Tuesday, December 12, 2023

Sermon Addendum: John the Baptizer

This past Sunday's sermon was focused on John the Baptist, or as the NET translates his tag: John the Baptizer. There could be several volumes written about John, even without trying to fill in details with some imagination. Historical fiction works could get really crazy with developing a hold plotline around his life, because there is so little narrative material around him.

What we do have are some Old Testament prophecies about God sending a "messenger" ahead of the Messiah, then the short moments shown in the Gospels. Those promises seem vague, as they occur sporadically across the Old Testament prophetic material--and that only if you count Exodus as being prophetic material! 

One of the passages, Malachi 3, that is seen as a promise of a forerunner to the coming Messiah is kind of interesting in its translation: the phrase "my messenger" can also be translated as a name, and that name is "Malachi." So the promise that Malachi reports is the promise that God will send..."Malachi." 

And yes, I do think the Lord Almighty does pun occasionally for the fun of it. You may not think so, but that's between you and Him.

What we do know is that the time of Malachi is 400 years, roughly, before the time of John. Isaiah is about 700 years, and the Exodus is around 1400 years prior to the time of John. That's a long time to wait. And yet wait, the people did. Some of them did not wait well--they jumped into this, that, or the other. Some folks came along claiming to be the promised messenger, claiming to be Elijah returned--but none of them were. In truth, no one really held John to hold that role until Jesus clarified that in Matthew 11.

Is there a lesson there? Yes. Do what God puts in front of you, and let God define who you are. That's not the easiest piece of advice to follow, but it is valuable to consider.

A side note about the promised return of Elijah: it is promised in Malachi 4, but that is the only location. Further, it should not be taken as any sort of odd one-off moment in the Bible suggesting reincarnation. Instead, remember that Elijah is recorded as being taken away behind a chariot of fire (reread 2 Kings 2, Elijah goes in a windstorm, the fiery chariot is what separates Elijah and Elisha), so he is considered to have not actually died. The idea was that he would return, not be reborn. Reincarnation never shows up in the Bible.

Now, other tidbits on John the Baptizer: well, let's take the "Baptizer" in translation vs. the traditional "Baptist." What's the difference? The latter reads like an identity group: we have churches that are labeled "Baptist," we talk about "I'm a Baptist," and so forth. "Baptizer," though, reads like an action that someone participates in: John is one who is known for baptizing, not one who joined a Baptist group. After all, there are many who are members of a Baptist group that have never baptized someone. (Or consider "Baptist Hospital" which does not, in fact, baptize people.)

As a lifelong credo-baptist, one who believes that the religious action of baptism involves completely immersing a willing believer, I will lose some Baptist Points for this, but honesty compels me to admit that, at times, the Greek word which becomes "baptize" refers to ceremonial washing of various sorts, so pouring water over the head of an individual or other methods may be involved. Still, I think the full-body dunk is the best approach.

One last note on the whole shebang: we see Mark 1 reflect that the Biblical authors were often not as careful with their citations as we would like in our setting. Mark compresses three different verses and authors to make the quote he ascribes to Isaiah. Is that wrong? No, it would have been well-understood by his original audience. Those of us with Logos Bible Software may like more precision, but we have digital search functions to keep it all straight. 

That's some add-on thoughts for the sermon!

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