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John the Baptist

 

         John the Baptist lived out in the desert. People came from all over to hear him. "Be sorry about the wrong things you do," John said. "Ask God to forgive you. Then you will be ready when the savior comes."

    One day Jesus went into the desert. He asked John to baptize him. As John lifted Jesus out of the water, the Holy Spirit came down in the form of a dove. Then John knew the truth. Jesus was the Savior. God's own Son! John's heart filled with joy. His work was finished. He had helped people get their hearts ready for Jesus.


         After John was born, Zacharias' tongue was freed, and he spoke these words under the power of the Holy Spirit: "And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go on before the Lord to prepare His ways; to give to His people the knowledge of salvation by the forgiveness of their sins . . ." (Luke 1:76-77). For almost thirty years, God prepared John to be His spokesman, to announce the coming of Jesus Christ, the Messiah Israel had been awaiting for centuries.

         Times were certainly ripe for spiritual awakening. The Jewish people were languishing under oppressive Roman rule, and circumstances did not seem likely to change. Many hearts were restless and open to hearing good news. So when John suddenly began preaching in the wilderness of Judea, the crowds began to flock to him.

         "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand," John shouted. "As for me, I baptize you with water for repentance, but He who is coming after me is mightier than I, and I am not fit to remove His sandals; He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire." (Matthew 3:2, 11) Hundreds of people listened carefully to his words and were baptized in the Jordan River.

         What made John the Baptist truly mighty in spirit, however, was more than his powerful, bold words. John was a man of great spiritual discernment, a gift he received from the Lord. John's world was complicated religiously and politically, and his message certainly put him at great risk of personal danger. He needed discernment in order to understand his circumstances from God's perspective and to know what God wanted him to say.

         John knew the difference between those who came with humble, repentant hearts and those who came to mock or criticize. He answered any question the people asked him with straightforward honesty and an earnest desire to see them turn to God. But to the Pharisees and Sadducees—members of the self-righteous religious establishment—his words were fiery and condemning. (Matthew 3:7-8) John had no toleration for their hypocrisy.

         As a man of discernment, John was completely open to God's direction. He understood that God was always going to show him new things. From his own testimony, we know that John wasn't sure of the identity of the Messiah until God revealed it to him. (John 1:31-33) Can you imagine the thrill John must have felt to realize that his own cousin, Jesus, was the promised Messiah? What might God reveal to Him next? Maybe John dreamed of following Jesus himself, since his ministry of preparatory baptism was then over.

         But what John soon discovered was that the Lord had a far different plan for his life. Some of John's pointed words finally reaped some bad political consequences. John had preached against the wickedness of Herod the king, especially of his marriage to his brother's wife Herodias. In prison, with his life hanging in the balance, John could have been filled with concerns.

         However, even in such a threatening situation, John again demonstrated spiritual discernment. He took his doubts straight to God for resolution. By way of messengers, he asked Jesus this question: "Are You the Expected One, or do we look for someone else?" (Luke 7:20) With great compassion, Jesus sent a reply to assure John that he was not at all mistaken. Jesus was the Messiah, and John had testified about Him in truth.

         The end was swift for John. One night, Herod threw a great party at his palace. (Mark 6:14-29) As part of the entertainment, the daughter of his wife Herodias performed a dance in exchange for Herod's promise to give her whatever she wanted.

         At her mother's prompting, she asked for the head of John the Baptist on a platter. God had chosen to call home his special servant, and as Jesus said, John's reward in heaven was great. (Luke 7:25-28)

         Like John, when you ask God for discernment, He gives it to you freely. For those who truly seek His face and His direction for their lives, the Lord brings a wisdom that can only come from Him. Regardless of your circumstances, you will possess the security of knowing that God is using your life to build a spiritual legacy that leads others to Him.