Today’s selected reading continues in the New Testament gospel account of the life and ministry of Jesus the Christ as written by the apostle John. More specifically, today’s passage is found in verses nineteen through twenty-eight of the first chapter. When you come to this particular part of the first chapter of the New Testament gospel which the apostle John wrote you will find the apostle transiting from speaking concerning Jesus the Christ who not only was the Christ and the Son of the living God, but was also eternal and divine in nature. As you begin reading with and from the nineteenth verse of the first chapter of this gospel you will find the apostle John writing and speaking about the forerunner and messenger who would appear before the face of the Messiah and Christ in order that he might make ready a people and prepare the way for the Messiah. Verses nineteen through twenty-eight of the first chapter are entirely dedicated and devoted to describing this man whom any student and scholar of the word would know as John the Baptist—this one who would be born of Zacharias and Elisabeth thirty plus years before. In fact, That one whom the apostle John writes and references at this juncture in the gospel was that one who would be divinely ordained and appointed by the living God to go before the face of the Messiah in order that he might prepare the people—not only for the arrival of the Messiah and Christ, but also for the arrival and emergence of the kingdom of heaven within and upon the earth. We dare not miss and lose sight of the life and ministry of John the Baptist, for this one life and ministry was intrinsically linked and connected to that of his cousin Jesus who would be born in Bethlehem, yet would grow up in Nazareth. I am fully and completely convinced that if we are to understand the life and ministry of Jesus the Christ, we must first recognize and understand that when the living God broke the silence of a period of four hundred years, He didn’t break it with the voice of the Messiah, but with the voice of the messenger. If you were to study each of the four gospels which were written concerning the Messiah and the Messenger, you will find that after four-hundred years of silence the living God and eternal Father chose to break that silence by raising up a messenger who would go before the face of the Messiah in order that he might make ready and prepare a people for the arrival and manifestation of the Messiah. Please note and please understand this incredible reality, for before the Messiah would ever be manifested unto and before the people within the earth, there was first a messenger who was ordained and appointed by the living God in order that the people of that time might be made ready and a way prepared for Him. Consider if you will that which was written concerning this divinely ordained and appointed messenger as it is written and recorded by the previous three New Testament gospel writers—the apostle Matthew, the physician Luke, and John Mark:
“…And there appeared unto him an angel of the LORd standing on the right side of the altar of incense. And when Zacharias saw him, he was troubled, and fear fell upon him. But the angel said unto him, Fear not, Zacharias: for they prayer is heard; and thy wife Elisabeth shall bear thee a son,and thou shalt call his name John. And thou shalt have joy and gladness; and many shall rejoice at his birth. For he shall be great in the sight of the Lord, and shall drink neither wine nor strong drink; and he shall be filled with the Holy Ghost, even from his mother’s womb. And many of the children of Israel shall he turn to the Lord their God. And he shall go before Him in the spirit and power of Elias, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just; to make ready a people prepared for the Lord. And Zacharias said unto the angel, Whereby shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife well stricken in years. And the angel answering said unto him, I am Gabriel, that stand in the presence of God; and am sent to speak unto thee, and to shew thee these glad tidings. And, behold, thou shalt be dumb, and not able to speak, until the day that these things shall be performed, because thou belevest not my worlds, which shall be fulfilled in their season” (Luke 1:11-20).
“And Mary arose in those days, and went into the hill country with haste, into a city of Juda; and entered into the house of Zacharias, and saluted Elisabeth. And it came to pass, that, when Elisabeth heard the salvation of Mary, the babe leaped in her womb; and Elisabeth was filled with the Holy Ghost: and she spake out with a loud voice, and said, Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb. Whence is this to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For, lo, as soon as the voice of thy salutation sounded in mine ears, the babe leaped in my womb for joy. And blessed is she that believed: for there shall be a performance of those things which were told her from the Lord” (Luke 1:39-45).
“Now Elisabeth’s full time came that she should be delivered; and she brought forth a son. And her neighbors and her cousins heard how the Lord had showed great mercy upon her; and they rejoice with her. And it came to pass, that on the eighth day they came to circumcise the child; and they called him Zacharias, after the name of his father. And his mother answered and said, Not so; but he shall be called John. And they said unto her, There is none of thy kindred that is called by this name. And they made signs to his father, how he would have him called. And he asked for a writing table, and wrote, saying, His name is John. And they marveled all. And his mouth was opened immediately, and his tongue loosed, and he spake, and praised God. And fear came on all that dwelt round about them: and all these sayings were noised abroad through all the hill country of Judaea. And all they that heard them laid them up in their hearts, saying, What manner of child shall this be! And the hand of the Lord was with him” (Luke 1:57-66).
