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Years had passed since John had been born to Zechariah and Elizabeth. John was all grown up and was strong in Spirit. And if you remember what the angel had told Zechariah, John had been given a special assignment by God. His job was to let everyone know that God’s Shining Rescuer was coming, and to make the road clear for that Light to shine, shine, shine through!
So John went out to live in the wilderness until it was time to tell everyone.
Since John lived out in the wilderness, his life looked a little different than most. He ate wild honey from the bees and he ate little bugs called locusts. (Yeah! The kind with two antennae and jumpy legs.) Crunch! Crunch! Crunch! His clothes were made from camels’ hair. Itch! Itch! Itch!
While John was out there in the wilderness, God’s Word came to him, and he knew what he needed to do.
John’s job — the way he would clear the road for the Shining Rescuer — was to teach people that they needed to recognize and say aloud the wrong things they’d done. And to show that they would turn away from those things and live differently, John told them to come down into the river with him and go under the water. This dunking under the water is also called baptism.
John shouted to the people, “Repent! Turn Around. Change! Because the Kingdom of Heaven is close, close, close!”
One day some people from a couple of religious groups came out to meet John. These people thought that they were better than others because they thought they believed just the right things.
But when John saw them, he said, “You poisonous snakes! What are you doing here? You have to prove that you are turning away from wrong by producing good fruit! And don’t you dare say, ‘I’m a child of Abraham.’ God could make children of Abraham out of these rocks if He wanted.”
John was trying to tell them that it didn’t matter who their daddy was thousands of years before, if they wouldn’t love and obey God now. Having “the right daddy” or “the right ideas” or being part of the “right group or nation” is not what matters. What matters is — what are you going to do about what God says? And do you have good stuff flowing out of your life to prove it?
John continued telling them, “Listen. The axe is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be chop, chop, chopped down and burned in the fire. You have to prove you’re turning away from wrong by showing you are changing for the good.”
Later, some of those same type of guys came around again, and they asked John, “Who are you?”
“I’m not the Shining Rescuer we’re waiting for, if that’s what you’re asking!” he answered them.
Then they said to him, “Then who are you? What do you say about yourself?”
John said, “I’m that voice in the wilderness Isaiah told you about, the one who shouts, ‘Clear a path for God! Build a flat, level road for Him.’”
But they asked John, “Well, why are you dunking all these people in the river if you aren’t the Rescuer or Elijah or the Prophet?”
John answered them, “Someone much greater than me is coming soon. And He’s ready to do some cleaning up. He’s going to collect any good stuff and store it for later, but any useless stuff He’s gonna burn up.”
Being baptized in water for repentance and forgiveness was not something in the Deal of Rules that God had given to Moses. So what these guys were really saying to John was, “Why should we bother to listen to you? You aren’t better than us. Who says we have to do this go-under-the-water thing anyway? You aren’t our boss.”
That’s awful! Kind of like when a child is being bad and another child is trying to help them, but they say, “I don’t have to listen to you. You aren’t my mom.” That’s yucky, isn’t it? Booooo!
Later on, Jesus said these guys totally blew it with that attitude. They missed their chance to be with Jesus because they wouldn’t listen to John, even though there was no logical or obvious “scriptural” reason why John would be doing what he was doing.
That’s what happens if you think too highly of yourself and think you have everything all figured out. We have to keep our eyes and ears open to See and Hear what God is doing in the Unseen world. Because it won’t necessarily always line up with what we think should be true in our little, bitty minds.
Many people came to John and asked him what they needed to do to turn their lives toward God. They said, “I’m a soldier. What do I do?” Or, “I’m a tax collector. What do I do?” And John told them very practical things like, “If you have two coats, give one away if someone needs it.” And, “Don’t take money from anyone unfairly.” And, “Be happy with the money you are paid at your job.”
The people were so excited and kept wondering, “Maybe John IS the Rescuer we’ve been waiting for!” But John answered them all, “No, no, no. I’m not that guy. I’m covering and saturating you in water, but there’s Someone coming who is so much greater than me that I’m not even good enough to untie His shoes! That guy — He’s going to saturate you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.”
John was telling the people that he was just getting them ready. John’s baptism was a baptism of repentance, showing that you were going to go the opposite direction of sin. But later on in the story when God’s New Deal comes, the baptism into Jesus is waaaaay more. It’s not just showing repentance, but it’s when someone wants to show that they agree to put away sin and accept God’s New Deal. It’s like the shaking of hands and saying “Deal!” or like the exchanging of rings and saying “I do” when two people make a marriage covenant. It’s saying, “Jesus, I want all the yucky junk inside of me dead and buried. I want You to live Your wonderful Life in me instead.” When someone goes under the water, God buries a person’s sin and old life under the water. Then they can rise out of the water in God’s new Life. And when someone marries Jesus, He saturates them not just with water, but with His Holy Spirit. So watch for that soon.
Remember what Isaiah said the voice in the wilderness — the runner — would shout?
“Clear a path for God! Build a flat, level road for Him. Fill in every valley with dirt, and make every tall mountain and hill be flat, flat, flat. Crooked roads will become straight, straight, straight, and the rough parts will become all over smoooooth, smooth. All people will see God’s salvation.”
John was this voice. John was the runner whose assignment was to run before the Rescuer. John was clearing the road by helping the people get their hearts ready for Jesus. He warned them about their sin, and told them practical ways to turn around and go the right way. And that is how John shouted out the good news to the people, with many loving kicks in the pants. (If you don’t know what a “kick in the pants” is — it’s when someone who loves you talks sternly to you to help you get moving in the right direction.)