Spirit of Grace Ministries
Spirit of Grace Ministries
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God's 2-Phase Program

John the Baptist

By Dennis Pollock

How blessed we are that Luke took up his pen to write his two amazing books which are included in the Bible: The Gospel of Luke and The Book of Acts! Luke was a careful and methodical writer, and we owe him a great debt. Luke seems to have had more of an appreciation for the Holy Spirit than any other writer. Why do I say that? When we calculate the number of references to the Holy Spirit in his two books, we find that they outnumber all the other references to the Holy Spirit in all the other books of the Bible – COMBINED! Luke never seemed to miss a chance to add the words: “filled with the Holy Spirit.”

Another unique aspect of Luke’s writing is the more detailed accounts he gives us of the birth and early days of John the Baptist and Jesus. He tells things the other gospel writers leave out entirely. In this study we will look at three summary references he makes to the growing up years of John and Jesus. In the first chapter of his gospel account Luke writes this of the nature of John’s boyhood years:

So the child grew and became strong in spirit, and was in the deserts till the day of his manifestation to Israel (Luke 1:80).

In the next chapter, after describing the birth of Jesus, the angelic revelation to the shepherds, and Simeon and Anna recognizing Jesus as Israel’s Messiah when He was brought to the temple, Luke gives another summary account, this time of Jesus’ childhood, writing:

And the Child grew and became strong in spirit, filled with wisdom; and the grace of God was upon Him (Luke 2:40).

Natural & Spiritual Growth

In both cases, Luke writes that these sons of destiny “grew and became strong in spirit.” For a child to grow is nothing unusual. Every child does this. But to become strong in spirit is quite a different matter. Both Jesus and John developed spiritually. They were, in truth, spiritual prodigies. The term “prodigy” is often used to describe a child who has abilities far beyond other children of his age. Perhaps, like Mozart, the child can play the piano better at the age of nine, than nearly all adults who have studied piano for decades. Or they may be able to read at an adult level while still in the second grade.

Jesus and John were truly spiritual prodigies. Their love for God, their instinctive insights into the ways and the nature of God, their prayer lives, their passion to do the will of God and their devotion to God was light years beyond other children of their age.

Of course, it is not that John and Jesus were on equal and parallel tracks. John had a sin nature; Jesus did not. John was subject to human foibles and shortcomings. Jesus, being God in human flesh, was perfect. But still Luke insists that both little boys “grew and became strong in spirit.” Both were being developed and matured for their respective ministries.

Luke’s summary of John’s boyhood makes no further references to his spiritual attributes, and he simply notes that he “was in the deserts till the day of his manifestation to Israel.” John was not a “city boy.” He lived out in the country, and even as he moved into his adult years, he stayed in the country, developing, growing, increasing in his knowledge of the Holy One of Israel, unencumbered and undistracted by the hustle and bustle and temptations of city life.

“Filled with Wisdom”

But in his description of the early days of Jesus, Luke has a little more to say, declaring that He was “filled with wisdom; and the grace of God was upon Him.” We do not normally use the word wisdom in connection with a child. They may be cute, they may be smart, they may be funny, but rarely do we call them wise. They haven’t lived long enough to earn that compliment. They are still immature, rather silly, and, well… childish, even the best of them. But in Jesus’ case, He is not merely called a wise child, He is declared to be “filled with wisdom” with the grace of God upon Him.

Jesus would not have stood out as extraordinary in those early years, in outward appearance. He did not glow with the glory of God, nor did He apparently look any different from other Jewish boys and young men. He had no halo over His head, as in the old paintings. The thing that marked Him out from others was not His looks but His character. Later in the second chapter, Luke shares a second summary of Jesus’ boyhood, writing:

And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men (Luke 2:52).

The idea of Jesus increasing in wisdom might seem strange to some. Was He not God? How could He increase in wisdom? Did He not possess all wisdom before coming to this earth? Why would He need to increase in wisdom? The answer is that when Jesus came to this earth, He set aside His divinity, His omnipotence and omniscience, and needed to grow and function as all men do. He did not come out of His mother’s womb announcing that the Messiah had arrived. Like all other baby boys Jesus must learn to talk, must learn to walk, must learn the Scriptures, and must develop not only physically, but also mentally and spiritually. Thus, He became strong in spirit and increased in wisdom. To become like one of us, He had to grow and develop just like we all must grow and develop. Except, of course, He far exceeded all of us.

Silent Years

We know almost nothing of these growing up years of either Jesus or John. Luke gives us one little story, about Jesus staying in the temple and having theological discussions with the Bible scholars there, amazing everyone at his “understanding and answers.” But beyond that we are kept in the dark.

