When the Jews heard John the Baptist was preaching in the desert they sent priests and Levites to find out what was going on. They asked him “Who are you?” John played with them a little bit as they listed several possibilities. They said, “Are you Elijah?” John said, “I am not.” “Are you the Prophet?” And he answered, “No.” It seems almost like he enjoyed toying with them a bit, but finally he told them “I am a voice of one crying in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’ as Isaiah the prophet said.”
John’s father was a priest named Zacharias. This means that John was in line to be a priest one day and serve in the Temple. Instead we find him preaching in the desert; so this tells me there’s something significant about this whole scene. The religious leaders were sent to find out what was going on because he was acting outside of the normal confines and rules of the Temple.
If you jump ahead in the story, according to the gospel of John, Jesus goes into the Temple in the 2nd chapter and clears it out. He turns over tables and drives out the moneychangers saying, “Take these things away; stop making my Father’s house a place of business.” The Temple and priesthood had become corrupt. When the Jews asked Jesus “What sign do you show us as your authority for doing these things?” Jesus’ response hinted at the fact that God was moving out of that building and was relocating into his followers. He was no longer going to be located in Temple built with human hands, but he would dwell in the worshipper. Hallelujah!
If the truth be told even Jesus wouldn’t have qualified to serve in the Temple because he wasn’t a descendant of Levi. He was from the tribe of Judah, from which no one has officiated at the altar, a tribe with reference to which Moses spoke nothing concerning priests. By this it is made very clear God was doing something brand new.
God had John in the desert declaring a brand new thing. He was preaching “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” He was declaring the arrival of Jesus the “Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” No longer would we need the Temple and its sacrificial system. No longer would we need priests to go to God on our behalf. No longer do we need someone else to tell us what God says because we are going to be indwelt with the Spirit of God and he will tell us all things. So God was doing something brand new and he was doing it outside of the established religious system and in a manner unlike before. This is the beginning of Jesus conflict with the religious leaders of his day. They were like some of we are, set in their ways, and didn’t like it at all when someone rocked the religious boat and upset their theology.
As I thought about John the Baptist and his arrival on the scene I thought about how we as individuals are responsible to do what God is calling us to do. It doesn’t matter how crazy we might appear or who might get upset in the process. The only thing that matters is doing what God is telling us to do. If this means we do things in a way that is a little bit unconventional to some then so be it. It seems there is never a shortage of people to get upset when someone acts outside of their methods, traditions or customs.
Even though John was in line to become a priest he knew he had heard from God and simply did what he was told. I’m sure he understood the ramifications of his actions and in fact it eventually cost him his life. While his ministry doesn’t seem to have lasted very long at all it was very effective. He had the privilege of declaring to the world the arrival of the Messiah and becoming a martyr. He understood what his role was and simply did what he was called to do and that was to point to Jesus. His life is summed up with “He must increase, but I must decrease.”
Written by Louie