Belfast Telegraph

Why the message of John the Baptist remains relevant

Thought for the weekend

By Canon Walter Lewis

Tomorrow, Christians in their Churches around the world will remember John the Baptist, whom Jesus described as the greatest of all people, yet least in the Kingdom of Heaven. John announced the start of the ministry of Jesus, and called everyone to get ready for the dawn of the Messianic Age.

Today, we think of John the Baptist, and ask, 'Why was John an integral part of the work of Jesus?' and 'Is John the Baptist relevant to life in the 21st century?' From about 700 years before Jesus, the Jewish people in Israel felt oppressed, insecure and vulnerable - conquered successively with the rise and fall of the surrounding imperial powers.

Through time the belief arose that a King, sent by God, would be born in Israel. His coming would inaugurate a final era of peace, justice, goodness and harmony throughout Israel and beyond. The ruler King would be the Messiah, foretold by Isaiah.

The expectation of a King to rule forever was, and is, part of every Jewish person's belief. It was also believed that his coming would be announced by a prophet returned - either Elijah or Moses.

Christians believe that 2000 years ago a baby was born in Bethlehem who was that long-expected King, Jesus of Nazareth: and the prophet to announce his coming was John the Baptist.

First John the Baptist, then Jesus. That was the expectation. A prophet would come to Israel. John the Baptist, the last of the great prophets. Then would follow the dawn of the new Messianic Age of Jesus!

John was schooled in the Jewish religion. Most of his life was spent as an ascetic in the Judean wilderness. His dress, food and abode were unusual - camel's hair, leather girdle, locusts and wild honey, and the wilderness for his home. A demanding and non-materialistic life, bringing him into close contact with God.

About 30 AD John commenced his prophetic ministry. The huge response to John's presence and preaching was unimaginable, unforeseen and unanticipated. Vast multitudes flocked from Jerusalem, Judea and the Jordan to see and hear him, to repent of their sins and be baptised.

Such was John's impact on those baptized that many asked him what they should now do. John told them to share what they had of clothing and food with any in need. He told the tax-collectors to deal honestly. Soldiers should rob no-one by violence or false accusation and should be content with their wages. At this time, Jesus left his home in Nazareth and travelled some 60 miles south to be baptized by John in the River Jordan. The Messianic reign of Jesus had begun.

It is clear that John's presence and prophetic ministry were foretold and were integral to the saving ministry of Jesus. The birth and ministry of Jesus were also foretold in Scripture. John prepared the way for Jesus by calling people to radical repentance and baptism for the forgiveness of their sins. Huge numbers were moved by John and responded.

John the Baptist speaks to you and me again in this Advent Season. He calls us to deep penitence in our lives. As that happens, we will be preparing the way today for the coming Messiah.

Belfast Telegraph

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