“In those days came John the Baptist, preaching in the wilderness of Judea, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.’ For this is he who was spoken of by the prophet Isaiah when he said, ‘The voice of one crying in the wilderness: prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.’ Now John wore a garment of camel’s hair, and a leather girdle around his waist; and his food was locusts and wild honey (Matthew 3:1-4).
The location where John came from, his diet and his clothing all have important implications for us today. As soon as we hear the word wilderness we automatically equate it to the Exodus. Also the people in the time of Christ believed that the wilderness was the home of Prophets and Messiahs. The wilderness was also the home for fugitives from hostile societies and a place where crowds could hear the gospel without fear of Roman retaliation.
The location of John in the wilderness symbolizes the coming of a new Exodus under the Messiah, the final call to salvation and reminds us of the price a person must be willing to pay for the privilege of serving Jesus. John, by being in the wilderness, had given up all the values of his society. He had forsaken its comforts, status symbols and even basic necessities. (See 1 Kings 13: 8-9, 22; 20:37; Isaiah 20:2; Jeremiah 15:15-18; 16:1-9; 1 Corinthians 4:8-13)
Prophets in the Old Testament could function within society when governments were open to the teachings of God, but when rebellious and evil governments had control of the state, true prophets were forced into exile. Only the false prophets and corrupt teachers remained in the royal courts during times of evil kings and rebellious states.
The religious establishment couldn’t understand or appreciate a prophet like John who had abandoned everything to proclaim the message of the coming Messiah. Even John’s clothing was an affront to the sensitivities of the religious leaders of his day. Now here is an important point about the clothes, they were more than the simple clothes of a poor man, but instead invoked the image of Elijah (2 Kings 1:8).
Malachi had promised Elijah’s return in the end of time (4:5, 6). Jewish tradition developed this prophecy into an elaborate series of beliefs regarding Elijah and the last days. Matthew does not accept a literal return of Elijah as the Jews did, but he sees in the teachings and presence of John the Baptist as the fulfillment of Elijah’s message and mission.
John’s dress tells Matthews readers that the Messiah has arrived as Elijah had said, and following God’s call, as he and Elijah did, demands sacrifice. John’s diet of honey, a natural sweetener, and locusts was a common diet of holy men, and prophets who lived on such natural foods were considered pious and spiritually relevant.
In his commentary on Matthew Craig Keener writes, “For that matter, John’s lifestyle like that of St. Anthony, St. Francis, John Wesley or Mother Teresa may challenge affluent western Christianity even more deeply than John’s message does. John’s lifestyle declares that he lived fully for the will of God, not valuing possessions, comfort or status. Blinded by our society’s values, we too often preach a Christianity ‘that meets our needs,’ rather than one that calls us to sacrifice our highest desires for the kingdom. Too many western Christians live a religion that costs nothing, treats the kingdom cheaply and therefore does not demand saving faith” Matthew p. 78
John calls for the people who came to hear him to repent and that same message is preached to us through the words of the New Testament. Repentance for John was not asking forgiveness for a sin someone had committed, but instead a call to change the entire lifestyle. It was a demand to put aside everything that stood in the way of a saving relationship with God and surrender everything to Him. True repentance involves turning your back on the old ways with all its pleasures and privileges and trusting fully on Jesus. Repentance truly is a turn around of the old to be replaced by the new.
What would you surrender to see your husband, son, wife or daughter become a Christian? What if it took real sacrifice? Most of us are fairly self-centered and find it difficult to change plans, alter lifestyles or surrender power in order to help others. Repentance is saying “God I will be there for them regardless of what the cost because I love them and you love them.”
In an earlier post I wrote about my goal of seeing someone come to Christ this year. In order for that to happen things need to happen in my life. I need to have a focus on others instead of my own comforts and ease. I have to make myself available when God calls me. I will need to sacrifice time and wealth. This is true of all of us who wish to be used by God to see family, friends, neighbors and strangers come to Christ. Is the sacrifice worth it? Yes!
Old Clothes is a beautiful song by Randy Stonehill performed with Phil Keaggy. Hope you enjoy it.
* The persecution of Christians is much more widespread that we may realize. Please take the time each day pray for these people who are suffering for their faith in Christ at great sacrifice! Some of their stories can be found at http://thebeggardanced.com/nine-oclock-club/