Drippings from the Honeycomb - Episode 3

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How does the life of a wild man who ate bugs and wild honey, fulfill prophecy?

A Polarizing Figure

One of the most polarizing figures across the Gospels is John the Baptist. In comparison to Jesus and his disciples, not a whole lot is said throughout the Gospels about John the Baptist. His birth is foretold by an angel, but much of the record of his life is missing. We’re just simply not told about who he was or what he did during the first part of his life. That’s because what is important about John the Baptist is that he points to the Messiah, and that’s what brings us to our verse today. In Matthew 3:3, it says, “This is he who was spoken of through the prophet Isaiah, ‘A voice of one calling in the wilderness, Prepare the way for the Lord make straight paths for him.’”

John, himself, was not really an important figure in terms of the life he lived or his childhood years. What was important was that he came to do one specific thing. He was, in essence, born for a mission, and that is why when the Scriptures talk about John the Baptist, they talk about him in the context of relating to Jesus’s ministry. John never really stands alone. In fact, John’s message points forwards toward the Messiah, because he talks about the one who will come after him.


John was not the Main Event

You see, John understood that he was not the main event. He knew there was someone coming after him. He might not have known exactly who, he might not have known exactly when, but he knew that someone was coming after him and that his task was to prepare the way and then fade into obscurity, since the Messiah would be coming after him, and would now take the central role in outlining the kingdom of God for the nation of Israel.

To really grasp the story of John the Baptist, it’s important to look back at his life so that you can gain a better understanding of who he was. First of all, you have to remember that his father was a priest, and he was a priest who served regularly in the temple. This is the main temple, the one that was in Jerusalem, and he was on a rotation of priests that would go in and would serve there before the Lord from time to time. It is during one of these rotations that an angel appears to Zachariah, the father of John the Baptist, while he is burning incense before God in the temple, and tells him that he is going to have a son. Now seeing an angel in the temple would be something that would be stunning enough to create pause in any person, especially a person who loved God, whose entire life was committed to serving God, the way Zacharia’s life was committed to serving God.


Broken Silence

However, in the context of this day and age that Zachariah was living in, it was even more incredible because the nation of Israel had not heard anything from the Lord in a long time. For more than 400 years, there had been no angelic appearances, there had been no prophets, there had been no miraculous word from God. And so when Zachariah is in the temple, and this angel appears to him, this is a more than stunning event.

In chapter one of Luke’s gospel, we get a more detailed look at what the angel actually foretold about this baby that was going to be born to Zachariah and his wife, Elizabeth. Now, this was kind of astonishing because Zachariah and Elizabeth were old, and Elizabeth was barren, they could not have children. So, the birth while it is still a human birth, unlike Jesus were Mary who conceived while she was still a virgin, the birth of John the Baptist is no less miraculous in terms of Zachariah and Elizabeth ability to have a child then was the birth of Isaac to Abraham and Sarah when both of them were well past childbearing years. So, we can immediately see that the birth of John the Baptist is miraculous. It’s not a birth that could have happened unless God was involved with this.


A Coming Hope

In Luke 1, the angel talks about this child, and he instructs Zachariah to call his name John, and he tells him that he will be a delight to his parents, that He will be great in the sight of the Lord and that the Holy Spirit will fill him. This is really pointing toward the fact that John the Baptist is going to have a prophetic ministry. He’s going to be a prophet and this is big news; 400 plus years since the last prophet, and Israel has been waiting for their Messiah. They are hoping that he will come soon because they are in bondage.

Now the angel says two very important things to Zachariah. The first is that he says he will bring back many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God. Several of the prophets of Israel prophesied that at the end days, when the Messiah would come, he would bring back his people to himself, and he would set up the nation of Israel. This idea of bringing back the lost the dispersed people of Israel to Israel, and turning their hearts back to God, for the Israelites at this time, had no time implications. This language specifically addressed what the prophets had said God would do when He would send his Messiah to bring the nation of Israel back to the place where it should have been.


The Spirit and Power of Elijah

In addition, then the angel says something else that’s really important. In Luke 117, he says that John will go on before the Lord in the spirit and power of Elijah. This is huge as far as the nation of Israel is concerned, because the priests and the Pharisees had been looking at the Scriptures and studying it for a long time, and they had determined that before the Messiah was to come, Elijah would reappear! The idea was that there would be a second Elijah, that Elijah would come again as the great prophet of Israel and would turn the people back to God before the Messiah would come so that when the Messiah showed up, the people of Israel would be ready to receive him. This language points at the Messiah, and Zachariah as a priest would definitely have understood that and he would have known that, but just like we are, Zachariah was human, and in his humanity, he did not believe what the angel has told him, he had trouble believing it like so many of us do when we’re confronted with truths from the Scripture while we’re suffering or going through hard times, or we have something in our life that is particularly important to us that has not been answered by God.

In this case, that would be having children having children was very important in this time in history, and in the nation of Israel, having children was extremely important. It would have been a great sorrow to Zachariah and Elizabeth that they could not have children, and so Zachariah’s doubt here is very understandable. However, as a result of his doubting, the angel commands that Zachariah will not be able to speak until the child is born, and the Scriptures go on to tell us that he was not able to speak. In fact, when he came out of the temple, everybody realized he had seen a vision, and he couldn’t talk about it, so he had to write down whatever he could to explain what had happened.

