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January 12, 1992
Scott L. Harris
The Messiah’s Herald
In Matthew’s gospel Jesus is presented as the Messiah. Matthew seeks to prove Jesus is the promised Messiah by documenting how Jesus has fulfilled variousprophecies concerning the Christ.
In chapter one Matthew shows that Jesus has the correct genealogy and has a legitimate claim upon the throne of his forefather, David, through Joseph, the husband of his mother, Mary. Thus He is the greater son of David spoken of in 2 Samuel 7. He is documented as the Son of God through the virgin birth, being conceived not by man but by the Holy Spirit and thus fulfilling Isaiah 7:14. (See: Jesus the Messiah)
In chapter two, Magi from the East search for Him to worship Him because He fulfilled the prophecy of Numbers 24:17 when the star appeared at His birth. In addition He fulfilled Micah 5:2 by being born in Bethlehem. Herod’s wrath forces Joseph to flee with Him and His mother to Egypt fulfilling another prophecy in Hosea 11:1 that God would call Him out of Egypt. Herod’s wrath also resulted in the slaughter of the male babies two years and younger prompting the full fulfillment of Jeremiah 13:11. After Herod’s death Joseph returns to Israel and settles the family in Nazareth because of the danger presented by the reign of Archelaus which fulfilled the prophecies of unnamed prophets saying that the Messiah would be called a Nazarene. (See: God Protects His Son)
In chapter three several other prophecies will be fulfilled. All of them revolve around the fact that the Messiah was to be proceeded by a forerunner. Who was this forerunner, this herald? Why did he have to come? What was he like and why?
1 Now in those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the wilderness of Judea, saying, 2 “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” 3 For this is the one referred to by Isaiah the prophet, saying, “THE VOICE OF ONE CRYING IN THE WILDERNESS, MAKE READY THE WAY OF THE LORD, MAKE HIS PATHS STRAIGHT!” (Isaiah 40:3) 4 Now John himself had a garment of camel’s hair, and a leather belt about his waist; and his food was locusts and wild honey. 5 Then Jerusalem was going out to him, and all Judea, and all the district around the Jordan;
A Voice in the Wilderness
The first of the Old Testament predictions concerning the forerunner of the Christ, and the one that Matthew refers to here, comes in Isaiah 40:3-5. This particular passage occurs at the beginning of a long discourse in Isaiah in which God tells them that though they will be carried off to Babylon (Isaiah 39:6) because of their sins (40:2), there is hope because God is greater than the passing events of history, In fact, He is the one that controls history (Isaiah 40:21-24). Israel was still God’s chosen people. He had not rejected them (Isaiah 41:9), and He would help them (41:10). God would send His servant (the Messiah – 42:1-3) and He would redeem them (Isaiah 43).
Isaiah 40:1-5: Comfort, O comfort My people,” says your God. “Speak kindly to Jerusalem; And call out to her, that her warfare has ended, That her iniquity has been removed, That she has received of the LORD’s hand Double for all her sins.” A voice is calling, “Clear the way for the LORD in the wilderness; Make smooth in the desert a highway for our God. Let every valley be lifted up, And every mountain and hill be made low; And let the rough ground become a plain, And the rugged terrain a broad valley; Then the glory of the LORD will be revealed, And all flesh will see it together; For the mouth of the LORD has spoken.”
Matthew says very clearly that this prophecy is referring to John the Baptist. In verse 1 we find that he is preaching in the Wilderness. In verse 2 we are given his message, and in verse 3 Matthew tells us specifically that John is the one Isaiah was referring to. John is the forerunner of the Messiah, the herald of the coming king. The word “herald” is a good word for John because as this prophecy indicates his job involved crying out before the people to make ready for the coming of the LORD. Even verse 1 states that John was preaching – proclaiming. The word used there for “preaching,” khrossw / karosso, was used of the official whose duty it was to proclaim loudly and extensively the coming of the King. This was part of John’s duty. He was to make it known to all that the Lord, the king, the Messiah was coming.
