In those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the wilderness of Judea and saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” Matthew 3:1
What was the message and ministry of John the Baptist?
We know he was the forerunner, sent to prepare the way for the coming of the Lord. That was his purpose. What was his message?
“And so John came, baptizing in the desert region and preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” Mark 1:4
John was a prophet and an evangelist. His ministry was preaching and baptizing. Those who repented for the forgiveness of their sins were baptized.
And just how large was John’s ministry?
“The whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem went out to him. Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River.” Mark 1:5
It appears John the Baptist could have had a ministry that reached thousands. Many thought he was the Messiah, but he flatly denied it, stating “I am not the Christ!”
Where was John’s ministry centered? There is some speculation that the “Bethany beyond the Jordan” where John baptized was just southeast of Galilee rather than the traditional location just north of the Dead Sea. Matthew 3:1 refers to John preaching in the “wilderness of Judea” and Mark 1:4 speaks of John baptizing in the “desert region.” These references, along with the fact that “the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem went out to him” bolster the argument for the traditional location. John 3:23 refers to John now baptizing at Aenon near Salim “because there was plenty of water.” This reference, along with John’s disciples being from the Galilee region, bolster the argument for the alternate location.
I would lean toward the traditional location. It seems more likely that John’s ministry would be closer to Jerusalem if it reached “the whole Judean countryside and all of Jerusalem.” It seems more likely that Andrew, Peter, James, John, Philip and Nathanael would travel to Judea to see John the Baptist (a journey they were accustomed to making for festivals at the temple) than that the people of Jerusalem would travel up near Galilee. So it seems that John’s ministry begins around Jerusalem, the center of Judaism, and moves north to Galilee as John’s ministry decreases. He is eventually imprisoned and beheaded in the Galilee region.
Interestingly, Jesus ministry begins and is centered around Galilee, and eventually moves south toward its culmination in Jerusalem.
“He must become greater. I must become less.”
But what was John’s message?
“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near!”
“Repentance for the forgiveness of sins!”
John’s message was one of repentance. Wake up! Come to your senses! Recognize your sin. Confess it to God.
The word “repent” can be confusing. Does it mean to “feel sorry” for sin? As the Spirit of God convicts us of our sin, there will be a natural sorrow or regret we feel, but repentance isn’t a feeling. It’s an action. Does it mean to “stop sinning” and change our ways? As the Spirit of God convicts us, there should be a natural desire to stop sinning, but repentance isn’t the removal of sin from our life.
So what is repentance? The word simply means “to change one’s mind.” What do we change our mind about when we repent?
We change our mind about our sin. We admit our sin to God. We confess it. We call it what it is. We recognize that it’s an offense to a holy God.
We change our mind about self. We recognize that we are powerless to fix our sin problem on our own. We need God’s help. We need God’s grace. We need a Savior.
We change our mind about the Savior. We recognize that Jesus is the sinless Son of God sent into the world to die on the cross in our place, paying the price for our sins, so that we can be forgiven.
John the Baptist preached that “heaven came near” in Jesus and that forgiveness could be found through “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” John 1:30
And how was this forgiveness found? Through repentance, an act of faith whereby one confesses their sin and trusts God for forgiveness.
John’s message was simple and clear. I want my message to be the same!
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