“John appeared, baptizing in the wilderness and proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And all the country of Judea and all Jerusalem were going out to him and were being baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. Now John was clothed with camel’s hair and wore a leather belt around his waist and ate locusts and wild honey. And he preached, saying, ‘After me comes he who is mightier than I, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. I have baptized you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.’” Mark 1.4-8
Sir Thomas Beecham, the British conductor, once saw a distinguished-looking woman in a hotel foyer. Believing he knew her, but unable to remember her name, he paused to talk with her. As the two chatted, he vaguely recollected that she had a brother. Hoping for a clue, he asked how her brother was and whether he was still working at the same job. “Oh, he’s very well,” she said, “And still king.”
No one likes embarrassment. We’ve all experienced it—and will experience it again… Maybe it’s part of being human, or simply God’s way of reminding us of how little we really are. Either way, it happens to all of us because we spend so much time (and money) caring about what others think.
Not so for John the Baptist. He was so radically committed to his role of being God’s special messenger that his dress, diet, and directives were different. No more ordinary. No room for the status quo. No space for filler. John’s message was simple: Get ready—God’s Messiah is coming!
John’s life is like a travel magazine. Each page takes you to a different place with its own unique sights, smells, and savors. Should we talk about his choice of clothing? What about his diet? What about his practice—and in the wilderness of all places?
Let’s start with his pedigree. From reading Luke’s account, we know that John had a very spiritual pedigree. Both parents were God-fearing and were even commended for their devotion. His father even served as a priest in the Jerusalem Temple. By all accounts, he was part of the ‘in-crowd’ and in many ways ‘had it made.’ But his actions spoke otherwise.
Why does Mark leave out his pedigree? Why not explain to us why John’s background is so vast, so prominent, so….big?
Several thoughts come to mind. But maybe the biggest one is this: his pedigree doesn’t matter. Just as his call for everyone to come to a dry, deserted place is uncomfortable—so too is this call. And there’s no easy way to heed it. There’s no room for “saving face” or avoiding embarrassment. Repentance undresses us of our pride—our achievements—our own pedigree…It leaves us standing naked before God and Man—for who we really are in the hopes of becoming something that we cannot attain in our own strength or ability.
John reminds us that no matter what you’ve done on the positive side of the ledger or on the negative side—it doesn’t matter anymore. Repentance frees you from the bondage of both. It frees you from guilt and it frees you from trying to outdo all the expectations that are upon you. Either way, it sets you free to be the person God wants you to be.
And that’s the freedom in which John lived. He was free to be all that God wanted him to be. John shows us how we can live in that same kind of freedom.
First, John’s dress was different. He definitely made a fashion statement! How are you dressed every day? And I’m not talking about your wardrobe… The real question is, how do you clothe your nakedness? Do you allow achievement, money, good grades to define you? Do you allow your performance to clothe you?
For John, he was clothed with his relationship with the living God. For us as followers of Jesus Christ, we are clothed with his love and grace for our lives. His forgiveness is real, his power to live a changed life is available, and his character is daily taking greater root in our lives. At the center core of our being is a simple but life-changing truth: God’s love for you in Christ Jesus. It is this truth, this new reality, that clothes us.
Also notice that John’s diet was different. He ate bugs and wild honey. Sounds like a Bear Grylls survival episode to me. He was deliberately and exclusively unique in his diet. And so must we if we are to live in this new freedom like John.
Our diet is God’s Word to us, the Bible. Our diet is worship and praise. Our diet is fellowship with Christian brothers and sisters. Our diet is seeking and doing God’s will on a daily basis. Our diet is found in saying No to ourselves and saying Yes to the Holy Spirit. And so I ask you, how’s your diet? Are you eating as a healthy Christian? What junk food have you been eating instead?
Finally, notice that John’s directive was different. His modus operandi was in being a radio—a stereo broadcasting one message: everyone needs the Lord. Rich and poor. Big and little. Great and homeless. Everyone needs the Lord, for every moment, for every day.
What message are you broadcasting? Are you all about worldly success? “I’ll be happy if….” “I’ll feel better when…” “If only I had…” You get the drill. What are you broadcasting? Is it that you are a person who has received the Holy Spirit? Or is it that you are person still looking for that pot of gold at the end of the rainbow? May you realize today that in coming to Christ in full, honest truth of how much you need him be the priceless pot of gold that sets you free.
1. Would you have been embarrassed to have been baptized by John?
2. What’s the biggest thing you need help with? Start your repentance there…
3. Notice this took place in the “wilderness”. What role does the suffering in your life play in becoming all that God wants you to be?