The Preaching of St John the Baptist
John, son of the righteous Zacharias and Elizabeth, lived from his youth in the wilderness and spent there his time in fasting and prayer. His clothing was made of camel’s hair, and about loins he wore a leather girdle, and his food was locusts (a wild plant, not insects) and wild honey.
When John reached thirty years of age, the Lord directed him to go to the valley of the Jordan River and proclaim to all the people that the Saviour of the world would soon appear, and that all should prepare to meet Him with repentance and baptism.
John went to the region of the Jordan and started to preach, “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand,” — that is, the time was drawing near when the long awaited Saviour would appear, Who would summon everyone to His kingdom.
For a long time God had not sent a prophet to the Hebrew people. From the time of the last prophet, Malachi, there had passed four hundred years. Therefore, when they heard of the appearance of the Prophet John and about his marvellous life and teaching, people came from all directions to hear him. Whoever believed his words and repented of their sins, John baptized in the river Jordan, that is, he immersed each one in the water while placing his hands on the head of the baptized. Therefore, John the Forerunner was called the Baptist. In the process, John required of everyone that the repentance be sincere and the correction in oneself be accompanied by good works.
The baptism of John meant that as the body is washed and cleansed by water, thus, the soul of a person who repents and believes in the Saviour is cleansed by Christ of all his sins when he is baptized into the Church.
Among those who came to John were some people who considered themselves righteous, did not wish to repent, and, indeed, were vicious and evil as, for example, were the Pharisees and Sadducees — leaders of the Hebrew people. The Pharisees were proud of their descent from Abraham, praised themselves for fulfilling the Law, and considered themselves worthy to enter the Kingdom of Christ the Messiah. The Sadducees did not believe in the resurrection of the dead and in the future life. To these people John said, “Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?” — that is, who told you that you by your own power could escape the anger of God and eternal punishment in the future life? “Bring forth fruits worthy for repentance. And think not to say within yourselves: we have Abraham as our father; for I say unto you, that God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham. Remember, every tree which bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down and cast into the fire.”
Hearing these words, the people asked him, “What shall we do then?”
John answered, “He that has two coats, let him impart to him that has none; and he that has food, let him do likewise,” — that is, first of all, do good.
Then, publicans, or tax collectors, came and asked, “Master, what shall we do?” The publicans collected taxes for the Romans. The Jews hated the power of the Romans. Besides that, several of the publicans collected more than was proper and oppressed the people. The Jews despised all the publicans and considered them unworthy to enter the approaching Kingdom of Christ. John said to them, “Exact no more than that, which is appointed you.”
The soldiers also asked of him, “What shall we do?” It often happened that the soldiers, dissatisfied with their wages, took property that belonged to other people, treated poor people badly, and accused other people for their own profit. John said to them, “Do violence to no man, neither accuse any falsely; and be content with your wages.”
Many then wondered if John was Christ the Saviour, but John explained that he was not the Christ. “I baptize you with water,” he said, “but after me One mightier than I is coming,” — that is, soon after me will come He for whom you wait — Christ, “the latchet of Whose shoes I am not worthy to unloose;” — that is, I am unworthy to even be His servant to take off His shoes for Him. “He shall baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire;” — that is, the baptism which He will give will burn up your sins like fire and give you the gifts of the Holy Spirit.
The holy Prophet John preached to many others, teaching the people who came to him.
Note: See the Gospels of Matthew 3:1-12; Mark 1:1-18; Luke 3:1-18; John 1:15-28.(from: The Law of Godby Fr. Seraphim Slobodskoy)