John the baptiser was a solitary man. Being confined to a suburban neighbourhood was not for him. However, he didn’t start his life in the wilderness avoiding clothing outlets and looking for beehives for dinner. He was a miracle baby. The son of aged parents. His dad a priest. Brought up in the faith of the One true God amidst the holy practices of the temple. Everyone within earshot of his birth announcement, or the day he was named ‘John,’ would have known that Isaiah told of him 600 years earlier. The people-of-the-street rejoiced at his messianic message of hope, but the teachers of the law rejected John as ‘the Elijah to come.’
John had one job – Warn everyone to be ready for the coming kingdom of the Christ. He had one main sermon, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.’ I seriously doubt that you got too much chit-chat from John the baptiser when you went out into the water to be immersed. It was enough that you submitted to his ‘baptism of repentance.’ Evidence that you were sorry for your sins and a cry for spiritual purity in anticipation of Messiah. Everyone was subject to his call to baptism. Everyone, that is, who had a repentant heart. Today, John would have been mercilessly criticised for his reaction to his dissenters. Told, ‘judge not, lest ye be judged.’ Asked, ‘How dare you challenge these Biblical scholars?’ and ‘Who are you to slander their good names by calling them ‘snakes?’ Today, John would be expected to stand off to the side, in hand-wringing pose, mumbling apologetically that he needed to be more careful about offending his betters.
I assure you, that John wouldn’t have allowed the good name of his God to be demeaned by bowing to such foolishness. It was Herod Antipas who removed John from the wilderness to a jail in the middle of town. It was over John’s other sermon point, ‘Herod, it is unlawful for you to have your brother’s wife!’ This Herod was morally weak impetuous. His rash promises over a dance by the daughter of his ‘wife’ locked him into giving the girl what her mother asked for –‘The head of John the Baptist on a platter.’ A tragic end to the man who Jesus called ‘the greatest man ever born.’ But that is not John’s end. He lives among our ‘Great cloud of witnesses’: Amongst men who were “…sawn in two, they were tempted, they were put to death with the sword; they went about in sheepskins, in goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, ill-treated (men of whom the world was not worthy), wandering in deserts and mountains and caves and holes in the ground (Hebrews 11:37-38). Praise God for John, ‘The voice crying in the wilderness.” (firstname.lastname@example.org)