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John the Baptist
“In those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the Desert of Judea and saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.” This is he who was spoken of through the prophet Isaiah:
“A voice of one calling in the desert, 'Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight paths for him'”
John's clothes were made of camel's hair, and he had a leather belt round his waist. His food was locusts and wild honey. People went out to him from Jerusalem and all Judea and the whole region of the Jordan. Confessing their sins, they were baptised by him in the Jordan River. ( Matthew 3:1-6)
We are not told very much about John the Baptist. We do know that his father was Zechariah, a priest and his mother Elizabeth, a relative of Mary the mother of Jesus. We know that John's birth had come as a surprise because until then Elizabeth had been barren. Thus, John's birth was seen to be in a very special way to be of God. Zechariah his father during the time leading up to John's birth had been struck dumb because he had disbelieved the angel Gabriel's announcement of the birth, but when asked what the baby’s name was to be he wrote on a tablet 'John', the name the angel had told him was to be the child's name, as soon as he did this, he was again able to speak, having now shown belief in what the angel had said and he praised God. Luke tells us Luke 1:66
“Everyone who heard this wondered about it, asking, “What then is this child going to be? For the Lord's hand was with him.”
Luke also tells us Luke 1:80,
“And the child grew and became strong in spirit; and he lived in the desert until he appeared publicly to Israel”
There had not been a prophet in Israel for over 400 years. Filled with the Holy Spirit, Zechariah prophesied however, concerning John:
“And you my child, will be called a prophet of the Most High; for you will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for him, to give his people the knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins because of the tender mercy of our God.”
No wonder the people flocked to see and hear John. For God was clearly at work here. Indeed, a spirit of revival, one might say, was in the air. So the people came from Jerusalem, from Judea and from the whole region of the Jordan to hear what John had to say and to be baptised by him.
John identified himself as a prophet by what he wore and how he lived. Like Elijah before him, “He was a man with a garment of hair and with a leather belt round his waist” 2 Kings 1:8 He lived in the desert. It was in the wilderness that Jacob's faith had been formed, so to David's and Moses'. There they had met with God and been given their divine assignments. Jesus led by the Spirit went into the desert. So too Paul, after his conversion, to find himself, to meet with God and to come to terms with the mission God gave him to do.
I read the story once of a lady who asked a minister to teach her a simple prayer. He told her to prayer “O Lord, show me myself”, several months later he met her again and gave her another prayer “O Lord, show me yourself”. The first prayer gave her a great awareness of her need for God and salvation. The second brought her to Christ and to salvation. She went on from, that to serve God and bring many children to faith in Jesus.
I also read an article once in the Christianity Magazine on the very subject of Bible Truths about Discovering Your Assignment in Life, in which the author spoke of the importance of numbering our days - Psalm 90:12. Spend your 'maturity years' fruitfully, he said, be wise about your endeavours and extremely discerning concerning how time is utilised. How true that is!
There are destiny points that can be missed. If the right foundation or preparation has not been laid or made, both for individuals and for nations. The desert may be a good place to start to find and to encounter God, but it is not a good place to remain in isolation if God's work of bringing the message of salvation to the whole world is to be done.
With John the Baptist’s coming such a great turning point had arrived. For, God had o sent anew a prophet to bring his message to the people and to prepare the way for the coming Kingdom of God, in the imminent arrival of the Messiah. Expectation was high, the excitement was infectious, and the emergence of John the Baptist as God's prophet at the right time and in the right place, clearly had a considerable impact upon the nation at that time. Indeed, he was a breath of desert wind, a breath of fresh air, at a time of religious stagnation. But not just that, his message turned upside down the complacency of the people and his life challenged the complacency of the people concerning their current way of life. Here was a man full of the Spirit who speaking clearly of God, whose words struck home even as his message spoke of why God's people were in the mess they were in. What he said they knew was right, as he spoke of sin and of judgment, and as he called the people to flee from the wrath to come.
It is important also to recognise that the reason John spoke so, was because of the coming of the Messiah. His message was not, 'believe in order to avoid Hell'. But believe because Christ is coming, he who is both Saviour and Judge, he who will baptise not with water but with the spirit and with fire. Believe because the kingdom of heaven is near.
