Monday, August 27, 2007

Matthew 3:3-John the Baptist-An Uncommon Prophet Pt.1

My titles for this blog stink. I confess it. I’m just not that creative or interesting to come up with cool titles that catch the eye and motivate people to come into a church on a Sunday. Actually, I tried putting a sermon title on the board outside a church one time to motivate people to come in and it sort of worked. It was called “There is a bomb on your bus.” Ok, that didn’t happen.

John the Baptist was the last Old Testament prophet and he had a clear, direct message for the people. “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.” A call to turn from sin and to a life of holiness is not a message one would preach to gain popularity, to be sure. However, his message was not the only thing that was unique about this prophet of God. First of all, his role was unique in the plan of God. Matthew quotes Isaiah 40:3 and states that John was “the voice”. He doesn’t say herald, or person, or envoy. Isaiah gives to John the impersonal title of “voice”. He is pictured without form or face, just sound. In my head, I almost picture being in the woods and hearing a sound but not being able to identify where the sound is coming from. In truth, sometimes in those settings it feels like it comes from all around with no discernable location. This is certainly not a description most people would want others to use to describe them. People want to be remembered. Very few people prefer a behind the scenes role to one where they get attention and praise. I remember one dear saint at a church I served as a minister of music. This lady set up the floral arrangements for every service and special occasion. She never got publicly praised for it. Her spiritual gift was service and she enjoyed doing it. During one week long revival service, I made the point to publicly acknowledge her. In much the same way, John the Baptist had a less than glamorous role but he recognized it and played his part. As John records in chapter 3 verse 30 of his gospel, John the Baptist says about Jesus “He (Jesus) must increase and I must decrease”. John recognized that Jesus should have preeminence and glory in all things and he was willing to submit himself to the task that the Lord had appointed him to do.

Adding to this lack of distinction is the description of what this voice was doing. Matthew records that this voice was the voice of one “crying” or shouting. This is not a subtle, easy going request for repentance. This “voice” is loudly, boisterously calling for response from everyone that can hear. It is not a dialog or discussion. It is a very take it or leave it method of delivery for this message. As I had mentioned a few weeks ago, this was almost like a newspaper salesman shouting “Extra, extra!! Read all about it!!!” The purpose of the delivery is to disseminate information to as many people as possible leaving the hearer responsible for the response to the message. We also notice the location where this voice was crying. Isaiah said the voice would be “in the wilderness” which is exactly where we find John the Baptist. Modern evangelism strategies would tell you to “Go where the people are.” However, as my pastor often says, that is a “bottom line strategy”. As Christians, we are called to be “top line” people. In other words, we obey what God says and trust Him for the results. The Bible records the prophecy by Isaiah about John and his message. The Bible does not record how God revealed to John that this was His will for him. We can know, however, that if we follow John’s example and obey God not matter what human wisdom what tell us that God will bless the effort.

Finally, we see that John’s message of repentance was divinely prophesied by Isaiah. Isaiah records that the message being proclaimed by this voice is to “Prepare a way for the Lord, make His paths straight.” Obviously, this refers to the repentance called for by John. As Albert Barnes notes in his commentary, it was customary for Eastern kings to send harbingers ahead of them to tell the people to prepare for the coming king by removing any impediments (rocks, rough roads, etc…) to his coming. In much the same way, the Lord’s herald calls for the people to remove the impediments in their life (sin, self righteousness, etc…) in preparation for the coming Messiah.

We should be challenged as we read these verses to live our lives focused on the glory of God doing what God has called us to do where He has called us to do it. Our reputation and comfort should not be our primary concern. Our primary concern should be His glory and His kingdom.

"Scripture taken from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved."

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