word: meta, meaning change, and noeo, meaning thinking. Thus, repentance means to change one's thinking about something.
When John says, " 'Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near' " (Matt. 3:2, NIV), he is telling the people that the coming kingdom of heaven requires a totally new outlook. In other words, in preparing the people for Jesus' arrival, in preparing the way for the Lord and making "straight paths" for Him (vs. 3, NIV), John was challenging the people to change their world-view and how they live.
Read Luke 3:10-15. What is the essence of John's message here? What is he telling the people? See also James 2:14-26.
One key aspect of repentance was the confessing of sin (Matt. 3:6). The other key aspect was changing behavior according to the principles of the kingdom of heaven (vs. 8). Nothing less could prepare them for Jesus, who would bring a time of refreshing such as they had never seen.
Baptism was closely associated with repentance. In fact, Luke says John preached "a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins" (Luke 3:3, NIV). Being washed in the water symbolized the changed view of life, the fresh start, and the forgiveness of sin.
Although John's strong words offended some people, the Bible indicates that large crowds came to hear him. "People went out to him from Jerusalem and all Judea and the whole region of the Jordan" (Matt. 3:5, NIV). But not only did they come and listen, they confessed their sins and were baptized (vs. 6).
|OK, you believe in God, believe in Jesus, believe that He died for your sins and that you have salvation only through His righteousness credited to you, by faith alone. The question is, How well are you following the principles of righteousness as expressed by John the Baptist? How well does your life reveal the faith that you profess to have?|
A Crucial Lesson From John
Read Colossians 2:8. What is it saying to you, in your own culture and tradition? What must you be careful about?
The Bible has much to say about tradition, and little of it is good. On one occasion the Pharisees and the teachers of the law asked Jesus why His disciples broke the tradition of the elders by not washing their hands before they ate (Matt. 15:2). This tradition was based on rules and regulations established by the rabbis, not by the Scriptures.
Read Matthew 15:3 and Mark 7:13. What specific points is Jesus making that gets at the heart of why tradition can be faith-destroying?
An essential part of John the Baptist's mission was to speak out against tradition and point people back to the revealed Word of God. Ellen G. White writes: "What was it that made John the Baptist great? He closed his mind to the mass of tradition presented by the teachers of the Jewish nation, and opened it to the wisdom which comes from above."Conflict and Courage, p. 276.
John the Baptist was not bound by tradition or by accepted modes of speech. He spoke against sin in all its forms, from adultery to social injustice. Whenever God's message is given in a clear, unambiguous way, people react differently. Some people responded to John the Baptist by accusing him of being demon-possessed (Matt. 11:18). Of course, exactly the same thing happened with Jesus (John 7:20).
|Read Ellen G. White, "The Voice in the Wilderness,"
pp. 97-108, in The Desire of
"God had directed John the Baptist to dwell in the wilderness, that he might be shielded from the influence of the priests and rabbis, and be prepared for a special mission. But the austerity and isolation of his life were not an example for the people. John himself had not directed his hearers to forsake their former duties. He bade them give evidence of their repentance by faithfulness to God in the place where He had called them."Ellen G. White, The Desire of Ages, p. 150.
"In this age, just prior to the second coming of Christ in the clouds of heaven, such a work as that of John is to be done. God calls for men who will prepare a people to stand in the great day of the Lord. The message preceding the public ministry of Christ was, Repent, publicans and sinners; repent, Pharisees and Sadducees; 'repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.' As a people who believe in Christ's soon coming, we have a message to bear,'Prepare to meet thy God.' " [Amos 4:12].Ellen G. White, Gospel Workers, p. 55.
| What dangers are there in following tradition? Is there
any way that tradition actually can help your spiritual life? If so, how?
As a class, talk about the traditions in your own culture. Which ones are
helpful to faith, and which ones go contrary to it? How can you know the
difference, and how can you help others who might have trouble breaking away
from the traditions that are harmful to their Christian walk?
Review the parallels between John's mission and ours as a church. How well are we doing? What could we be doing better? How could we, as individuals and as a local church, help in fulfilling this high calling?
John the Baptist had the high calling of preparing the way for Jesus. In many ways his mission parallels that given to God's people at the end of time-to preach the Elijah message to prepare people to meet God.
|I N S I D E Story|
|Freed From the Devil's Chains
Saketa Balcha lived with his parents on their small farm in western Ethiopia. When Saketa entered his teens, he began to chew chat, a narcotic leaf. His new habit quickly became an addiction, to the dismay of his parents. Friction grew among family members, and Saketa rebelled even more. Then he began to have episodes of dizziness.
His condition worsened until he showed signs of insanity or demon possession. The family didn't know what to do, so they took him to a religious teacher, hoping this man could cure him. The religious teacher called other leaders to his home, where they chewed chat and prayed for the boy's healing. But Saketa began throwing stones, shouting obscenities, and threatening people.
Realizing that they couldn't help the boy, the religious leaders gave up. They tied him up with ropes, but Saketa escaped. So, they chained him and carried him to his parents' home.
Saketa's parents cried when they saw their son returning in chains. They didn't know what else to do for their son. Then someone suggested that they ask the Adventist pastor to pray for their son. Desperate to have their boy back, the parents sent for the pastor. Before going to the boy, the pastor prayed for forgiveness of sin in his own life and for the presence of the Holy Spirit.
When he arrived at Saketa's home, he found the boy chained to the center pole of the house, shouting obscenities and talking nonsense. The pastor told the family, "Humans cannot cast out demons or heal disease. Only God can. We must pray, and we must believe that Jesus Christ has the power to save your son." The pastor invited everyone to kneel with him. Even Saketa knelt down in spite of his chains, and became silent while the pastor prayed.
After prayer, the pastor urged the family to believe in God and His power to heal. Then he left. The next day the pastor returned and found Saketa sitting in a chair, free from his chains. Saketa responded to the pastor's questions. Again he prayed for Sakata's complete healing and the family's faith. The next day the pastor found Saketa helping his father put up a fence. The family and the neighbors were amazed.
On Sabbath the family worshiped in the Adventist church. Saketa and eight members of his family enrolled in the Bible class to learn more about God, who had saved him. Today Saketa sings in the choir and praises God for healing him.
Millions in Ethiopia are bound by fears and superstitions. They don't know the freedom that faith in Jesus brings. Our mission offerings help bring the news of salvation in Jesus to the people of this land. Thank you for giving faithfully to world missions.
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