Think back to a big concert you went to. Now I am not talking about the symphony, rather Rock and Roll or Pop concert. Was it indoor or in an amphitheater? Who did you go with? What band did you see? I went to the Shoreline amphitheater to see Maroon 5 but we had lawn seating. That meant we got there early to get a good spot and then waited for the show to start. (If you don’t have assigned seats then you wait). But it takes a long time to seat over 22,000 people. The trick is to get everyone gathered, leaving their day behind and pumped and ready for the show. That is the job of the warm-up act, the band that plays first. Imagine how hard it would be to go on stage first, when you had to create the energy and the excitement. Now I have been to concerts when the warm up act was completely unknown to me. Sometimes I liked them and started listening to them, most of the time they just get the crowd ready and in the mood to hear the main act. I was surprised that Kelly Clarkson was the warm up act for Maroon 5. We jammed to all of her songs preparing the way for the headliner. John the Baptist was the warm up act for Jesus. He was the one who gathered the crowd, and started laying the ground work for what Jesus would teach. He created energy and excitement about what was about to come. He baptized people by the hundreds, in a “baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins” (Luke 3:3). But he did not play for a couple of hours and then move on, no it is believed that John preached for months, possibly years preparing the way for Jesus. He was so good that many people asked him if he was the Messiah, the one they had been waiting for (Luke 3:15). That is a really good warm up band if they think he is the real deal! But John repeatedly pointed people to the one who would come after him, the one who would baptize them with the Holy Spirit. John was excellent at rallying the crowd – people came from Jerusalem, Judea and the Jordan to be baptized (Mt. 3:5). All the while he was setting the stage, getting them primed for the main act. But he never let all of his fame to go to his head. He was clear he was facilitating something. Facilitating someone; the arrival of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
Have you ever heard something for the first time and you think how awesome if it were true, but I am not buying that right now? It happened to me when I shared some life lessons with Cooper but he was not really buying it. But then someone else told him the same thing and he was able to hear it in a new and transforming way. I think there was an element of that with John. He got through to people, past their defenses and their fears and created an opening to receive grace for their sins. He helped them to see the power of God’s love, so that when they met Jesus, God’s Son, it was a game changer. Their life would never be the same.
We are asking the question “Why John?”
There are three things to know about John preparing the way for Jesus.
First, Prophecy foretold of John. Mark is the very first gospel written, and we get the word gospel from this opening line- “the good news of Jesus Christ.” Gospel literally means- good news!!! But not like happy and pleasant news, but rather the announcement of salvation and healing from brokenness, that comes from Jesus Christ. Prophecy from Isaiah is the first thing mentioned. There are no shepherds, or angels, or a precious baby born. No, what is important is the prophecy, the parallel, of one preparing the way for Jesus. John the Baptist is the fulfillment of that prophecy. What he ate and what he wore were all foretold in scripture (Lev. 11:22, 2 Kgs 1:8). His outrageous clothes of camel hair and leather belt, eating honey and locus were all part of that fulfillment. He was baptizing in the wilderness, warming up the crowd, as messenger before Jesus. John being the one crying out in the wilderness is only the beginning because his entire mission was to point the way to Jesus- the Son of God.
The second thing is to know is the conflicted context of the time. The year is 70 AD. There was a war going on, Jerusalem is under siege. People are revolting against the Roman government and there is a struggle for peace. Some want to resist, while other want to submit for peace and security. Into this setting John is offering “comfort,” much like Isaiah spoke, when he is declaring Jesus the Son of God. Today we seek peace, peace in ourselves, our homes, our neighborhoods, country and world. But it feels like we need comfort, comfort that God is with us now. Comfort that healing and salvation are still ours, peace in our hearts is still possible when we rest in Jesus. That is the promise of the good news- that no matter what we face, what situation comes up, we know that God is with us and that Jesus is the Prince of peace.
So first, John is the fulfilling of prophecy. Second this good news came at a time of conflict and yet they continued to find peace. And third thing to know is there is a personal aspect to John’s ministry. John was a voice crying out in the wilderness, and yet each one who he touched with the gospel message had a personal connection to John. I don’t mean they were friends, but it was his willingness to risk sharing the gospel that touched each person’s life moving them to be baptized, and walk with God in Christ.
Most of us have had a John the Baptist in our life. Someone who primed the pump for you to personally receive Jesus. Maybe it was the person who helped you to see that God is real and working in your life. They transformed your old thinking that God is punishing and instead now you see God as loving and wanting what is best for you. Hearing people’s stories about coming to faith, I often hear it was a friend or romantic interest who invited them to Christ. Maybe for you, it was your grandmother who shared Gods’ love and love for God’s word; who facilitated your faith. Or maybe it was a Sunday school teacher. Melanie, a newer member, told me a story this week. One of her kids in Sunday school from the 1970s recently wrote her a letter telling her how she affected his life. He had wanted to contact her for years but did not know how to find her. God opened a door for her to be found, after being married and having moved.
He wrote: I have a great deal to thank you for; as your obedience and faith to teach a powerful, loving, heavenly Father, set in motion, a life altering course. The Lord blessed you with the ability to explain the scriptures from you heart. To put Old Testament characters such a Daniel, Elijah, Moses on display in our minds so we could yearn to have such character and to know God.” WOW!!! She was the one who brought this young person to Christ and changed the course of his life forever!!! She was his John the Baptist!
Her faith, her passion for Christ, came through to his young boy who rode the church bus to come to her Sunday school class. Melanie’s faith, her love, her teaching had an impact on his life and his walk with Christ. He is now a police officer in San Jose. She prepared the way for this young man to meet Jesus, just like John the Baptist prepared the way for so many others. You can be a John the Baptist for someone in your life. You can share your excitement about your faith, you can tell them about God’s and change someone’s life. What better time to share your faith when the world is primed by the Christmas story? First God sent Jesus into the world, as a little baby boy, then John prepared our world for the love and peace of Jesus. May we each become more like John sharing with friends and family as we await the arrival of our savior and Lord. Why John? Because he prepared the way for Jesus, you can prepare the way for Jesus today. Amen