What we do learn is that around the time both He and John reached the age of thirty, God began to work in their lives in a powerful manner. They were filled with the Spirit (yes, Jesus Himself was filled with the Holy Spirit, according to Luke) and they rose up and shook the nation of Israel. John began preaching first, commanding all to repent and announcing that the Messiah for whom they waited would soon appear. Jesus was anointed and launched His ministry about six months later, doing miracles that quickly arrested the attention of everyone. Those days of “growing strong in spirit” had surely prepared these young men for incredible ministries, such as Israel had never seen before, and has never seen since.

In boxing people sometimes talk about a one-two punch or a left-right punch. This has to do with hitting one’s opponent with a left jab and following it with an immediate right hook. Sometimes, when this is done with enough force, it is enough to knock down the man and end the fight. John the Baptist’s ministry, followed by Jesus’ amazing ministry were God’s one-two punch to the forces of darkness over Israel. The Jews heard powerful, anointed preaching such as they had never heard before, saw miracles such as they could never have guessed possible, and experienced a spiritual stirring that moved the entire nation. These two young men set all of Israel talking and speculating. Could this be that which the prophets had foretold?

Phase 1 and 2

It is interesting that both John’s and Jesus’ lives could be neatly divided into Phase 1 and Phase 2. Both spent from birth to the age of thirty making little impact upon the people of Israel. Had you known either one of them in their early twenties, you might have thought of them as “nice young men,” but a little strange in their almost fanatical views of God and life. But you would probably not have considered them world-changers. Exactly what they did in their twenties we cannot be sure. Jesus was referred to as a carpenter (“Is this not the carpenter, the Son of Mary…” – Mark 6:3). So it seems quite likely that He spent these years working quietly with his father, Joseph, and perhaps taking over the little business once Joseph died. With John we have no clue what he did. He no doubt made a living doing some kind of work, and lived quietly, waiting for his time to come.

Neither was educated in the Jewish universities. They lived quiet lives of faith, learning, growing, and trusting in God. But all of that changed when they reached the age of thirty. With John we read:

The word of God came to John the son of Zacharias in the wilderness. And he went into all the region around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the remission of sins (Luke 3:2-3).

John’s days of preparation and maturing were over. It was now time for him to make use of what he had learned and exercise those spiritual muscles he had developed in the first thirty years of his life. He hit the ground running. When John preached in the power of the Holy Spirit, he stunned the people of Israel. He did not go to Jerusalem and set up “John the Baptist International Ministries.” He simply preached out in the wilderness, and huge crowds came from all over Israel to hear him. John went from a quiet country boy to a national phenomenon in a matter of weeks. The Bible says: “Then all the land of Judea, and those from Jerusalem, went out to him and were all baptized by him in the Jordan River, confessing their sins” (Mark 1:5).

This pattern was repeated in the life of the Lord Jesus. As John was preaching to and baptizing thousands of Israelites, one day Jesus showed up for baptism. Being related, whose mothers knew each other well (remember Mary going to see Elizabeth while both were pregnant), almost certainly John and Jesus were not strangers. And John knew that he had no business baptizing Jesus – if anything, John should be baptized by Jesus. But Jesus insisted, and John baptized his cousin. The Spirit of God came upon Jesus and His ministry to the people of Israel was soon to begin. After spending 40 days in the wilderness, being tempted by the devil, Jesus returned to the cities of Israel, and Luke records:

Then Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit to Galilee, and news of Him went out through all the surrounding region. And He taught in their synagogues, being glorified by all (Luke 4:14-15).

Speedy Transformation

Like John, Jesus was transformed from a well-mannered but unspectacular young man to a national phenomenon in a few weeks. Before this time, few in Israel had ever heard of Jesus of Nazareth. Soon the whole nation was talking about Him, from the high priest and the scholars to the fishermen and the housewives. For the next three and a half years, Jesus could hardly escape the throngs of people that wanted to hear Him, to touch Him, and to have Him pray over them. His popularity would rise to such heights that the jealous leaders of Israel determined to kill Him. With the baptism of John, Jesus’ amazing life had shifted from phase one to phase two, from quiet preparation to powerful ministry.

There is a powerful lesson in the story of Jesus and John for those of us who commit our lives to trust in and follow the Savior. The idea of a two-phase plan was not original with John and Jesus. Actually, God had been doing it all along, with those men and women He had chosen. Moses was trained and lived quietly for forty years, serving his father-in-law and herding sheep, before he saw a vision of God in a bush, heard his voice, and shifted from his own phase one to phase two. David spent years leading a rag-tag group of 600 men in the wilderness before his day came, and he was made king of Israel. Phase one – phase two. Preparation first, and then effective ministry and leadership. There is no phase two unless there has been a successful phase one.

Do not despise God’s training years in your life. You may not be accomplishing as much as you think you should, it may not be nearly as exciting and world-shattering as you would like, but if you learn your lessons well, if you are faithful to abide in Jesus, to study the word of God, to allow God to develop your character until you become “strong in spirit” you may be surprised and delighted to find what He has for you in your very own phase two.



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