Today, as we read John 1:6–8 and 19–28, we can connect the message of John the Baptist to God’s presence among the Israelites wandering in the wilderness prior to entering the Promised Land. John, Christ’s herald, is not himself the light, but he will eventually baptize the light, Jesus. This begins Jesus’ ministry, at the end of which, He will die and rise again to open the gates of heaven.
Scripture Interprets Scripture
Note that John is baptizing in Bethany, but not the one near Jerusalem. John’s Bethany is east of the Jordan River. Remember also that Joshua led the people across the Jordan into the Promised Land, carrying the Ark of the Covenant, the place where the Lord was present with the Israelites. Just as crossing the Jordan marked the Israelite’s entry into the open Promised Land, John’s baptizing on the east side of the Jordan inaugurates the redemption of sinners, the opening of heaven to those wandering in sin and death. God, previously present in the Ark, is now present in the flesh—still bringing sinners into heaven’s Promised Land, but now through the waters of Holy Baptism rather than across the Jordan River.
The Lord expands this point through the prophet Isaiah, “A voice cries: ‘In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord; make straight in the desert a highway for our God’ ” (Isaiah 40:3). This mandate pertains to manifesting a penitent heart, as Paul writes in this weekend’s epistle reading, “abstain from every form of evil” (1 Thessalonians 5:22). To the extent we that we embrace sin or fail to repent, we make crooked the way of the Lord. But Jesus makes straight the way for God to have a peaceful fellowship with sinners through His incarnation, suffering, death, and resurrection.
Digging Out the Gems
In this weekend’s Epistle Reading, 1 Thessalonians 5:16–24, Paul writes, “do not quench the Spirit” (v. 19), rendered in Greek as “τὸ πνεῦμα μὴ σβέννυτε”. The Greek for quench is “σβέννυτε.” This word is also used in a couple of other passages that serve to illuminate its use in Paul’s letter. In Matthew 25:1–13, the parable of the ten virgins, the foolish virgins beg of the wise, “Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.” Here, “going out” is the same Greek word. To quench the Spirit is to bring the fire of the Spirit to an end. Paul uses the word in an active sense to show that disobedience to the Lord erodes the faith in Christ given by the Holy Spirit. Jesus uses the same word in a passive sense in His parable, reminding us that the oil of faith is sustained by the Means of Grace—Word and Sacrament. The foolish virgins represent those who abandon worship, Bible study, Holy Baptism, and Holy Communion. The Holy Spirit is always working, the but the believer who neglects the Means of Grace will not receive the Spirit, with the ultimate result being a lack of faith in Christ when Jesus, the Bridegroom returns.
Law and Gospel
Notice that when the priests and Levites ask John the Baptist if he is the Christ, Elijah, or the Prophet, John instead connects himself to the words of Isaiah 40:3. These religious experts, sent by the Jews, should have known what John was referring to. Connecting this passage to modern life, who or what do unbelievers, and even Christians, look to during Advent instead of our Savior, just as the Jews looked to John instead of Jesus? The low-hanging fruit is Santa Claus. Not to say that Christians believe in Santa Claus—yet are the saints more apt to bring their children to Sunday School or to sit on Santa’s lap? And when the world does look to Jesus, do they see Him as a great example, teacher, and even miracle worker, or do they endeavor to make straight the path in their hearts for the Savior, Jesus Christ?
The Book of John bears a comforting witness to Jesus Christ as the light. Jesus Christ illuminates a sin-darkened world. The Son of God’s incarnation breeches the blackness of a lost world. John the Baptist correctly exalts Jesus; He is God almighty, who will shed His kingly blood to redeem sinners. Our great consolation is that while we, like John the Baptist, are not worthy to untie Jesus’ sandals, the Son of God lowered Himself to wash the feet of the disciples instead, making Himself a servant.
To continue learning about the Book of John, order the Concordia Commentary on John 1:1–7:1 below.