Each of these passages of Scripture are used by the Holy Spirit as He anointed the beloved physician Luke to write—not only concerning the ministry of John the Baptist, but also provide background surrounding the birth of John. It’s actually quite interesting to think about and consider the fact that before John the Baptist was ever born into this world, an angel of the Lord whom we know from Scripture as Gabriel appeared unto Zacharias while he was ministering within the Temple. It would be while Zacharias was ministering before the Lord in the Temple according to his service and lot that he encountered the angel of the Lord by the altar of incense. While in the Temple ministering before and unto the living God according to the order of his service, Zacharias encountered the angel Gabriel who announced and proclaimed unto him a truly wonderful and spectacular message concerning that which would unfold and take place in those days. In fact, when the angel Gabriel spoke unto Zacharias there in the Temple, he proclaimed unto him that his wife Elisabeth would conceive and would give birth to a son, and they were to call the name of their son John. Furthermore—concerning this child that would be born unto them—he would be great in the sight of the Lord, and could not drink wine nor strong drink. Additionally, this child would be filled with the Holy Ghost, even from his mother’s womb, and many of the children of Israel would he turn to the Lord their God. This child which would be born unto them would go before the Messiah in the spirit and power of Elias, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just; to make ready a people prepared for the Lord. The words which the angel Gabriel spoke unto Zacharias were indeed and were in fact incredibly significant and profound, for not only would Zacharias and his wife Elisabeth conceive and bring forth a son, but their son would play a crucial and pivotal role in the divine plan of redemption within and upon the earth. The angel Gabriel emphatically declared unto Zacharias that the child which would be conceived within the womb of Elisabeth would be filled with the Holy Ghost from the womb, and would be great in the sight of the Lord. What’s more, is that the angel would also go on to declare unto Zacharias that this child would be used by the Lord to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, and the hearts of many would he turn to the Lord.
As if this weren’t enough, the angel Gabriel would go on to declare concerning this child that he would go before the face of the Messiah in the spirit and power of Elias—Elias you will recall was the Old Testament prophet who not only prophesied that it would not rain upon the earth until he spoke and declared that it should rain, and also called down fire from heaven before all the people of Israel, and even before the prophets of Baal. Before moving any further into the reality concerning John the Baptist, I feel it’s necessary to at least present you with a glimpse of the power that was present within Elijah’s life, which would be manifested within John the Baptist. Consider if you will the words which are written and recorded within the eighteenth chapter of the Old Testament book of First Kings:
“And it came to pass, when Ahab saw Elijah, that Ahab said unto him, Art thou he that troubleth Israel And he answered, I have not troubled Israel; but thou, and thy father’s house, in that ye have forsaken the commandments of the Lord, and thou hast followed Baalim. Now therefore send, and gather to me all Israel unto mount Carmel, and the prophets of Baal four hundred and fifty, and the prophets of the groves four hundred, which eat at Jezebel’s table. So Ahab sent unto the children of Israel, and gathered the prophets together unto Mount Carmel. And Elijah came unto all the people, and said, How long halt ye between two opinions? If the Lord be God, follow Him: but if Baal, then follow him. And the people answered him not a word. Then said Elijah unto the people. I, even I only, remain a prophet of the Lord; but Baal’s prophets are four hundred and fifty men. Let them therefore give us two bullocks; and let them choose one bullock for themselves, and cut it in pieces, and lay it on wood, and put no fire under: and I will dresss the other bullock, and lay it on wood, and put no fire under: and call ye on the name of your gods, and I will call on the name of the Lord: and the God that answereth by fire, let him be God. And all the people answered and said, It is well spoken. And Elijah said unto the prophets of Baal, Choose you one bullock for yourselves, and dress it first; for ye are many; and call on the name of your gods, but put no fire under. And they took the bullock which was given them, and they dressed it, and called on the name of Baal from morning even until noon, saying, O Baal, hear us. But there was no voice, nor any that answered. And they leaped upon the altar which was made. And it came to pass at noon, that Elijah mocked them, and said, Cry aloud: for he is a god; either he is talking, or he is