1 In those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the Desert of Judea 2 and saying, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near." 3 This is he who was spoken of through the prophet Isaiah:
"A voice of one calling in the desert,'Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.'"
4 John's clothes were made of camel's hair, and he had a leather belt around his waist. His food was locusts and wild honey. 5 People went out to him from Jerusalem and all Judea and the whole region of the Jordan. 6 Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River.
John the Baptist, the great “Ambassador” of the King of Kings, came preaching preparation for the people of Israel to receive their Messiah. His message was one of repentance – a turning back from their point of departure – a turning back to God. The people had thought wrongly and the Baptist called them to think again and to think aright. A change of mind will always produce a change of ways. Indeed, he was the voice of one calling in the dusty desert to prepare the way for the Lord. His ministry even took place in the Desert of Judea – the barren and rugged land west of the Dead Sea. What a vivid picture of the dry and fruitless condition of man’s soul apart from the “living water” of the Lord Jesus Christ Who stated:
37 On the last and greatest day of the Feast, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, "If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. 38 Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him."39 By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive. Up to that time the Spirit had not been given, since Jesus had not yet been glorified. John 7:37-39 (NIV)
In our verses for today, Matthew skips about thirty years of our Lords life picking up with the ministry of the Baptist. Interestingly, Scripture spoke glorious things regarding both Jesus and the Baptist at their births which would cause us to expect extraordinary appearances of God’s power and presence when they were young. Yet God’s Word remains mostly silent on both of their growing up years – we have only been given the privilege of barely a glimpse. This thrusts our focus rather to their end offices – not the workings up to the end. It is amazing in Scripture how often God takes years before the “time fully comes” in the life of His chosen vessels remaining fairly silent and often attentions are strictly on their final offices. There is preparation time in every life and though we may not readily perceive it, God is ever at work in the life of a believer. Our God is a mysterious God - never fully comprehended or His plans fully disclosed. The Prophet Isaiah tells us:
15 Truly you are a God who hides himself, O God and Savior of Israel. Isaiah 45:15 (NIV)
8 “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the LORD. 9 “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” Isaiah 55:8-9 (NIV)
“A religion without mystery must be a religion without God.” Jeremy Taylor
Scripture tells us of the Baptist’s job description from above at his birth in Luke:
13 But the angel said to him: "Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to give him the name John. 14 He will be a joy and delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth, 15 for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He is never to take wine or other fermented drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit even from birth. 16 Many of the people of Israel will he bring back to the Lord their God. 17 And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous--to make ready a people prepared for the Lord." Luke 1:13-17 (NIV)
Lastly, we see John the Baptist not blending with the world (to say the least!). He was great in the sight of the Lord yet lowly in the sight of man – just as Christ Himself. John was a plain man denying this world and its showy delights. He had to have been an oddity with his choice of clothing and food as well as his startling and awakening message. He was focused on his office, his call from above and not on where he was merely sojourning. We would do well to take note.
“Those whose business is to call others to mourn for sin and put it to death should themselves live a serious life, a life of self-denial.” Matthew Henry
“That who answers God’s call loses nothing, but a life deaf to God’s call loses everything.” Ann Voskamp
Generally speaking, the Jewish people of that day were extremely proud of their privileges and remained unaware of their sins. John was sent to level their mountains of pride and opinions of themselves. His teachings of pride and self-denial are unfortunately as necessary now as they were then. It remains important for us to have a conviction of the inadequacy of our own righteousness. The way of sin and Satan was and is a crooked path. To prepare a way for Christ our paths must be made straight. The writer of Hebrews tells us:
12 Therefore, strengthen your feeble arms and weak knees. 13 "Make level paths for your feet," so that the lame may not be disabled, but rather healed. Heb 12:12-13 (NIV)