Summary: John the Baptist was the forerunner of the Messiah appearing at the River Jordan where crowds gathered to hear the Voice of the Prophet announcing Jesus as the Lamb of God and the Voice of God confirming him as his beloved Son
VOICES BY THE RIVER JORDAN
Quite frequently we read in the papers of sightings of unidentified flying objects - UFOs. Quite probably they don’t exist, but just suppose they did. What would those people from outer space make of planet Earth? Well, for sure, they would think it was very noisy. There are voices talking ceaselessly over thousands of radio and TV stations, and now there’s the Internet, all clamouring for a hearing, but not having an answer to the needs of the world. We’re going to think of two voices that are different. They had, and still have, a vital message for mankind, because they were authentic words from God, demanding our attention.
In our New Testament lesson we heard how God introduced the climax of his revelation to mankind by two voices in the Judean wilderness. The first was that of the forerunner to the promised Messiah. His name was John, "the voice of one crying in the wilderness" (Luke 3:2). The second was the voice of God himself, confirming that Jesus was indeed that Messiah, the Saviour of the world, "a voice came from heaven, ’You are my son, whom I love’" (22). These are the voices we need to hear.
Our God is a God who speaks. He’s broken into a world that is perishing for lack of a life-giving voice from heaven. That voice tells us the good news of salvation found only in his Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. The same God speaks today, to meet the same need, but now he speaks through the words recorded in scripture as the Holy Spirit illumines them. It’s true God can reveal himself through creation - the beautiful sunset, the majestic mountains and the powerful oceans. But clearest of all is the voice that comes as we read the Bible and accept its message in humbleness of mind and spirit and by faith make it our own experience. With this attitude in mind let’s listen carefully to those voices at the River Jordan. First of all we hear:
THE VOICE OF THE PROPHET
John the Baptist has been described as a courier of the King, his herald, but for no earthly monarch. When our Queen goes on her many travels to her dominions or on state visits to other countries, a great deal of preparation takes place beforehand. Every detail is worked out, the routes are carefully checked for security. Dignitaries who are to meet her are briefed as to what is to happen and what preparations are to be made for her. The day before she’s due to be in a certain place, the advance party is there making sure all is well. That was John’s role. He was the advance man for Jesus. John was the immediate forerunner of the Messiah, opening up the way for the coming Christ, even now appearing over the horizon.
What a mission John had. The Gospels tell us he was "a man sent from God" (John 1:6) and records his credentials for doing what he did, "the word of God came unto John" (2). His ministry was itself the fulfilment of a prophecy made by Isaiah (40:3,4). There hadn’t been a prophet in Israel for 400 years, but John was the honoured successor of all those in the Old Testament. He was very much of that prophetic tradition, cast in the mould of the greatest of them; in fact he was the last of their line. John didn’t call attention to himself; it was his mission that mattered.
John knew he had a high calling because God had spoken to him and was speaking through him. He was more than a front man for a coming dignitary charged with the responsibility of making sure the roads were in good order. He had a higher calling. Paul had the same high concept of representing the Lord Jesus Christ when he told the believers at Corinth "we are therefore Christ’s ambassadors" (2 Cor 5:10). I wonder how highly we prize the honoured title of Christ’s ambassadors, representing him to a largely unbelieving world? And how seriously do we carry out our duties?
John was in deadly earnest in proclaiming his message. He had good news because, in the words he quoted from Isaiah, "all mankind will see God’s salvation" (Luke 3:6) but it wasn’t good in the sense of being comfortable for the people. John was in the same prophetic tradition of Amos bringing news of terror. "Flee from the coming wrath … every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire" (9).
John drew his illustrations from his surroundings. He’d been living for some time in the desert, probably near the Dead Sea. The intense heat of the sun would shrivel up the vegetation, covering the ground with stubble and brushwood, dry as tinder. Sometimes a spark would set the face of the desert alight and out would come the vipers and snakes, scurrying in terror from the menacing flames. It was to them that John likened the people who came to be baptised. They had suddenly become aware of spiritual need. God often uses events, sometimes unpleasant and unexpected, like global warming and the devastation caused by the tsunami to focus our attention on his will and purpose. C S Lewis wrote that illness was God’s megaphone calling that person to stop and think. God’s voice may just as easily be heard in some disappointment or setback, but the point is - are we listening to what God is saying? If we don’t take any notice the experience will be lost to us.