The Law and the Prophets were proclaimed until John. Since that time,
the good news of the kingdom of God is being preached. (Luke 16:16)
The year was a.d. 28, give or take a few. For a chosen people who hadn't heard a word from God in four centuries, life was pretty good. The Jews had covered their insecurities with a blanket of sameness. The absence of a fresh encounter with God had them clutching to what they had left—the Law. Interesting, isn't it? The Hebrew people climbed to the summit of their legalism during the silent years between Malachi and Matthew. That's what really religious people do when they don't have much of a relationship with God.
In those days sons followed in their father's footsteps. Girls had no need of formal education. After all, they would simply grow up and do exactly as their mothers had done. The devoted uttered the same prayer in the morning that had fallen from their lips the last time the sun came up. Tomorrow would repeat the process.
Courtesy of a Herod who desperately needed their favor, the Jewish people finally had their temple, and, boy, was it a beaut. For the most part, they had things just the way they wanted them.
The Hebrew people wanted to know what they could expect out of life, so they formed themselves an expectation and enforced it with a vengeance. They arranged life the way they wanted it, threw it over their heads like a security blanket, and hid from change.
I can relate. I've done the same thing a few times.
If anyone questioned the status quo, the committed acted like the blanket had always been right there. No doubt many ascribed to the same prevailing attitude described by 2 Peter 3:4 many years later: "Ever since our fathers died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation."
But they were wrong. Since the beginning of creation, things have never simply gone on. A plan of inconceivable perfection has been under careful execution. Always. Even in the silent years of Israel's history, God was never inactive.
We have no idea how busy God's hands are even when His mouth seems closed. Where God is concerned, silence never equals slumber. For those of us looking for an overall grasp of what the God of the universe is doing with planet Earth, few titles of Christ are more significant than those issued from His own mouth in Revelation 22:13. He is "the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End."
I cannot describe how impressed I am with the manifold perfections and consistencies of Scripture. The book that unfolds with the words "in the beginning" draws to a conclusion with the One who declares Himself both that very Beginning and the End. Life on this planet had a precisely executed beginning, and it will have a certain end. He who planned them both to perfection did not leave everything in between to go on as it would... or as it always had.
God in heaven has a will for this Earth. Before He ever uttered, "Let there be light," every day of His kingdom calendar from beginning to end was filled with events. Man can refuse to cooperate, but he cannot keep God from executing the critical events on His schedule. And thankfully, no amount of tradition can stop God when He has a mind to change things.
Just about the time the establishment got things the way they wanted and swore they had always been, someone had the gall to stick his head out from under the security blanket. Sooner or later he'd lose his head for doing it, but in the meantime he'd shake a few things up. Don't miss the implication of a very deliberate God keeping a precise schedule on a kingdom calendar. Luke 3:1-2 says, "In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar... during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas" something very critical happened. The word of God came to a man named John.
Somehow John got labeled "the Baptist," but "the preacher" would fit better. He came declaring, "You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not begin to say to yourselves, 'We have Abraham as our father.' For I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for 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" (Luke 3:7-9).
I began this chapter with a quote out of Christ's own mouth: "The Law and the Prophets were proclaimed until John. Since that time, the good news of the kingdom of God is being preached" (Luke 16:16). Jesus referred to the life of John as a pivot point of change on the kingdom calendar. After four hundred years of silence, suddenly the Word of God came.
After such a long wait to see God reveal Himself afresh to mortal creatures, I wonder if all of heaven hushed to hear it. Of course, those on earth didn't have to hush. The Baptizer talked nice and loud. Loud enough, in fact, that according to Matthew's version, Pharisees and Sadducees from Jerusalem went all the way to the fringe of the security blanket on the banks of the Jordan to see what all the commotion was about (Matt. 3:5, 7). Theirs were among the few heads that stayed dry that day. They held their security blankets over their heads to keep from getting doused in change.
Always one to swim against the current, John the Baptist's message traveled the Jordan upstream into the waters of a handful of fisherman in a village called Bethsaida. Drawn like fish to bait, several of them trekked to hear him and hung on every word he said. In fact, John 1:35 refers to them as disciples of John the Baptist.
