The Baptism of John


The Baptism of John

April 6th, 1971 @ 12:00 PM

In those days came John the Baptist, preaching in the wilderness of Judaea, And saying, Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand. For this is he that was spoken of by the prophet Esaias, saying, The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. And the same John had his raiment of camel's hair, and a leathern girdle about his loins; and his meat was locusts and wild honey. Then went out to him Jerusalem, and all Judaea, and all the region round about Jordan, And were baptized of him in Jordan, confessing their sins.
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Dr. W. A. Criswell

Matthew 3:1-6

4-06-71     12:00 p.m.


The theme of the services for this year is “God’s Witnesses to the World.”  Yesterday it was The Fire of Elijah; tomorrow, The Preaching of Simon Peter; the next day, The Tears of Paul; the last day, Friday’s day, The Blood of Christ; and today, The Baptism of John.

In those days came John the Baptist, preaching in the wilderness of Judea,

And saying, Repent ye:  for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.

This is he that was spoken of by the prophet Isaiah, saying, The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make His paths straight.

And the same John had his raiment of camel’s hair, and a leathern girdle about his loins; and his meat, his food, was locusts and wild honey.

Then went out to him Jerusalem, and all Judea, and all the region round about Jordan,

And were baptized of him in the Jordan, confessing their sins.

[Matthew 3:1-6]

It would be very difficult for us today to enter into the electric, unbelievable quickening that swept over the nation of Israel when John the Baptist appeared.  For over four hundred years there had been no prophet, there had been no seer, there had been no voice from God.  And the people in servitude and captivity under the iron heel of Rome were waiting for the day when the King Messiah should appear.  As I say, it is hard for us to enter into that marvelous national reaction when the word was spread abroad that God had intervened in behalf of His people.  This John appeared as suddenly as Elijah, his prototype.  He was a man of the wilderness [Matthew 3:1].  His food was locusts, roasted grasshoppers, and wild honey [Matthew 3:4]; a man above patronage and obligation.  And as suddenly as Elijah the Tishbite appeared [1 Kings 17:1], just so suddenly did John—out of nowhere, out of the wilderness, there he stood—voicing the message of God.  And the message was the glorious announcement, “The kingdom of heaven is at hand,” and the King is here; the Lord Messiah, the promised Ruler of the ages [Matthew 3:2-3; John 1:29]; Israel’s own firstborn Son.

But he had a rite; he had a ritual that accompanied his message that was strange and unusual.  For the people who would respond, who in repentance would prepare themselves for the coming of the great King, he took the converts and he washed them in the Jordan River [Matthew 3:11; John 1:25-33].  It was an amazing thing!  Now the Jewish people had many baptisms; they had many washings.  They’d wash their feet, ritually; they’d wash their hands, they’d wash their head, they would wash their whole bodies; they would baptize themselves all over.  They’d even wash their pots and baptize their pans.  But they always did it themselves; the man bathed his own hands, he washed his own feet, or a servant did it if he entered the house.  Or he would cleanse himself in preparation for some festal occasion [Ruth 3:3; 2 Samuel 12:20].  But the first time the world ever saw a man take another man and wash him, bathe him, baptize him, was when John did it in the Jordan River [Matthew 3:1-5].  So unusual was that, that almost from the beginning they call him Ioánnes ho Baptistés.  There were as many “Johns” in that day as there are “Johns” today; but this John administered that amazing and startling and unusual rite of washing his candidates.  So they called him, Ioánnes, John, the one who baptizes, Ioánnes ho Baptistés.  Now, when news came—of what this prophet was doing down there in the Jordan River—up to the ears of the Sanhedrin and the doctors of the law and the Pharisees and the Sadducees, the rulers of the temple in Jerusalem, they sent an official committee down there to the Jordan River to interview the Baptist preacher [John 1:19-20].  And they asked him, “Are you Elijah?  You look like him, you sound like him.  Are you Elijah?”

“No,” he said, “I am not” [John 1:21].

“Well, are you that Prophet?  The one Moses promised?” [Deuteronomy 18:15].

“No,” he answered, “I am not” [John 1:21].

“Well, then are you the Christ, the Messiah, the promised Son of Israel?”

“No,” he said, “I am not” [John 1:20].

Then they said, “By what prerogative and by what right,” r-i-g-h-t, “by what right do you introduce this new ritual?” [John 1:25].

And John the Baptist replied, “God sent me with the message, and with the ordinance; it came from heaven,” the baptism of John [John 1:26-33].

