John the Baptist was miraculously born to faithful priest Zacharias and wife Elizabeth well after the passing of her child-bearing years, as was announced to happen during a visit by the angel Gabriel. The fact that Gabriel had visited the prophet Daniel five centuries earlier suggested that John would not be just your average prophet. In fact, he would not be your average anything.
1 In those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the Wilderness of Judea 2 and saying, “Repent, because the kingdom of heaven has come near!” 3 For he is the one spoken of through the prophet Isaiah, who said:
A voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
Prepare the way for the Lord;
make His paths straight!
4 John himself had a camel-hair garment with a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey. 5 Then people from Jerusalem, all Judea, and all the vicinity of the Jordan were flocking to him, 6 and they were baptized by him in the Jordan River as they confessed their sins. Matthew 3:1-6 (HCSB)
The primary focus of John’s ministry was Jesus of Nazareth, who had a very unusual beginning Himself. He was born of a virgin in Bethlehem, fulfilling several Old Testament prophecies, then fled to Egypt to avoid murderous King Herod who, misunderstanding the nature of Jesus’ kingdom, tried to kill off any young child who might be a threat to his own throne. After being informed in a dream of Herod’s death, Jesus’ stepfather Joseph and mother Mary raised Him in the town of Nazareth. Here Jesus was an apprentice carpenter under Joseph, living with His mother until the age of thirty, when Jesus began His public ministry throughout Israel. (Joseph had apparently died sometime before this).
Though Jesus’ mother, Mary, had visited her relative and John’s mother, Elizabeth, when both women were pregnant with the two children, there is no indication in scripture that Jesus and John had met each other prior to their encounter when John baptized Jesus in the Jordan River, beginning Jesus’ ministry.
Unusual as he was, John was a very Spirit-filled instrument of God, even from birth. He was blessed to attract large numbers of people, many who traveled twenty miles (33 km) or more on foot or by donkey from Jerusalem to hear John speak and to get baptized in the Jordan River, all in preparation for the Messiah’s arrival. God was using John as a central figure in a great spiritual revival in Judea, preparing the people for Jesus’ preaching and teaching on the good news of the kingdom of heaven. Jesus authority as God in flesh was attested to by Him performing countless amazing miracles of healing and restoration, even bringing people back from the dead.
John the Baptist did not mince any words or soft-pedal his message when he spoke to the crowds. He was blunt and firm, in keeping with his rugged lifestyle. But he always kept his focus on the coming Messiah, Jesus, and directed the focus of the crowds towards Him.
11 “I baptize you with water for repentance, but the One who is coming after me is more powerful than I. I am not worthy to remove His sandals. He Himself will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 12 His winnowing shovel is in His hand, and He will clear His threshing floor and gather His wheat into the barn. But the chaff He will burn up with fire that never goes out.” Matthew 3:11-12 (HCSB)
Jesus then came, preaching a message of spiritual rebirth and eternal life with an emphasis on love, forgiveness, and service to others. But He was also coming as the undisputed King of this new kingdom, one that the prophets of old foretold would eventually replace all earthly kingdoms. It will be a kingdom run strictly on purity, love, and divine fruitfulness, with power and righteousness flowing to its subjects through faith in the sacrificial death and resurrection of their King, Jesus Christ Himself. We could never earn the right to be a part of this wonderful kingdom; it is only extended to us by faith and God’s infinite grace and mercy.
The message of John’s voice in the wilderness was later echoed by Jesus, as recorded in the gospel of John. Speaking of Himself, Jesus taught:
5 “I am the vine; you are the branches. The one who remains in Me and I in him produces much fruit, because you can do nothing without Me. 6 If anyone does not remain in Me, he is thrown aside like a branch and he withers. They gather them, throw them into the fire, and they are burned. 7 If you remain in Me and My words remain in you, ask whatever you want and it will be done for you. 8 My Father is glorified by this: that you produce much fruit and prove to be My disciples. John 15:5-8 (HCSB)
Through righteousness gifted by Him, we are regarded in God’s eyes as fruitful wheat, not worthless chaff or dead branches. We are citizens of the new kingdom, beginning now. We can maximize our gift of new life by approaching the Lord in prayer for daily strength and forgiveness, seeking to learn more about Him by reading His word in scripture, serving and forgiving others in love, and worshiping and fellowshipping with other believers to encourage them and to build each other up in the faith. The Holy Spirit that dwelled within John the Baptist and drew many believers to Christ continues to dwell in the hearts of believers today. May the multitude around us be drawn into His great light today.
What voices or messengers did God use to turn your heart towards Christ?
Father God, thank You for drawing us to faith in our savior and eternal King, Jesus. Use us to grow the kingdom of heaven and to draw others towards a faith in You. Help us daily to become effective beacons of Your great light and love, forgiving us when we fall, and energizing us to follow You.. We ask this in Jesus’ name, Amen.