Confessions of a Questioning Christian

Posts Tagged ‘John the Baptist

The Death of John the Baptist

1 At that time Herod the tetrarch heard about the fame of Jesus, 2 and he said to his servants, “This is John the Baptist. He has been raised from the dead; that is why these miraculous powers are at work in him.” 3 For Herod had seized John and bound him and put him in prison for the sake of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife,[a] 4 because John had been saying to him, “It is not lawful for you to have her.” 5 And though he wanted to put him to death, he feared the people, because they held him to be a prophet. 6 But when Herod’s birthday came, the daughter of Herodias danced before the company and pleased Herod, 7 so that he promised with an oath to give her whatever she might ask. 8 Prompted by her mother, she said, “Give me the head of John the Baptist here on a platter.” 9 And the king was sorry, but because of his oaths and his guests he commanded it to be given. 10 He sent and had John beheaded in the prison, 11 and his head was brought on a platter and given to the girl, and she brought it to her mother. 12 And his disciples came and took the body and buried it, and they went and told Jesus.

So both the Bible and Josephus give reasons for why Herod put John in jail. One was because John called Herod out on his incestuous marriage; another reason was that the old fear of the Jewish Messiah showing up and rebelling against him seized him with fear.

Quick side note: growing up, my parents always asked my brother and I what we learned in Sunday School after church. I was a serious goody-two-shoes and usually articulated not only what I learned, but what the teacher had gotten wrong. My brother, on the other hand, usually had one line replies that generally matched the little subtitles of a chapter: “Jesus fed the five thousand,” or “Jesus healed some people.”

For about a month one year, my brother came back every week saying “John the Baptist got his head cut off.” The first two weeks that happened, my parents nodded and moved on. But after the third and fourth time, my mom started to suspect something was up. I mean, who teaches third graders about John the Baptist getting his head cut off for over a month? After the fifth week, my mom called my brother’s Sunday School teacher and asked what as up. The answer? She HAD taught that lesson – five weeks ago. That was the last time my brother had come to Sunday School.

The sixth week my mom surreptitiously followed my brother after church to see where he was heading off to instead of Sunday School. Our church is located out in the country, and there is a separate building called The Annex where many of the children have Sunday School classes. My brother headed off to The Annex, as he should have. However, instead of going in, he walked to the soda machine that stood on the porch. He looked around, popped his offering money into the machine, retrieved a can of soda, and squeezed between the back of the machine and the outer wal of the building. He sat there nursing the soda in solitude until his friends came back outside forty minutes later.

On the way home, my mom asked my brother what he learned that day. “John the Baptist got his head cut off,” he replied, looking out the window. My mom confronted my brother, who quickly burst into tears. I guess he had been so traumatized by John getting his head cut off that he has resolved not to go back. My mom told him that John was in heaven now, and his Sunday School class hadn’t talked about John for over a month. My dad had to walk my brother to class the next week.

Jesus Feeds the Five Thousand

13 Now when Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a desolate place by himself. But when the crowds heard it, they followed him on foot from the towns. 14 When he went ashore he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them and healed their sick. 15 Now when it was evening, the disciples came to him and said, “This is a desolate place, and the day is now over; send the crowds away to go into the villages and buy food for themselves.” 16 But Jesus said, “They need not go away; you give them something to eat.” 17 They said to him, “We have only five loaves here and two fish.” 18 And he said, “Bring them here to me.” 19 Then he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass, and taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven and said a blessing. Then he broke the loaves and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. 20 And they all ate and were satisfied. And they took up twelve baskets full of the broken pieces left over. 21 And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children.

Even when Jesus is sad, he has space in his heart to take care of others. I want to be more like that.

Jesus Walks on the Water

22 Immediately he made the disciples get into the boat and go before him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. 23 And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up on the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, 24 but the boat by this time was a long way[b] from the land,[c] beaten by the waves, for the wind was against them. 25 And in the fourth watch of the night he came to them, walking on the sea. 26 But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, and said, “It is a ghost!” and they cried out in fear. 27 But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.” 28 And Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” 29 He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus. 30 But when he saw the wind,[d] he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, “Lord, save me.” 31 Jesus immediately reached out his hand and took hold of him, saying to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” 32 And when they got into the boat, the wind ceased. 33 And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”

I’m sure it won’t surprise you that my brother loved this story. I also did. I spent at least a few minutes every summer at church camp trying to summon the faith to walk on the water. I guess I failed. I want to tell you that I think the disciples are being stupid again, but if I was in a choppy sea in the middle of the night and a figure was coming toward me on the water, I think I’d flip out, too. I’m glad Jesus doesn’t yell at them for that – he’s pretty kind. It’s not until Peter loses his faith right there in front of Jesus that Jesus scolds him.

Jesus Heals the Sick in Gennesaret

34 And when they had crossed over, they came to land at Gennesaret. 35 And when the men of that place recognized him, they sent around to all that region and brought to him all who were sick 36 and implored him that they might only touch the fringe of his garment. And as many as touched it were made well.

Jesus  is so cool.


Matthew 11

Posted on: February 9, 2012

Wait a second, why is John suddenly unsure? Wasn’t he the one who tried to refuse to baptize Jesus because he knew who he was? That’s confusing to me.

Verse 12: From the days of John the Baptist? So, like a couple of years ago? Until now?

Verse 17: Love it. Don’t we all know people who keep saying they need to see XYZ for them to believe something – then when it’s there, they still don’t respond?

Verse 19: Sure enough!

Verses 28-29: I’ve always found those last couple of verses very comforting.

