“The word of God came to John”. This is how the Bible announces a Prophet.
Two important words in the Bible surround John’s life. Luke talks about the wilderness of Judea and the hill country of Judea. You could not imagine two vastly different and contrasting neighbourhoods. The hill country is like the very best real estate in your city. It is where a high priest lives. It is where John was raised, where Mary visited. The wilderness is a desert where occasionally a reed blows in the wind. There is nothing else. It is devastating. John lived there with great fasting, probably with an Essene community in a vastly penitential life. We read about the strange food and clothing. He was a Spartan!
John’s message reflects his community life with the Essenes. His message is “Try harder” or “Shape up or ship out”. “Repent for the kingdom of God is at hand”. His Baptism is a baptism of repentance. He knows there has to be more. He will point to the one who is greater. He knows that repentance is basic to kingdom living. He can’t wait for the more. He is waiting for ‘the Lamb of God’.
John went through the whole Jordan region “proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins”. Luke tells us that John is fulfilling the prophecy of Isaiah: “a voice cries in the wilderness: prepare a way for the Lord.” We have explained the term wilderness. The rest of the prophecy is a road building metaphor. The image is of an eastern oriental emperor sweeping away every obstacle in the same way as we see engineers building expressways. We see the huge machinery pushing great quantities of dirt up and down hills making level freeways. This is how Isaiah sees the coming of the Messiah. Prepare the way for the Lord. Remove every obstacle. The Messiah is coming.
How contrasting will it be to see Jesus coming on a donkey!!
We will see John in the gospel next week also. He will continue to point to the salvation of God.