The other aspect of his work that we find in this fulfilled prophecy is to “make ready the way of the LORD, Make His paths straight.” The passage in Isaiah goes on to talk about every valley being lifted up and the hills being make low, the rough places made smooth and the rugged terrain made into a broad valley. This is an allusion to the Oriental custom of someone preceding the king or a prince and making sure the road was in good condition for travel. The road would be made ready for the king or a prince to travel upon it. The meaning here becomes obvious. The Messiah’s herald was to prepare the hearts of the people for His coming. The hindrances and obstacles that separated the people from the Lord needed to be removed, hence the cry of his message in verse 2 was “Repent,for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”
We will discuss the meaning of his message in full next week, but for this week please note that it was a message designed to call the people to a change of heart so that they would immediately follow Messiah upon His arrival.
Matthew tells us that John the Baptist was the one that fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah 40. He was the one who came to herald the coming of Messiah and to prepare the way for his arrival. He was the voice in the wilderness with the message of “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”
Matthew is not the only one to affirm that John is the fulfillment of this prophecy. John himself claimed that he was this person. In John 1:23 he answers those who were asking him who he was and he says, “I am a voice of one crying in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’ as Isaiah the prophetsaid.”
The Prophet Elijah
This statement by John the Baptist to be the fulfillment of Isaiah 40 confused the Jews. In the first chapter of the Gospel of John we find out some of the other expectations that were common among the Jews in anticipation of the coming of Messiah.
In John 1:19 we find that the “Jews sent to him priests and Levities from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are You?”
In verse 20 they asked him if he was the Christ, but John “confessed, ‘I am not the Christ.'”
In verse 21 ask him if he is Elijah, but John said to them, “I am not.”
Then they tried for a third possibility, ““are you the Prophet?’ And he answered, ‘No.'”
Now they were desperate because they needed to bring back some kind of answer to those that sent them so they asked directly, “Who are you?” John then said that he is the voice of one calling in the wilderness as Isaiah the prophet had said. This just further confused them because they did not understand what that meant and therefore they did not understand what he was doing if he was not the Christ, or Elijah or the Prophet. So they challenge him in verse 25, “Why then are you baptizing, if you are not the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet.” And lest we get confused, lets find out why the Jews were asking him if he was any of those people.
First, we must remember that it had been four centuries since the last prophet, Malachi (460-430 B.C.), had been on the scene. It had seemed that God had lost interest in His people. In addition they were now in subjection to Rome and were chaffing to see the kingdom of Israel restored as the prophets of old had said it would be. Suddenly, John the Baptist bursts on the scene. His parents are of the Levitical line. The announcement of his conception comes to his father, Zacharias, through the angel Gabriel while he was performing his priestly service of burning incense in the temple (Luke 1:8-17). Because of Zacharias’ unbelief he was made mute until all that Gabriel had said would come true. Zacharias’ wife, Elizabeth, became pregnant in her old age and for nine months Zacharias’ inability to speak and Elizabeth’s enlarging womb bore testimony to all that something supernatural had happened. After the birth of the baby (Luke 1:57) and on the eighth day when he was to be circumcised, the relatives and all wanted to name the baby Zacharias after his father, but Elizabeth said, “No indeed; but he shall be called John.” Not accepting her word as final, they went to Zacharias and asked him what the child would be named. Verse 63, “and he asked for a tablet, and wrote as follows, ‘His name is John.’ And they were astonished.” But they were to be even more astonished, for verse 64 says, “And at once his [Zacharias] mouth was opened and his tongue loosed, and he began to speak in praise of God. And fear came on all those living around them; and all these matters were being talked about in all the hill country of Judea. And all how heard them kept them in mind, saying, ‘What then will this child turn out to be?’ For the hand of the Lord was certainly with him.'”
When John was at least 30 years old, the proper age for a priest to begin public ministry, he bursts on the scene again by calling the nation to repentance and warning them to prepare for the coming of the Lord. His manner of dress, what he ate and how he lived were like the prophets of old. He spoke with authority claiming it to be from God. No wonder the Jewish leaders were anxious to find out who John was supposed to be?
First, they ask if he is the Christ. John says no. He was preparing the way for the Christ, and was not the Christ himself.
Next they ask him if he was Elijah, and he says no. We say more about this in a minute.
