What if you were a miracle child of an older couple who had given up ever having kids? What if you were raised with specific instructions and heard over and over all the neat things that happened at your birth? What if you did your job to the best of your ability even though it meant never getting married nor having a family? What if you ended up in prison and were beheaded for doing your best?
For the past few days, I have been reading again the story of John the Baptist. And I have been noticing things for the first time. And I have been wondering what did John know, when did he know it, and was his a covert operation?
First, let me say, I am not a “Baptist”. I attend a Bible Church. I think John the Baptist is so named as to not confuse him with the author of the Gospel of John. But, God named him. And God just called him just John.
Matthew 3 states that John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.
Of one crying in the wilderness
Make ready the way of the Lord
Make His paths straight
John wore a garment of camel’s hair and a leather belt. His food: locusts and wild honey. Then Jerusalem was going out to him and all Judea and all the district around the Jordan and they were being baptized by him in the Jordan River as they confessed their sins.
Look at what John said to the religious rulers coming out for baptism: you brood of vipers, who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Therefore bring forth fruit in keeping with repentance and do not suppose that you can say to yourselves “we have Abraham for our father” for I say to you that God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. And the axe is already laid at the root of the trees…
John was not given a diplomatic message.
Just because you are Abraham’s descendants, repent.
John thought The Judge was coming.
When imprisoned for openly criticizing Herod’s adultery, John questions Jesus via his disciples---Are You the One Promised? Or should we look for another?
John waited for further instructions, but Jesus only said, in reply, the lame walk, the deaf hear, the blind receive sight, the lepers are cleansed, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have the gospel preached to them. And blessed is he who keeps from stumbling over Me.
Strange comfort. Matthew 11 states that after the disciples left to convey this criptic message to John, then Jesus praised John to the crowd. In the Mark account, after John is imprisioned, Jesus takes up the same message. Jesus picking up John’s message is like a tribute. Like a baton. See Mark chapter one.
What were John’s final thoughts? Was he at peace confident that God knows best? That God had a plan?
I love the story of John’s birth. A true miracle baby. Born to mature, Godly parents. I am sure his parents told him over and over about how he was born and how pregnant Mary came to visit John’s mother, Elizabeth, and what all they said.
Instead of following in his father’s footsteps in temple activities which he had every right to do, the instructions at his birth included: no wine. Wine was a part of temple activities, especially at Passover. John’s father told him his marching orders, and the promise of Luke 1:16-
John the Baptist will turn back many of the sons of Israel to the Lord their God. And it is he who will go as a forerunner before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah…to turn the hearts of the fathers back to the children and the disobedient to the attitude of the righteous so as to make ready a people prepared for the Lord. John’s father probably told John how he had argued with the angel Gabriel and the consequences, and how when the Holy Spirit loosened his tongue, he proclaimed: a horn of salvation, in the house of David, salvation from our enemies, salvation from the hands of all who hate us…the fulfillment of all He promised Abraham.
That, for the purpose, that we, being delivered might serve Him without fear, in holiness, and righteousness before Him all our days. You, child, John will be called the prophet of the Most High. You will go before the Lord to prepare His Ways to give His people the knowledge of salvation…by the forgiveness of their sins because of God’s tender mercy.
John lived in the deserts until the day of his public appearance to Israel. Did John’s parents encourage him to live apart? Did they die soon after John became a man? They instilled in him his job, his vocation, his purpose of herald and forerunner. But we do not read of Jesus and John ever seeing each other or meeting until Jesus comes to be baptized. John was kept in the dark about that. Elizabeth, John’s mother, knew Jesus was Mary’s son. Surely, she told.
Luke 3 The Voice of one crying in the wilderness quoting Isaiah exams John’s message:
Take care of each other (clothing and food)
To tax-gatherers, be fair
To soldiers: do not take bribes, be content with your wages.
John said: I baptize with water, but One is coming who is mightier, I am not fit to untie His sandals. He will baptize with the Holy Spirit and with fire.
John argues with Jesus when Jesus came to be baptized. Matthew 3:13 Jesus told John: Permit it at this time, for in this way it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness. Is it the same word in the Greek—contrast John’s “I am not fit…” to Jesus’ “it is fitting…”??
John sees the heavens opened and the Spirit of God descending as a dove and God the Father, The Voice from heaven say: This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased.
John saw and observed and witnessed.
Once John is imprisoned, Jesus picks up John the Baptist’s message. Matthew 4:17 Repent, the kingdom of God is at hand.
I may be wrong, but I get the impression that John, like Jesus, took care of his family until he was almost thirty. And then sprang onto the scene, when God told him the time was right. Someday, we will have to ask John what that was like. To go stand out in the wilderness by himself and start yelling. When one or two walked by, he stayed faithful, and I am sure those one or two went back home and said, hey, come see this nut who is yelling to himself in the desert. And the crowds increased, and he became somewhat of a circus show. The wilderness had plenty of water. Because John baptized folks there. And someone needs to address how this new ritual of baptism did not surprise or scare anyone. The Jews were used to ritual cleansing. But, full-body dipping was reserved for the strange leper cleansing of a Gentile in the Old Testament, and the monthly seven dip of women after their period.
Maybe John lived and preached in the wilderness from age 13 on. Maybe he had a tent just like Abraham. He had disciples, so maybe they brought him supplements of fish and bread. But, why did Jesus never visit? Why weren’t they pals? Why didn’t John become one of the Twelve? Did he know too much?
John proclaims, “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” John had seen lambs sacrificed on the alters for his whole life. How exactly did he think this Lamb of God was going to take away the sins of the world?? If he had guessed the cross, he might have blabbed, and this was hidden from the enemy for if the enemy had known, then Jesus would have been beheaded or worse, too. God was in control. God needed Jesus on the cross to die for our sins. And when God is in control, sometimes that includes keeping us in the dark about some things. It will all make sense in heaven. But, here, when things don’t make sense, maybe God is giving me a taste of what John experienced.