Ash Wednesday and John the Baptist

Today is Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent, following on from Shrove Tuesday when along with others I indulged in eating pancakes. Shortly I will be leading a Bible study (notes follow). The last of my series on the prophets of the Bible, will be on John the Baptist, one of the great prophets. As some know, my church background had little time for the seasons of the church, but as I grew older I realize there is much to be said for recognizing these. I have yet to see anyone with the tell tale sign of ash on his / her forehead but we need to prepare in a sober and contrite fashion for the glorious event of Jesus rising from the dead on Easter day and the prospect of new life and three days prior, his atoning death on Good Friday so we can be reconciled to God. It is appropriate therefore that we consider John the Baptist because, just as we do well to prepare, we reflect on him, the voice crying in the wilderness, exhorting folk in his day to prepare for the Lord’s coming.

Today is Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent in the Western Christian Church. It is marked by services of penitence, but rather do the unnamed prophets as earlier intended, which I will defer to when I do part 2 of the Prophets of the Bible series, today I want us to consider another great prophet: John the Baptist, and where there is a connection to our Lent study “The Beauty of the Cross” as it reflects on Isaiah 53. Isaiah 53:7 says “he was led like a lamb to the slaughter” and it was John who declared (see John 1:36) “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world“. Regarding definitions …

Advent is a season observed in many Christian churches as a time of expectant waiting and preparation for both the celebration of the Nativity of Jesus at Christmas and the return of Jesus at the Second Coming. The term is a version of the Latin word “coming”.

Lent is the period of 40 days before Easter in the Christian calendar. Beginning on Ash Wednesday, Lent is a season of reflection and preparation before the celebrations of Easter. By observing the 40 days of Lent, Christians replicate Jesus Christ’s sacrifice and withdrawal into the desert for 40 days.

In the past two weeks we have been looking at Samuel the prophet who anointed kings and Nathan the prophet who confronted kings. Now we have John who prepared the way for the King. He declared in John 1:23 “I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness, Make straight the way of the Lord, as said the prophet Esaias”. Not only is John foretold in Isaiah 40:3 “The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God” (another Handels music – Comfort ye), but Jesus affirms this to be the case when he refers to Malachi 3:1 “Behold, I will send my messenger, and he shall prepare the way before me: and the Lord, whom ye seek, shall suddenly come to his temple, even the messenger of the covenant, whom ye delight in: behold, he shall come

Matthew 3:1-17, 11:1-18, 14:1-12 but is in all the gospels and as is often the case not everything that is relevant is covered fully in any one gospel and to get the fuller picture we need to mix and match. So significant is John that ALL four gospels refer to him before they begin to recount the ministry of Jesus.

Reading 1: Matthew 3:1-17 (cf Luke 3: 7-16; Luke 3:19)

Reading 2: Matthew 11:1-18 (cf Luke 7:24-35)

Reading 3: Matthew 14:1-12 (cf Mark 6:20) (and opportunity for all the read and reflect on scripture)

And they (Zacharias and Elizabeth) were both righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless.” Luke 1:6

And it came to pass, that, when Elisabeth heard the salutation of Mary, the babe leaped in her womb; and Elisabeth was filled with the Holy Ghost” Luke 1:41 (Also Luke 1:15-17, 67-80)

There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. The same came for a witness, to bear witness of the Light, that all men through him might believe. He was not that Light, but was sent to bear witness of that Light.” John 1:6-8

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