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A Voice in the Desert | Matthew 3

John the Baptist

This week we dive into Matthew 3. Listen along to the episode here or on your favorite podcast app

[5:12]  John the Baptist.  I think to fully appreciate who he is, we have to consult Luke.  Matthew gave us the immaculate conception story from only Joseph’s point of view, but Luke tells Mary’s in the most beautiful way.  We see here 2 women and 2 miraculous pregnancies:  Mary of course being a virgin and around 13 and Elizabeth her cousin being barren and past childbearing years.  When Mary hears the news about the child she is carrying, she also hears that Elizabeth is in her sixth month.  Mary goes to see Elizabeth.  I think this is just one of the most kind things God could have done for Mary.  I mean, what a mess she is in.  She believed what the angel had said about her pregnancy, but did anyone else?  Don’t you know she was afraid?  To be able to go to someone she knew…and the way Elizabeth greeted her…that the baby in her womb jumped with recognition…I would have been in tears. (You need to read this account for yourself, Luke 1:36-45.)  This is who prepared the way for Jesus.  His cousin John.  We don’t know what their lives were like before their public ministries began.  We don’t know if they saw each other often and played together as children, spent vacations together, had sleep overs.  We only know that John fulfilled prophecy.  He came before Jesus to prepare the way.  

[13:10] Warren Wiersbe’s commentary referred to John as the last Old Testament prophet.  That sounds wrong, doesn’t it?  But, when you think about it, it’s accurate.  Remember that there had been 400 years between prophecy of the Messiah and the birth of Jesus, then 30ish years before John started “calling from the desert” and Jesus got to work.  The whole drought of prophecy added to the intrigue of John.  I am sure that was part of the reason there were crowds of people that came to hear him.  John was a child of righteous parents.  His father was a priest in THE temple in Jerusalem.  So we know he was a Levite, that is from the tribe of Levi.  But John did not have curb appeal.  By that I mean that he was a sight to look at.  He dressed in clothes made from camels’ hair with a leather belt around his waist.  Not only that, his diet consisted of locusts and wild honey.  These were not the typical garments and food for most civilized people. John lived in the wilderness.  These things bear a striking resemblance to Elijah of the Old Testament prophets.  (You can read about him and his life in 1 & 2 Kings.  I highly recommend it.  Netflix mini-series waiting to happen.)  The two also preached about repentance, calling Israel back to God.  There were a lot of people who believed Elijah would be the one who came to tell about the Messiah.  He never died after all. God just took him up to heaven.  (See?  You need to check Elijah out.)

[22:14] Hearing about the crowds and not sure who was out in the wilderness preaching repentance, the Pharisees and Sadduccees sent out scouting parties.  It’s important to note, I think, that these two groups were not friendly with each other.  They had differing views on almost everything.  But they had a new common enemy about to come onto the scene.  John did not greet them warmly.  He called them out.  John was familiar with him, wouldn’t you say?  I mean he grew up with a priest.  He could probably spot them coming a mile away and knew the things that they each thought was important.  Being a descendant of Abraham was no longer the most important thing about a person.  Look at these little tidbits we get along the way about the change that is coming.  I love how the gospel of John shares the interaction between John the Baptist and the Pharisees and Sadduccees:

Now this was John’s testimony when the Jews of Jerusalem sent priests and Levites to ask hi who he was.  He did not fail to confess, but confessed freely, I am not the Christ.

They asked him, “Then who are you?  Are you Elijah?”

He said, “I am not.”

“Are you the Prophet?”  (refers to Deuteronomy 18:15)

He answered, “No.”

Finally they said, “Who are you?  Give us an answer to take back to those who sent us.  What do you say about yourself?”

John replied in the words of Isaiah the prophet, “I am the voice of one calling in the desert, ‘Make straight the way for the Lord.’” (John 1:19-23)

The thing that strikes me about John the Baptist is that he not only knew his role and his place, but he stayed in it.  He did not get distracted.  He did not let up.  Despite the fact that many people were coming to hear him and be baptized by him, he never lost sight of who he was in the plan of God.  He never let his ego get in the way of his purpose.  


Extra reading:

Emily in Israel

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