pursuing, or he is in a journey, or per adventure he sleepeth, and must be awaked. And they cried aloud, and cut themselves after their manner with knives and lancets, till the blood gushed out upon them. And it came to pass, when midday was past, and they prophesied until the time of the offering of the evening sacrifice, that there was neither voice, nor any to answer, nor any that regarded. And Elijah said unto all the people, Come near unto me. And all the people came near unto him. And he repaired the altar of the Lord that was broken down. And Elijah took twelve stones, according to the number of the tribes of the sons of Jacob, unto whom the word of the Lord came, saying, Israel shall by thy name: and with the stones he built an altar in the name of the Lord: and he made a trench about the altar, as great as would contain two measures of seed. And he put the wood in order, and cut the bullock in pieces, and laid him on the wood, and said, Fill four barrels with water, and pour it on the burnt sacrifice, and on the wood. And he said, Do it the second time. And they did it the second time. And he said, Do it the third time. And they did it the third time. And the water ran round about the altar; and he filled the trench also with water. And it came to pass at the time of the offering of the evening sacrifice, that Elijah the prophet came near, and said, Lord God of Abraham, Isaac, and of Israel, let it be known this day that you art God in Israel, and that I am thy servant, and that I have done all these things at thy word. Hear me, O Lord, hear me, that this people may know that thou art the LORd God, and that thou hast turned their heart back again. Then the fire of the Lord fell, and consumed the burnt sacrifice, and the wood, and the stones, and the dust, and licked up the water that was in the trench. And when all the people saw it, they fell on their faces: and they said, The Lord, he is the God; the Lord, he is the God. And Elijah said unto them, Take the prophets of Baal; let not one of them escape. And they took them: and Elijah brought them down to the brook Kishon, and slew them there” (1 Kings 18:17-40).
The passage which we just read was just one of the references found within the Old Testament book of First Kings concerning the prophet Elijah, yet it was perhaps one of the most powerful and profound displays of the power of the living God that was displayed and manifested during his time. The words which you just read bring you face to face with Elijah, the prophets of Baal, the prophets of the grove, and the people of Israel as they gathered unto Mount Carmel for a display of power as manifested by fire. A DISPLAY OF POWER MANIFESTED BY FIRE! I would dare say that it is necessary to at least consider this particular event within the life and prophetic ministry of Elijah the prophet, for it was on this particular occasion when Elijah not only confronted the prophet of Baal, and not only confronted the prophets of the grove, but when he also confronted Jezebel indirectly, confronted Ahab king of Israel, and even the children of Israel. What’s more, is that I would dare say that there atop mount Carmel Elijah also directly confronted the spirit and power behind the image of Baal which was so readily known during those days. If we are to truly understand that which the angel Gabriel spoke and declared concerning John the Baptist unto Zacharias within the Temple by the altar of incense, it is absolutely necessary and imperative that we understand and acknowledge the spirit and power in which Elijah ministered during the days of Ahab and Jezebel. What’s more, is that I am convinced that if we are to understand the political, spiritual, religious and social climate of the days of the John the Baptist—even of Jesus the Christ—it is absolutely necessary that we understand the days in which the prophet Elijah ministered. This particular event within the life and prophetic ministry of Elijah is necessary to at least consider when seeking to study the life and ministry of John the Baptist, for it was this particular instance and occurrence during the days of Ahab and Jezebel when Elijah turned the hearts of the children of Israel back to the Lord their God. Interestingly enough—Elijah prayed unto and before the true and living God and fire would fall from heaven and consume the sacrifice, the water, the dust and everything that was present on the top of that mountain, and while John the Baptist did not call down fire from heaven, he was very much aware of a fire that was already kindled upon the earth, and would ultimately fall upon the earth. If you take the time to read the words which the New Testament gospel authors wrote concerning John the Baptist, you will find that he declared unto the Pharisees who came unto him that he baptized with water, yet there was coming one after him who was mightier than he who would baptize with fire. What’s more, is that this one who would come after him would not only baptize with fire, but this One who was coming after him would also baptize with the Holy Ghost.
