IN THE BIBLE
Jesus Christ - His Birth and Baptism
We now begin a study of the life of the greatest man who ever lived. Jesus Christ was much more than a man; He was and is the Son of God. The story of his human existence is told in the first four books of the New Testament (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) commonly called the gospels. But in a larger sense the whole Bible revolves around Christ. As early as the first book in the Bible God promised Abraham that in his seed all nations of the earth would be blessed. This promise was fulfilled in Jesus. Furthermore, in our last lesson we learned that many Old Testament prophecies foretold the coming of the Messiah. We shall find in future study that the entire New Testament tells us about Christ, His teachings, and His church.
The four gospels are four separate biographies of Jesus. While they overlap in some respects, each mentions some things not related in the others. Matthew shows that Jesus was the promised Messiah and often quotes the prophets to show how Christ fulfilled their predictions. Mark emphasizes the things Jesus did more than His teachings. Luke depicts the humanity of Jesus by describing His interest in the suffering of man. John writes to prove the deity of Christ and in recording the things which Jesus did says that they were written "that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name." (John 20:31)
John the Baptist
It is proper to say something here about the harbinger of Christ. John the Baptist was a cousin of Jesus who should not be confused with John, the apostle, the author of the gospel of John. John was called the Baptist because he baptized. The American Standard Version sometimes refers to him as John the Baptizer which is really more accurate. He was a forerunner of Christ and as prophesied by Isaiah, he came to "prepare . . . the way of the Lord, make his paths straight." (Matt. 3:3)
John was an unusual man, dressing in camel's hair and eating locusts and wild honey! He preached in the wilderness and baptized in the River Jordan those who came to him. He informed the multitudes that he was not the Christ, but that they should look for one who would come after him. Fearless in denouncing the sins of the time, he called on the people to repent. After he immersed Jesus at the high point of his career, he gradually faded in importance until he was arrested and beheaded by King Herod. As great a man as he was, Jesus says of him, "He that is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he." (Matt. 11:11) Truly, the Lord's church was not to be built upon John the Baptizer, but upon Jesus Christ, the savior of the world.
The Pre-existence of Christ
The Son of God existed in the beginning with the Father. We are told, "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God." (John 1:1) In verses 14-17 of the same chapter we learn that the Word was Jesus Christ. Thus, when God said in the creation, "Let us make man in our image" (Gen. 1:26) Christ was there. As God's only begotten son He was sent to earth to redeem the world from sin.
The Birth of Jesus
Jesus was born about 4 B.C. Because of the chronological mistake when our present method of reckoning time from His birth was begun, He was not born in the year 1 A.D. as might be supposed. His mother was the virgin Mary who conceived by the Holy Spirit of God. Thus He was both human and divine, born of a human mother and a divine father. His human geneaology shows that He was of royal birth, a direct descendant of King David. His kingdom, however, was destined to be spiritual rather than temporal as was David's.
Circumstances caused Jesus to be born in Bethlehem in fulfillment of the prophecy of Micah who had said of that village, "Out of thee shall he come forth unto me that is to be ruler in Israel." (Micah 5:2) A Roman pronouncement required Mary and her husband, Joseph, to go to Bethlehem for a special census. Arriving there they could find no room at the inn which necessitated their finding quarters in a stable. There, in the most humble of all places, the baby Jesus was born to be wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in a manger. The birth of the Son of God was announced by angels to shepherds in the countryside who immediately went to Bethlehem to see the young child. In the meantime, wise men from the East (the Bible doesn't say there were three) followed a star until they found the newborn infant. On the way they inquired of King Herod where the Messiah was to born. Herod, fearing for his throne, issued an edict that all children from two years of age and under should be slain. But he did not succeed in killing Jesus as he had hoped because Joseph, being warned by God, took Jesus and His mother and fled into Egypt.
Joseph and his family remained in Egypt until the death of Herod. When they returned they went to Nazareth in Galilee rather than to Bethlehem in Judea where Jesus had been born. Galilee was the most northern province in Palestine while Judea was the farthest south. In between lay Samaria. The early life of Jesus was spent at Nazareth where he learned the carpenter's trade. At the age of twelve He went to Jerusalem with Joseph and Mary. There they lost Him to find Him later in the temple discussing difficult points of the law with the teachers. We know nothing more of His boyhood except that He "increased in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and man." (Luke 2:52)
At the age of thirty Jesus was baptized by John in the Jordan River. John, knowing that Jesus was without sin, hesitated to baptize Him. But Jesus insisted, saying that "it becometh us to fulfill all righteousness." (Matt. 3:15) Since Jesus was sinless He was not baptized for the remission of sins as were those converts on the day of Pentecost. (Acts 2:38) Sometimes artists picture John sprinkling water on the head of Jesus, but the actual record shows that he immersed Him. (See Matt. 3:16; Mark 1:10) When Jesus came up out of the water the spirit of God in the form of a dove descended on Him and a voice from heaven said, "Thou art my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased." (Mark 1:11) God thus attested to the deity of His Son.
Beginning Of His Ministry
Following His baptism, Jesus went into the wilderness where He fasted forty days. At the end of this time the devil appeared, tempting Him in various ways. But Jesus did not yield, not did He ever succumb to the temptations of sin. Thus at His crucifixion He was a spotless offering for the sins of man. Christ first came to public attention in the village of Cana in Galilee when He performed His first miracle, that of turning water into wine. He soon was to perform many other miracles. Shortly Jesus moved to the city of Capernaum by the Sea of Galilee and there made His home during most of His personal ministry which we shall study in our next lesson.