Summary: Follow a Pharisee into the desert to hear John the Baptist preach about coming Messiah and struggle with him a God breaks into his life.
The day started for him just like any other. He got up early, before the sun would peek over Jerusalem’s proud stone walls. It took him a little longer to get ready than most people, because he was a Pharisee, and as a teacher of the Law of God, his fellow Jews expected him to look a certain way. It was a little tedious, but he did it for God.
You see, he figured his very appearance was a sermon of sorts for the common people. In the fine tightly woven cloth of his robes, people could be reminded of the neat and orderly life that God called them to live. He wore phylacteries, little boxes with scripture in them which he would attach to his left arm and forehead, which reminded him, and the people he saw, of the importance of God’s Law. Just to be sure people saw them, he made sure the leather straps were wide. His outer robe was especially nice. The tassels seemed a bit long sometimes, and some thought they were a bit showy, but he reassured himself that they were not there to draw attention to him, but rather to the Name of the Most Holy God. After awhile, he was ready. He looked good.
And with the rising sun, he stepped out of his home, and made his way to the marketplace. Oh how he love the marketplace, and to be greeted with honor and respect, and to hear people call out to him, “Rabbi!” (cf. Matthew 23:7). It was out of respect for God, he told himself over and over. But it still felt nice. I mean, after all, he had worked hard to get where he was. He had studied hard to be a Rabbi, and was at the top of his class. And after becoming a Rabbi at 30 years old, he distinguished himself again with his superior understanding of the Law, and devout lifestyle. His parents were so proud when he was invited to join the ranks of the Pharisees. The Rabbi’s of Rabbi’s. He thought his dad would start crying tears of joy a couple of years later when they learned that their son, the Pharisee, was invited to JERUSALEM to work and teach there. It couldn’t get any better than that!
But as the fog of his daydream lifted, he noticed that something was different in the market this day. There weren’t as many people calling to him. There weren’t as many people greeting him. In fact, the market seemed pretty dead, pretty empty. He tried to remember if there was something planned for that day in the city, but nothing came to mind. So he stopped and asked Josiah, a vegetable vendor, what was going on. “Rabbi sir,” Josiah offered, “I heard that many of these people were going out into the wilderness by the Jordan River, to hear a man preach. Some people say this man is a prophet.”
This was ridiculous! A prophet! There hadn’t been any prophets from God for about 400 years, since the days of Malachi. He tried to think about something else, but as he made his way through the town it was all anyone was talking about. He met up with the other Pharisees at the Temple. They had similar experiences that morning, and after a brief conversation, they figured they had to go and see what all this commotion was about, and who this prophet named John really was. So they left the city, walked past the city gates, and into the desert toward the Jordan.
It took awhile, and he couldn’t help thinking, “Why would ANYONE want to preach out here in the middle of nowhere?” But the people were going out to the desert in droves, “what WAS it about this guy?” He thought to himself. He tried to picture what he looked like, and how he dressed, and what he might be saying. But when they arrived with the crowd at the Jordan, he saw a man so completely opposite of what he had envisioned, he had to laugh… at first. “John’s clothes were made of camel’s hair, and he had a leather belt around his waist. He food was locusts and wild honey.” (Mt. 3:4). But shortly the laughter stopped.
John looked at this great crowd of people, and then lifted his eyes to the group of Pharisees who were standing proudly off to the side. With eyes blazing like Elijah himself and a voice raised with firey passion he said, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?” The Pharisees were speechless, burning with rage so hot that words could not express it. People don’t talk to Pharisees like that! Who did he think he was, in his beggars clothes and his locust encrusted teeth, to speak to respectable, honorable, proper leaders like they were? After all, they were children of…