After finishing my project for class, I went in a different direction than the lesson I posted last week. Here is Lesson I in the study on John the Baptist: The Model Ministry. It’s a little longer than the normal posts, but I think the ministry of John’s is invaluable for us to study. Thanks for reading!
John the Baptist’s service for the Lord was documented nearly 800 hundred years before his birth as foretold in the Old Testament prophecies of Isaiah and Malachi. John’s ministry provides a model for all those who are called children of God because of the acknowledgment of his calling from God, his wholehearted desire to answer that call, the boldness with which he preached, his lifetime of obedience, and the ultimate sacrifice of his life. Through this study, we’ll examine the various aspects of his ministry and learn how following his example can lead to a life of obedient service to the Lord. Before beginning our in-depth study of the Model Ministry as demonstrated by John the Baptist, we must first establish some basic truths about God and His purpose for us in our lives. In doing so, we’ll be able to understand how God called John into His service to perform the most important role of any person ever: preparing the way for the Messiah.
LESSON I – John’s Call
As we alluded to in the introduction, John’s ministry was a fulfillment of prophecy by Isaiah and Malachi. Before we progress any further in understanding how he was called, let’s review the Old Testament prophecies to see exactly what God had in mind for His messenger. In Isaiah we read, “3 The voice of one crying in the wilderness: “Prepare the way of the LORD; Make straight in the desert a highway for our God. 4 Every valley shall be exalted and every mountain and hill brought low; The crooked places shall be made straight and the rough places smooth; 5 The glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together; For the mouth of the LORD has spoken.” Isaiah 40:3-5 What an amazing passage! What do you think of when you hear the word voice? Well we know it must belong to someone and it must stand or represent something. This voice literally belonged to God and through a man named John, He would proclaim to the world to make preparation for the coming of His Son. Additionally in Malachi 3:1 we read, “‘1 Behold, I send My messenger, and he will prepare the way before Me. And the Lord, whom you seek, will suddenly come to His temple, even the Messenger of the covenant, in whom you delight. Behold, He is coming,’ Says the LORD of hosts.” Again in Malachi we read of the prophet forecasting the arrival of an “Elijah-like” figure who will come onto the scene to prepare the path of the Messiah. “5 Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the LORD. 6 And he will turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the earth with a curse.” Malachi 4:5-6 In order for us to fully realize the impact of these prophesies we need to look forward to the New Testament passages where they were fulfilled by John’s ministry.
We’ll discuss these passages in greater detail later on, but for now let’s use them as evidence for fulfillment of the prophecies described above. In Luke 3:4-6 John is declaring throughout the region that he is the one spoken of by Isaiah and in doing so he quotes parts of the passage detailed above, “4As it is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet, “The voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.5 Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall become straight, and the rough places shall become level ways, 6and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.'”
How can we reconcile within ourselves that John the Baptist was called by the Lord, as we see in the above passages, to be the forerunner of Christ some 800 years before his birth? Just how did the pieces of the puzzle come into place? Well, in order to understand this, we first must discuss what this word “call” means and how we are using in reference to John. Being called by God is not like answering the phone and it’s not a calling like we think of referring to an occupation, instead it’s an effectual call by God that is irresistible to the human spirit. This call is a choice that God makes and as we read in Ephesians 1:4, “4 just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love.”
In support of this, we need to recognize that John’s calling goes beyond the prophecies of Isaiah and Malachi. This prophecy wasn’t something that God gave only to those two prophets several hundred years before John’s birth. Just like the plan for Jesus to come and save the world from her sins, John’s mission wasn’t an afterthought. We have to understand that both the role of John the Baptist as forerunner for the Messiah and the incarnation of Jesus and His ministry were always part of God’s plan. It’s critical that we understand that point. If you can’t quite grasp the infiniteness of that (and it does stretch your mind some) then I would ask that you stop and pray about it. Turn to John 1 and read how the Apostle describes Jesus, as the Word, that He has always been. Once we grasp that, it’s easy to see how John the Baptist wasn’t an addendum either. He was chosen, as we alluded to earlier, to prepare the path; called to perform his ministry; elected for a position second only to Jesus Christ. He was part of God’s predetermined, predestined plan of salvation for the world.
John wasn’t called by any ability he possessed or skilled preaching that he might have had. God didn’t look out into the future and decide that John seemed like a good fit for the one to pave the path for His Son. No, clearly John was chosen for this mission and if we understand the sovereignty of God’s plan, then we know it has always existed. We can then begin to see that John’s purpose for being, to fulfill God’s plan, was predestined by God. Romans 8:28-31 says, 28 And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose. 29 For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren. 30 Moreover whom He predestined, these He also called; whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified.” This passage from the Apostle Paul applies perfectly to John the Baptist because we’ve learned that God’s plan for his life was predestined and that John was called by God to be the forerunner of Christ. We will also learn that God’s grace not only allowed John to be born of faithful parents, but it justified him before God. And finally, as we’ll see in the subsequent lessons John’s calling leads to glorification.
John the Baptist was called by God to be the forerunner for Christ. It wasn’t part of a backup or secondary plan and he wasn’t a selection made at the last minute by God. God predetermined that John would go before Jesus and prepare the way. Just as it had always been God’s plan to send Jesus as a propitiation for our sins, it was always the plan to send John too. Think about this, this is God we’re talking about. He didn’t need anyone to prepare the way or to point people towards the “Light”, but He chose to anyway, that we might fully understand His sovereign grace and realize His true glory. This is certainly not the only Biblical documentation of being predestined for a calling. We can draw parallel to another important historic figure found in the New Testament that received a similar call, one whom we’ve quoted several times thus far in this study, the Apostle Paul. We find him speaking about his calling in Galatians 1:15-16 “15 But when it pleased God, who separated me from my mother’s womb and called me through His grace, 16 to reveal His Son in me, that I might preach Him among the Gentiles, I did not immediately confer with flesh and blood.” Just as we’ve been learning that John was set apart before his birth, here we have the Apostle Paul telling us that he too was set apart, called by the grace of God. What a wonderful truth!
A conclusion such as the one that we’ve made in this lesson is sometimes difficult for our finite and human minds to rationalize. It may be easy to comprehend how God might call someone as special as John the Baptist or the Apostle Paul, but does He provide any less grace to those that accept Jesus as Savior? Certainly not! God is a just and fair God. He provides the same measure of grace to John and Paul that He does to us. Therefore, like them, we too were foreknown, predestined to conform to the likeness of Jesus, that we might receive His calling and be justified so that one day we too may be glorified. What a wonderful feeling to know that by God’s grace we were chosen by Him to fulfill His plans through us if we just have faith in His Son Jesus and trust in Him as Savior.