Nor was any prophet more utterly and ultimately rejected than John the Baptist.  Why? For two reasons: one and first, and most dramatically so, that bold preacher—standing with a throat of brass and lips of iron—that man of God had no sycophantic respect for persons at all.  The Sadducees, the Pharisees, the doctors of the law, the king, the queen, the princess; to him they were all alike, sinners who needed to repent and to get ready for the coming of the great King [Matthew 3:2-3; Luke 3:7].  Ah!  That wilderness man, beholden to no one, obligated to nobody but God.  There is an interesting verse here in the third chapter of Luke, “And the people were in expectation, electrified, and all men considered in their hearts the prophet John” [Luke 3:15].  All men.  Well, I can just listen to them, I can just hear them.

One would say to the other on the streets of Jerusalem, “Have you heard the new preacher?”

And he says, “Yes.”

“I mean the one dressed in camel’s hair and girded about with a leathern girdle.  Have you heard him?”


“What do you think about him?”

“Oh,” his reply, “It is startling to listen.  Why, why, I heard him call the Sadducees and the Pharisees a brood of vipers and a generation of serpents” [Matthew 3:7].

“What?  What do you mean?  He called them that to their faces?”

“Yes, he called them serpents, and vipers, and adders to their faces!” Ah!

And another:  “Have you heard the Baptist preacher?”

“Yes, yes.”

“I mean the one down there on the Jordan River.”


“What do you think of him?”

“I don’t know what to think of him, I don’t know what to think of him.  His words are like razors, they are like knives, they’re like daggers, they cut.  Why, I heard him say that the axe is laid at the foot of the tree, and any tree that bringeth not forth good fruit shall be cut down and cast into the fire” [Matthew 3:10].

“Oh, oh!”

“Have you heard that preacher down there in the wilderness of Judea?”


“I mean the one down there baptizing those converts, getting ready for the great King.  Have you heard him?”


“What do you think of him?”

“Oh, oh!  How stern and how august; why, I heard him say that when the Messiah comes He will gather the chaff and burn it up with unquenchable fire [Matthew 3:12].  Oh, oh!”

And as the days passed, “Have you heard?  Have you heard?  Why, that John the Baptist stood in the presence of Herod Antipas and Herodias, and he said to the king himself, ‘It is not right for you to have your brother’s wife’” [Matthew 14:3-4; Mark 6:14].

“His brother’s wife?  What do you mean his brother’s wife?”

“Why, don’t you know, when Herod Antipas was in Rome he had a brother, he has a brother who is a private man, living quietly, secludedly, seclusively, in Rome.  And he persuaded his brother’s wife, Herodias, to come and to be with him.  Did you know that?”

“No, I didn’t realize that.”

“Well, he did, and John the Baptist stood in the court itself and said, ‘It’s not right for you to have your brother’s wife.’  Oh, he told the king that, he told the king!”

And the day passed.  “Have you heard?”

“No, what?”

“Did you know they slew the great preacher?  And he lies in a pool of his own blood” [Matthew 14:10-11; Mark 6:21-28]—so utterly did they reject the message of John the Baptist.

First, there was no sycophantic respecter of persons [Matthew 3:7; Luke 3:7].  I’ve been a pastor forty-four years, and the strangest thing I have ever observed in human life is this:  that there are some people of wealth, of prestige, of political preferment, of gifts, who will come to church to add luster to God’s altar, to compliment the preacher, to confer a so-called benefit, as though we were not all sinners alike in the presence of the Great High God.  And they repudiated him utterly, ultimately, completely.

Second, why was the ministry of the Baptist rejected by the nation?  Second: because he threw everyone outside of the pale and the covenant of the kingdom of heaven [Matthew 3:10-12].  “Oh!” said the Sadducees, “Oh!” said the Pharisees, “Oh!” said the doctors of the law, “We have Abraham to our father” [Matthew 3:9], and we don’t need to repent.  We don’t need to confess our sins, look who we are: the elite and the nobility of the kingdom of God already!  And you ask us to humble ourselves and to confess our sins and to be baptized?  No!”

And that is very explicitly said, listen to how God writes it in the Book:

And all the people that heard John the Baptist, the publicans, and the harlots, justified God, praised God, and were baptized of John in the Jordan River.

But the next stanza:

But the Pharisees and the Sadducees and the lawyers rejected the counsel of God against themselves, and refused to be baptized.

