A Follower of John the Baptist

Heritage Presbyterian Church https://heritagepresbyterian.org

December 8, 2019
Second Sunday of Advent
Scripture reading – Matthew 3: 1-12
Advent Sermon series: “Faces in the Crowd”

My name is Hezakiah…I am a high priest and a member of the Sanhedrin in Jerusalem.  I pray daily to the Lord God, as my ancestors did for centuries.  I teach the Law at the Temple where I advise and counsel young students of the Torah.  I also watch for God’s will to unfold, not only in my own life, but also in the lives of my fellow Jews.  

I am also a follower of the one they call John the Baptist.

I have known John all his life.  I remember his father, old Zechariah, who went mysteriously mute when his wife, Elizabeth, was pregnant.  Zechariah finally got the son he had always wanted, but it was not until his presentation at the Temple when the Lord released Zechariah’s tongue and he proclaimed for all to hear that the child’s name was John.

John?  No one in Zechariah’s family was named John.  But he was adamant that the boy’s name was John.

We all loved that boy…being an old friend of Zechariah’s, I took a special interest in him and kept my eye on his progress.

John grew up in the love and instruction of his father.  He was an excellent student…all his teachers said so, including me.  He was the pride of his parents.  But…he was always asking questions, and some of them were sometimes unsettling.  His questions often stumped my fellow high priests, and so we would debate and argue over his points for hours and hours.  As John got older and more learned, he also began challenging what the rest of us took for granted about the Lord.  This sometimes made me feel very uneasy.  My fellow high priests and teachers of the Law had worked out all matters of our faith, and we didn’t like it when those matters were not accepted.

Later on, once John had grown to be a fine young man, he left Jerusalem for a while.  This was after the deaths of both his parents, which seemed to break his very heart in two.  Yet, within a few days, he came to see me to say goodbye.  He told me he was going to search for what the Lord wanted him to do.  I thought this a little odd, but I embraced him and blessed him and told him to return someday.  As he left, he seemed to be at peace…this also made me uneasy for some reason, but I was confident I would see him again.

A few short years later, I began to hear reports about someone who had appeared in the wilderness near the Jordan River.  This man was causing quite a stir among the people, some of them even traveling to visit him from all over the Judean countryside.  When someone told me it was John, I made immediate plans to go and see what he was doing.  

Instead of sitting with my old pupil and perhaps instructing him again, I quickly became the student and John the teacher!

Lord God…what are you doing with John?

He told me and anyone who would listen that he was merely “the voice in the wilderness” preparing the way for “the one to come.”  He instructed the people on how to behave, and even answered the Roman soldiers and tax collectors who asked how they should act.  He was preaching a loving message of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, and he was baptizing anyone – anyone at all – who wished to receive it in the Jordan.  That is how he came to be known as John the Baptist.  

He also proclaimed loudly, repeatedly, and forcefully that the one to come was much more important than him…in fact, John said he was not even fit to “untie the strap from his sandal.”

I have never in my life heard anyone claiming to be a prophet of the Lord talk in such a way; in fact, I have never heard a legitimate prophet in my lifetime.  All of them were frauds and self-proclaiming fools.  None of them could even get the attention of the Sanhedrin, much less its respect.  

All of this made me afraid for John’s safety.  I knew that sooner or later, the Sanhedrin would send representatives to come and question John.  I was there when this finally happened.

As soon as John saw them coming, he pointed an accusing finger at them and shouted, “You brood of vipers!”  He loudly challenged everything about their teachings, how they lived their lives, and how they led the people astray.  His words rang with truth, and my fellow high priests almost ran in their hurry to get away from his harsh condemnation.

After all this occurred, two things troubled me…three unsettled my heart:

  1. Who was he preparing the people to encounter?  He never gave anyone a straight answer to that question.  He was asked if he was the Messiah, or Elijah, or the Prophet.  He said no bluntly to those questions, but he never answered the question beyond that.
  2. Why did he remind me of the descriptions I had read of the prophets of old…especially Elijah?  His dress, his manner, his words…he sounded like a true prophet!
  3. What happened to the John I used to know?  The brilliant student…the son of my friends Elizabeth and Zechariah…

I began to visit him every day to listen to his words and to watch their effect on the people.  It was crystal clear that something amazing was going on, although I could not see how it would end.  But I found myself agreeing with what he was saying:

  • We HAD moved away from the Law and its proper practice in our lives…we had been corrupting it.
  • We NEEDED repentance and forgiveness, not further words that convinced us of our own self-righteousness.
  • Perhaps…perhaps…we WERE all a brood of vipers, including me, for the way we were leading the people and just trying to survive the Romans.  What example were we setting even for the Romans when all we seemed to accomplish was an uneasy truce that allowed us to worship as we pleased?

Oh, Lord God…I am SO TROUBLED!  What am I to do?

I have decided that I will continue to come and be with John.  He is my former student, my friend, and now it would seem… my teacher!

I will take his lessons to heart and will begin asking different questions to my fellow high priests and teachers of the Law in our discussions.  I am not the only one doing this, but some are just looking for a way out when confronted by either John or one of his many followers.  I will not remain content in my own faith or my own actions, Lord God.  Something is going on in my heart, and I refuse to ignore it or try to get away from it.

The Lord called John to become the Baptist for His people. 

The Lord seems to be calling me to do something new also.

I wonder what it will be…and I wonder if I will discover it when the one that John prepares us for appears.