“…the voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.”(John 1:3)
I have had (even as a pastor) several Jehovah’s Witnesses come to my door. After some small-talk I gently ask them, “Whose way did John the Baptist prepare?” Appropriately they answer, “He was preparing the way of Jesus.” I affirm their answer. Then I ask, why—as referenced in every Gospel account explaining the Baptist’s work—did Isaiah predict that John would prepare the way of the LORD, with LORD in the Old Testament prophecy being in all capital letters? Some of the less knowledgeable ask something like, “What is so important about LORD being in all capital letters?” Others, being JEHOVAH’s Witnesses, realize exactly where I am headed with such questioning: To have LORD in all capital letters in Old Testament texts is the English translator’s way of identifying the Hebrew word being used for LORD to be precisely the Holy Name of God, Jehovah. They have no answer for this; for how can John the Baptist prepare the way of Jehovah, thus identifying Jesus as Jehovah? What an opportunity to present the true God, the Triune God!
In examining Holy Scripture one can find numerous statements and descriptions wherein Jesus is identified as God. It would take dozens of pages to fully quote these texts, so briefly consider such statements and descriptions in this Sunday’s Gospel: Mark 1:1-8.
In his opening statement Saint Mark the Evangelist was inspired to write, The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God [1:1]. As explained in the New Testament, to label Jesus as Christ is to label him as God-in-the-flesh. Thus Saint Matthew would quote Isaiah 7:14 wherein the virgin-born Christ is identified as Immanuel, which is translated “God-with-us” [Mt 1:22]. Jesus is the Christ, God-with-us. As another example consider Jesus questioning the Jewish leaders as to why David (in Psalm 110) would call the Christ his “Lord.” The implication is that this coming Christ, who is indeed David’s “son”, is truly the Lord God. Many other such references identify the Christ as God.
In his brief introduction Mark further identifies Jesus as God by calling Him the Son of God. Numerous statements and descriptions in the New Testament explain that to be by nature the Son of God, Jesus must be fully God. Consider how the identity of Jesus is questioned by the Jews in John 5:18: This was why the Jews were seeking all the more to kill him, because…he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God. The Jews, unlike today’s Jehovah’s Witnesses, grasped the reality that for Jesus to be by nature God’s Son meant that He was truly equal with God.
When John the Baptist identified Jesus he explained, I have baptized you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit [v 8]. After He rose from the dead Jesus spoke of the impending fulfillment of John’s prediction: John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now [Acts 1:8]. On Pentecost this Baptism of the Holy Spirit occurred as Jesus poured forth the Holy Spirit. In his Pentecost Sermon Peter explained that this fulfills what Joel had predicted where God says, I will pour out my Spirit [Acts 2:17,18]. Note how the prediction indicates that God would baptize with the Spirit, and John predicted that Jesus would baptize with the Spirit. Of course this identifies Jesus as God, who indeed continues to pour forth the Spirit through the Sacrament of Holy Baptism.
Why is it so important for Jesus to be God? When this man died upon the cross Scripture indicates that He was redeeming all mankind. The only way this can be true is if the man Jesus is completely God, for only God can be the universal Redeemer. Jesus, our Savior, is indeed the Christ, the Son of God, the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.