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John’s ministry began in the 15th year of Tiberius  soon after he had turned 30, the age when a priest would begin  his Temple ministry, or step away from it to a prophetic ministry instead.  He began his ministry by going into the wilderness, deserted fields, about the countryside. He did not seek the fame of huge crowds in Jerusalem, but the loneliness of empty fields. People watching from the towns on the hillsides, and from the walk paths through the empty fields would wonder at seeing a prophet preaching a sermon to no one in the field. 
They began to stray from the towns, and from the paths to the empty field, to see what he was saying. Like Ezekiel, who preached to trees and mountains as directed by God; John the Baptist preached first to empty wilderness, and soon a crowd would gather.

John the Baptist went about 'PREACHING'.  Preaching is a big part of the gospel ministry of a prophet.   

I Corinthians 14:3
"...he that prophesieth speaketh unto men to edification, and to exhortation, and to comfort..."

Many who read this find that ‘preaching’ is a calling they do, whether it be in an empty wilderness, or in a filled cathedral.   We may preach on message boards, or web sites, and not know much of who is being sent there to read what is preached.  We may preach to those who are around us, as they turn their heads only to appear to be listening.  We preach because the message burns within us, and we must.  In our dying day, given opportunity, we will preach.  We are called, and that calling will make us preach till there is no more breath within us.  John was the greatest of the Old Testament preachers.   

Matthew 11:9-11
"What went you out to see, a prophet?  Yea, I say unto you, more than a prophet... among them that are born of women there hath not risen a greater than John the Baptist." 
Matthew 3:7
"But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees come to his baptisms, he said unto them, O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come?"   
Three groups are mentioned as being at the sermons of John the baptist.  There were: REPENTERS, PHARISEES, AND SADDUCEES.

The Pharisees (Matthew 3:7) were a sect of self-righteous and zealous Jews who held to the letter of their interpretation of the law and traditions of their religion. There were the bitterest enemies of Jesus, for they sought prestige, wealth, and were in doctrinal disagreement with the simple interpretation of Jesus of the real message of God.  While the Pharisees tried to make it very difficult, and almost impossible for the common man to be saved, Jesus came and showed how easy God had made salvation. They hated Jesus for such simplification, and attempted over and over to trick Jesus.

The Sadducees (Matthew 3:7) were a radical and nationalist sect. They denied the supernatural, the angels, demons, and the resurrection.
John the Baptist called the Pharisees and the Sadducees to be a "generation of vipers".  The vipers were not ordinary snakes.  They were poisonous asps or adders. The common ones were 4 inches long, no thicker than a wire. They lurk under stones or in the cracks of old walls. They are very deadly and aggressive.  

Some of those who listened to John's sermons repented. John sought to have repenters. He longed for a congregation of repenters.  The word "repent" comes from "metanoia" which refers to a real change of mind toward sin, and to sin's root cause.

Repentance is:
 not just a seeking of different circumstances,
 not a sigh of regret,
 not just a remorse,
 not simply a regret of the trouble that sin led one to.
Repentance is a real change of mind and attitude toward sin and its cause...
The repenters were recognized by their confessions of sins. Confession of sin was a new thing for Israel. They had grown accustomed to having only one day a year on which to repent of sins, the Day of Atonement. Some, a few, would go to the burnt altar at the temple to offer sacrifice for individual confession of sins, but that altar was ignored by most, except on the Day of Atonement.

There was not a practice of spontaneous confession following the committing of sin, and of feeling the conviction of the Holy Spirit. John the Baptist came and opened their eyes to the sins of the people and demanded a baptism to show to the world that they had already repented their sins.
John the Baptist preached many doctrines:

(Matthew 3:2-8, Mark 1:4)

kingdom of heaven is at hand
 (Matthew 3:2)

(Matthew 3:3-12` John 1:15-34)

water baptism
(Matthew 3:11, John 1:31)

(Matthew 3:8, Luke 3:8)

(Matthew 3:3-10, 14:4)

wrath to come
(Matthew 3:7, Luke 3)

against pride
(Matthew 3:9)

(Matthew 3:9, Luke 3:8)

heaven and hell
(Matthew 3:10-12, Luke 3)

baptism of the Holy Spirit
(Matthew 3:11, John 1:33)

judgment on chaff
(Matthew 3:12, Luke 3:17)

judgment on sins
(Matthew 3:10, Luke 3)

(Luke 3:6, John 1:29)

love to others
(Matthew 3:11)

honesty in business
(Luke 3:13)

absolute justice
(Luke 3:14)

Jesus, God's Lamb
(John 1:29)

Jesus, the sin-bearer
(John 1:29)

unworthiness of man
(John 1:27)

Jesus, the bridegroom
(John 3:29)

the greatness of Jesus
(John 3:30)

Jesus comes from heaven
(John 3:31-36)

rejection of Jesus
(John 3:32)

Jesus the truth
(John 3:30-36)

Jesus, the anointed
(John 3:34)

Jesus, God's heir
(John 3:35)
The preaching of John the Baptist focused on urgency, for he preached that the fulfillment of his prophecy was "at hand". The world of his day, and of ours would prefer if the prophetic message was not preached as being urgent. Many do not care if Jesus would come "someday", but when someone says that he is coming "soon" they get upset. for urgency demands action now!
John emphasized in his preaching a personal responsibility and repentance.    

The Jewish people had trained themselves to think that because they were descendants of Abraham, they were saved.  Many in our times, think they live in a Christian nation, go to a church, and have a Bible in the home, so they must be Christian and headed for heaven.   Many are not.
John preached:
Matthew 3:9
"Do not think you can say to yourselves, 'We have Abraham as our Father..."
His baptizing of the repentant in water was just a beginning of change in their lives,  for he preached a bringing forth of "fruits worthy of repentance..." (Luke 3:8).  To John, repentance, water baptism, were to be followed by radical change in life.

This is the ‘righteousness’ that he preached, a baptism into righteousness.  This truth is far greater a truth than most have realized.   The repentance allowed them to be baptized, but what is the symbolism of the baptism?   The baptism brought them to righteousness.  

Righteousness is the Greek word ‘diakaiosyne’.   It means to be brought into right standing, justified, made pure in the sight of... Jesus chose to be baptized by John, despite the fact that He had never sinned, so He did not need to repent.   Jesus chose to do it anyhow, for the message that the baptism itself teaches.

The water baptism taught by John illustrated the ministry of the Messiah that he preached.   Water baptism symbolically showed the burial of Jesus, and the emergence from the water, as a coming resurrection to new life.  Jesus died and was buried, and rose again to guarantee us a new life in Him, a resurrection to come.  
John instituted a water baptism as a symbol of repentance and dedication to the new kingdom of resurrected ones, that was about to come.    

The new kingdom of God was to be entered into, by the convert, in our case a repentant convert, taking the death of Jesus for us, so that we emerge from the salvation experience a newly enlivened person in the Lord.   Water baptism does not save, but it is an illustrated sermon of what salvation through Jesus’ death and resurrection does for us.

John saw himself as the forerunner of such a kingdom of those in resurrection life with Jesus.  John wanted to announce that One Who was coming. John illustrated in baptizing repentant ones, what salvation was going to do, in the kingdom that was ‘at hand’.   

Jesus chose to let John baptize Him, so that we would look at the baptism in a clearer light.   It is not just the repentance that is key here, surely repentance is needed by we, the sinners.   The illustration of the baptism, i.e. immersion into death, emergence into new life, is what Jesus would do here on earth for us, and as we partake, at salvation, of His death and resurrection, we share eternal life.

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