“A voice of one calling in the desert, Prepare the way for the Lord"
Just as we face a New Year right now, so the ancient people of God were facing a new era altogether around the year 30 AD, as a man of fire made his presence felt, out by the river Jordan.
Since the departure of Israel’s last recognized prophet four hundred years earlier, no definitive prophetic word had been heard in Judea. And then – in came this wild man from the wilderness - all hair and leather! What schooling had he received, apart from heaven itself? History has indeed served us at times with powerful preachers, albeit possessing minimal academic credentials! One such was the unschooled D.L. Moody of Chicago in the nineteenth century – whose last-ever letter contained 38 spelling mistakes. Yet millions responded to his riveting messages, both sides of the Atlantic. London’s Seventh Earl of Shaftesbury - the influential Ashley Cooper – compared him favourably with Britain’s supposedly top preacher, Canon Liddon of St Paul’s Cathedral. “Moody will do more in an hour,” said Shaftesbury, “than Canon Liddon in a century!”
So it had to be with John the Baptist. There in Judea a new class of religious leadership had formed, in the Scribes and Pharisees – but it was formal, dry and overlaid with tedious platitudes.
Now here was a man who was evidently the Elijah-like messenger foretold in the last sentence of the Old Testament; a man who would ‘turn hearts’ and baptize the repentant, there by the banks of the Jordan. And Jesus himself arrived – not that HE needed to repent … but his stepping into the water seemed to be identifying him with the suffering, sinful humanity he had come to save. Indeed, it was he whom John was promoting.
‘A voice crying in the wilderness’ - that’s all John ever claimed to be (Isaiah 40:3), as he prepared the way for Jesus.