We are going to study about the life of the Lord, and in the verses we have today we learn also something of John the Baptist who was sent to prepare the way for the Lord. In times long before, the Lord had spoken to His people through the mouth of prophets, and had told them that He would come into the world as the Messiah and Savior. He also told them that someone would come to prepare the way for His coming. (Isaiah 40; Malachi 4)
Luke tells us about the fine old priest Zacharias. He tells how while Zacharias was burning incense in the temple - an office so holy that a priest could do it but once in his whole life - an angel of the Lord came to him and told him that a son would be born to him and his wife Elizabeth, who should go before the face of the Lord, and that his name should be called John. When the tidings seemed too great for Zacharias to believe, the angel gave him a sign: Zacharias was dumb until after the little boy was born in their home among the hills of Judea. (Luke 1) It was a wonderful time; for again the angel came, and now to Mary the cousin of Elisabeth, in Nazareth, and told her that a Child would be born to her, that His name should be called Jesus, and that He would be the Messiah, the Savior of the world.
Jesus grew up in Nazareth, learning to be a carpenter, and later perhaps taking His part as the oldest son in the care of the family. But besides this, He was getting Himself ready to do a greater work than any man had ever done. He was doing this by refusing to think one selfish, impure thought, or to do one unkind thing, thinking and doing only what He knew in His heart the Heavenly Father loved.
John must have been told what the angel had said his work was to be, and felt a wish burning in him to be strong and worthy to be the messenger to prepare the way for the Lord. He gave up all the pleasures of a happy home and went out to live in the wilderness, where his food was locusts and wild honey, and his clothing a garment woven of coarse camel's hair fastened at the waist with a strip of leather. There in the desert he was shown by the Heavenly Father that what he must do, and what all men must do, was to be truly sorry for the wrong they had done and were doing, and to pray the Heavenly Father to help them give it up. Then the word of God came to him in the wilderness and he went to the Jordan, strong and brave, calling all the people to come to him at the river, to repent of their wickedness, and as a sign that they would try and wash their lives of badness, to be baptized of him in the river Jordan. He told them also that a mightier One than he was coming soon. Great multitudes of people came from far and near to be baptized, and John told them each and all what they must do to make ready for the One that should come. But many of the Pharisees did not feel sorry for their evil lives, and only came to catch him in his speech, or from curiosity to see this strange man of the wilderness; and these never did repent and the Lord could not come near to them.
For some months the crowd kept coming to the beautiful river, and we can imagine them standing and sitting on the banks listening to the searching message of this half-clothed, earnest prophet of the desert; and ever as one was touched by his words he would confess his sins and go down into the water to be baptized. All this time John was eagerly looking for the Mightier than he; when, one day, among all the people whose faces showed the lines made by evil feelings, and in whose eyes burned the light of evil pleasures, came a Man from Nazareth with a face that had never once been moved by an evil feeling, and in whose eyes shone only infinite love and mercy. Then John knew that it was his Lord and Master. Speaking to Jesus he said, "I have need to be baptized of Thee, and comest Thou to me?" But Jesus said, "Suffer it to be so now; for thus it becometh us to fulfill all righteousness." (Matthew 3:14, 15) "And straightway coming up out of the water, He saw the heavens rent asunder, and the Spirit as a dove descending upon Him: and a voice came out of the heavens, Thou art My beloved Son, in Thee I am well pleased." (Mark 1:10, 11, Revised Version) John also saw the dove and heard the voice and knew surely that this was indeed the Lord.
John's work was nearly done. He had prepared the way, and the Lord had now come to fulfill the prophecy by showing and teaching the way of heavenly life to all who would repent. We must read the story as we find it in the Gospel.
