On a different note (but I promise to tie the two together at the end!), my friends below the equator are eagerly waiting for the warmer days of Spring and Summer, while I am dreading the cold of winter. Our desires (or dread) will be rewarded shortly but imagine what it must have been like to be an ancient Israelite who knew of Malachi’s prophecy (Mal. 4:5-6) but knew that Malachi’s ministry had taken place 400 years earlier. Over the course of those four centuries your land has been governed by a succession of appointed leaders from super powers such as Greece and Persia. Now you are under the authority of the Romans who, in order to keep the empire peaceful, rule with an iron fist. Do you think you would lose hope? It appears that some had, but many had not, for when John the Baptist appears in the wilderness, he immediately draws a crowd and the people recognize him as a prophet.
The essence of the role of a Biblical prophet is not to predict the future, but to speak forth the Word of God. John’s message was in line with the great prophets of the Scriptures. The prophet served as the contemporary voice of God to his generation. As the voice of God, the prophet pointed out religious and social sins and called for repentance. The first chapter of the Gospel of John is not only a poetic masterpiece; it is also a dissertation on the individual roles of Jesus and John the Baptist. It is interesting to note that all four Gospels make mention of John the Baptist which emphasizes the connection the writers saw between Malachi’s prophecy and John the Baptist’s ministry. In the Gospel of John, John the Baptist is called a witness to the Light, but not the True Light. That role belongs to Jesus and His title as the True Light not only signifies His authenticity, it underscores His eternal nature as well.
John the Baptist’s message is a continuation of the great prophets before him. Like them, he was called to his ministry by God (Is. 1:1-2; Jer. 1:1; Lk. 3:2; Jn. 1:6). Like some of them, he preached in the Judean wilderness (Mt. 3:5; Mk. 1:5; Lk. 3:3). He had the same wardrobe and the same diet (2 Ki. 1:8; Zech. 13:4; Mt. 3:4; Mk. 1:6) and resembled Elijah in appearance. Like his predecessors he warned his audience that judgment was on its way. It was time to repent and turn back to God (1 Ki. 18:21; Mk. 1:4; Lk. 3:3). The people also responded to John the Baptist as they had to Elijah (1 Ki. 18:38; Lk. 3:10). However there was confusion as to his actual identity (Lk. 3:15) and role in prophecy. Was he the forerunner of Malachi or the Messiah Himself? Inquiring minds wanted to know. It is with these questions in mind that John (the disciple) writes in his Gospel that although John the Baptist was sent by God, he was only sent to “bear witness of the light” (Jn. 1:7-8). John the Baptist recognized that he was more like a reflection than the real thing (as we might say). He told the people who were waiting for the Messiah and had come to him thinking John to be the fulfillment of that promise that he was not The One and pointed them to Jesus (Jn. 1:19-34).
There is an amazing result when we listen to the witness of John the disciple and John the Baptist and accept that Jesus is the True Light. When we are enlightened by the True Light, its everlasting nature brings us into a familial relationship with God the Father. We are now His children, born not of a physical birth but a spiritual one and His light becomes a part of us (Jn. 1:12-13). You may have been fooled by a reflection or two in your life, or you may be anticipating something special; these things fade away when compared to the True Light Who’s Spirit takes up residence in us when we accept Jesus Christ as our Savior (Ac. 2:3; 2 Tim. 1:14). We no longer have to wait for Him as the ancient believers did- He lives in us (Gal. 2:20)! Living in the light of the True Light has many benefits and most importantly in the relationships we have with one another and God (1 Jn. 1:5-7). Are you basking in the True Light or are you chasing after a reflection?
Ann H. LeFevre, M. Div.
Week of 9/11/2016