Imagine for a moment that you had to write a recommendation letter for your child. Or your spouse. Or your best friend. To be clear, I don’t mean imagine writing it just so they can get the job (or whatever). That’s easy to write something that is both true and “well-spun”.
Way, way back when
Only imagining the future…
I had to write one recently for my son as he was applying for a college scholarship. Honestly, I’d never heard of this and I wasn’t sure where to begin. But, after a lot of thought and prayer, I did my best to present an honest and clear representation of the love, respect, and admiration I have for my son. (Yes, I should do one for my daughter too. Another day!)
But I was thinking of this as I was studying John the Baptist. His father, Zachariah, had to compose something for his son. If you’ve read the account in Luke 1, you know that when Zachariah was told of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, he laughed and doubted the angel. He was then struck mute as a consequence of doubting God.
For months, he was unable to speak. For months, he communicated only through gestures and a tablet. (Not the kind you think. “Apple” was a fruit back then – not a tech giant!) And when his son was born, he wrote, “His name shall be John”. He was then able to speak. Instead of launching into all of the stuff he’d kept pent up for so long, he burst out in a song of praise! His words included a bit of future-highlights of the life of his newborn son:
And you, my child, will be called a prophet of the Most High; for you will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for him, to give his people the knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins, because of the tender mercy of our God, by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven to shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the path of peace. Luke 1: 76-79
I know most parents hold pretty high expectations for their children, but WOW!
So, what was John like?
We don’t know about his childhood years. When we meet him, he seems like a bit of a crazy-man. He’s wearing clothing made out of camel hair and has a leather belt. His regular diet consists of locusts and honey. He doesn’t hang out in the Temple area. Instead, he preaches by the Jordan River and baptizes people who repent.
(If you flip on the television on a Sunday morning and watch one of the preachers, can you imagine any of them doing that?)
Now, if you read my last post, you probably can guess that I’m going to say that there was a point to this. And you are correct.
If we rewind (which gives us both culture and context), we need to head back to around 175 BC in Greece. The king, Antiochus IV, wanted to conquer Egypt. To do so, he wanted to calm things down and bring people together. But, in bringing people together, he wanted to erase who they were. The process was called “Hellenization”, meaning to make people Greek.
A key target of this was the Jewish people. As we know, the Diaspora, or the Scattering, was done when the Jewish people were taken captive by Babylon. That resulted in God’s people being all over the place – including Egypt. Regardless, the center of Judaism was Jerusalem. It’s kind of like the fact that there are baseball fans all over the globe, but Baseball Heaven is right here in St. Louis.
Antiochus’ plan was to replace the high priest in Jerusalem with someone who was loyal to him. Even though this may not sound like a big deal, from Scripture, it’s easy to see why this might be a problem. God had given very clear instructions on who could be the high priest. While the first step in the lineage was to be from the tribe of Levi, God had then given different roles for the family. High priests could only come from the line of Zadok. He was a son of Eleazer, who was a son of Aaron, the brother of Moses.
Antiochus put a man named Joshua in place as the high priest. If you want to know whether or not Joshua followed Antiochus or not, it’s worth noting that the first thing Joshua did was change his name to Jason, a Greek name.
Lots of things happened in the years that followed, including a shift of power from Greece to Rome, but to jump to the time of Jesus, the high priest was appointed by Herod. [He was from the line of Esau, the brother of Jacob. Jacob’s line was the one from whom the twelve tribes came – included the tribe of Levi (priests) and Judah (the prophesied line of the Messiah)].
OK – Seriously. Why does any of that matter?
I’m glad you asked. Clothing can communicate a message. For example, last year, First Lady, Melania Trump wore a jacket that said, “I really don’t care. Do you?” Immediately, the press went crazy. What does it mean? What is she saying? And, regardless of whether or not they were right, answers were flying around.
Matthew’s Gospel has a very specific reason for mentioning clothing:
John’s clothes were made of camel’s hair, and he had a leather belt around his waist. His food was locusts and wild honey. Matthew 3:4
John the Baptist was making a clear statement with what he wore and what he ate. [If you want to, check out 2nd Kings 1. The king of Israel, Ahaziah, fell and was injured. He sent some of his men to visit the prophets of Baal. As they were traveling, they met Elijah, the true prophet of God, who was wearing (insert drum roll) a garment of hair with a leather belt.]
Do you see? It’s not just a strange sense of fashion. John had a purpose. Elijah had spoken to a very corrupt nation and king. Turn around and follow God. Repent and stop sinning. John’s message was the same. I’m here, just like Elijah, to call you to repent. Knock off the sin and turn back to God. And guess what? The Messiah is coming!
And don’t forget the food. Elijah trusted in God to supply his food. John did the same. While John could have indulged in food from the Temple, he knew that corruption abounded there. From the priesthood to the junk happening in John 2, the food was NOT proper to eat. As unappealing as it might be, Leviticus 11: 20-23 tells us that locusts are considered ok to eat.
John came for a clear and specific reason. Remember? Even his dad realized this and sang a song about it! ;)
Matthew, writing this Gospel under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, wants to let his Jewish readers know all of the prophecies that had been fulfilled at the time of Christ. We read in the Gospel:
In those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the wilderness of Judea and saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” This is he who was spoken of through the prophet Isaiah: “A voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.’” Matthew 3: 1-3
Let’s hit a quick summary review.
· The current church leadership and the Temple had been corrupted.
· John came to call people to repent. He physically demonstrated repentance and following God.
· The call to response was then up to the hearers.
What are you going to do?
I realize we live 2,000 years later, but the Message hasn’t changed.
He loves you. He knows you won’t do it perfectly. And He still loves you.
The plain and simple truth is this: Sin has consequences. If you don’t like the word “sin”, then let me say it this way: Doing stupid things will have consequences. [If I speed in front of a police officer, I shouldn’t be shocked if I get a ticket.]
God is omniscient (all-knowing, all-seeing). He knows the stupid things you do. He knows you deserve the consequences.
He loves you.
Jesus, God the Son, loves you. He gave His life for you. He took care of the punishment that we justly deserved.
That’s pretty cool.
The Holy Spirit, the third person of the Trinity, loves you. He lives in you now – to offer comfort, support, encouragement, and strength.
So, rewind back to the beginning. What if you asked someone to write a letter of recommendation for you? Don’t think about what it would say. Think about what you would WANT it to say.
What can you do today so that, when that letter is written, it truly reflects who you want to be?
Yours in Christ,