John the Baptist: Link between the O.T. and the N.T. – Lesson and Discussion
John the Baptist is widely regarded as the hinge or bridge that links the Old Testament and the New Testament. He is the flow of what was the old into the new. He is also forever closely linked to Christ because it was his entire life’s mission to announce the coming of Christ.
How is John the link between the Old Testament and the New Testament, and the link to Jesus? We see in Luke’s Gospel, it is the announcement of John to be conceived that is before the announcement of Jesus to be conceived. In all four gospels it is John, who is introduced first before Jesus comes on the scene. This represents all the prophets, who came before Jesus. John is the final of the prophets to tell us to repent. Yet, he is also the first to start to preach the “Beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God”[i] at the age of thirty, the same age Jesus began His ministry too. Before he began preaching, John went out into the desert and lived a rigorous and penitential life. This is similar to Jesus who right before preaching the Kingdom of God, He went out into the desert for forty days and lived a demanding and prayerful life. Finally, it is John’s death that foreshadows Jesus’ Passion and death. It was in John’s death we see the conclusion of the Old Testament and the way to the New Testament.
How are Jesus and Saint John the Baptist similar? Gabriel is present to announce the birth of each. “Gabriel has retired, bearing away with him the divine secret which he has not been commissioned to reveal to the rest of the world. Neither will the most prudent Virgin herself tell it; even Joseph, her virginal spouse, is to receive no communication of the mystery from her lips. But the woeful sterility, beneath which earth has been so long groaning, is not to be followed by ignorance more sorrow-stricken still, now that it has yielded its fruit.”[ii] The angel Gabriel, the Blessed Virgin Mary and Saint John the Baptist are given the great secret of God, and each in their own way must announce the secret to the world. If Jesus Christ is a secret to much of our friends, family, and society, how can we give this knowledge of Jesus to others? The betrayal and beheading of Saint John the Baptist by Herod prefigures the betrayal and crucifixion of Our Lord by Pontius Pilate, both of these powerful authorities were threatened by these humble and seeming less powerless men. The message of both of these men as they began their preaching ministry was repentance. “John the Baptist appeared in the desert proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.”[iii] “In those days John the Baptist appeared, preaching in the desert of Judea saying, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!”[iv] These were also the first words of Christ, “From that time on, Jesus began to preach and say, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”[v]
What can we learn from the similarities between Saint John and Jesus? First, the great mercy and grace of God to humble himself by sending not only the message of His Word, but the Word becoming flesh. Second, we learn the value of humility, courage, and persecution. Third, we learn the importance and necessity of repentance.
How is John like a prophet? John is a prophet. As the St. Augustine says in the Spiritual Reading, “John, then, appears as the boundary between the two testaments, the old and the new. That he is a sort of boundary; the Lord himself bears witness, when he speaks of the law and the prophets up until John the Baptist. Thus he represents times past and is the herald of the new era to come. As a representative of the past, he is born of aged parents; as a herald of the new era, he is declared to be a prophet while still in his mother’s womb. For when yet unborn, he leapt in his mother’s womb at the arrival of blessed Mary. In that womb he had already been designated a prophet, even before he was born; it was revealed that he was to be Christ’s precursor, before they saw one another. These are divine happenings, going beyond the limits of our human frailty.”[vi] John was also like a herald.
See also Link to Liturgy Lesson “John the Baptist: The Last Prophet”
What is a herald? “A herald goes before him, as was the ancient custom of the East, to announce his arrival and to see to the repair of roads, the condition of which in those days nobody was really concerned about except in very special circumstances…Our Lord too was to have his herald in the person of the Precursor, who would go before him, preparing the hearts of those to whom the Redeemer would soon be reaching out.”[vii] It is the custom of man even to this day to have a speaker introduced or to have a headliner band preceded by “opening acts”. Saint John the Baptist is the opening act. “Conformably to the ways of men, the God-Man would not intrude himself into public life; he would await, for the inauguration of his divine ministry, some man who, having preceded him in a similar career, would be hereby sufficiently accredited to the introduce him to the people.”[viii] Many great bands got their start as an “opening act” and become famous or noticed because of their connection to the “headliner”. In the Christian life we are holy because of our connection to Christ, our headliner. We strive to warm up the crowd to the grace of Jesus. Like Saint John the Baptist, we are only the voice, but Jesus is the Word. What is a voice without a word, what is a melody without lyrics? Who has been the “opening act” in our life to help us warm up to Christ?
