John the Baptist
The prophets of the Old Testament foretold that God would send a messenger to prepare the way for the coming Messiah. God spoke to His people through the prophets and nearly every Jewish person knew that someday God was sending them a Savior or Messiah. Over the thousands of years many were waiting expectantly.
Finally, when Jesus came to earth,, He told the people that John the Baptist was this messenger that had been promised in Scripture. The messengers’ job would be to present the long-awaited Messiah to the Jewish people. (Matthew 11:10) John the Baptist indeed was the messenger.
In all four gospels, John the Baptist sets the tone for the introduction and proclamation of Jesus. And John the Baptist’s tone is stark and harsh. You would think that God would send a friendly cheerful outgoing preacher to advertise the coming of His Son, Jesus, the Messiah. But John the Baptist was anything but happy and friendly. He was a loner who hung out in the wilderness, wore a camel hair loin cloth and ate grasshoppers and wild honey.
John the Baptist would hold revival meetings in the desert. People would leave their villages and go out into the desert to listen to his preaching. He would call out to the crowds following him, “Repent for the kingdom of God is at hand.” (Matthew 3:2) And he would preach repentance of sins and then baptize converts in the Jordan River.
One day John the Baptist greeted the crowds coming to hear his sermons with these words: “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.” (Matthew 3:7,10) Why was John the Baptist so hardcore? What is the purpose of making everyone’s hair stand on end?
Since Jesus hadn’t yet died on the cross for our sins at that time, John the Baptist didn’t call the crowds to accept Him as their Savior and Lord yet. But the people could repent of their sins and wait for their Savior and Messiah. Jesus said that Abraham could see Him, Jesus, his Savior from afar, and Jesus said that Abraham rejoiced. (John 8:56) Probably many other God-fearing people living before Jesus came to earth to die for their sins also “saw Jesus from afar and rejoiced.”
John the Baptist described Jesus as the Judge of all things at the end of time. When Jesus went out into the wilderness to hear him preach, John the Baptist introduced Jesus to the crowd this way: “He (Jesus) who is coming after me is mightier than I…His winnowing fork is in his hand, and He will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into the barn, but the chaff He will burn with unquenchable fire.” (Matthew 3:11-12) John the Baptist is picturing Jesus more as the Judge of all things at the end of time, than a sweet little baby in the manger.
John the Baptist presents the image of Jesus as the cosmic Judge who will ultimately come again to put an end to all sin and wickedness for ever and ever. John the Baptist’s lonely, hard style of life bears witness to a hard reality that is coming, a reality that will expose all worldly realities and conditions as faulty and transitory.
John the Baptist stands at the juncture where the world’s resistance to God meets the irresistible force of the One (Jesus) who is coming. – “the axe is laid to the root of the trees”. So, John the Baptist is summoning the people who have come out to hear him in the desert (and also us) to rethink and reorder our lives totally. And to change our perspective to a new perspective – the perspective of God. Of course we humans can’t accomplish all of that on our own. We need power outside of ourselves. God is the One who will change us, through Christ, if we are willing. And He will change us to be what He wants us to be, if we will let Him!
It is not from yourselves that you can expect grace, you can expect nothing from yourselves. Go asks us to give ourselves to Him. Trust only Him. The religious leaders argued with John the Baptist that they were children of Abraham and they thought that God would save them because of that. But John the Baptist answered them this way: “Do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father, for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham.” (Matthew 3:9).
A power outside of us (Jesus) is coming, a power who is able to make a new creation out of people like us, stones like us, people who have no capacity to save ourselves. We are able to repent and bear fruit because He is coming. This means that we are being changed. We are being weaned away from our possessions and our worldly loves and being brought into the Kingdom of God. “He who loses his life for My sake will find it, and he who finds his life will lose it.” (Matthew 10:39)
John the Baptist said, “He must increase, but I must decrease”. (John 3:30) We must be like John the Baptist and let our desires decrease as we allow Christ to increase in our lives. We are nothing. The Word is everything. Jesus is everything. Not our will but His be done. He comes at the end of the ages, (Revelations) and He comes into the hearts of all humans who relinquish their human claims in the face of the God who is coming in power.
This blog took most of the ideas and passages regarding John the Baptist from Fleming Rutledge’s article “The Real Hope of Advent” which was published in Christianity Today Magazine in December 2018.