The holidays are officially over. As we pack up the ornaments, clean up those pesky dead Christmas tree twigs and get back to life as we know it, we begin to focus on a new year with new goals and mindsets, leaving the past behind us. Oftentimes, we pack up the Christmas story with everything else, storing the tale of a baby in Bethlehem in the back of our minds, where it will remain filed in our Christmas folder until next year. The truth is, Jesus’ story didn’t stop in Bethlehem. He grew into a man, restored people’s sight, healed their sicknesses, raised the dead and, eventually, died on a cross for the sins of the world. However, before Christ could accomplish his mission, someone was preaching to the masses, baptizing them in the river and preparing them for Jesus’ arrival.
While we tend to focus on the wise men and shepherds, another played a huge role in the coming of Christ. Elizabeth, Mary’s cousin, was pregnant six months before Mary would conceive. Zacharias, Elizabeth’s husband, was visited by an angel, much like Mary, who informed him that Elizabeth would give birth to a son and call his name John. In Luke 1:15-17, the angel said, “He will also be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb. And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God. He will also go before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah, ‘to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children,’ and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.” As promised, Elizabeth delivered a baby boy who would grow up to become known as John the Baptist.
John the Baptist is one of the more interesting biblical characters. In Matthew 3:4, the Bible says, “Now John himself was clothed in camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist; and his food was locusts and wild honey.” He was certainly different. According to Luke 1:80, “And the child continued to grow and to become strong in spirit, and he lived in the deserts until the day of his public appearance to Israel.” Isaiah even prophesied about John in Isaiah 40:3, “The voice of one crying in the wilderness: Prepare the way of the LORD; make straight in the desert, a highway for our God. Every valley shall be exalted and every mountain and hill brought low; the crooked places shall be made straight and the rough places smooth; the glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together; for the mouth of the LORD has spoken.” John, the one crying out in the wilderness, fulfilled Isaiah’s prophecy, and made way for the coming Messiah. He must have been a sight to behold; unkempt, wild, clothed in camel’s hair, loud and filled with the spirit of God.
Imagine John standing in the Jordan River, a big burly man preaching to the masses, baptizing hundreds of people, one right after the other. The sight must have been remarkable. In Matthew 3:13-17, John was doing just this, when suddenly Jesus approached. Scripture states, “Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan to be baptized by him. And John tried to prevent Him, saying, ‘I need to be baptized by You, and are You coming to me?’ But Jesus answered and said to him, ‘Permit it to be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.’ Then he allowed Him.”
How remarkable was it that, as John was preaching about the coming of a Messiah, the Messiah appeared in the midst of the crowd, in flesh and blood, to be baptized with the rest? When John baptized Jesus, God’s plan was set in motion, prophecies were fulfilled and the Son of Man would begin to teach, heal, gather disciples and, eventually, lay down His life for all of mankind. John the Baptist played a huge role in Christ’s coming.
John would eventually lose his life in a brutal fashion, for his teaching angered many, just as so many are angered by Christian teaching today. However, his words live on and his example serves as a reminder for all Christians to diligently serve the Lord, preach His word, as Jesus commanded, and baptize the masses in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Perhaps, we all have a little bit of John the Baptist in our