John the Baptizer was a fiery preacher of the judgment of God and announcing the arrival of the Messiah.
One image that comes to mind when I picture John is a piece of heavy machinery, in particular, a bulldozer. John is no lay-down-and-die weakling. He is no conjurer of cheap tricks. Though a radical and one who definitely stood out, it’s important for us to make sure we don’t confuse him for being a bug-eating carnival worker looking to just draw a crowd and send them away with plastic nothings that end up in landfills.
FLATTENING MOUNTAINS AND FILLING VALLEYS
John the Baptizer is a person that we often hear about and is no stranger to us. He is one of the first ambassadors for Jesus Christ—and certainly one of the first who got to meet the God-man in the flesh. He even got to baptize Jesus! (John 1:29-33). He was not just blogging, tweeting, or dialoging. John came preaching and baptizing.
John did not come to maintain the status quo. He came to tell people that someone was coming who’d change their lives as they knew it. He came to flatten mountains and fill in the valleys; his mission was to prepare the way for Jesus. Metaphorically speaking, his job description included turning Mount Everest into a parking lot and filling in the Grand Canyon to make it level. This was intense labor set out ahead of him.
His example is encouraging for those of us who get tired, frustrated, and bogged down. John wasn’t reluctant about what God had created and called him to be. In fact, he had been jumping at the opportunity to serve Jesus ever since he was in his mother, Elizabeth’s, womb (Luke 1:39-45). In John’s mind, Jesus deserved a smooth walking path as he took center stage of salvation history.
OUT OF THE BLUE
In the English Bible, Malachi is the last book in our Old Testament. It contains this prophecy:
Behold, I send my messenger, and he will prepare the way before me. And the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple; and the messenger of the covenant in whom you delight, behold, he is coming, says the LORD of hosts (Malachi 3:1).
After this prophetic message is penned, there is going to be over 400 years of total silence from heaven. No prophets or kings with a word from God for his people. And then suddenly, one day, out of the blue, a man arose coming out of the wilderness, sporting a gnarly beard, eating locusts and wild honey, wearing camel fur and a broad belt around his waist, and strangely resembling the prophet Elijah. He opens his mouth booming authority, crying out “Prepare the way of the Lord!” (Luke 3:4).
GREATER AND LESS
The messenger is John the Baptizer. Malachi’s prophecy about John is cited three times in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke. On one occasion, Jesus said about John:
What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken by the wind? What then did you go out to see? A man dressed in soft clothing? Behold, those who wear soft clothing are in kings’ houses. What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. This is he of whom it is written, "Behold, I send my messenger before your face, who will prepare your way before you." Truly, I say to you, among those born of women there has arisen no one greater than John the Baptist" (Matthew 11:7-11).
Why was John so great? One of his declarations about Jesus might clue us in, "He must become greater; I must become less." (Jn 3:30 NIV).