The Voice That Made Waves

“… the Word of God came to John the son of Zechariah in the wilderness. And he went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins” (Luke 3:2-3)

John the Baptist was a man born to make waves. And he did so in more ways than one.

He knew who he was and he knew his part in the plan of the Lord. He took his stand down by the river Jordan.

The Word of God had been given to him. He was the son of a priest, and he also took up the mantle of the prophet. The forecast from the Bible indicated the coming of a man in the character and appearance of Elijah.

John was the man.

He dressed roughly; he wore a leather girdle. He likely let his hair and beard grow wild, long and untrimmed. His diet consisted of locusts and wild honey.

John the Baptist was quite a sight to those who saw him. It was just as God intended. It was time for the Lord to promote a man of extremes.

We tend to see extremists as those whose commitment and conviction stir trouble. And so they do. These voices must be loud. Their ways are unconventional. Their preaching must be outrageous to the common sensibilities that start to dominate human culture.

The people of Israel were people of privilege, heavenly privilege. Their rescue from Egypt was miraculously accomplished. Their wandering in the wilderness was instructive and preparative. This nation was to show the world the God Who Is — Yahweh, I Am Who I Am.

The world lies passively in the bed that the devil has made for it. People want to hear “Peace, peace” even when there is no peace. Lethargy introduces itself. The slumber party begins.

Who awakens the people to their need for God? Men and women like John do.

Answering the Call

John answered the call on his life. He put himself out there as a true Nazarite in his devotion. The other Nazarite we read about in the Scriptures was Samson.

The message that John delivered was the call to repentance, solidified with the practice of baptism. This washing served as an object lesson.

The people of Israel, the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, had lost sight of their standing as witnesses to the world of the God who can be known. In Judea, under the administration of Rome, too many had become complacent and comfortable. Among these were those who managed the Temple operations.

These people established the patterns of offerings and sacrifice, according to the Law as they interpreted it. Traditions took root and these became entanglements. These concepts and rules were add-ons and variations of what had been communicated through Moses. The result was a corrupted religious system that did little to draw people closer to God.

The Temple had turned into a cash cow for Jewish leaders who also paid off Roman officers in order to maintain their statuses. These guys had it good. Few others enjoyed the lifestyle that was afforded them. And to quote a line from the new movie Wonka, “the greedy beat the needy every time.”

And then John showed up.

“As it is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet, The voice of one crying in the wilderness: Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall become straight, and the rough places shall become level ways, and all flesh shall see the salvation of God’” (Luke 3:4-6).

The passage speaks to the obstacles of the day:  crooked roads, deep valleys, and hindering mountains. These things kept people from truly relating to God.

Many were hungry for truth, however. They longed for the message of integrity and salvation. People wanted to know how to live and how to know God.

The People Responded

Crowds came to hear John and to be baptized in the Jordan. Hearts were touched by his preaching. Even Herod, the region’s Roman ruler, felt the sense of this man’s holy language and style. John’s presence brought Herod discomfort and eventually he imprisoned and executed the Baptist.

John could read his audience. His discernment was sharp. He knew some slithered into the group to spy out his work. He called them out as a “brood of vipers.” Jesus would use this very phrase to refer to the religious leaders who corrupted the atmosphere in Jerusalem. He saw through their skin and pointed the finger at their prejudices and superiority complexes.

These leaders claimed status as descendants of Abraham. But they ignored the point of that status.

God blessed Abraham as His friend in order to connect with the whole world. The nations of the earth were to be blessed by the seed of this friend.

The plan on God’s heart was not to create a nation to exercise authority and rule in the manner of the cosmic atmosphere. Rather, Israel was raised up to be servants for the world and its peoples. They had spent more than 400 years as slaves in Egypt. They experienced the degradation of oppression. Their bodies were shackled and battered. Their children were sacrificed.

God had a plan to reveal a different character of leadership. For so long, the earth had only known controllers who reveled in their tyranny and power trips.

Read Psalm 2. The heathen rage and imagine vain things. They seek to cast off all restraints and live unbridled in pride and consumption.

This is, of course, the work of the devil. It was Satan who nursed the self-will alive in him and enflamed it to an attitude of rebellion and alienation. Hell communicates this attitude to those who choose to live in the dark.

Rome was a prime example of the prevailing winds of ruling entities. Its Caesars were ruthless in their selfishness and ambition.

Another brand of leader, another style of King was necessary. And Israel would be part of this process of transformation.

The Lord told Israel through Moses that their redemption and rescue came so that He could raise up a nation of priests. What are the primary tasks of priests ordained by Heaven? They are commissioned to pray, to offer sacrifice, to teach, to lead, and to comfort.

Sadly, through the centuries Israel lost touch with the roots of the righteous purpose covenanted to them. Their talk centered on a return to the glory days of Solomon, to the time when all the earth brought tribute and sought counsel and did business with Jerusalem.

At the point when John preached, the Lord was about to swing His axe. The forest of corrupt trees and their poison fruit was about to be leveled and burned away. Click To Tweet

At the point when John preached, the Lord was about to swing His axe. The forest of corrupt trees and their poison fruit was about to be leveled and burned away.

Many scoffed at John, but some were moved. In particular, tax collectors and soldiers sought instruction. These people were among the most ostracized and despised. They longed for a measure of hope and had drawn near to God.

They allowed the waves of baptism wash over them. What’s next? They asked John.  His message to them was simple. Be content. Share. Care.

Hebrews 13:5 encapsulates this so well:  “Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for He has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you.’”

Once we have God, we have need of nothing else. If we make Him first and seek His Kingdom, then covetousness and selfishness will go. And He is with us always and forever. Nothing can separate us from the love of God we have in Christ.

The buzz got going that John the Baptist was the One, the long awaited Messiah. He shot down that rumor at once. “I baptize you with water, but He who is mightier than I is coming, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.” (Luke 3:16).

Jesus came, and then “All flesh began to see the salvation of God.”

Like John the Baptist, each of us has our part in God’s plan. We are witnesses of Him in the present wilderness. We can make waves with our simple and obedient lives of contentment. The Holy Spirit carries us along and anoints our words and works for His glory.

We are God’s Voices. We share. We care. We love.

 

Steve Andrulonis
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