Read Luke 3:1-22
ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“So he immediately sent an executioner to the prison to cut off John’s head and bring it to him. The soldier beheaded John in the prison, brought his head on a tray, and gave it to the girl, who took it to her mother.” (Mark 6:27-28, NLT)
When we think of God’s people, we tend to think one of two things. We might think of the Israelites who were God’s “chosen people”, or we might think of specific characters in the Bible. Either way, we tend to idealize the people we are thinking about. For instance, we may think that God’s people are super faithful, holy, perform miracles and live wholly devout and righteous lives. Unfortunately, this idealism enables us to distance ourselves from being God’s people, because we feel that we fall short of those ideals. As such, I have decided to write a devotion series on specific characters in the Bible in order to show you how much these Biblical people are truly like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.
Part 147: The Baptist. Virtually everyone, at least in the Western World, has heard the name of John the Baptist. They may not know much about him or his theological significance; however, they have at least heard about him and probably have visions of a wild, hairy crazy man shouting at people while standing in the middle of a muddy looking river. Even so, that image is not too far from the truth and it was certainly how Herod and some of the Jewish religious leaders thought of him.
No doubt, in first-century Judaea, John was a little too fiery for his own safety. His sharp words and accusations against sinners in general, but specifically against the political and religious authorities, were dangerous because of the constant threat of revolt. The last thing Herod or the High Priest at the Temple needed was someone to come along and stir up a revolt. Such a revolt could cost all of them their positions and their lives under Roman rule.
John’s message was clear and consistently recorded in all four of the Gospels. Mark wrote: “This messenger was John the Baptist. He was in the wilderness and preached that people should be baptized to show that they had repented of their sins and turned to God to be forgiven” (Mark 1:4, NLT). Matthew wrote: “‘In those days John the Baptist came to the Judean wilderness and began preaching. His message was, “Repent of your sins and turn to God, for the Kingdom of Heaven is near’” (Matthew 3:1-2, NLT).
Luke wrote: “Then John went from place to place on both sides of the Jordan River, preaching that people should be baptized to show that they had repented of their sins and turned to God to be forgiven” (Luke 3:3, NLT). Finally, John’s Gospel does not reveal John’s actual message; rather, it echoes the Synoptic (Matthew, Mark and Luke) Gospels’ account of John’s prophetic purpose: “I am a voice shouting in the wilderness, ‘Clear the way for the LORD’s coming!’” (John 1:23, NLT).
But that is not the message that got John in trouble. What caused him to be so dangerous is that he called out the religious leaders for being a brood (or family) of snakes. He told them that they would not escape God’s wrath or fiery judgment. He also called out Herod Antipas for having an affair with his brother’s wife, Herodias, and “Many other things.” Because of his persistence in challenging people to repent of their sins and follow God, John the Baptist was arrested and eventually beheaded.
The truth is that NOBODY likes to be called out or challenged. For instance, some people have told me that they didn’t like my Advent sermon series, including my Christmas Eve service, because it used Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Hitler as an illustration as to why this dark world needs Christ and why it is important we “pledge our allegiance” to Christ and make room for him…and him ALONE…at our inn! But my job is not to make people feel comfortable; rather, my job, like the Baptist’s, is to prepare the way of the Lord, and to clear the road for him.”
The question to be asked here is this: how do you react to being challenged? Do you reflect and change, if there is need to do so? Or do you have a knee-jerk reaction and lash out in defense of yourself? I, to be completely honest, have found myself on both sides of that question. The challenge for us is to heed the warnings of the prophets in our lives. Let us NOT be a people seeking warm and fuzzy comfort, but a people who seek to prepare the way of the Lord and clear the road for him.
THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“Having our fundamental assumptions about life challenged is never a comfortable thing.” – Maajid Nawaz
Lord, help me to be receptive to the ways you are challenging me. Lead me from who I am to who you created me to be. Amen!