The preacher in camel skin

People do strange things to get attention. But some people do not care for attention, which makes their actions even more startling. John the Baptist was one of these. He would probably rival fire and brimstone preachers in intensity, and lead the nation in media attention for at least a month.

His message? “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” (Matthew 3:2). 

Matthew points back in excitement – this fulfills the prophesy of Isaiah – a prophesy ringing out like a herald in the night – the King is coming!

But then I get stuck on verse 4:

“4 Now John himself was clothed in camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist; and his food was locusts and wild honey.”

Why would Matthew take time out to mention that?

Elijah.

Some of the last words God told Israel before the 400 year break between the Testaments were in Malachi 4 – 

“Remember the Law of Moses, My servant…
Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet
Before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord.” (Malachi 4:4-5).

It was the electric name of the day. And hairy clothes were his fashion statement.

Elijah was one of the most dynamic prophets in Israel’s history, who confronted the evil rulers of the day and called the people to turn back to God. Did they? Some.

John got mixed results as well. He called the leaders of Israel a brood of vipers – also an image used in Isaiah of unrepentant Israel. He threatens that the root of the trees will be cut off. The King is coming, mightier! He had a flood of people come to be baptized. His ministry was flourishing!

What would you expect to happen next?

Jesus shows up…a normal guy? Wanting to be baptized at least? Anticlimactic. John was even surprised by Him. But God showed without a doubt that this was His chosen leader for Israel.

Jesus told people later about John, “14 And if you are willing to receive it, he is Elijah who is to come.15 He who has ears to hear, let him hear!” Matthew 11:14

If you are willing. What does He mean?

John could have been the herald to usher in the Kingdom, but Israel was not ready to repent of their sins. Jesus’ Kingdom was more complex than just another hostile takeover from the Romans. Lifestyles would actually have to change. Repent!

So back to us. Who would have seen the Kingdom coming through the Holy Spirit? What if we could see it today through a group of people Jesus called His Church?

He is not done with us yet. What if John the Baptist showed up on a Sunday morning, dressed in rough, smelly clothes and with honey on his breath? Are we ready to fully repent of doing life our way and see Jesus’ kingdom begin Now, Here, in My Life?

God, thank You for the intense way You pursue us, point us to the truth, and call us to the best kind of life – one that is centered around a Rock rather than a sand castle of emotions, dreams, and pursuits. Please bless the leaders of the Church with John-like focus for the truth, and help us to repent of the ways we still compromise it. To You be the glory, and come soon, Lord Jesus! Amen.

 

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