Friday, March 6, 2015

The Messiah's Desert Man

Heroes of the Bible follow one pattern: the Messiah. Those who preceded the Messiah became the living example of what He would be like, what types of decisions He would make, how He'd react to situations. The more a hero diligently lived a life patterned after the Messiah's by studying, obeying, researching, and meditating on the Holy Scriptures—never claiming himself as the Messiah—the more God supported him with everything necessary to install and fortify him in a position of leadership.

Heroes pointed people to the Messiah, to God, and not to themselves. John the Baptist, the Messiah's cousin, himself being a major force that prepared the hearts of Judea for the Messiah's earthly ministry, donned the description written by the prophet Isaiah about the "voice of one calling in the desert, 'Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him'" (Matthew 3:3). He brandished the same hate for the hypocrisy of the ruling religious leaders just as the Messiah would, preached repentance and baptism just as the Messiah later would, but he never cornered the people's hearts for himself. Instead, when asked whether he was the Messiah—

"But after me will come one who is more powerful than I, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire" (Luke 3:16–18).

And then one day, he finally saw Jesus coming toward him to be baptized. He raises his voice for all the people to hear him say, "Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! This is the one I meant when I said, 'A man who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me. I myself did not know him, but the reason I came baptizing with water was that he might be revealed to Israel" (John 1:29–31).

He baptizes Jesus in the Jordan and as his cousin was coming out of the water, he witnesses the Spirit of God descending upon Jesus like a dove. In verse 34, John testifies, "I have seen and I testify that this is the Son of God." The next day, at the same spot, upon again seeing Jesus, John declares to his two disciples, "Look, the Lamb of God" (verse 35), prompting the students with him to pursue Jesus. One of these was Andrew, Simon Peter's brother (verse 40).

John the Baptist was the perfect model of a hero who never claimed glory for himself; he understood his place in the scheme of things, where his role begins and up to where it ends. He beautifully explains this in John 3:27 to 30:

"A man can receive only what is given him from heaven. You yourselves can testify that I said, 'I am not the Christ but am sent ahead of him.' The bride belongs to the bridegroom. The friend who attends to the bridegroom waits and listens for him, and is full of joy when he hears the bridegroom's voice. That joy is mine, and it is now complete. He must become greater; I must become less."

©Philippe Lissac/Godong/Corbis
For some reason we think of John the Baptist as a minor character in the New Testament, notwithstanding the fact that Jesus spoke highly of him, notwithstanding the Biblical evidence that "people went out to him from Jerusalem and all Judea and the whole region of the Jordan," confessing their sins and getting baptized by him by the Jordan River (Matthew 3:6). There  were a great number of religious leaders coming to him (verse 7), asking whether he was Elijah, the Prophet, or the Christ himself (John 1:20–21, 25–26). This desert prophet did not just cause quite a stir; he was the first sign of living water bubbling up in a dry and parched spiritual landscape for those who hoped for Israel's deliverance, which turned out to be "all Judea and the whole region of the Jordan"! Furthermore, not only did he rock the spiritual realm; even Herod the tetrarch of Judea feared him—"feared...and protected him" (Mark 6:20), in fact—and "liked to listen to him" (Ibid.), though the prophet's words puzzled him. Keep in mind that before John the Baptist, the spiritual atmosphere of Israel was devoid of prophets for about four hundred years after Malachi. The Jews were hungry for a word from the LORD. It was then no wonder why the people of Israel came flocking to John the day he came prophesying in the power of the Holy Spirit with the words, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near" (Matthew 3:2).

© Pascal Deloche/Godong/Corbis
"Forerunner" does not mean "sidekick," yet sidekick is almost how many of us regard John the Baptist. The Messiah Himself called him "the Elijah who was to come" (Matthew 11:14), but we find no one calling Elijah a sidekick, not even his apprentice Elisha who later inherited two hundred percent of Elijah's anointing.

© Ted Spiegel/CORBIS
This may be what Jesus meant when He spoke about lighting a lamp and putting it in a stand to give light to everyone in the house (Matthew 5:15). When He delivered this teaching, He called His believers "the light of the world" (verse 14), agents of spiritual righteousness who cannot be hidden, who were made to shine before others for good deeds to be seen and that the heavenly Father be glorified (verse 16). Back in the Old Testament days, especially in desperate times after people had abandoned faith in God, a lowly shepherd boy who lifts his eyes to the heavens and beseeches the Most High for a day uneventful will serve as a strip of flame to re-ignite a nation darkened with sin into fiery revival. END.

1 comment:

  1. Yes, true followers point focus of potential followers to CHRIST. It doesn't take honor for himself, he exalts the Glory of G-D without reservations. These blogs are highly recommended.