Saturday, December 20, 2014

Prepare the Way

John, son of Zechariah and Elizabeth, had a very clear purpose in life:
he was to prepare the way for the Lord.

The last chapter of the Old Testament is a prophecy in which John would have a significant role:

Surely the day is coming; it will burn like a furnace.
All the arrogant and every evildoer will be stubble,
and that day that is coming will set them on fire,” says the Lord Almighty.
Not a root or a branch will be left to them.
But for you who revere my name,
the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its wings.
And you will go out and leap like calves released from the stall.
Then you will trample down the wicked;
they will be ashes under the soles of your feet on the day when I do these things,”
says the Lord Almighty.

Remember the law of my servant Moses, the decrees and laws I gave him at Horeb for all Israel.

See, I will send you the prophet Elijah
before the great and dreadful day of the Lord comes.
He will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children
and the hearts of the children to their fathers;
or else I will come and strike the land with a curse.”
(Malachi 4)

Some 400 years later, the angel Gabriel appeared in the Temple of Jerusalem when the faithful priest Zechariah was offering incense on behalf of the Israelites and gave him a startling promise. His wife Elizabeth, barren for many years, would give birth to a son they were to name John. He would proclaim the words of the Lord, and would help to fulfill God's sovereign plan for the universe:

he will be a joy and delight to you
many will rejoice because of his birth
he will be great in the sight of the Lord
he is never to take wine or other fermented drink
he will be filled with the Holy Spirit even from birth
many of the people of Israel will he bring back to the Lord their God
and he will go on before the Lord in the Spirit and power of Elijah
to turn the hearts of the fathers to their children
and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous--
to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.

But because Zechariah did not believe the angel's words, Gabriel said he would be unable to speak “until the day this happens.” (Luke 1:11-22)

When Elizabeth gave birth to their child of promise, Zechariah's tongue was loosed and he gave praise to God. “Everyone who heard about this wondered about it, asking, 'What then is this child going to be?' For the Lord's hand was with him.” (Luke 1:66)

Filled with the Holy Spirit, Zechariah prophesied about the purpose of his newborn son's life:

And you, my child, will be called a prophet of the Most High;
for you will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for him,
to give his people the knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins,
because of the tender mercy of our God,
by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven
to shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the path of peace.”
(Luke 1: 76-79)

We don't know much about John's growing up years, but from Gabriel's prophecy, we know that he was filled with the Holy Spirit from the time of his birth, and was a joy and delight to his parents. From what we know of Zechariah and Elizabeth, I believe they must have wholeheartedly sought the Lord as they taught their son about his unique purpose in God's plan. Because of their old age, they might have died when John was still quite young.

When John became a man, “he went into all the country around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” (Luke 3:3)

In this way, he fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah the prophet:

A voice of one calling in the desert,
'Prepare the way for the Lord,
make straight paths for him.
Every valley shall be filled in,
every mountain and hill made low.
The crooked roads shall become straight,
the rough ways smooth.
And all mankind will see God's salvation.'”
(Luke 3: 4-6 from Isaiah 40:3-5)

John also had a message of rebuke and coming judgment for those religious Israelites who were depending on their self-righteousness to save them, with no humility in their hearts to truly seek God:

You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath?
Produce fruit in keeping with repentance.
And do not think you can say to yourselves, 'We have Abraham as our father.'
I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children from Abraham.
The ax is already at the root of the trees,
and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.”
(Matthew 3:7-10)

When Jesus himself came to the Jordan to be baptized, John said, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” And “the reason I came baptizing with water was that he might be revealed to Israel.” (John 1: 29, 31)

When John's disciples then began to follow Jesus, John was not jealous that his significance had been taken away, but was joyful because he had faithfully done the job God had given him:

A man can receive only what is given him from heaven.
You yourselves can testify that I said, “I am not the Christ but am sent ahead of him.'
The bride belongs to the bridegroom.
The friend who attends the bridegroom waits and listens for him,
and is full of joy when he hears the bridegroom's voice.
That joy is mine, and it is now complete.
He must become greater; I must become less.

The one who comes from above is above all;
the one who is from the earth belongs to the earth.
The one who comes from heaven is above all.
He testifies to what he has seen and heard, but no one accepts his testimony.
The man who has accepted it has certified that God is truthful.
For the one whom God has sent speaks the words of God,
for God gives the Spirit without limit.
The Father loves the Son and has placed everything in his hands.
Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life,
but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God's wrath remains on him.”
(John 3: 27-36)

Not long after Jesus had stepped into the spotlight with his public ministry, John was imprisoned because he had offended Herod. And from prison, John sent his disciples to ask Jesus if he was the one they were waiting for.

Jesus replied, “Go back and report to John what you hear and see: the blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor. Blessed is the man who does not fall away on account of me.”
(Matthew 11: 2-6)

John never left Herod's prison and was beheaded. His work on earth was done. (Matthew 14: 1-12)

A faithful and humble man who lived out his life's purpose until the end of his days.
A prophet.
Who prepared the way for the Lord.

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