THE STORY OF JOHN THE BAPTIST – Matthew 3:1–6 – In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” For this is he who was spoken of by the prophet Isaiah when he said,
“The voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord; make his paths straight.’”
Now John wore a garment of camel’s hair and a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey. Then Jerusalem and all Judea and all the region about the Jordan were going out to him, and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.
God often picks people we least expect. In fact, he delights in it. So where we would choose people with potential, power, and a proven track record, God seems to go the other direction. He chooses barren women (like Elizabeth) to bear children. He chooses racist men (like Jonah) to take his gospel to other nations. He chooses sorrowful people (like Jeremiah) to become prophets of hope. He chooses unloved people (like Leah) to become emblems of his compassion. He chooses murderers (David) to become objects of his scandalous forgiveness.
God doesn’t pick good people or wise people or healthy people, for the simple reason that there are none. If God picks any of us, it’s an act of sheer grace.
Sometimes, though, God really sets about to make this plain. Perhaps he knows how difficult it is for us to accept that God chooses those we least expect. So every now and then, he picks someone whose life is so radical it makes people do a double take—like John the Baptist.
John the Baptist was the miracle child of Elizabeth and Zechariah. The angel Gabriel prophesied that John would “make ready for the Lord a people prepared” (Luke 1:17). Zechariah added to this prophecy at John’s birth, saying that John would “go before the Lord to prepare his ways,” letting people know that “the tender mercy of our God” was near, that “the sunrise shall visit us from on high to give light to those who sit in darkness” (Luke 1:76, 78–79).
Everyone knew John would get people ready for the coming King. Still, I have to imagine many of them were surprised at how he began doing it. Living in the wilderness and eating bugs tends to catch people off guard.
But then again, God had promised to start in the wilderness (Isaiah 40:3). And Abraham had met God there. So had Hagar. And Jacob. And Moses.
And the great prophet Elijah. A lot of people saw John in the wilderness and remembered Elijah. In fact, even Jesus himself made that connection (Matthew 17:11–13). So clearly John was a prophet. But what would his message be? How would he prepare people for the coming King?
To get everyone ready for Jesus, John preached a message anchored on one word: “repent.” The word “repent” means, “turn around.” That was John the Baptist’s entire message. He was preparing people for the most unexpected revelation in history, knowing that if they didn’t do a radical U-turn, they would easily overlook the coming King.
No wonder God sent “the greatest prophet ever born of women” to wake them up (Luke 7:28)!
After centuries of sending messengers to God’s people, God finally sent himself. Don’t miss this! The God who made earth has come to earth. The God who made you has come to live with you.
Angels we have heard on high, Sweetly singing o’er the plains, And the mountains in reply, Echoing their joyous strains.
Shepherds, why this jubilee? Why your joyous strains prolong? What the gladsome tidings be Which inspire your heav’nly song?
Come to Bethlehem and see Him whose birth the angels sing; Come, adore on bended knee Christ the Lord, the newborn King.
Gloria in excelsis Deo! Gloria in excelsis Deo!1