If we stand here on the cliffs above Jericho we look down on a broad plain far below, and across to the eastern hills some ten miles away. The sunshine streams into this deep valley, and wherever there are brooks it is green. Off in the south shines the Dead Sea. Far out in the plain a line of dark green marks the course of the Jordan. We cross the sunny meadow, turning a little northward. As we come near the river we suddenly go down and are among the thicket of trees which border the stream. We find an open space where a stony beach slopes to the water, and where, perhaps, the stream is shallow enough to make a fording place. It is a little river, swift and muddy, as wide as a wide street, except when the melting snows of Mount Hermon send the water up among the trees. (Joshua 3:15)
In such a place we think of John, standing by the water's edge; a man of the deserts, beaten by the sun and weather, with uncut hair and coarse camel's-hair cloak. Many people came to see and hear him, from "Jerusalem, and all Judea, and all the region round about Jordan." Could this be the Messiah, whom they were hoping for to save them from their enemies? There were proud Pharisees in showy robes, there were soldiers, and tax-gatherers (publicans), and fishermen. To them all John spoke boldly: "Repent ye, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." And he told each one what he must do to be ready for the Lord. Many confessed their sins and were baptized. It was a sign that they resolved that their lives should be made clean. (Luke 3:7-18)
After others had been baptized, the Lord came from His home in Nazareth to John. Read reverently of the baptism, and of the dove and the voice from heaven. The dove was a sign by which John should know the Lord. (John 1:32, 33; Luke 3:21, 22)
When the Lord was on earth He had unhappy days. He never did what was not right and good, and never said what was not true; but there were days when all the unhappy feelings came to Him which come to us. There was such a time of trial soon after the Lord was baptized by John. You remember that was at the Jordan River. Here along the west side of the Jordan valley, behind where the city of Jericho used to stand, there are bare rocky cliffs and desert hills, a part of that same wilderness where John the Baptist lived as a young man. We may well believe that the Lord in His unhappiness turned aside among these bare and lonely hills. For many years people have believed that He did so, and feeling that it was a holy place they have come here to this barren cliff, and have lived alone in its rocky caves.
But where do unhappy times come from? Do angels bring them to us? No; evil spirits make us unhappy and try to make us do wrong. The angels try to help us to do right, and to make us happy. It was so with the Lord; only the evil spirits tried much harder to make Him do wrong. When the evil spirits came near with these wrong and unhappy thoughts, what did the Lord do to drive them away? He said the words of the Bible which tell us that these things are wrong; and there was a power in them which bad thoughts and feelings and bad spirits could not stand; they must go away. The angels love those words; they came near and comforted the Lord.
This is what we must do when we are unhappy and when wrong thoughts and feelings come to us. We must remember the Commandment which says, Thou shalt not do this wrong thing. We must remember and say to ourselves the Lord's Prayer, and other verses that we have learned. We must find our Bible and read. If we do so, the bad feelings and, the bad spirits will leave us, and the angels will come near. Say the Commandments and the Prayer, and ask the Lord to help you; and soon the unhappiness will go away. Remember this and try it the next day that you are unhappy and things go wrong.
1. Who came as a messenger before the Lord? By what prophets had he been promised?
2. What did John preach? What else did he do?
3. When the Lord was baptized what was seen? What words were heard?
4. Where was the Lord tempted? Who ministered unto Him?
Why was baptism the sign to accompany John's preaching of repentance? It was a natural washing, and repentance is a spiritual washing. It pictured the deeper work. (E. 475, 724; T. 690)
Was there a reason for John's baptizing in the Jordan rather than in some other stream? The land of Canaan stands for a heavenly state of life. The Jordan was the gate of entrance to that land, and represents the Divine truth of right and wrong which introduces one into a heavenly life. (Revelation 22:14) We wash in the Jordan when we make life right not by any worldly standard but by the rule of the Lord's commandments. It was such cleansing of the life that John taught and his baptism represented. (A. 4255) Remember Naaman's washing in this stream.
Why was the Lord baptized? Did He in all His life do any wrong? Had He any need to repent? (John 8 : 46 ; Hebrews 4:15) The Lord did no wrong, but He felt in His human nature all the tendencies to wrong which men feel. He needed to judge all these by the rule of the Commandments and with the most patient effort to put them away. This was His repentance, which His baptism represented. (Luke 12:50; A. 10239)
After we repent of wrong we are more open to heavenly influence, and we receive innocent affections from the Lord. Perfect innocence and love existed all the while in the inmost heart of the Lord, but the bringing out and down into the plane of natural human life was a gradual work. After every repentance something more of perfect innocence came down to earth. This was represented by the opening of the heavens to Him after His baptism and the descent of the Holy Spirit as a dove upon Him. It was the sign by which John knew the Lord, for the Divine innocence in His human life is what distinguishes Him from other men. (T. 144)
"And lo, a voice from heaven, saying, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased." The Divine love which dwelt inmostly in the Lord was forming a Divine Human nature in which to live immediately with men. The voice from heaven expresses the Divine satisfaction in this new means of reaching men as with each step of repentance the perfect love was received and expressed more fully. (L. 19)
Do you remember another story of a wilderness experience with which the number forty is associated? In this story of the Lord's temptation, what does the wilderness represent? The state of inward barrenness, with little fruitfulness or satisfaction. "Satan" is the name which stands for falsity and evil spirits who are especially in falsity, as "devil" stands for evil and spirits who are in evil. In our story "the wild beasts" also represent all evil feelings and the evil spirits of hell which beset the Lord in His times of temptation. The angels who ministered unto Him mean also the Divine truths in which He found strength. (H. 544; E. 650; T. 123)