Matthew 3:1-12


If you go to a concert to see a band, there is often another band there, who plays first, to warm up the crowd. If you go to the theatre to see an act or go to the television studios to be part of an audience, there’ll often be another act there to warm the audience before the main act begins.

Of course, sometimes you can go to these sorts of things and only see the act or performer that you’ve gone to see. But often a warm-up act or artist is used to get the audience into the right mood, for all that’s about to follows

But having someone to warm the audience up before the main event, is not a new idea. It’s an idea that is as old as time itself. And it is an idea that is not restricted to the entertainment industry, but relates to more serious occasions, including religious events, as well.

As a consequence, in events like the large tent-style evangelism crusades that you see, it is not uncommon to start with singing and some sort of entertainment before the main message of the gospel is presented. And, having said that, a warm-up act is precisely what God used himself to make people ready for the Messiah to come on the scene. And, of course, the warm-up artist I’m referring to was John the Baptist himself.


1. John – The Warm-up Artist
Now, John the Baptist was an unusual a man:

He didn’t look the part of a religious leader. He didn’t dress respectably so that he would be easily accepted. Instead, he wore clothes made of camel’s hair and had a leather belt around his waist.

He didn’t act the part either. Because he didn’t go into the towns, and the villages, and in the marketplaces where he would normally have had a captive audience. No! He stayed out in the wilderness and expected people to come to him.

John’s hospitality was also something to be desired. Because he didn’t sit around eating meals that everyone could enjoy. Rather he had a diet of locusts and wild honey. Not an unknown diet in those times, but certainly one that wasn’t usual and one that wasn’t necessarily socially acceptable.

And what’s more, he didn’t tell jokes or try to get people in good humour. Rather, he was very serious about what he did. Indeed, he was more a prophet of doom and gloom, telling people that they’d neglected God for too long, and that the judgement of God was near. Indeed, he said, the Messiah that would bring all that about was very close at hand.

Now neither the messenger nor the message you would think would have people flocking to his side, waiting for the big act to follow. But they did. And when John called on people everywhere to turn away from their sins and turn to God, people flocked to him eager to hear his message, and eager to meet the Messiah who was about to appear. And, as a sign of their sincerity to the appeals of John, the people responded by committing themselves to turn away from their past ways and to live more godly lives. They submitted themselves to baptism—a form of symbolic washing away of past sins and failures.

So despite John being a rather oddball character and not fitting at all the standard model of a religious leader, despite his rather odd manner, he attracted quite a following. And he certainly fulfilled his role as a warm-up artist for the Messiah.

2. John – Not Accepted By All
Nevertheless, as you would expect, John was not popular with everybody. He was popular with the masses, but he wasn’t popular with people in positions of authority. And in particular he wasn’t popular with the religious leaders of his time. He didn’t fit the mould that they found acceptable at all.

But then, the leaders were noted at the time for their snobbery, their exclusiveness, and their hypocrisy. And they were particularly noted for putting real barriers between the people and God.

As a consequence, while the masses loved John, because he talked their language and he made God accessible to them, the authorities were not impressed with him at all. But then John had shown them up to be shallow, not genuine, and concerned only with the prestige of their positions. They didn’t like to be shown up. And they particularly didn’t like to be shown up by someone who didn’t fit the mould of who or what they thought a prophet should be.


Now, of course, this is all very interesting, but what does it have to do with us?

1. The Meaning of Baptism
Well, John’s baptism may be only part of what Christian baptism is all about, but what a starting point it was . . . and still is. Because the judgement of God is still near. Indeed, we are now waiting for Jesus to come a second, and final time, and this time to judge the world.

John’s message then, is just as relevant now as it’s always been. His call is for us to all admit that we don’t always put God first. And it is still for us to face the challenge of turning our lives around to the become focused on God. And the challenge is still to stand up publicly and affirm those two things.

And that is what John’s baptism was all about. A symbolic way of saying that all of that is true, and that we have accepted it whole-heartedly. And if we do that, then we can go on to the Christian idea of baptism, that also sees the need to respond to the challenge of the Messiah. To accept Jesus (the Messiah that followed) for ourselves. Not only in an intellectual way, but as the solution to our reconciliation with God as well.

Combine John’s baptism with the idea of needing divine help to be saved from our sins, and that is what Christian baptism is really all about—acknowledging not only the need to repent and turn our lives towards God but accepting the need for Jesus to provide our salvation too.

2. The Place of Baptism
Baptism then has a very important place in the life of every believer. Having said that, baptism should also play a very significant role in the life of the church as well.

Because it is not enough to say you believe, you also have to do something to show that you believe too. And that includes the need to publicly demonstrate one’s need for repentance, and to publicly admit one’s need for God’s salvation.

When John ministered to the people of his time, yes, he may have spent much of his time in the wilderness, but he probably had very little time when he was alone. Indeed, we know he had his own disciples, and we know he was often surrounded by followers and people flocking to hear what he had to say.

When people were called to respond to his message, then, it was in a public arena—not private. And people were called on not to mumble a few words, but to actually demonstrate how serious they were by publicly submitting to baptism.

And that’s one of the main reasons why baptism should take place within the context of others who claim to be believers. And the advantage of having other like-minded people around is therefore not only to be witnesses to that person’s commitment, but to provide ongoing support too.

3. Life After Baptism
And that support is very necessary. Because baptism isn’t the end of a journey, but only the start.

The whole of John’s life was not just to call people to repent and turn from their selfish wicked ways, it was to point people to Jesus. John had disciples, but even them he pointed not to himself but to the Messiah. As a consequence, when Jesus came on the scene, John began to wind his ministry down so that Jesus could take over.

In other words, there was a transition from the ministry of John to the ministry of Jesus. And, as a consequence, Jesus’s comment about John to his disciples is very telling. Because his comment was that there had never been any greater person than John the Baptist.

John, his life and his ministry, then, is a role model, that we all could well to look at. He was a down to earth character. He mixed with the masses and wasn’t frightened of not fitting in with the establishment. He pointed out people’s failings. He showed them the way to go and talked in terms of doing and not just saying. He also understood his role as a warm-up artist. He pointed people to Jesus. And he knew when to back out and let Jesus take over. He knew not to get carried away with his own position.

And that is a role model we too would do well to employ. A starting point for all who have said they believe and who have followed that up by engaging in the public rite of Christian baptism.


Whenever we go to a concert, or theatre, or TV show. The chances are, before the main event, we will be presented with a warm-up act. And if they do their job properly, they will prepare us for the act or show that follows. However, as we’ve just seen, Jesus had a warm-up act too—and his name was John the Baptist.

John’s ministry was simple. His role was to prepare people for the coming Messiah. And he believed that part of that preparation was for people to not only say they had repented and turned to God, but they demonstrated it too.

Of course, with the advent of Jesus, the meaning of baptism now includes the idea of responding to Jesus’s salvation work. But if we leave baptism even there, then we’ve only got half the story. And that is because Baptism is not the end of the Christian walk, but only the beginning.

So just as John had the task of pointing people to Jesus, so it is our task to not only embrace the Christian faith, as it affects us every day, but to point others to Jesus too.

Of course, that doesn’t mean we all need to eat that special diet of locusts and wild honey. But it may help if some of us are bit oddball, and not seen as socially acceptable too.

Posted: 16th March 2022
© 2022, Brian A Curtis