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An Outsider Looking In ... John the Baptist

What must of us know about Jesus' cousin John comes from his name “the baptized.” Yet, this man clothed in camel’s hair is more than the desert baptisms for which he is famous – he is perplexing.

Who was this wild man? What was his message about? And what is the relevance today?

Beyond the caricature of the man and based on the seemingly contradictory testimony of gospel writers versus both secular and Christian historians, there is this nagging question: “What is baptism all about?”

For John the Baptist, the purpose as stated by the gospels Matthew and Luke was a “baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” But, others like later year historians like the Jewish Josephus and the Christian Eusebius offer a different interpretation – that baptism was primarily for “the purification of the body,” not for anything about repentance.

How are we to deal with John’s message and politics? For an answer, look to Jesus.

In effect, Jesus both confirms John’s role and John’s fallibility in preparing the way for the kingdom of God. Despite being given a God-critical mission, John remains as much or even more a questioner of his faith than others who enter the kingdom.

Whether it’s with Jesus relative John or with us far removed from the action 20 centuries later, we don’t always get it. But maybe that’s ok, so long as we demonstrate humility like John, acknowledging that we are not even fit to carry Jesus’ sandals.