By L&T Columnist Gary Damron
Throughout Old Testament scriptures there are references to light, beginning with the first chapter of Genesis. “Then God said, ‘Let there be light’; and there was light. And God saw the light, that it was good; and God divided the light from the darkness” (Genesis 1:3-4). When the people of Israel traveled in the desert, “the Lord went before them by day in a pillar of cloud to lead the way, and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light” (Exodus 13:21).
The prophet Isaiah often referred to the brightness of God. “For behold, the darkness shall cover the earth, And deep darkness the people; but the Lord will arise over you, And His glory will be seen upon you” (Isaiah 60:2).
Then after four hundred years without any word of prophecy, John the Baptist appeared on the scene. All four Gospels refer to Isaiah’s words from centuries before: “Prepare the way of the Lord; Make His paths straight” (Isaiah 40:3). Matthew, Mark and Luke all identify John the Baptist as the forerunner of the Messiah who would speak those words (Matthew 3:3, Mark 1:2-3, Luke 3:4). In the fourth Gospel, written by another man named John, John the Baptist himself stated, “I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness” (John 1:23).
Jesus, present before creation, was the “light of men” (John 1:4). He came in person to shine into human darkness, because the world needed more light than provided through creation. As one writer put it, “John the Baptist was the last burst of light the Word provided before His earthly entrance.”
John the Baptist was the vessel chosen to announce his coming. He was the bridge from Old Testament prophets to the Good News of the New Testament. John the Gospel writer was careful to point out, though, that The Baptist “was not that Light, but was sent to bear witness of that Light” (John 1:8).
Too often we’re tempted to idolize or worship a speaker. John the Baptist, while a special messenger was simply a voice, an announcer of one infinitely greater. He was a rough wilderness man, tromping in with startling appearance and no doubt a booming voice. There may never have been another like him, and the Jewish leaders were intrigued, asking, “Are you Elijah?” … “Are you the Prophet?” (John 1:21).
John knew his place, but when thrown into prison at the whim of Herodias, sent messengers to inquire for certain whether Jesus was the Coming One. The reply he received: “The blind see and the lame walk; the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear; the dead are raised up and the poor have the gospel preached to them. And blessed is he who is not offended because of Me” (Matthew 11:5-6). Apparently the answer was satisfactory, and soon after he died for his faith.
None of us will ever be a John the Baptist, but everyone who believes has a mission to make paths straight for other seekers. Though we may face persecution, our challenge is to reflect light on the way for one another. Something this week has happened in each of our lives that’s worth telling. May we be faithful like John the Baptist to proclaim, “I have seen and testified that this is the Son of God” (John 1:34).