As I sit here this morning I can’t help but think about the encounter atop Mount Carmel during the days of Elijah, and how there was present on that day—not only the presence of water, but also the presence of fire. If you study the account of Elijah atop the mount Carmel you will find that when it came time for Elijah to call upon the name of the Lord—not only did he call for four barrels of water to be filled with water, but he called for those barrels of water to be poured over the altar and over the sacrifice. What’s more, is that Elijah didn’t merely call for this to be done a second time, but Elijah also called for it to be done a third time as well. Three times were four barrels of water filled with water, and three times were those four barrels of water poured over the altar and the sacrifice, and so much so that it flowed off the altar and around the altar. Once this process was done, Elijah then proceeded to fill the trench with water as well, thus making the presence of fire even more provocative, for the fire would have to consume the sacrifice in the midst of the water that was present upon and around it. It’s actually quite symbolic when you consider that the pouring of water upon the altar and sacrifice was a reference to Israel itself, for twelve barrels of water were poured upon the sacrifice and altar according to the number of tribes in Israel. Not only were there twelve stones that were used to represent the twelve tribes of Israel, but there were also twelve barrels which were filled with water and poured over the altar and sacrifice. On this particular day in the history of the children of Israel—not only was there the presence of water upon the altar and sacrifice, but there was also the presence of fire which consumed the sacrifice, the water, and even the dust of the earth. Elijah poured water upon the sacrifice and altar during his day, and the prophet and messenger John the Baptist used water during his day—except not to pour upon the sacrifice and altar. The use of water during the days of John the Baptist was quite different from the days of Elijah, for whereas Elijah poured water upon the sacrifice and altar, the prophet John the Baptist baptized with water the sacrifice. In fact, what’s so incredibly interesting is the presence of water before the fire when Elijah stood atop mount Carmel on that incredibly fateful day within the history of the children of Israel. Before the fire from heaven would and could ever fall, there would first need to be the presence of water as twelve barrels of water in total were poured over the sacrifice and the altar. What was true during the days of Elijah was also true during the days of the Messenger and the Messiah, for before there would and before there could ever be the presence and baptism of fire there would first need to be the presence of water. John the Baptist came preaching repentance and baptizing with water, but there would come after him who would baptize with fire.
I would like to remain on this idea of water and fire, for when the angel Gabriel spoke unto Zacharias in the Temple be the altar, he mentioned two distinct and very important realities—namely, that the child which would be born unto he and his wife would turn the hearts of the children of Israel to the Lord their God, and that he would minister in the spirit and power of Elijah. If you read the final verses of today’s passage you will find the prophet and messenger John the Baptist declaring unto the Pharisees that he baptized with water, but there stood one among them, whom they did not know. It was this one who was coming after him which was preferred before him, whose shoe’s latched he was not worthy to unloose. Please mark and make note of his use of water, for whereas Elijah poured water upon the sacrifice and upon the altar, John the Baptist took the sacrifice and baptized it with water. Instead of pouring water upon the sacrifice, John the Baptist took the sacrifice and submerged it in water, thus positioning it to receive the baptism of fire—a different fire which would fall from heaven, and would be released by the Messiah upon His ascension to the right hand of the Father in heaven. To help illustrate this point even further, I feel it is absolutely necessary to turn and direct our attention to the words which the apostle Matthew wrote in the third chapter of the gospel account of the life and ministry of Jesus the Christ which he himself wrote. If you turn and direct your attention to this particular chapter you will find the apostle Matthew writing concerning John the Baptist and quoting the words of the prophet Isaiah concerning the mission and ministry of this one who would go before the face of the Messiah in the earth. What I would like to draw your attention to is the words which John the Baptist spoke when he saw the Pharisees and Sadducees coming unto and approaching him, as well as what was written concerning him by the apostle Matthew. If you begin reading with and from the first verse of the third chapter you will find the following words written concerning John the Baptist as written by the apostle Matthew:
“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, Preare 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. But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees come to his baptism, he said unto them, O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bring forth therefore fruits meet for repentance: and think not to say within yourselves, We have Abraham to our father: for I say unto you, that God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham. And now also the axe is laid unto the root of the trees: therefore ever tree which bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire. I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance: but he that cometh after me is mitheir than I, whose shoes I am not worth to bear: he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost, and with fire: whose fan is in His hand, and He will throughly purge his flood, and gather his wheat into the Gardner; but he will burn up the chaff with unique challenges fire” (Matthew 3:1-12).