[Luke 7:29-30]

“We refuse to bow.  We are God’s special children!”  And when John the Baptist said, “God could raise from these stones children to Abraham” [Matthew 3:9], they were the more offended.  “Look at us!”  Oh, dear!  When the proud man—proud in his own righteousness, proud in his own endowments, proud in his own success, full of self-esteem—refuses to bow before the great God; oh! Oh!

Do you remember reading of such a man in the fifth chapter of 2 Kings in the Old Testament?  You remember him?  His name was Naaman, a great general, chief of staff of the army of the king of Syria, a mighty man.  But, he was a leper [2 Kings 5:1].  And upon a day, a little maid that they had captured out of Israel said to her mistress, “Would God that the great mighty man were in Israel, for there is a prophet there that could heal him of his leprosy” [2 Kings 5:2-3].

So when it came to the ears of the king of Syria, he gathered together millions of dollars of gold, and thousands of dollars of silver and sent Naaman with his horses, and his chariots, and his retinue, and his guard to Israel to be healed of his leprosy [2 Kings 5:4-5].  And when the great man came before the court of the king of Israel and the king read the letter—“Here,” said the Syrian monarch, “I have sent you Naaman, the captain of my host, that you heal him of his leprosy”—the king of Israel rent his clothes and said, “This is a declaration of war, it means battle!” [2 Kings 5:6-7].

It came to the ears of Elisha, the man of God.  And Elisha sent word to the king of Israel and said, “Send him to me” [2 Kings 5:8].  So Naaman, the captain of the host of the king of Syria, came before the house of Elisha with his horses, with his chargers, with his chariots, with his gold and his silver, with his retinue and his guards, and he sent word in that “Naaman, the mighty Naaman, the conqueror of the whole world, is here!” [2 Kings 5:9].  Elisha did not even deign to walk out the door to look at him; but he called a messenger and sent him to the great general and said, “You go down to the muddy Jordan and baptize yourself seven times”—that’s the original Greek of it, the Septuagint—“Dip yourself seven times, and your flesh will come again like to the flesh of a little child, and you will be clean” [2 Kings 5:10].

And Naaman was wrathful and angry! [2 Kings 5:11]. “Who does he think I am, some ordinary suppliant, some ordinary sinner, some ordinary leper?  I am Naaman, captain of the host of the king of Syria!  And I have come here with my gold, and my silver, and my guards, and my retinue, and I am standing here!  At least,” said Naaman, “he could have come outside and dramatically called upon the name of his God and struck the place where the leprosy is [2 Kings 5:11].  And as for going down there to that muddy Jordan, are not Abana and Pharpar” [2 Kings 5:12]—have you seen those rivers? They are clear as crystal!—“are not Abana and Pharpar, rivers of Damascus better than all the waters of Israel?  May I not wash in them and be clean?”  And he turned, and went away in a rage [2 Kings 5:12].  His pride had been insulted and affronted.

While he was driving back to Damascus, a leper—proud leper, unbending leper, unconfessing leper—one of his servants came and put his hand on his arm and said, “My father, my father, if that prophet had told you what a great man you are, ‘Conquer the Sabatians and you will be clean,’ wouldn’t you have sought to conquer the Sabatians?  If he had told you to take that vast gold and silver treasure and hoard and build a temple, wouldn’t you have done it?  If he told you to do some great and mighty thing, wouldn’t you have done it?  How much rather then, when the prophet says, ‘Bow, go down and in that muddy Jordan, wash, and be clean’” [2 Kings 5:13].

And Naaman pulled up his charger, “Woah, woah, woah!” and he swung his chariot around, and went down to the muddy Jordan, dipped himself one time, and twice, five times, and six; and when he dipped himself the seventh time, he looked, he looked! His flesh had come again, like unto the flesh of a little child, and he was clean.  He was clean! He was clean! [2 Kings 5:14].

Why would a man in pride and obstinacy choose to be lost rather than to bow in the presence of the High God and be saved?  Look and live! [John 3:14-15; Numbers 21:8-9]  Believe and be saved! [Acts 16:30-31]. Wash and be clean! [Revelation 7:14; 2 Kings 5:10].

And our Master—oh!  that the spirit of humility and confession would overwhelm us in our deepest souls as we come into the presence of the great King [Romans 10:9-10].  We who are made out of dust and ashes, in mercy, Lord, in saving favor [Titus 3:5], in forgiveness of sin, look upon us, wash us, and make us clean [Revelation 1:5].  In Thy precious name, amen.