Out in the Judean wilderness, John the Baptist continued his discourse
to the multitude. People were saying "Yes" to God, and being baptized,
a symbol of repentance, cleansing and re-direction.


 "Even now the axe is laid to the root of the tree. Every tree which
does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire." So the
people asked John, saying, "What shall we do then?" He answered,
"He who has two tunics, let him give to him who has none; and he
who has food, let him do likewise."

Then tax collectors also came to be baptized, and said to him,
"Teacher, what shall we do?" He said to them, "Collect no more
than what is appointed for you." Likewise the soldiers asked him,
"What shall we do?" John said to them, "Do not intimidate anyone
or accuse falsely, and be content with your wages."

The people were in expectation and reasoned whether he was
the Christ or not. John answered, saying to all, "I indeed baptize
you with water; but One mightier than I is coming, whose sandal
strap I am not worthy to loose. He will baptize you with the Holy
Spirit and fire. His winnowing fan is in His hand, and He will
thoroughly clean out His threshing floor, and gather the wheat
into His barn; but the chaff He will burn."

When all the people were baptized, Jesus also [{Matthew 3:13-17}
came to John to be baptized by him. John tried to prevent Him,
saying, "I need to be baptized by You, and are You coming to me?"
But Jesus answered, "Permit it to be so now, for thus it is fitting
for us to fulfill all righteousness."

When Jesus had been baptized,] and while He prayed, the heaven
was opened. The Spirit of God descended in bodily form like a
dove upon Him, and a voice came from heaven, which said, "You
are My beloved Son, in You I am well pleased."

Herod the tetrarch, being rebuked by John concerning Herodias,
his brother Philip's wife, and for all the evils which Herod had
done, also added this, above all, that he shut John up in prison.

                                                        Luke 3:9-22 NKJV, condensed


                       John and Jesus - Who Should Baptize Whom! 

A tree that doesn't bear fruit doesn't belong in the orchard. Anyone
in business can tell you that. There's no joy in cutting down a tree,
it's hard work actually. But when it needs to be done, it is done.
"OK John, we don't want to get axed, so what should we do? Give us
some examples of good fruit." He answered, "If you have two coats,
give one of them to someone who has no coat. Do likewise with
your food!" That was clear. Concern, compassion, and sharing are in.

But then the tax collectors (those scoundrels most people wouldn't
stand next to) wanted to know what they should do? Answer: "Collect
no more than what is right for you to collect." So selfishness and
greed are out.

Another group on the fringes, the soldiers, wanted to know what
was required of them? "Don't intimidate people. Don't accuse anyone
falsely and be content with your wages." Abuse of power is out. Justice
and honesty are in. It's interesting that all three answers have
something to do with money and the use we make of our resources,
power and influence.

Next we learn the people were impressed. They were in expectation
and wondered, "Is this the Christ, the Messiah? Could it be that God
has finally remembered us and given us a Redeemer?" John answered
their thoughts. "No, it's not me. But the Christ is at the door about
to enter. I baptize with water and am not worthy to untie his shoes.
He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit." Water is part of the natural
world available to everyone, used for drinking and cleaning. The
Holy Spirit is known by faith, and is also an agent of cleansing,
plus so much more.

The slogan "Be careful what you wish for" applies here. The Messiah
will come with a winnowing fan, a sifter, in his hand. He will carefully
clean out his barn, keeping the good wheat and sweeping out the
chaff. Like the trees that don't bear good fruit, the chaff will be

On the day Jesus came to be baptized, John tried to resist because
their roles were reversed and he questioned the rightness of it. John
had gotten away with calling the Pharisees and Sadducees snakes.
But in the presence of Jesus, John melts. Jesus responded, "Permit
me this. Indulge me. It's necessary for you to baptize me." So John
and Jesus went into the water together.

Immersed in baptism, Jesus came up dripping wet. Heaven opened
to him; he saw the spirit of God in the shape of a dove descend and
perch on his body. He heard a voice commending him. Spirit
became physical, both heard and seen, and that made this experience
unique. Jesus being baptized was like assenting to the God-in-flesh
incarnation. "Yes, I'll be human. I'll fulfill the plan God has for me."
Son of God became Son of man--touched, marked, sealed by
God's Holy Spirit.

John introduced Jesus to his generation and to the world. They had
come to this harsh environment and heard the very voice of God.
Emotions were kindled; hopes fanned; expectations raised 1000%.
The baptism of John was a remarkable sign of their new beginning
with the faithful God who had made that ancient covenant with
their fathers.

When John baptized Jesus, who was on the giving end? Who was the
receiver? John thought he needed what Jesus could give! Jesus wanted
what John could give! The lesser person, John, ministering; so that the
greater person, Jesus, could receive a blessing. John giving; Jesus
soaking it up. John acting; Jesus being acted upon. Jesus having a need
and John filling that need. Both living the concept of humility, both
wanting to receive from the other.

After Jesus' baptism, the outspoken John would go to jail for his
boldness in condemning Herod for adultery with his brother's wife,
among other things. Jesus would go to the wilderness to wrestle with
his temptations. Both would go forth, strengthened by their
experience together in the Jordan. The rhythm of peaks and valleys
would move them on. The road of life is neither smooth nor straight.


Use the following questions for small groups, journaling, further
study or reflection.


Icebreaker:  Do you have any memorable stories about a baptism? Yours or
                    someone else's? A simple event or a day-long affair? Maybe you
                    witnessed a baptism which did not fit your traditional mold?
                    If you remember your own baptism, what is it you remember?


If you did the icebreaker, the responses may have triggered many
questions about baptism. The when, where, and how to do it, can vary
significantly according to your religious beliefs and background.
            What were some of the differences?
            Were you able to see a common thread that most of you agreed on?
                        If so, what was that common thread?
It might be helpful for you to make a list of your questions about the
subject of baptism and decide what you can do to get some answers.


Faith is more than a matter of knowing the right beliefs; it also involves
doing something. John gives us good instruction about sharing, integrity
and justice.            
            Discuss the implications of John's words from long ago and how
                        we can put them into practice in our day and age.                                                                                                                       
            If John were speaking to you personally, what do you think he would
                        tell you to do in order to avoid the axe of judgment?


In John's teaching about the good trees and the winnowing fork, the focus
was not on God destroying the Romans.
            Do you think that may have come as a surprise to his listeners?
Do you ever find that when listening to a sermon you think it applies to the
person sitting next to you instead of yourself?
            Why does that happen?
            Why is it so much easier to see the sins of others than our own?
We think the other person needs to change without seeing there is something
which we need to do to make the situation better.
            What does it take to come to the realization that, "It's me, O Lord,
                        standing in the need of your grace?"


Jesus' baptism was certainly a religious high--for Jesus, for John and for
some of the people in the crowd.
            Were you ever at an event that touched your heart and emotions?
                        If so, how did you happen to be at that event? 
                        Why do you think you responded as you did?
            If not, is there anything you can do to have such an experience?
Why do you think Jesus wanted to be baptized by John?
For whose sake was Jesus baptized?


We do not live on the mountaintops. Life is lived mostly in the valleys. Both
John and Jesus were facing pain and struggle ahead.
            What are you expecting for your future?
            What can you do to prepare yourself to face the future with strength?

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