“As John’s disciples were leaving, Jesus began to speak to the crowd about John: “What did you go out into the desert to see? A reed swayed by the wind? If not, what did you go out to see? A man dressed in fine clothes? No, those who wear fine clothes are in kings’ palaces. Then what did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. This is the one about whom it is written: “ ‘I will send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way before you.’” ”
No one accidentally wanders out of their home, leaves town and goes into the wilderness unless they are mentally unwell. Either you are specifically going to see something (or someone you know is there), or you are going to personally find something – like a particular kind of plant or the solitude the desert so famously offers. Jesus’ point is exactly that. Those who went out to see John the Baptist in the desert did not stumble upon him. They went out to see him, and they went out to see him with a very specific purpose in mind.
The people knew that John was not a regular guy. Matthew has already noted that, saying, “John’s clothes were made of camel’s hair, and he had a leather belt around his waist. His food was locusts and wild honey.” Regular folks did not eat locusts and honey as a regular part of their diet. They ate bread. Even the very poor ate bread. Camel hair clothing was quite common in the day, but the style referred to by Matthew likens back to what Elijah wore almost a thousand years earlier. The implication is obvious. John the Baptist was a prophet. He looked like a prophet, ate like a prophet and acted like a prophet (in calling the people back to God). This particular crowd had gone out to see him, and now this crowd was gathered to listen in on a conversation between Jesus and John’s disciples out of curiosity as to the implication of such a meeting.
Jesus’ point is that this crowd had taken time out of their busy lives to go out to see a prophet. Ironically, there is an implication in that. It is an implication that Jesus is actually making very strongly, because He notes that John was not a regular prophet. John was a prophet who was prophesied to come, meaning He is both the result of prophesy and a prophet himself. That is a very unusual combination – a circumstance that adds weight to the implication Jesus is making. To add even more gravitas, Jesus points out that the prophesy John fulfilled was an exceedingly familiar prophesy that every Jew knew and loved. Malachi 3:1 says, “See, I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me. Then suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to his temple; the messenger of the covenant, whom you desire, will come,” says the Lord Almighty.” It is the prophesy of the Jewish hope for Messiah. Every Jew knew that verse as every Christian knows John 3:16.
Jesus’ implication is that to go see such a prophet would be a once in a lifetime event. An event that should have left everyone significantly changed , because John’s ministry was one of preparation. Going out to see John meant you were going out to see a prophet, so that you might be spiritually prepared to meet Messiah. Hearing John meant you were listening to someone who was the result of a prophesy of the times of Messiah and was now prophesying about Messiah. Having John minister to you in baptism meant you were prepared to recognize Messiah when He comes. So the Jews Jesus is now speaking to should’ve been ready and able to recognize Him as Messiah.
Unfortunately, oftentimes the preparation is confused with the event to the point that when the event comes, we completely miss our role in it.
We all know the story of Martha and Mary. Martha was so busy preparing to host Messiah that she missed listening to Him. Do we not do the same all too often, in our service for Christ?Marcus Verbrugge
Take time today to listen to God. What has He been saying to you? What is He saying right now?