December 28, 2001

Why Did John Baptize?

Category: Bible - NT - John,Bible - NT - Mark,Bible - NT - Matthew :: Permalink

Today, I worked on a sermon on John 1:19-28. In that passage, Jerusalem sends a fact-finding committee to John the Baptizer to inquire about his identity and about his baptism. I’ve preached on this passage before, but this time I spent a lot of time thinking about the significance of John’s baptism. After all, the Pharisees don’t merely ask why John is baptizing. They ask why he’s baptizing since he’s not the Messiah or Elijah or the Prophet.

Joel‘s essay, “Baptism in Matthew and Mark,” was very helpful. Joel writes:

When John, Jesus, and the early church used water in ritual and symbolic actions, they did so within the already existent symbolic world of Judaism with its stories of floods and water-crossings, its rituals of washing and purification, and its prophecies of the outpoured Spirit and deserts made green.

He also shows the connection between the return from exile and John calling Israel to the wilderness, the Old Covenant washings, and the forgiveness of sins. Interestingly enough,

If John is calling Israel back to the wilderness, it can only be for a new exodus; but then Israel must now be living in bondage to new oppressors. Surprisingly, perhaps, these oppressors do not appear to be Rome in John’s mind, but the leadership of Israel herself. After all, what else could a washing of purification be, but a way of saying that Israel’s God was now offering through John’s ministry the purification and forgiveness that the Temple and other official rites had once promised?

Wonderful stuff! Thanks, Joel! And thanks, too, Bill, for reminding me of it. It was just what I was looking for.

Posted by John Barach @ 12:51 am | Discuss (0)

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