Verse 30: Why is it that sometimes he’s all, “Following me is going to SUCK!” and then other times he’s like, “Being one of my followers is going to bring you so much comfort”?

Lingering Questions:

  • Did John the Baptist get hit on the head and lose his memory? Why did he seem to recognize Jesus before, and now suddenly be filled with doubt?

Matthew 3

Posted on: January 31, 2012

Enter John the Baptist! Someday I’ll tell you all about how John the Baptist caused my brother to hide behind a vintage soda machine for a month.

I have two thoughts about John the Baptist: 1) This guy is crazy and reminds me of the creepy people who used to come to my college campus, stand at every corner, and hold signs up saying we were going to hell if we didn’t repent, and 2) How did he become this powerful, radical person? He seems to be an outsider to the norm as far as whatever Judaism was at the time. Enough that people were coming out of the woodwork to see him. What’s his deal?

John was somewhat reclusive. Jesus once said: “John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, He has a demon” (Mt. 11:18). “Eating and drinking” stood for socializing. The prophet was not a party-goer. His ascetic life-style appeared almost demonic, like those possessed of evil spirits who apparently frequented the desolate areas (cf. Mk. 5:2-3). He did not seek out the multitudes; rather, somehow, he attracted them.

The citizenry of Jerusalem and all Judea went out unto him as he moved about in the Jordan Valley (Mt. 3:5; cf. 13; Jn. 1:28; 3:23). The imperfect tense verb, rendered “went out” (Mt. 3:5), suggests a stream of auditors gravitating to the rough prophet. His influence was phenomenal. Hundreds, if not thousands, were immersed by him. And his success was solely in the message he proclaimed.

The multitudes said that he performed no “sign,” though they regarded his message concerning Christ as true (Jn. 10:41). This passage appears to indicate that John did not perform demonstrative miracles, as Jesus and the apostles did (cf. Mt. 10:1ff). It is certainly the case, however, that his message was from God, and thus infallibly true. The power of John’s preaching, together with the void in Israel’s hearts, was a winning combination. (christiancourier)

I can’t get a firm answer on where John got his instructions or why he did what he did. But Jesus wanted John to baptism him.

Now, to me, baptism is a very Christian thing to do, but Christianity as we know it today wasn’t even a thing yet. John was a Jew, Jesus was Jewish, and Jews were waiting for the Messiah. So why was John baptizing at all?

Background in Jewish ritual

Main article: Mikvah

Although the term “baptism” is not used to describe the Jewish rituals, the purification rites in Jewish laws and tradition, called “Tvilah”, have some similarity to baptism, and the two have been linked. The “Tvilah” is the act of immersion in natural sourced water, called a “Mikvah”[80][81] In the Jewish Bibleand other Jewish texts, immersion in water for ritual purification was established for restoration to a condition of “ritual purity” in specific circumstances. For example, Jews who (according to the Law of Moses) became ritually defiled by contact with a corpse had to use the mikvah before being allowed to participate in the Holy Temple. Immersion is required for converts to Judaism as part of their conversion. Immersion in the mikvah represents a change in status in regards to purification, restoration, and qualification for full religious participation in the life of the community, ensuring that the cleansed person will not impose uncleanness on property or its owners (Num. 19 and Babylonian TalmudTractateChagigah, p. 12). This change of status by the mikvah could be obtained repeatedly, while Christian baptism, like circumcision, is, in the general view of Christians, unique and not repeatable.[82] (wikipedia)

So maybe John was putting a new spin on the Mikvah – he was cleansing people of their sins. Or maybe John was just doing the Mikvah, and then when Jesus showed up asking for it, that’s what started the whole thing?

Baptism has been part of Christianity from the start, as shown by the many mentions in the Acts of the Apostles and the Pauline epistles. Christians consider Jesus to have instituted the sacrament of baptism. How explicit Jesus’ intentions were and whether he envisioned a continuing, organized Church is a matter of dispute among scholars.[22] (wikipedia)

Later in Matt 2:11, the Holy Spirit is referenced again. And again, the Holy Spirit is a Christian thing – not Jewish, right?


Main article: Holy Spirit (Judaism)

The term “holy spirit” only occurs three times in the Hebrew Bible. (Found once in Psalm 51:11 and twice in Isaiah 63:10,11) Although, the term “spirit” in the Hebrew Scriptures, in reference to “God’s spirit”, does occur more times. In JudaismGod is One, the idea of God as a duality or trinity amonggentiles may be Shituf (or “not purely monotheistic”). The term Ruach HaKodesh (Holy Spirit) is found frequently in Talmudic and Midrashic literature. In some cases it signifies prophetic inspiration, while in others it is used as a hypostatization or a metonym for God.[16] The Rabbinic “Holy Spirit,” has a certain degree of personification, but it remains, “a quality belonging to God, one of his attributes” and not, as in mainstream Christianity, representative of “any metaphysical divisions in the Godhead.”[17] (wikipedia)

and also

Fire was often a symbol of wrath, and so linking the Holy Spirit with it superficially appears to clash with portrayals of this Spirit elsewhere in the New Testament as a gentle thing. Some translations avoid using the word fire due to this, but when the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered, it appeared that several of its texts make the connection between Holy Spirit and wrath, and so most scholars now see the wording here as original, and the other portrayals as misinterpreted. (wikipedia)

Matt 3: 15 – I think we already discussed that.

Matt 3:16 – What can I say, there seems to be no information affirming or refuting this from happening. It must simply come down to faith as to whether and how this happened. It is said that Luke is emphatic that something like a dove came down, while Matthew leaves things vague, and therefore perhaps something “dove-like” happened.