WORDS TO RATTLE YOU CAGE OR GIVE YOU HOPE
"Now this was John's testimony when the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem sent priests and Levites to ask him who he was. He did not fail to confess but confessed freely, 'I am not the Messiah.'
"They asked him, 'Then who are you? Are you Elijah?' He said, 'I am not.' 'Are you the prophet?' He answered, 'No.' Finally they said, 'Who are you? Give us an answer to take back to those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?' John replied in the words of Isaiah the prophet, 'I am the voice of one calling in the wilderness, 'Make straight the way of the Lord.'" John 1:18-23 (NIV).
John caused a real stir! People flocked from all over to listen to the fiery preacher who emerged out of nowhere. The religious leaders were getting worried. Their comfortable lives were being shaken up and they didn't like it -- especially because of what he had to say about them!
They sent their representatives to interrogate John. 'Who are you?' There were two things on their minds. Elijah or 'the prophet'. Why Elijah? They knew what the prophet Malachi had said about Elijah -- not necessarily Elijah come back from the dead but another prophet in the disposition and ministry of Elijah.
"See, I will send the prophet Elijah to you before that great and dreadful day of the Lord comes. He will turn the hearts of the parents to their children, and the hearts of the children to their parents, or else I will come and strike the land with total destruction." Malachi 4:5, 6 (NIV).
Malachi, like all the other prophets, was calling God's people to return to Him. Judgment day was coming and only those who turned back to the Lord and showed their sincerity by doing whatever they could to restore the family unity would escape the "flames" of the refiner's fire.
A symptom of the depth to which God's people have fallen is evident in the disintegration of the family unit. Even so-called believers are abandoning marriage through divorce, or "shacking up" so that they can walk away if it doesn't work. There is very little commitment and children are left fatherless, without security and without identity. God said, 'It's got to stop! Get the family back on track. That's the first step towards restoration.'
Who was "the prophet"? Moses reminded the people, "'For this is what you asked of the Lord your God at Horeb on the day of the assembly when you said, 'Let us not hear the voice of the Lord our God nor see this great fire any more, or we will die.' The Lord said to me, 'What they say is good. I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their fellow Israelites, and I will put my words in His mouth. He will tell them everything I command Him.'" Deuteronomy 18:18 (NIV).
The people were waiting for this special prophet to come. It is quite natural that they thought that John was he. But John denied it.
Then how did John view himself? The apostle John, looking back, saw John the Baptist as a man who understood who he was and what his role was in this crucial time in Israel's history. He made no extravagant claims for himself, and yet his very words set him apart as a prophet with a unique ministry. He was a voice proclaiming the beginning of a new era for which God's people had waited for four long centuries after the last prophet.
'I am the one who is telling you that the Messiah is here.' What an astonishing declaration! After all this long time, God was actually doing what He said He would do. He would send His representative, the Messiah to put everything right that had gone wrong since the beginning of their existence as a nation. They could hardly believe it.
What do you suppose the priest and Levite contingent told the Jewish leaders when they got back to Jerusalem? 'This man says he is the prophet God promised He would send as the forerunner of the Messiah,' or something like that? Possibly! Did the Jewish leaders believe them? Not likely.
All the evidence, in their attitude to and treatment of Jesus suggests that they rejected John's response and were ready with their campaign to deal with any challenge to their comfortable position as spiritual leaders of the people. When Jesus came along, they were ready to use their power and influence to maintain their authority, whatever the cost.
Do John's words, 'I am the voice,’ rattle your cage or give you hope?
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