John the Baptist is one of the most colorful and dynamic characters of Scripture. Jesus treated him with the highest respect. Jesus insisted on being baptized by John in the Jordan River. Matthew tells us that when John was arrested and put in prison he wanted to do some reality checking. He sent his disciples to Jesus, asking Him, "Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?" (Matt. 11:3
). Jesus told them to report back that the blind receive sight, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor. That must have been tremendously reassuring to John.
As John's disciples left, Jesus began to talk about John and described him not as one dressed in fine clothes who had the blessings of political leaders but one who was a prophet. He went on to specify that John was the prophet written about by Malachi hundreds of years in advance. "I will send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way before you" (Mal. 3:1
). Then Jesus expressed the depth of His feeling about John in these words: "I tell you the truth: Among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist..." (Matt. 11:11
John was a miracle child. You know he was born to the aged priest, Zechariah, and his wife Elizabeth long after Elizabeth's biological clock had run out. He was a Nazarite from birth according to the explicit orders of the angel Gabriel. His hair was never cut. He never touched a dead body. He never drank alcoholic beverages. These qualifications for the Nazarite are outlined in Numbers 6
From his earliest childhood John had a unique relationship with God. He knew the Old Testament Scriptures. He was sensitive to God's call upon his life. He wore the garb of an ancient prophet, wearing a rough coat of camel's hair and a leather belt. He subsisted in the wilderness on a diet of locusts and wild honey.
John spent a lot of time alone communing with God in the wilderness. He had a sensitive conscience shaped by the Scriptures. He had moral courage. He refused to make political accommodation. He burst onto the first century public scene denouncing sin. He called men, women and children to a radical repentance in preparation for the coming of the Messiah. He saw through the two-facedness of the Pharisees and the Sadducees. He referred to them to their faces, saying:
"You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not think you can say to yourselves, 'We have Abraham as our father.' I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire. "I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me will come one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not fit to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor, gathering his wheat into the barn and burning up the chaff with unquenchable fire." (Matt. 3:8-12