“A voice of one calling: ‘In the desert prepare the way for the LORD; make straight in the wilderness a highway for our God. Every valley shall be raised up, every mountain and hill made low; the rough ground shall become level, the rugged places a plain. And the glory of the LORD will be revealed, and all mankind together will see it. For the mouth of the LORD has spoken’” (Isaiah 40:3-4).
Several years passed and Joseph’s family remained in the small town of Nazareth, avoiding the bustle and political hubbub of Jerusalem. Joseph worked as a carpenter and taught his sons his trade, keeping them well away from the notice of jealous kings and nefarious rulers. He wondered if perhaps they finally were safe. Who would purposefully come to Nazareth for anything, let alone to find a savior walking amidst its’ forgotten roadways and downtrodden people? Yes, perhaps they were safe, for now. But he remembered the ancient prophecies and the angel’s predictions. He knew Jesus would not stay hidden forever.
Closer to Jerusalem there was a man causing a hubbub. He lived in the desert and though his location and appearance were primitive, his teachings were causing a stir throughout the district. He professed to be the emissary of a divinely appointed Jewish king and that it was his job to prepare the people for their new leader. He was drawing large crowds, encouraging them to repent and prepare themselves for the coming heavenly kingdom. “People went out to him from Jerusalem and all Judea and the whole region of the Jordan. Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River” (vv. 5-6).
News of his claims made their way to the ears of the Jewish religious leaders. It would not bode well for them to have a lunatic ranting and raving in the desert, stirring up the people and raising the attention of Rome. They sent a contingent to ascertain for themselves the potential danger.
As they approached the Jordan River they saw a crowd gathered around a man dressed in a camel hair tunic tied by a simple leather belt. He was standing in the water and immersing his converts as he urged them to turn from their sins. The contingent knew he must be the man they were looking for, the one called “John the Baptist.” The crowd noticed the religious leaders and quickly parted so they could pass through, their impeccable robes and formidable tassels swaying as they walked. They made their way to the river to question the self-proclaimed prophet but suddenly stopped when they realized the man was shouting.
He was yelling with a scratchy yet forcible voice and it took them a few moments to comprehend that the diatribe was directed at them. “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath?” he said, --but surely he could not mean them! They were Israel’s chosen leaders, their heritage and titles were handed down from generation to generation. This unkempt man could not be addressing them so disrespectfully. But the man continued, “Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not think you can say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire” (vv. 8-10).
John rattled on and on, and spoke of another man, a powerful man, who was coming after him. Was he talking about the Messiah? Could such an irreverent man like John be God’s chosen representative, preparing the way for the Lord? It didn’t seem possible.
Part 3 from series: Matthew - Back to the Beginning