Imagine you’re watching the news one night and the headline story is “Crazy Religious Man Shows Up Downtown.” The TV presents images of a man covered in ragged clothing who looks like he hasn’t washed, shaved, or visited the local Great Clips in quite a while. What’s worse is he’s standing on top of a park bench and calling people everywhere to repent of their sins. He identifies any and every sin, including greed, idolatry, homosexuality, hypocrisy, pornography, gossip, anger, pride…he just keeps going. He says God’s king is coming and you can choose repentance and forgiveness or the sword of God’s judgment will fall on you.
So what would you be thinking?
John the Baptist wouldn’t do to well in our day. He comes across as a religious nut job preaching fire and brimstone. That sort of thing isn’t too popular with folks in this age, is it? It’s not very tolerant or politically correct. So why does God use him? Why is he significant? Why does Matthew include him in Jesus’ story?
Remember Matthew wrote his gospel to the Jewish people to show Jesus was the Messiah who had been promised throughout the Old Testament Scriptures. His goal was to get them to believe in Jesus and be forgiven of their sins. John the Baptist connects the Old Testament prophets and the coming of Christ.
Of John, Matthew says, “For this is he who was spoken of by the prophet Isaiah when he said, ‘The voice of one crying in the wilderness: Prepare the way of the Lord; make his paths straight,” (Matt. 3:3).
This verse is quoted from the beginning of a prophecy in Isaiah 40. The rest of Isaiah 40 is about the coming of God to save and restore the nation of Israel. Hmmm, so what point could Matthew be trying to make about about John the Baptist, I wonder?
The connection to the Old Testament prophets doesn’t end there. In verse 4 Matthew says that John wore clothes made of camels hair and had a leather belt around his waist. To you and me this wouldn’t mean much, other than letting us know John wasn’t married. (No wife let’s her husband go out in camel’s hair. Believe me, I’ve tried it). The Jews, however, would see this as a direct reference to another Old Testament prophet, Elijah.
In 2 Kings 1:8 some guys are describing a prophet they met. They’re asked, ‘What did he look like?’ “He wore a garment of hair, with a belt of leather about his waist“. It was Elijah, one of the greatest prophets of the O.T. Coincidence? I think NOT!
Hmmm, so what do you think Matthew was trying to show his audience?
(Okay, maybe not exactly).
Malachi is the last book in the Old Testament. In the last chapter and last verses God says the following to the nation of Israel, “Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the Lord comes. And he will turn the hearts of the fathers…lest I come and strike the land with a decree of utter destruction,” (Mal. 4:5-6). Period. End of the Old Testament.
So “Elijah” is coming and then the Messiah is going to come, right? Hmmm…Who did John the Baptist dress like again? Oh right, Elijah. Who else called the people to repent from their idolatry, (1 Kings 18:20-24)? Elijah! So what do you think Matthew is trying to communicate to the Jews?
1. The prophetic “Elijah” from Malachi has come in John the Baptist
2. We, the Jews, need to get on board, repent, and turn to Jesus or God’s judgment is going to fall on us.
So does John the Baptist seem as weird now as you’ve thought before? Do you see why now why Matthew includes his story?
By the way, that prophesied judgment John the Baptist talked about? It doesn’t just apply to Jews. Every person needs to turn from their sin and turn to Jesus. He came once on a cross, bleeding and dying for our sins, so we could be children of God. He’s going to come in the future with a sword to judge the world.
“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand,” (Matt. 3:2).