We meet John, Zechariah’s son, all grown up today. John, the cousin of Jesus. This is the same John that leapt in his mother’s womb at Mary’s greeting. The same John who was prophesied would be filled with the Holy Spirit before his birth. The John that brought speech again to his father once he was named.
Luke started off his story of John the Baptist by fixing him in the timeline very clearly and specifically. He wanted us to know exactly when John emerged on the scene. I find it interesting that he didn’t fix any of the other events concerned with John so accurately. Luke appears to lump all of John’s stories into one single section of his letter to Theophilus. I want to break down Luke’s writings about John into a few sections. Today I want to look at Luke’s introduction to who John was and the prophecy regarding him.
John has been living in the wilderness for some time. In Matthew 3:4 we are told that he has been living in the desert, existing on locust and wild honey. He also wears a camel skin robe. He has been out in the wilderness learning from God. He had a mighty job ahead of him and he focused on it to the exclusion of everything else.
I’m curious about several things concerning John. First of all, how and why did he go into the wilderness in the first place. Was he drawn there by God? Did his parents live near there and he found solitude there as a child? Did he go there to study with someone already living there? Second, where did he live while he was in the wilderness? Did he live in caves? Did he have a tent he brought with him? I’m pretty sure he didn’t live in a house, because he denied himself all other creature comforts, so a house would fly in the face of that restrictive lifestyle. Third, how long was he there? Did he go there as a young man? Was he there for a few months or a few years? Did he go for small lengths of time or was he there for an extended stay? Finally, where were his parents? How did they react to him setting off into the wilderness? Did his mother try and convince him to take food with him? Did they know that this was the preparation place for him and his ministry? Did they watch for him to come back every day? Did they support his decision? Did they agree with his message? Did they go to him to be baptized too? I know I won’t get answers this side of Heaven, but I wanted to ask the questions anyway.
When John comes out of the Jordan we are not told what city or cities he visits. The Jordan River runs from the Sea of Galilee to the Dead Sea. It is 156 miles long. So where was John primarily located at? Maybe he traveled up and down the whole length of it preaching.
His message was simple; repent and be baptized for the forgiveness of sin. This was the message God ordained for him. John’s role was spelled out in prophecy hundreds of years before he was born. I want to look at that prophecy.
The first section of it is easily recognizable as John. “The voice of one crying in the wilderness: Prepare the way of the Lord, make His paths straight” (verse 4). But the next verse has me scratching my head wondering exactly what it means, and how Luke was inspired to connect it to John’s ministry. I don’t doubt for a moment that the Holy Spirit inspired this connection, but what was it that Luke saw that cemented it to John’s ministry?
I’m just going to jump in and see where this train of thought takes me. Feel free to disagree with me. It won’t hurt my feelings in the least.
I’m thinking all the lines are probably speaking about different kinds of people John will meet during his ministry. When Isaiah says “Every valley shall be filled”, I’m wondering what they are filled with. Are they filled with dirt, as in brought up to the level of the surrounding area? Or are they filled with water instead? When I think about the kind of person represented by “the valley” I think of someone who is spiritually, emotionally, physically, financially or socially pushed to the bottom. One thing I used to say when I was that depressed was that I was so low I had to look up to look down. I was below down. I was in the deepest valley I could ever imagine. Those in the valley see no hope.
John’s message to them was that they could be freed of their condition through the forgiveness of their sins. That the Lord was coming and He would lift them up. Their valley would be filled in and they would again walk on higher ground. This message applied to ALL who came to John searching for hope.
I experienced this through letting my valley be filled with the water of the Holy Spirit. I didn’t learn to walk on water but the Spirit’s water brought with it “silt” from the source and began filling in my valley. Little by little, that silt settled and built up the valley floor until my valley no longer existed. Then I could walk on higher ground too.
“Every mountain and hill shall be made low” speaks to me of prideful or self-reliant people. These people don’t believe they have any needs or that there is nothing they can’t do on their own. This is a dangerous spot to be in. So sure of your own abilities that you refuse to ask for or accept help. I see this category holding the religious leaders very nicely. Just in case you haven’t figured it out yet, NO ONE can do it all, apart from Jesus. John’s message to them was that God sees their sin of pride and He will not allow it to continue.
Unfortunately I am experienced in this area too. It is quite probable that the need for my mountain to come down is what precipitated my valley being dug. My mountain wasn’t “exactly” telling Jesus that I could do everything without Him but was more along the lines of personal self-reliance and pride. I asked God to help me, but when I thought He was taking too long, I’d try and take care of it on my own. He let me go on this way for a while, but when my self-reliance choked our relationship it was time to get my attention. The “winds” began to blow and chip away at my mountain face. The harder I tried to buck those winds the more debris was blown off, leaving me finally totally exposed. I was brought to my knees by my own failures. I trusted in the power of “me” to make my life work out right. My own stubbornness required the wind to blow beyond my kneeling to my being face down to finally fully in the valley before I recognized the truth of the lesson. Then God slowly brought me back to center.
“The crooked shall become straight” speaks to me of the person who tries to take every shortcut available. This could be cheating someone in a deal to make more money for oneself or stepping on someone else to get ahead. These shortcuts lead to dead ends instead, or at best cheat you out of the lessons that were waiting along the prepared path. By taking the shortcut, valuable learning was missed. If you actually arrived at the intended destination through the use of the shortcuts, holes now show through. This brings on the fear of being found out; fear of being found a fraud. I think the tax collectors would fit very nicely in this category. John’s message says to restore what you have taken and ask God to walk with you on the true path. It may take a little longer to reach the “reward” but when you do, you will have the skills to rightfully be there.
“The rough places shall become level ways” reminds me of a very emotional person. The ups and down of anger and excitement. Someone who is sweet one moment but violent or maybe even vindictive in the next. This example might refer to the Roman soldiers. One moment they are allowing all the people freedom, then in the next they strike you down. You never know what to expect from this kind of person. The need to always be on guard for whatever comes next. John tells this kind of person that the Lord can give them the peace they need and bring quiet to their lives when they surrender to Him.
The last section in verse six is easier to understand. “All flesh shall see the salvation of God.” Jesus didn’t just come for the Jews but for the Gentile too. EVERYONE was included in His sacrifice. This was that Jesus, the one John was crying out to the people about. The one capable of taking away all sin. The one who would be arriving on the scene VERY shortly.
Thank You Father that Jesus came for each and every one of us. Thank You for sending the water with the silt to raise me out of the valley. Thank You for the winds that brought me to my knees where I recognized my need for you. Thank You for preparing perfect paths for me with the right lessons along the way and for making sure I stayed on them. Thank You for smoothing off my rough edges. Thank You that no matter where my path takes me, You are there ahead, behind, and beside me all the way. Remind me to bring my sins to You right away, to prevent our relationship from being stopped up. Thank You for Your forgiveness.