I read again about John the Baptist and I would use a Sanskrit word to aptly describe him – “Dhumakethu”. It means a fiery, brilliant, but short-lived comet. There is something more. Jesus accorded him the following extraordinary commendation: “Assuredly, I say to you, among those born of women there has not been one greater than John the Baptist; but he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he” (John 11:11). WHY?
Let us quickly go over his background, mission, eccentricities, his place in the world, triumphs as well as his human limitations, doubts and discouraging moments et al. To start, let me try to capture my first impressions of John the Baptist:
- he looked like a hippy, very different from the typical “churchy” folks
- a loner,shunned the city and lived in the wilderness
- he had a peculiar diet of locusts and wild honey. His water supply was from the nearby river
- he had a unique style – wore no clerical garb but he sewed up a camel hair garment, held together with a leather belt
- he never cared about political correctness, smooth diplomacy- even told the King where to go!
Whatever his outward appearance or his thunderous message, mobs of all sorts left the city to flock and hang around him. He was the mover and shaker of his time. Again, WHY?
He came from good stock; his father Zacharias was an honoured priest and his mother a devout woman. His birth was a miracle with a peculiar anecdote in regard to his name, John. He was related to Jesus, possibly a cousin. Yet it was unlikely he had met Jesus before. Once more, as in the case of Jesus’ childhood, it was up to physician Luke to record some additional information on John (Luke 1:57-66).
The crowd witnessed something genuine, “pure religion and undefiled” in him; no gimmick, shadowy or cunning words (Romans 16:18). This accounted for his immense popularity. He was also down to earth when giving spiritual advice to people, including the rich, tax collectors and soldiers etc (Luke 3:10-14); this is what the ordinary people were and are still searching for?
There was no doubt as to his mission here on earth. He was the forerunner commissioned to introduce the Saviour of the world, whose shoes he said, “he was not even worthy to unfasten”. There was an urgency in his message, and rightly so. The kingdom of God was at hand. Quoting from my previous post “A Just Woman” the “time has come” for Jesus to begin His Father’s work”.
John the Baptist also had a powerful message of hope exhorting people to repent of their sins and as an outward expression of their inward change to be baptized publicly in water -full dunking! He indeed baptized with water, yet proclaimed of one (Jesus) emerging soon who will baptize with fire.
So, when would the precise moment start? Did both the Forerunner (John), who administered the baptism, as well as the One who submitted to “whose hour has come” (Jesus), need to hear from above? They did at the baptism; “thou art my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased”? Here are the references for the prophecy as well as its fulfillment: Psalm 2:7, Isaiah 42:1, Matthew 3:17, 17:5, Luke 9:35). The hour struck!
Notice again the context – may I use the word “climate” in terms of drastic forthcoming changes, as the old was passing away; behold all things were becoming new. Changes are not easy and it is not uncommon for leaders (Swamis and Rishies, Coptic Orthodox etc.) to seclude for a time in caves, wilderness or in simple solitude. John the Baptist preferred the solitude in the wilderness.
So was John’s lonely and eccentricities preparatory? Was John looking far beyond a seminary or a Bible School or a teacher or a Guru like Gamaliel or a Shammai or a Hillel, who were then like a one-man university? John preferred the solitude in the wilderness. John shattered the school of the privileged, the fringes, the robes and the broad phylacteries.
The Lord himself, soon after baptism, “filled with the Holy Spirit returned from Jordan and was led by the Spirit to the wilderness. being tempted for forty days” (Luke 4:1-2). “Then Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit (Luke 4:14). God called Moses from Egypt. Did He not also call Moses to Sinai? What led St.Paul, who did “sit at the feet of Gamaliel”, after his Damascus Road experience, head to the wilderness, even before meeting the very disciples, later Apostles? (Galatians 1:16-17).
In closing, the search for the remedy for sin and its consequences has been going on worldwide for centuries. God commissioned the Man from the Wilderness, as revealed in the Scriptures, at the appointed time. He introduced historically to the world “the lamb of God” for all mankind. Besides, “In the fullness of time”, again historically, Jesus offered his own life on the Cross. No wonder this is the real cornerstone of Christendom “for God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16).
God bless, Danny Paul
PS: I will continue in the next post as Part II