In Genesis we get this insight about the power of the Word: “And I, God, said: Let there be light; and there was light.” God spoke, and the universe moved from chaos to order, infused with light that emanates from God through Jesus.
An interesting discussion topic might be the power of words and the power of God’s word. Why might Jesus be called The Word?
Jesus is light (John 1:4):
We know from our modern scriptures that the light of Jesus is in all things and through all things and powers the universe and everything in it. A discussion of light and the light of Jesus could incorporate the following scriptures: Matthew 4:16, John 8:12, 2 Corinthians 4:6, Psalms 27:1, Psalms 119:105, and Revelation 21:23.
Crowds came to hear John the Baptist preach:
Many times John refers to or speaks to the Pharisees who have come to watch him preach. They are not there to be baptized but to gather information on what John is doing. John demonstrated more knowledge and power than had been manifested in Judea, but he preached and baptized outside tradition and lines of responsibility. He became quite a spectacle and generated a lot of curiosity. People came from miles around to see him, including four of Christ’s original followers. In John 1 the Pharisees are trying to identify John as someone outside the realm of day-to-day Jewish practice.
Could John have been a storied character from scripture and history?
The Pharisees wondered if John could be Elijah. Elijah was taken up to heaven without tasting death and most Jews expected him to return as promised in Malachi. Tradition held that Elijah’s return would precede the coming of the Messiah. In fact, the Messiah would come so quickly after Elijah’s return that it would be like Messiah had hold of Elijah’s cloak. Messianic fervor was sweeping Israel. Could John be Elijah or some other prophet prophesied to prepare the way?
Was baptism practiced by the Jews?
The Jews did and do practice ritual immersion, called mikveh. Ritual immersion can be in a font, but “living water” is required. The water must be passing through, not standing. Jews participate in ritual immersion upon conversion to Judaism, but also for purification for high holy days and after periods of uncleanness. So John’s practice of baptizing in the Jordan river would have been an oddity but related to a practice that was understood.
Were John and Jesus strangers to each other? (John 1:26):
There is nothing in the Bible that specifically mentions John and Jesus encountering each other physically until Jesus’ baptism. They were cousins, but Jesus grew up in Nazareth in the north and John lived in Judea and the wilderness. Could the family of Joseph and Mary have possibly visited and even stayed with Zacharias and Elizabeth when they came to Jerusalem for high holy days? Perhaps. This is still a mystery. But even if they were kept apart by the deaths of their parents (Zacharias and Elizabeth were aged and Joseph appears to have died by the time Jesus was crucified) or because of dangerous enemies, they were kindred spirits who loved each other dearly.
Peter, Andrew, Phillip, and Nathaniel were all converted by John’s preaching:
John’s preaching was the result of direct revelation from God. His baptizing in the wilderness was odd and jarring. It made people wake up and feel that something earthshaking was transpiring in Israel. People had the scriptures before them, and promises had been made by the prophets. Those who knew the prophecies sought the truth through the Spirit and were converted to the gospel of Christ.