The Wilderness Prophet
I can still see him dressed in his flannel shirt, bib overalls, slowly strolling down the road or up the hill to the main campus at Houghton College. I was chemistry major, and my uniform most afternoons was a white lab coat. Jake never wore a lab coat, a tie, or a sport jacket that I can remember. He didn’t even have all the alphabet soup letters after his name. He didn’t need them. Everyone knew that he was one of the most renowned mathematicians in the county complete with publications in prestigious journals and instant recognition by his peers. No clothes, titles, or fast paced walk was needed. Prof. Jacobson was the real thing. Clothes don’t make the man, but clothes tell a story about the man.
We meet Elijah, the Jewish prophet, in the time of Ahab, one of Judah’s worst kings. With Jezebel, his queen, the people are bowing to Baal, not to the LORD, and Elijah, the man hiding from the wrath of the king and queen down in the rough county by the Wadi Cherith where it flowed into the Jordan was being fed by the ravens (1 Kings 17:1-6).
Remember the climactic clash where he challenged the false prophets of Baal to a contest to prove who was the true God and the LORD sent fire down from heaven that not only consumed the sacrifice Elijah laid out, but also the prophets of Baal (1 Kings 18:20—45). Elijah doesn’t wear city slicker clothes (2 Kings 1:8). He’s a wilderness man, and as Malachi closed the Old Testament scriptures, he announced that another Elijah was going to come. Mark reveals that John the Baptist is this prophet who would be the advance man for the Lord himself, the Messiah.
“So it happened that John came baptizing in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And all the region of Judea and all of Jerusalem came to him confessing their sins, and he was baptizing them in the Jordan River,. Now John wore clothes of camel hair, around his waist he wore a leather belt, and he ate locusts and wild honey.” Mark 1:4-6
In the ancient world before there was indoor plumbing in every home, when you were dirty, you went down to the river and took a bath. John challenged the people of Judea and Jerusalem about the dirtiness of their hearts, and their willingness to allow him to dunk them under the waters of the Jordan declared that they were acknowledging their sins and their need for forgiveness. John prepared their hearts to receive the man far greater than himself—the man who could actually could say, “Your sins are forgiven!” And they were.
LORD, thanks for how you powerfully worked in people’s lives in John the Baptist’s time, and moved them to face their personal sinfulness as they came to John and got baptized. Thank you more that Jesus doesn’t baptize with water, but with the Spirit who does actually cleanse away our sin and pours new life into us.
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