His was no ordinary conception, born to parents past child bearing age. John the Baptist was the fulfillment of great prophecy – bridging the Old Testament with the New – in the ‘spirit of Elijah’. Endowed with the Holy Spirit in the womb, he consecrated his life to one mission: ushering into the world the incarnation of God on earth. John’s calling exceeded the realm of priesthood. He would not sit before the scribes or teachers of the Torah. He became John the Baptist through years of sequestered fellowship with God. When he “grew and became strong in the spirit” he was drawn to the desert in preparation for his high calling. This meant total separation from the world, from all that would distract, all that would influence and indeed – even that which would bring natural comfort – home, family and friends.
Prevailing culture and social protocols had no power to restrain John’s convicting preaching. This great herald emerged with divine anointing, baptizing an estimated 300,000 in Judea. His anointed ministry was fulfilled at the sight of Christ, “Behold! The Lamb of God that takes away the sins of the world!.” With words endowed by the Holy Spirit, this was the peak of John’s life and perhaps the beginning of the end to his profound ministry. He would not serve alongside Christ in His mission, nor would he continue his preaching and baptizing. “He must increase, I must decrease” was his prophetic declaration. This powerful, godly man was arrested by Herod the tetrarch. Imprisoned in the remote fortress of Macherus, John was again separated from all and – at the whim of a dancing girl – was beheaded. Disciples went and claimed the headless body of this beloved prophet of God and buried him.
In Luke 7, Jesus declared John to be a prophet, even “more than a prophet…among those born to women, there is no one greater than John”. The Lord’s ministry was well founded as John languished in a cold stone cell. ‘No one greater’, Jesus proclaimed of his anointed cousin, but did nothing to rescue John. All knowing and all powerful, Jesus Christ knew of the darkness that overshadowed John and the debauchery that would lead to executing this holy man. It was well within the Lord’s power to dispatch powerful angels, to release John and even strike Herod dead. What was Jesus doing as John – held in highest esteem by Jesus – was led to his gruesome death?
In Isaiah 53, an infamous prophecy of the coming Christ, Jesus is called “a man of sorrows”. Is there not great sorrow in knowing that your beloved kin, acclaimed even in heavenly places, is suffering and will die at the hands of reprobates – and you could but don’t intercede and rescue?
In God’s sovereignty, evil men do not prevail.
John had a singular high calling, yet it was far second, an underpinning, to the mission and passion of Christ on earth. Leaving the grandeur and majesty of heaven, Jesus came to be despised, rejected, oppressed. While He displayed supernatural power in compassion – healing the sick, feeding the hungry, raising the dead – the Son of God came not to extend His power to intercept or overthrow worldly kings and kingdoms. The Son of God refrained from rising up against Herod, an act which would change the course of His mission, the pathway of the cross. Rather than establish Himself as ‘hero’, saving a man from wicked men in this world, Jesus maintained His singular focus – saving mankind from damnation for all eternity. As Satan tempted Christ in the wilderness with places of power and position in this world – regardless of outward appearance here – again the Lord prevails. He would allow no temporal victory in a condemned world to undermine His victory over death for all eternity.
This “Man of sorrows” had the anguish of foreknowledge here and would deeply grieve the death of His beloved prophet, servant, and cousin who would be left alone to die. More than foreknowledge however, Christ divinely knows – even if we don’t – that for those surrendered to Him, suffering and death are servants to the purposes of God.
Great – and none greater – was John the Baptist. His divine mission complete, the sword could not rob him. “Alone” was John’s place of communion and strength in God. In the desert or a prison cell, John knew intimate heavenly fellowship that would strengthen and encourage, buffering all torment and fear. The one who prepared the way for God into the world would himself be ushered from this world to great reception and reward in the presence of almighty God.