I liked the comment that one Bible commentator made. 'Nobody wanted him in their front room' Prophets don't make you feel good. They upset people, they disturb people, they say those uncomfortable but true things that we don't want to hear. They wear the wrong clothes, they are unshaven, they smell funny but nevertheless there is that something spiritually dynamic about them that is unsettling and unnerving and draws one to them. For the message they bring, the words they speak come from God and touch people’s hearts such that their lives are revealed for what they truly are and as a consequence, the need to amend ones ways becomes a clear priority in one's life as never before. This was God's doing. God's timing and God's revealing. The Holy Spirit is stirring hearts and minds and it is a thing that won't go away and can't be pushed aside, for as Paul says 'I tell you, now is the time of God's favour, now is the day of salvation.' 2 Corinthians 6:2
John bursts onto centre stage and declares that the kingdom of heaven is near. His message “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near”. Is a bolt out of the blue, for he speaks that message, note this, to God's people! To those who keep the law, those who have been circumcised, those who keep the Passover, attend the synagogue and who go up to the temple when they can. It is as if he is saying to them, stop playing at religion and put your faith in God. Show that you do believe by how you live your lives. Jesus is coming, get ready for by him your life will be shown for what it truly is and where your destiny does indeed lie, in heaven or in hell.
“A voice of one calling in the desert, 'Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight paths for him'”
We should live our lives as if Christ died yesterday, rose again today and is coming back tomorrow. But do we? Repentance is not just turning away from wrong doing, the amendment of one’s life. It is far more radical than that. It is the calling of people into a right relationship with God that then affects every aspect of their lives. It is the surrender of one’s life to God, becoming an entirely new person in terms of attitudes, affections, appearances and actions. Such a change comes about, not by self-help, but by God’s Holy Spirit making a radical transformation of your life. The only true way to enter the kingdom of heaven is through the king, through his baptism of the Holy Spirit and by the fire of judgment. Salvation comes through a Saviour and that Saviour is Jesus. Without such a total salvation people remain lost in their sin.
John the baptism came as the forerunner to prepare and point the way to Jesus of whom he said, Luke 3:11
“I baptise you with water for repentance. But after me will come one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not fit to carry. He will baptise you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor, gathering his wheat into the barn and burning up the chaff with unquenchable fire.”
Perhaps we need to heed what John the Baptist says here more carefully. Jesus coming is not all sweetness and light. Jesus has come to gather into his Kingdom those who are prepared to acknowledge him as King over each and every part of their lives and to bring about their salvation through the power of God's Holy Spirit. But to those who heed not his call, those who presume upon his grace and mercy, those who remain in their sin, he says your end is at hand. But, how prepared are we really for Jesus. Are you prepared to confess him as our Lord and King, prepared to serve him with our lives, and prepared to find in him his divine assignment for our lives.
“Who knows the power of your anger?
For your wrath is as great as the fear that is due to you.
Teach us to number our days aright,
that we may gain a heart of wisdom.” Psalm 90:11, 12
The coming of the Kingdom, the coming of the King has totally transformed life, do you see that? The Old Covenant of trying to keep the law, trying to do good, has been replaced by a new and better Covenant of gift and grace, God with us, God for us, and God in us. As the prophet Ezekiel foresaw would be Ezekiel 36:22f ,
“Therefore say to the house of Israel, “This is what the Sovereign Lord says: It is not for you sake, O house of Israel, that I am going to do these things, but for the sake of my holy name, which you have profaned among the nations where you have gone. I will show the holiness of my great name, which has been profaned among the nations, the name you have profaned among them. Then the nations will know that I am the Lord, declares the Sovereign Lord, when I show myself holy through you before their eyes.
For I will take you out of the nations, I will gather you from all the countries and bring you back into your own land. I will sprinkle clean water on you and you will be clean. I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you... then they will know that I am the Lord.”
No longer is religion about keeping appearances, about ritual and blood sacrifices, about outward signs and symbols. Rather it is about inner life, forgiveness, mercy, love and faith, about a spiritual inner transformation that brings about the living out of what God have birthed from above by His Holy Spirit in our hearts and minds. John the Baptist was the forerunner and the announcer of this new hope for mankind, the coming of the Kingdom, through the coming of the King. Jesus, the Messiah was the fulfiller of this hope for us in and through his life, death and resurrection. John's greatness lay in the fact that he had come to prepare the way. 'Repent for the kingdom of heaven is near'.
Jesus gave confirmation to the truth of this message and proclaimed the need for repentance and new birth from above. He died to save us from our sin. He died to set us free. Let us lay hold of Jesus then as our Saviour and Lord in a truer way and let us live out the life of the kingdom in a fuller way to his praise and glory, who said of John, Matthew 11:11, 14
“I tell you the truth: Among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist; yet he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.... And if you are willing to accept it, he is Elijah, who was to come.”