This lack of being able to communicate really reaches a fever pitch when John is born. He was not yet named, and they want to name him Zachariah, everybody who’s there, his family, but Zachariah adamantly refuses to name John after himself. He insists that they name the baby, John, and he actually asks for a writing tablet, and he writes on it, “You should call his name John.” As soon as he does that, his mouth is open, and he’s able to speak, and he is filled with the Holy Spirit. He then gives this amazingly beautiful prophecy about the life of his son. Then the biblical narrative cuts off, and we don’t see anything more about John the Baptist until he appears on the scene about 30 some odd years later, preaching and teaching a message of repentance.


A Wild Man

Now, John was an interesting character as an adult. He lived out in the wilderness, he wore this rough clothing made out of camel hair, and he had a big leather belt tied around his waist. This language is very specific and important because it is the exact physical description of Elijah. In other words, in almost every way, John the Baptist looks, acts, and talks like Elijah. He even eats locusts and wild honey, a very simple diet, something that most of us would probably not find very appetizing but would have sustained him well in the harsh wilderness climate where he lived. In addition, he’s preaching to the people! He’s preaching a message of repentance to them, and he’s baptizing them, and he’s getting a fair share of persecution from the religious leaders as well. They’re questioning his ministry, but people are coming from all around the countryside. And of course, why wouldn’t they? This is the first prophet that Israel has seen in 400 years. There’s some excitement brewing about his ministry. People are excited to hear what he has to say, and of course, he’s going to be referred to in the Scriptures later by Jesus as a prophet.

It’s interesting that Jesus refers to him as a prophet because John does prophesy. In the beginning of Matthew 3, a little bit of his speech is recorded for us, and we know that one of the things that he says is that the one who comes after him will baptize with fire! He will be different than John. John baptized with water, but the one who follows after him that is greater than Him is going to baptize with fire, and that fits very well with the account of the disciples on Pentecost when they are waiting in the upper room and tongues of fire descend on them, and they’re filled with the Holy Spirit. And so right away, we can see that John the Baptist is a prophet because he does prophesy, and he’s a true prophet because his prophecies come true.

The verse that we’re looking at in this passage really captures the whole heart of the matter. Matthew understood that John the Baptist, was the fulfillment of the Elijah that was to come, and since the leaders knew and were looking for this second coming of Elijah, this became a huge piece of evidence in pointing to the fact that Jesus was Messiah. After all, that was the entire point of John’s ministry, the entire point of John’s life was to be a marker that indicated that the Messiah had come.


Signs are Important

In life, we are faced with all kinds of markers. When we go into a construction zone, there are orange signs and traffic codes, sometimes a flagger, telling us to stop or to go. When we get a new job, and we’re not quite sure how to do what we’re supposed to do, that could be a sign that we need more training. When we’re investing in a company or a business or an opportunity, there could be warning signs that something is not right, or there could be encouraging signs that show us that this investment or this opportunity is worth taking some risk for.

Signs are tremendously important in human culture. And God knew that and that’s why He sent a herald for the Messiah. He sent John the Baptist to be an indication that Jesus was coming shortly after him, and it’s not like the religious leaders weren’t looking for the right sign. They were actually looking for the right sign, but when they were confronted with it, they chose to reject it rather than to acknowledge that it existed.

The ultimate proof that exists that John the Baptist was actually the forerunner for the Messiah, and that his ministry actually pointed to Jesus took place during the baptism of Jesus. John was waiting for this Messiah, and we know from the Gospel of John that John the Baptist acknowledged that he did not know that Jesus was the Messiah until after he baptized Him. You see, John knew who Jesus was, John and Jesus were related because Mary and Elizabeth were cousins. It is extremely possible that they knew one another before this baptism scene that we find in all four Gospels.


A Ministry of Repentance Led to a Ministry of Salvation

John is doing his ministry, he is preaching his message of repentance, and people are coming from all over Israel to be baptized by him. He is having a very successful ministry. And at some point, Jesus comes down to be baptized by him and John, whether he was prompted with the Holy Spirit, or whether John knew that Jesus’s life was exemplary, he tries to stop Jesus from getting baptized. He tries to say, “You don’t need to be baptized,” and that’s important to look at because the whole point of John’s baptism was repentance.

John was baptizing people as a sign of repentance before God, a sign of making their hearts ready to receive the Messiah that God was going to send, aand so his recognition that Jesus doesn’t need to be baptized, really indicates how righteous of a life Jesus lived, and that that was known to those around Him. That was known to those in his circle to his family, because John indicates that it should be the other way around. John says to Jesus, “You should baptize me! I have more to repent for,” in other words, but Jesus is seeking to be obedient to God the Father. So, he petitions John to baptize him and John finally does, and after John baptizes, Jesus and he comes up out of the water, the heavens open, and the Holy Spirit comes down from heaven on Jesus in the form of a dove, and God says from heaven, “This is My beloved Son in whom I am well pleased.”

John would account for this later on by saying, “I didn’t know that Jesus was the Messiah until the voice came from heaven.” John really was pointing towards the Messiah, even though he didn’t quite know yet who the Messiah was, he was preparing this path for the Messiah, and he was going to stay faithful to His ministry until the Messiah appeared and when the Messiah did appear, even he was caught by surprise.

John’s whole life, the whole existence of who John was, points to the Messiah, and when the Messiah was revealed, John’s ministry is immediately cut short. Shortly after this whole interaction of baptizing Jesus, John is arrested, and not too long after that he is executed. Why? Because John wasn’t the main event. He was a marker, an indication,