Don't let the term disciples seem heretical to you. The label seems almost sacred to many of us in evangelical Christianity, but keep in mind the only thing that made the twelve disciples of Christ sacred was the One they followed. Disciple simply indicates a pupil and follower of someone's teaching.
Thankfully, John the Baptist turned out to be a man worth following precisely because they followed him straight to Jesus.
The religious leaders challenged the baptizer: "What do you say about yourself?" Who was he? Was he Elijah? Was he the Christ? Some other prophet? The preacher clearly declared, "I am the voice of one calling in the desert, 'Make straight the way for the Lord'... I baptize with water... but among you stands one you do not know. He is the one who comes after me, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie" (John 1:22-23, 26-27). John the Baptist defined himself in two ways:
1. He was not the Christ.
2. He was the one sent to prepare for the Christ.
The question the religious leaders asked isn't a bad one for us to ask ourselves as we launch this boat together. So, what about you? What do you say about yourself? What we don't say in words, we ultimately say in deeds. Daily we say all sorts of things about ourselves. Sometimes what we say about ourselves is not necessarily accurate, but it's what we believe.
Trust me. I know about this one. I lived much of my life with a highly inaccurate estimation of who I wasn't and who I was. As a young person, I swung dizzily between feelings of "I am a victim and I'm not as good as anybody else" to "I'm no one's victim and I'm going to be better than everyone else." As I stare at that brief testimony, I sigh at the recollection of it all. Believing and living a lie was so exhausting. What finally got me off of the swing? Learning to see myself in relationship to Jesus Christ.
Don't get the idea that I've arrived or that whatever I've learned so far hasn't been a process. I still struggled with my identity even as I got a little healthier. Still do at times. During my first years of ministry, I tried so hard to be just like my mentor and to do everything just as she did it.
Have you discovered that trying to be someone else is exhausting?
Because of Jesus, John knew who he was and who he wasn't. Who wasn't he? The Christ. Much of his public was plenty willing to hail him as the Messiah had he let them. He didn't.
So who was John the Baptist according to his own definition? "I am the voice of the one calling in the desert, 'Make straight the way of the Lord.'" I find what he said about himself very refreshing. He understood the greatness of Christ and how unworthy he was in comparison, but he didn't give himself the value of an inchworm under a rock. His life had value through its connection to the Messiah. John the Baptist introduced a concept that another John will carry on for us throughout our travel together. Among many other things, we're going to learn how to define ourselves by our relationship to Jesus Christ. We'll arrive at an important place of maturity when we're able to accurately assess and articulate who we are... and who we are not.
As we try to compare ourselves to John the Baptist, we might be tempted to think, "Well, one thing is certain. No one's going to get me confused with Christ." On the contrary, some people will try to make anyone with a semblance of spiritual maturity and identity their personal saviors.
Have you ever had anyone try to make a savior of sorts out of you? Our most convenient response might be shifting all responsibility to the poor, confused person. After all, can we help it if someone mistakes us for more than we are? John the Baptist's example might suggest that we can and must "help it" whenever possible. Like him, when circumstances and relationships call for appropriate reassessment, we don't want to fail to confess, but to confess freely, things such as
So do we just let everyone down? No, we ask them to let us down—right off that man-made pedestal of toothpicks. Our role in the lives of those God authentically sends our way for help is not altogether unlike John the Baptist's. We become a voice in their desert helping them prepare a way for the Lord.
I can't wait to see why God has invited me along on this journey. I have no preconceived notions. No idea where this study is going. An unknown adventure lies ahead of me as surely as it does for you. I've rarely been more excited about starting a study because I simply have no idea what awaits us.
I dearly love an adventure! I can't wait to see all the stops we'll make and all the keepsakes we'll pick up along the way. But when all is said and done, I have a feeling we will learn much about identity. Whose? Christ's and two of His very important disciples. One we'll meet in our next chapter. The other you can meet in the nearest mirror.
As we conclude this first chapter, let's form a baseline of our present perceived identity so we'll be able to draw comparisons as we get much further down the road on this journey. Please be completely honest. Just between God and you, who have you discovered that you aren't? And who have you discovered that you are?
I'm so glad you've joined me. Let's have a blast in the Word of God. We'll begin with a look at one of the most important elements in Jewish life... family.