Last week when I was watching the Gospel of John, these verses jumped out at me. And John bore witness, saying, “I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and He remained upon Him. I did not know Him, but He who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘Upon whom you see the Spirit descending, and remaining on Him, this is He who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ ”
I thought of Jesus’ question for the religious leaders regarding John’s baptism. “The baptism of John–where was it from? From heaven or from men?” And they reasoned among themselves, saying, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ He will say to us, ‘Why then did you not believe him?’ “But if we say, ‘From men,’ we fear the multitude, for all count John as a prophet.” Stumped, they told Jesus that they did not know.
This exchange began when Jesus returned to the temple to teach and the chief priests and elders confronted Him. They questioned His authority. Instead of answering their question, He asked another question. When they couldn’t answer, He replied, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things.”
John’s baptism came from the same place as Jesus’ authority–God. The religious leaders failed to listen to John the Baptist. They were upset when the children cried out in the temple and saying, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” after Jesus healed the blind and the lame. They were indignant. Their behavior proved Jesus right when He called them hypocrites. They were more upset over the children’s praises of Jesus than what had been going on in the temple. They should have been as outraged as Jesus over the buying and selling of animals for sacrifice. They begrudged Jesus for the good He was doing.
As they reasoned among themselves about John’s baptism, they were more concerned about what the multitude would think. It would have been better to say that John’s baptism came from heaven and acknowledge that they had not believed John’s testimony which he bore to Jesus, as the promised and expected Messiah?” for that was the burden of John’s whole testimony. Instead they feared the people. These were not god-fearing men. They cared more about what the people thought. They were people pleasers not God pleasers. As one Bible commentator rightly put it: Evidently their difficulty was, how to answer, so as neither to shake their determination to reject the claims of Christ nor damage their reputation with the people. For the truth itself they cared nothing whatever.
The baptism question proved that these religious leaders were in no position to question Jesus’ authority.
I was wondering what the Pharisees and scribes did when John the Baptist was saying, “Brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Therefore bear fruits worthy of repentance, and do not think to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I say to you that God is able to raise up children to Abraham from these stones” (Matthew 3:8, 9). In Luke’s account the people when they heard this message started asking what they could do. This was evidence of true repentance. Even the tax collectors and the soldiers asked John, “what shall we do?” (Luke 3:10-14). What would have John said if the Pharisees and scribes have asked the same question, “what shall we do?”
John’s baptism was one of repentance and I don’t think the religious leaders felt that they had anything to repent of. That’s why they didn’t ask what they should do. They felt that being Abraham’s children was enough. John’s baptism was to prepare the people for the coming Messiah. People were to confess their sins and do something to demonstrate their repentance. Before he baptized them, he called for them to “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” The people flocked to him and were then were baptized by him in the Jordan, confessing their sins.
One Bible commentator noted, “This baptism was at once a public seal of their felt need of deliverance from sin, of their expectation of the coming Deliverer, and of their readiness to welcome Him when He appeared. The baptism itself startled, and was intended to startle, them. They were familiar enough with the baptism of proselytes from heathenism; but this baptism of Jews themselves was quite new and strange to them.”
It is interesting that John the Baptist asked the Pharisees and Scribes what brought them there to the river. Perhaps, as a Bible Commentary suggests, he suspected that their motives were not to do with spiritual matters but curiosity. They were there to see what was going on. It’s like when they went to see Jesus. They didn’t go there to learn anything but to find faults with what He said. Even as they asked questions, flattering Him with their lips in some instances, their hearts were far from Him. Unlike the people, they did not prepare themselves for the coming Messiah.
John’s baptism was from heaven. He was the messenger whom God sent to prepare the way of the Lord. His entire ministry was to point the people to the Lamb whom God sent to take away the sins of the world. He succeeded in getting the people excited and expectant about the Messiah to the point where everybody reasoned and questioned in their hearts concerning John, whether he perhaps might be the Christ (the Messiah, the Anointed One).
Has God pointed out a sin you have in your life? What are you doing about it? Are you asking Him, “What shall I do?” or do you think to yourself, I’m a child of God and I am under His grace? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound? Shall we sin, because we are not under the law, but under grace? God forbid.