Please make not of that which I chose to emphasize and highlight in this particular passage of Scripture, for within this passage we find John the Baptist not only declaring that he came baptizing with water, but there was one who came after him who would baptize with the Holy Ghost and with fire. We dare not, cannot and must not lose sight of and miss this particular reality, for if John the Baptist came in the spirit and power of Elijah, and if he was sent to turn the hearts of the children of Israel to the Lord their God as did Elijah, then the reality and concept of baptism with water is incredibly significant. In all reality, I am convinced that this is perhaps why the Holy Spirit chose baptism with water as the means of preparing the people for the coming and manifestation of the Messiah. During the days of Elijah the prophet called for the sacrifice and altar to be completely saturated with water—undoubtedly as a sign of repentance—and during the days of John the Baptist water was a symbol of baptism unto repentance. There is not a doubt in my mind that what we find in the days of Elijah was also true during the days of John the Baptist, for it would be during the days of John the Baptist when water would be used as the symbol of repentance for sins before the living God. It would be during the days of John the Baptist that the divine messenger of the living God, and of the Messiah would be used as the means of repentance before the face of the Messiah, in order that they might not only be prepared to receive the kingdom of heaven, but also that they might be ready to prepared to receive the baptism of fire. At the risk of slightly getting ahead of myself, I feel compelled to take a look at words which Jesus spoke unto Nicodemus when he came to him by night inquiring of Jesus, and asking Him questions. If you turn and direct your attention to the third chapter of the New Testament gospel of John you will find the following words spoken by Jesus which were recorded by the apostle. Beginning with the fifth verse you will find these words which were spoken in the hearing of Nicodemus: “Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit” (John 3:5-6). Please mark and make not of the words which Jesus spoke unto this ruler of the Jews who was also a Pharisee, for when speaking unto him, Jesus emphatically declared that except a man be born of water and of the Spirit he could not enter into the kingdom of heaven. I have read these words countless times before and I am increasingly convinced that these words are a direct reference to the baptism of John the Baptist and the baptism of Jesus the Messiah. I firmly believe that being born of water indeed and does in fact mean being born through baptism, and being born of the Spirit surely means being born of fire. There is not a doubt in my mind that in order for one to enter into the kingdom of heaven, that one must first be baptized and born of water through baptism, and must also be born of fire through the baptism of the Spirit as evidenced on the day of Pentecost.
During the days of Elijah the prophet called for the baptism of the altar and the baptism of the sacrifice, and I firmly believe that his actions were a portent, a sign, and a symbol of a reality that would be manifested within the earth later on during the days of the Messenger and the Messiah. The prophet Elijah called for the baptism of the altar and sacrifice with water, and John the Baptist called for the baptism of the sacrifices with water unto repentance in order that they might be made ready and prepared to receive the kingdom of heaven which would be preached and manifested during the days of the Messiah which was to come. Oh dear reader, it is absolutely necessary that we recognize and understand this concept of baptism of water as preparation for baptism with fire, for just as Elijah called for the baptism of the altar and sacrifice with water, so also did John the Baptist call for the baptism of the sacrifices during those days with water. It would be John the Baptist who would baptize the sacrifices with water in order that the sacrifices might be ready when the fire of God would fall from heaven on the day of Pentecost. It would be the baptism of John the Baptist—a baptism in water—that would not only look back to the days of Elijah when he baptized the altar and sacrifice with water unto repentance, but would also look forward and head to a future baptism which would be one of fire and not of water. Just as during the days of Elijah there was the presence of water upon and around the altar, so also during the days of John the Baptist there would be the presence of water around and upon the sacrifices, as the sacrifices would be baptized with water in order that they might be made ready and prepared for that day when there would be a second baptism that would take place—a baptism not of water, but a baptism of the Holy Spirit and of fire. What’s more, is that this second and subsequent baptism would be a baptism that would have absolutely nothing to do with John the Baptist, for it would be a baptism that would not come until after the Messiah was crucified, buried, resurrected, and ascended unto the right hand of the Father who was in heaven. Even John the Baptist recognized and understood that there was coming a future and secondary baptism—one that would be a baptism of fire and of the Holy Ghost, and would position men and women to enter into and inherit the kingdom of God. When we read and when we study the life and ministry of John the Baptist and Jesus the Christ we must understand that there were two distinct individuals who came offering two distinct baptisms—the first would be a baptism of water, whereas the second would be a baptism of fire. The messenger would come bringing forth a baptism of water unto repentance for the remission of sins, and the Messiah would come bringing forth a baptism of fire, which would be one of power to be witnesses unto the nations, and would even produce a tremendous work of sanctification within the hearts and lives of those who experienced this baptism. Even when you come to the days of the apostle Paul you will find him coming to Ephesus and speaking unto certain men who only knew and had only received the baptism of John—a baptism of water—and yet we find the apostle Paul baptizing them in the name of Jesus the Christ, then praying for them, and immediately the Holy Spirit fell upon them, and they received the baptism of the Holy Spirit and with fire. If the baptism of water was unto repentance for the remission of sins, then the baptism of the Holy Spirit and fire was a baptism of power, and of witness, and even of transformation and sanctification. Oh that we would recognize and understand the spirit and power of Elijah which was present and manifested during the days of John the Baptist, and how the same presence of water and fire which was manifested during the days of Elijah were again manifested centuries later as the living God would bring forth a baptism of water unto repentance, and would bring forth a baptism of the Holy Spirit and fire unto power, unto witness and unto transformation.