Before people really knew about Jesus, they engaged with and prayed to the Father, which is what the Old Testament is all about. But the prophets also taught the Jews a very important message about the future. That it would include the Messiah – the Son of God, in the flesh. The foretelling of this event is found in the book of Isaiah as well as many of the other OT books. In fact, we first read about the coming of Jesus in Gen. 3:15 when God curses the serpent in the Garden of Eden. He says that while Satan may bruise the heel of Him, Jesus will crush the head of Satan. Therefore, the Bible is really the telling of the story of God’s people being reunited with Him for all eternity through His Son Jesus Christ.
But one of the missing links we fail to study in any detail is the way that we get from the Old Testament to the New Testament. Because after the book of Malachi, the last book of the OT, there was a 600 year period of silence, at least biblically speaking, where we don’t learn too much about what was going on. And then, poof, there’s Jesus! How did that happen? How do we connect the dots?
Now we all know the Christmas story and the Wise Men and the manger and all the other details of the birth of Jesus, but the Scripture goes silent on the early years of Christ’s life, with the exception of the story of His being found in the temple by His parents. As you may recall, Jesus was asking questions of the rabbis and teachers, letting his folks know that, of course, he was in His Father’s house.
But how did Jesus move from child to His own ministry, culminating in His death and resurrection? In order to find out, it is necessary to study another man – John the Baptist. And to avoid confusion, I should let you know that this is not the same John who was the disciple of John, or wrote the Gospel of John. This John, later to become the “Baptizer” was the cousin of Jesus – born approximately sixth months ahead of Jesus. His mother was Elizabeth and his father was Zechariah, a priest who happened to be on duty when he was visited by Gabriel and told that Elizabeth would have a child. Zechariah was then struck dumb unti the birth of his son, only finally being able to speak when he affirmed that the child would be named John, in accordance with the mandate of the angel. Following these events, we are introduced to the ministry of John, whose mission was to announce the coming of the Messiah.
We know that John lived in the wilderness, dressed in camel hair clothes and had a belt around his middle. He ate locusts and wild honey and we are told that he was something of an unorthodox guy; kind of a mountain man. The message that he proclaimed was that the Kingdom of God was near and that the people should repent and prepare. Now this was a highly unusual message for the time. The Jews believed that they were the chosen people, and they were, so the message of John to repent and be baptized was something of an enigma to them. After all, the only people being baptized at that time were Gentiles who were converting to Judaism. They would go down into the water and be raised up out of the water as Jews.
For those of us who are Christian today, that is not how we think of baptism. Rather, today, it is the outward expression of something that has already happened internally – the conversion to a life with Christ. So it is even easier to see how the people of the day thought that John had a few screws loose. But he was unrelenting in his message – repent and be baptized.
When he first came on the scene, people wanted to know if he was Elijah, or Moses, or even the Messiah Himself. For in the last several verses of Malachi, the people were told that Elijah would return before the Messiah. But John denied that he was any of the above. When asked who he really was, he responded with the words that are in our verse for the evening. From Luke 3:4, “As is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet: “A voice of one calling in the desert, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.” So John referred to himself as the “voice.” And isn’t it interesting to remember that we refer to Jesus as the Word…. And, in case you are ever given a Bible trivia question about the last Old Testament prophet, the answer is “John the Baptist” because he came before Christ, and even though he is not mentioned in the OT, he carried on the prophetic message of the coming of the Messiah in the tradition of Isaiah and the rest of the prophets.
My encouragement this evening is to let you know that God expects us to carry on the message that has been communicated throughout the last two thousand years – that there is a Messiah, that we should also repent and remember that the kingdom of God is here – on earth. Now I’m not talking fire and brimstone stuff, so don’t think I ‘m going old school on everybody. But the truth is that we all have room to grow and in order to fully follow Christ, it is important to be the best that we can be. And my prayer is that with God’s help, we can promote the kingdom of God and be drawn closer to Him in the process. Grace and Peace…