Then they asked if he was “the Prophet.” And again he says no. Why did they ask if he was the prophet? Turn to Deut. 18:15. “The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me [Moses] from among you, from your countrymen, you shall listen to him. This is according to all that you asked of the LORD your God in Horeb on the day of the assembly, saying, ‘Let me not hear again the voice of the LORD my God, let me not see this great fire any more, lest I die.’ And the LORD said to me, ‘They have spoken well. I will raise up a prophet from among their countrymen like you, and I will put My words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him.'” The Jews wanted to know if John was the fulfillment of this prophecy, but he was not. The Lord had raised up many prophets through whom He had spoken to His people, but the prophet spoken of here was to be like Moses. This was not John the Baptist. I believe that this also is a prophecy concerning Jesus, for of all the prophets,only Jesus was a prophet like unto Moses.
But lets go back to Elijah. Why ask him if he was Elijah? Turn to Malachi 3:1 “Behold, I am going to send My messenger, and he will clear the way before Me. And the Lord, whom you seek, will suddenly come to His temple; and the messenger of the covenant, in whom you delight, behold, He is coming,” says the LORD of hosts. Look now at Malachi 4:5,6. Behold I am going to send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and terrible day of the LORD. And he will restore the hearts of the fathers to their children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the land with a curse.” The Jews expected Elijah to return prior to the coming of the LORD. It was a reasonable question to ask John, but John’s answer of “no” can leave us with some confusion if we are not careful.
In Luke 1:67 Zacharias was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied concerning John. In verse 76 he said, “and you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go on before the Lord to prepare His ways; to give to His people the knowledge of salvation by the forgiveness of their sins.” That prophecy should not be surprising in any way because it just reflects what the angel Gabriel had said to Zacharias earlier as recorded in Luke 1:13, “Do not be afraid, Zacharias, for your petition had been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you will give him the name John. And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth. For he will be great in the sight of the Lord, and he will drink no wine or liquor; and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit, while yet in his mother’s womb. And he will turn back many of the sons of Israel to the Lord their God. And it is he who will go before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers back to the children, and the disobedient to the attitude of the righteous; so as to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”
However, this can present us with some confusion for according to Zacharias’ prophecy and what the angel Gabriel said, in some way, John was the fulfillment of Malachi 3:1 & 4:6. But John himself said he was not Elijah.
The Lord Himself answers our question in Matthew 11:7-14. “And as these were going away, Jesus began to speak to the multitudes about John. “What did you go out into the wilderness to look at? A reed shaken by the wind? But what did you go out to see? A man dressed in soft clothing? Behold, those who wear soft clothing are in kings’ palaces. But why did you go out? To see a prophet? Yes, I say to you, and one who is more than a prophet. This is the one about whom it is written, ‘Behold, I send My messenger before Your face, Who will prepare your way before you. Truly, I say to you, among those born of women there has not arisen anyone greater than John the Baptist; yet he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. And from the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and violent men take it by force. For all the prophets and the Law prophesied until John. And if you care to accept it, he himself is Elijah, who was (is – present infinitive) to come.
Just as the coming of Messiah as a suffering servant was somewhat hidden in the Old Testament, so is the nature of his forerunner. John was not literally Elijah, but he came fulfilling the prophecies concerning him in relation to being the herald of Messiah. Even John’s manner of life was patterned after the prophets and in specific Elijah. In 2 Kings 1:8 King Ahaziah recognizes Elijah when this prophet is described to him as “a hairy man with a leather girdle bound about his loins.” So it is that we see John the Baptist dressed in the clothing of a prophet (Zechariah 13:4) which was a rough garment, with a leather belt just like Elijah. His food was simple, locusts and honey. Yes, I am talking about the large grasshopper. They are still eaten in those lands. The wings and legs are torn off and the bodies eaten dried, or roasted, or ground up and baked, seasoned with salt. And he also ate honey which was also plentiful in that land.
That is the character of the man John the Baptist. Is it any wonder then that Jesus said in Matthew 11:11 “Truly, I say to you, among those born of women there has not arisen anyone greater than John the Baptist.” John had all the elements of greatness. Certainly he was specifically chosen and used by God, but his character is one that can be followed, and so he is an example to follow.
An Example to Follow
Consider with me some of those qualities that made him great that we too should strive to follow.
