John the Baptist

John the Baptist

John, whose name means “God is gracious”, was a forerunner, with a very clear ministry to prepare the way for Yeshua. He is described as “the voice of one crying in the wilderness” – he is to be a voice of preparation, and a voice of separation. The voice of preparation was, concerning Yeshua, pointing toward the one who was to follow him; the one of whom John said “he must increase and I must decrease.”

John’s baptism was in water for repentance – but John prepared the way for a greater baptism, for Yeshua’s baptism is the baptism of Spirit and fire. The voice of separation was the call to repent – a separation from a life of sin, and separation unto God.

In many ways John’s ministry is very simple, yet there are also hidden depths; John, it seems, has been inserted as a kind of boundary between the two Testaments, the Old and the New. That he is somehow or other a boundary is something that Yeshua himself indicates when he said, “The Law and the prophets were until John”, indicating that John marked the end of the age of the Law and the Prophets. So he represents the old and heralds the new. Because he represents the old, he is born of an elderly couple; because he represents the new, he is revealed as a prophet in his mother’s womb. You will remember that, before he was born, at Miriam’s arrival at Elisabeth’s house he leapt in his mother’s womb. Already he had been marked out as a forerunner, designated before he was born; it was already shown whose forerunner he would be, even before he saw him. He was filled with the Holy Spirit even before his birth. Finally, he is born, he receives a name, and his father’s tongue is loosed.

The neighbourhood in which John was born did not help him to realise his divine calling. In fact they wanted to prevent John from receiving his God-given name and identity. They wanted to give him his father’s name “Zachariah.” They objected to his being named John because “None of your relatives has this name” (Luke 1:61). For them what a child can be is determined by what his family and lineage has been. Their dream of a wonderful future for the child is limited by his family background. But God’s dream for us far exceeds anything that has been in our family background. Our life’s work is to wake up and make God’s glorious dream for us a reality.

The purpose for which God created you may require that you walk to a different drumbeat than other people. For John it required that he live in the desert far from normal human contact and civilisation. God’s purpose for his life dictated even the minutest details of how he would dress and eat, since he had to dress in rough animal skin and eat the vegetarian food of locusts and wild honey. He adopted a lifestyle that would enhance his calling in life. He did not go for any unnecessary trappings that would weigh him down or encumber his life. To discern what God is calling us to be we need to cultivate some sort of desert in our lives where we can listen to God. And, to be faithful to the call of God, we need the courage and discipline to keep away from any choice of association or lifestyle that does not help us along the path to which God has called us. John is great today not just because God called him to a special vocation but because he walked faithfully in the path that leads to the goal that God had set for him.

As I said before this is a very simple story. But there's something here that demands our attention in the final statement. "For the hand of the Lord was certainly with him." (Luke 1:66). As much as the story appears to be about Zachariah and the miracle that loosed his tongue, as much as the story might appear to be about Elisabeth, giving birth in her old age, as much as the story might appear to be a story about the child John, the great significance of his life and ministry, the story is really a story about God. God is the main player in this drama. God is the main actor. It is the hand of the Lord that Luke wants us to see here. And this is not just true of this story, it's true of everything in Scripture. Psalm 19:7  calls the Bible the testimony of the Lord. Scripture is God's only self-disclosure

When God speaks, He speaks the truth. And God had spoken in a prophecy and God had said, Luke 1:13, through the angel to Zachariah, "Your wife Elisabeth will bear you a son and you will give him the name John and you will have joy and gladness and many will rejoice at his birth." And that is exactly what Luke says happened. Luke 1:57, "She brought forth a son," verse 58, "And they were rejoicing with her." The angel had said from God, you'll have a son and many will rejoice, and that is precisely what happened. And Luke records it with great precision to make the point that God's word is true. He's putting God on display here.

First and foremost the Bible is the revelation of God. It is His own word on Himself. More than anything else it is His story. Behind Zachariah and behind Elisabeth and behind Miriam and behind John and even behind the coming of Yeshua is the great and mighty revelation of God. His nature, His character, His works, His purpose, His will, He is being revealed. In fact, at all points in the Bible, God is teaching the truth about Himself. He is the one dominating figure in biblical revelation. The Bible simply is a book about God. It starts with God and it ends with God and everything in between is about Him.

This tells us what we need to know about Zachariah. It tells us what we need to know about Elisabeth. It tells us what we need to know about John. More than that, it tells us what we need to know about God, that when He speaks it's the truth. It's the truth. That's the important issue here.