Preparing for Messiah
From the devotional Day by Day in the Gospel of Matthew by Chuck Gianotti.
Now in those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the wilderness of Judea, saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” For this is the one referred to by Isaiah the prophet when he said, “The voice of one crying in the wilderness, ‘Make ready the way of the Lord, Make His paths straight!’” Now John himself had a garment of camel’s hair and a leather belt around his waist; and his food was locusts and wild honey. Then Jerusalem was going out to him, and all Judea and all the district around the Jordan.
Fascination with the childhood of Jesus became rampant in the early centuries of the church. Much was written on the subject, most of which lacks authenticity. We find only a brief mention in the inspired record of Scripture: Luke 2:41-52. Matthew’s record omits any mention of Jesus’ childhood and simply fast-forwards to some three decades later, to the ministry of John the Baptist (whose birth is only recorded in Luke). John the Baptist introduces Jesus Christ to the Jewish world.
John’s message was a foretaste of Jesus’ message. In fact, it was identical: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (4:17). It was simple in its challenge, and clear in its goal. Something good was being offered, but something bad must be taken care of first. The promised kingdom would soon be established, but the people were not yet ready for it. The remedy, the only one needed, was repentance. The rest was up to God.
Repentance meant a complete turning away from the direction in which they were walking. (They were out of step with God and His laws despite a superficial show of conformity). And repentance meant turning back to walking with God. It was an admission of guilt over sins committed under the first covenant (Heb. 9:15) and turning to the genuine expectation of the new way, the kingdom of heaven.
John’s role was that of an advance man, so to speak. It was a prophet’s task foretold by a prophet, Isaiah. John’s lifestyle and dress certainly evoked the image of an OT prophet (see 2 Kings 1:8), all of which helped him gain the public relations coup that drew huge, curious crowds to the relatively remote area of the Jordan River.
With a momentary advance on the story, we see that in the end (at least from the Jewish point of view), the people rejected the message of the forerunner because they rejected the One of whom John was the forerunner—namely, Jesus. As Herod did, the nation (despite the initial showing at the Jordan) ultimately rejected her King.