1. He was filled with the Spirit. Luke 1:15 says that he was filled with the spirit even from his mothers womb. Now that is not true of us, but the command of Scripture is that each of us is to be filled with the Spirit (Eph 5:18). We can follow his example of walking with the Spirit of God. In fact the reason I mention this one first is because everything else that was true of his life comes out of the fact that he was controlled by the Spirit of God. Gal 5:16 tells us that if we walk in the Spirit that we can not carry out the deeds of the flesh. The two are opposed to each other. Are you filled with the Spirit? Do you walk with Him? Are you obedient to all God wants you to do?
2. He was self-controlled. From his youth he followed aspects of the Nazarite vows. He drank no wine or liquor though he certainly had the freedom to do so if he wanted. In fact wine was the common beverage of the day in part because the water was not always safe to drink. It might be polluted or contaminated because it was stagnant. Yet he willingly followed a higher standard for himself as part of dedicating himself to the Lord (Numbers 6:2). John the Baptist was committed to following the Lord and being self-controlled in all areas, unlike Samson who was to be a Nazarite from his mother’s womb until his death (Judges 13:7).Samson kept his Nazarite vows, but he did not follow the Lord.
Self control is not only for someone who has made some specific vow before the Lord, it is for all Christians because it is one of the fruit of the spirit (Gal 5:21). When I talk about self-control I am not referring to refraining from alcoholic beverages, though that is a good idea. I am talking about living your life to bring honor and glory to the Lord. It takes self-control to set aside your own desires and the pressure to please other people to keep the focus on pleasing the Lord.
John the Baptist’s self-control is seen in his manner of dress, his food and his life style. Now I am not advocating that everyone here sells off all they have and finds themselves a rough camel coat and a leather belt, nor am I advocating that any one goes out to eat locusts. The honey is good, but you don’t have to eat insects. I am saying that each of us needs to be careful of how much the world pushes us into its mould. John the Baptist was a priest. He had a right to a home and to be supported by the community when he was performing his priestly service. But John rejected all that in order to follow a higher calling by God. He set aside what he could of had and even what he had a “right” to have in order to be as effective for God as possible. I believe that everyone in this room needs to be diligent to fight against the materialism that our society considers so important. It is easy to get caught up in the quest for always getting something more. The question we need to keep in mind is what am I willing to give up – finances, time, energy – in order to serve God better? John gave everything up and so did Jesus. What are you willing to lay down for Him?
3. A third mark of John’s greatness is his humility. John kept to his purpose of being the herald of the king and did not seek to take for himself any of the kings privileges. In Mark 1:7 John said of Jesus, “After me One is coming who is mightier than I, and I am not fit to stoop down and untie the thong of His sandals.” He also said in John 3:30, “He must increase, but I must decrease.”
Does that kind of humility mark your life? Do you let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works and glorify your father in heaven, or do you arrange the light so it only shines on you? In my own view, one of the greatest tragedies that occurs within churches in when a pastor claims for himself the glory of what may occur in a church, especially in light of the fact that everyone else knows that the church went forward despite him. Yet this tragedy has been played out in church after church throughout the world. Does the kind of humility that John had mark your life?
4. John the Baptist courageously and faithfully proclaimed the message God had given him in the wilderness and to anyone who would listen anywhere else he had opportunity. John was more concerned about what God thought of him than what people thought of him. The religious leaders hated him and would have liked to have gotten rid of him. The king hated him and eventually did have him beheaded. But even when the king’s threats were against him, John was uncompromising in his message, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven was at hand.”
Does that same drive mark our lives? God has not called everyone to preach in the manner that John did, but he has called every believer to witness of what Jesus has done for them. He has called every true Christian to make disciples and teach new believers all that Jesus has commanded. How do we approach people with the message of the gospel? What concerns us the most? Is it what people may think of us or what God may think of us? John was a voice in the wilderness of Judea. Are you a voice in the wilderness of the godless society that is now America?
If you really want to be someone great, then put aside the pursuit of power and riches and pursue the characteristics that were in the life of John the Baptist. Be filled with the Spirit. Be self-controlled. Be humble. Be courageous in sharing the gospel.
See Also: The Ministry of John the Baptist, April 2013
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