The Old Testament closes with these words: “Look, I am going to send you the prophet Elijah before the great and terrible day of the Lord comes. And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers. Otherwise, I will come and strike the land with a curse” (Malachi 4:5–6). The man known as John the Baptist fulfilled this prophecy. He came, just as Elijah had come, to call mankind to repentance, to “turn” before the “great and terrible day” of God’s judgment. He was the forerunner of the Messiah, “a voice of one crying out: Prepare the way of the Lord in the wilderness; make a straight highway for our God in the desert… And the glory of the Lord will appear, and all humanity together will see it” (Isaiah 40:3–5).
John was born miraculously to aged parents, Zechariah and Elizabeth. Both were from the priestly tribe of Levi, and “both were righteous in God’s sight, living without blame according to all the commands and requirements of the Lord. But they had no children because Elizabeth could not conceive, and both of them were well along in years” (Luke 1:6–7).
Maybe John’s call to ministry was like Abraham’s… “Get out of your country, from your family and from your father’s house, to a land that I will show you” (Genesis 12:1, NKJV). Maybe, like Elijah, he heard the voice of God saying, “Leave here, turn eastward, and hide at the Wadi Cherith where it enters the Jordan. You are to drink from the wadi. I have commanded the ravens to provide for you there” (1 Kings 17:2–4). Unlike Elijah, birds didn’t deliver his meals but “John had a camel-hair garment with a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey” (Matthew 3:4). Moses fled from Egypt to spend forty years in the wilderness. Maybe, like Moses, John experienced some traumatic troubles and retreated to the wilderness. We can’t be certain.
Regardless of when and how he arrived at the backside of nowhere, “God’s word came to John the son of Zechariah in the wilderness” (Luke 3:2). It was during a season of solitude, far from the hustle and bustle, that “God’s word came to John.” Alone with his Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer, God nurtured the one who would announce the Coming King!
John’s preaching was simple and direct. “John the Baptist came, preaching in the wilderness of Judea and saying, ‘Repent, because the kingdom of heaven has come near!’ ” (Matthew 3:1–2). John taught his disciples to pray (Luke 11:1) and to seek the Lord via fasting (Mark 2:18). Most importantly, he directed His disciples to recognize the “Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29).
So, did John live a long and happy life, retiring in cozy comfort? No. He was cruelly mistreated, mutilated, and martyred with his head chopped off by a vicious executioner’s ax (Mark 6:17-29). After his death, Jesus applauded John’s faithfulness saying, “Truly I tell you, among those born of women no one greater than John the Baptist has appeared, but the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he” (Matthew 11:11). Wow. That’s high praise! Yet, humbly, John said of Jesus, “He is the one coming after me, whose sandal strap I’m not worthy to untie” (John 1:27).
Unconcerned with his own life and liberty, John faithfully fulfilled his mission and ministry, pointing us to Jesus, the Lamb of God!