Baptist and Saviour

Tony Renshaw, Heald Green, Cheshire

Part 4 of 4 of the series Early Themes in Luke's Gospel

It is very instructive to consider certain striking contrasts between the upbringing and preparation for service of John the Baptist and of the Lord Jesus as recorded in Luke's Gospel. John was to drink neither wine nor strong drink, 1.15. From the same verse we learn that he was to be filled by the Holy Spirit from his mother's womb. And as he "grew, and waxed strong in spirit" he "was in the deserts till the day of his shewing unto Israel", 1. 80. These three statements empha­size the great care taken by God Himself, and by the child's parents as instructed by God, in equipping John for his vital ministry in later years. He was to abstain from drinking anything which might lead to excess and the consequent blurring of his spiritual faculties. Moreover (and we may well ask whether any other man has enjoyed this remarkable and profound blessing) the Holy Spirit was going to assume active control of this chosen vessel/row his mother's womb. In addition John was to grow up entirely apart from the defiling atmosphere of normal human society, that he might learn and practise communion with God in the solitude of the deserts. But what of Jesus? No such things are recorded in connec­tion with the upbringing of the Saviour. In the first place it is profoundly interesting to note that there is no explicit record that He would be filled by the Holy Spirit from His mother's womb. This is, of course, holy ground, and words must be chosen with care; yet after her conception of the Child by the Holy Spirit, the next reference to an explicit association between Christ and the Spirit is on the banks of Jordan, "and the Holy Ghost descended in a bodily shape like a dove upon him", 3. 22; see John 3. 34. Secondly, the Saviour evidently did not abstain from drinking wine, for He could say to His critics, "The Son of man is come eating and drinking j and ye say, Behold a gluttonous man, and a winebibber", 7. 34. Finally, far from being isolated in the deserts from His infancy, the Lord Jesus was brought up in the midst of the social life of Nazareth, and we may assume that it was not for nothing that Nathanael asked, "Can there any good thing come out of Nazareth?", John i. 46. As a Child, He would mix with the children in the streets and attend lessons in the syna­gogue. Later He would work beside Joseph at the carpenter's bench, and have dealings with the local tradespeople. He knew what it was to grow up as a member of a large family in humble circumstances, and almost certainly assumed responsibility as the firstborn on the death of Joseph.

To review these aspects of truth concerning the upbringing of John and of the Saviour is to realize how great was the contrast between the two, and we may well ask why this was so. Surely the answer lies in their respective identities, for whilst John emerged from the stock of Adam, Jesus was the incarnate Son of God. The former was therefore shapen in iniquity, and in sin did his mother conceive him, Ps. 51. 5; whereas the Latter was intrinsically and essentially holy, the Lord from heaven. For their respective spheres of ministry, therefore, radically different preparation was necessary. Since John was a child of Adam, he needed to be hedged about, guarded and equipped in the ways we have seen. The critically important character of his work evidently demanded the abiding presence of the Holy Spirit from earliest days, and necessitated total abstinence from the hazards of wine, and positive isolation from normal social intercourse. Unlike John, Jesus could be in no danger of succumbing to the temptations involved in drinking wine. He did not require years of solitude in order to avoid the possibility of worldly defilement and to cultivate communion with His Father. It seems reasonable also to suggest that Jesus, as God manifest in the flesh, did not need that special ministry of the Holy Spirit which John the Baptist enjoyed from the womb, though as we have seen the Spirit was prominent in the Saviour's life at the beginning of His public ministry.

It is helpful to remember that Jesus came into the world with two main objectives; firstly, to render to God an accept­able sacrifice for sins; and secondly, to become so thoroughly acquainted with conditions in this world that, on His return to heaven, He would be able with perfect sympathy and understanding to represent His people in the presence of God. Both these objectives demanded that He should undergo at first hand all the privations and hazards of living as a Man in a world like ours. In the first place, this would prove His personal holiness and unfailing victory over sin and Satan, and thus demonstrate His moral fitness to atone for the sins of others, as being Himself totally free from guilt. This meant of course that He must be subjected to all the varied trials and pressures of childhood and youth as well as of adult life, and thus the so-called silent years were as vital as the years of public ministry. In the second place, it is abundantly encouraging to remember that His thorough acquaintance with our earthly environment is such that "we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin", Heb. 4.15.