Today, as baptized Christians, we are the heralds, the forerunners for Christ. “The Lord uses us as torches, to make that light shine out. Much depends on us; if we respond many people will remain in darkness no longer, but will walk instead along paths that lead to eternal life.”[ix] Are we making straight the ways of the Lord so that He may enter into the souls of our friends, relatives, and ourselves? Are ready to give of ourselves fully like John the Baptist did? What are some things we can do to prepare the way of the Lord?
What is the mission of the forerunner? “The mission of the forerunner is to disappear, to take second place, when the one he announces has arrived.”[x] As St. John Chrysostom once said, “I myself think that this is why God allowed John to suffer an early death, so that once he had disappeared all the fervor of the crowd would be directed towards Christ rather than being shared between the two.”[xi] John did this perfectly. He understood what was expected of him as the forerunner, when he said, “He must increase; I must decrease.”[xii]
TV SHOW – How I Met Your Mother: Marshall as Barney’s Wingman – POP CULTURE CONNECTION – 0:17
In this clip we see Marshall coming up to help Barney. He is trying to be the forerunner and help Barney. Obviously as seen on the clip he does a lousy job, and isn’t able to handle his assignment.
The role of a great musician, teacher, athlete, coach, priest, and most occupations is to “disappear”. When a musician plays, we should be caught up in the beauty and truth of the music and lyrics, not fascinated or even distracted by the musician or singer. A great athlete makes the team look good and sometimes just disappears during the game. The same is true of a priest or teacher. At Mass we should not be focused on the personality of the priest but on the mystery of the mass. In the classroom, a great teacher captivates us not with their own personality but rather the subject matter, which they are at the service of.
This does not mean Christ wants us to be non-existent. This is hardly the case; John the Baptist will forever be remember because of his birth, life, and death. John had a remarkable personality that did not lack any character for God. However, if we live to bring the Good News to all, wherever we are, then we may too get to enjoy the fruits that John the Baptist had as being called one of the greatest saints ever![xiii] Lord, help us to be the link between You and this world, between others and You, and between our lives and Yours.
Why did Jesus, the light of the world, need any light to precede him? “Many false glimmerings had deceived mankind, during the night of these ages of expectation, that, had the true Light arisen suddenly, it would not have been understood, or would have but blinded eyes now become well nigh powerless, by reason of protracted darkness, to endure its brilliancy. Eternal Wisdom therefore decreed that, just as the rising sun is announced by the morning start and prepares his coming by the gently tempered brilliance of dawn, so Christ, who is the Light, should be preceded here below by a star, his precursor; and his approach should be signalized by the luminous rays which he himself, though still invisible, would shed around this faithful herald of his coming…Even as dawn melts into day, so will he [John the Baptist] confound with Light Uncreated his own radiance; being of himself, like every creature, nothingness and darkness, he will so reflect the brilliancy of the Messiah shining immediately upon him, that many will mistake him even for the very Christ.”[xiv] Saint John the Baptist was so much like Christ that people “were asking in their hearts whether John might be the Messiah.”[xv] Part of the reason why people were asking was because they were expecting. There are many people in our lives expecting and needed Christ, will we bring them Christ, as Saint John the Baptism brought Christ to so many. What an honor to be so much like Christ in our lives that we bring about in the hearts of others expectation and joy, making the way for souls to embrace the Savior.
In the life of Saint John the Baptist we see the mercy of God and the great love Christ has even in the womb. The Song of Songs says, “Hark! My lover – here he comes springing across the mountains, leaping across the hills.”[xvi] After the Angel Gabriel had left Mary, the Blessed Virgin “set out and traveled to the hill country in haste to a town of Judah, where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth.”[xvii] The first visit of Jesus, takes place, while both Jesus and Saint John are still in the womb. “The first outpouring of his graces is to John. A distinct feast will allow us to honor in a special manner the day on which the divine Child, sanctifying his Precursor, reveals himself to John by the voice of Mary; the day on which our Lady, manifested by John leaping within the womb of his mother, proclaims at last the wondrous things operated within her by the Almighty according to the merciful promise which he spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his seed for ever.”[xviii]