The angel said, “he will go before him in the Spirit and the power of Elijah.” Elijah, that great prophet of the Old Testament who multiplied the flour and the oil of the widow, who raised the widow’s dead son to life, who challenged the prophets of Baal to a contest of God’s power against Baal’s power where he called down fire to consume the water soaked offering including the altar. Elijah who parted the waters of the River Jordan with his cloak, and who continued to challenge the people of his time and of ours to a radical response to God by saying “if the Lord is God then follow Him.”
John the Baptist never did work any of those mighty miracles but like Elijah his words challenged the people of his day to a radical response to God mercy. If we saw John today his appearance would frighten us, and we would not go near him. We would most likely consider him unbalanced. Yet, despite his appearance, people flocked to listen to his words because he not only spoke with power but because like us they needed reassurance that their past would not prevent them from being acceptable to God.
John knew the key to feeling the depth of God’s mercy was by embracing the message and mission of Jesus.
The words of Elijah and John are still speaking to us today through the scriptures, but we don’t read the scriptures. Ignoring the scriptures leaves us trying to discover the treasure of Jesus without a map. The people of Elijah’s day also ignored God’s word being spoken to them by Elijah. They not only ignored it, but they rejected his message because they believed in their ability to follow the law would be enough to earn grace. The message of Elijah and John is clear; we can never earn salvation it is a free gift of God. If we think we can earn eternal life then we are guilty of prideful arrogance and that separates us from God.
John spent his life proclaiming repentance and acceptance of the coming messiah. Yet as he was in prison facing his own death he wondered if it was enough. To satisfy his doubts he sent his disciples to Jesus and asked him “are you the one.” He dutifully did God’s will his entire life only to wonder was it enough and did he get it right. The answer to his question should satisfy our moments of wondering if we are doing enough and is all we seek found in Jesus.
Jesus responded to John’s question by saying “go tell John the lame walk, the blind see, lepers are cleansed, the dead are raised to life and the poor have the good news preached to them” (Mt.11:3-5). Today Jesus is telling us exactly what he told John – look at the works I did and believe in me. Jesus still is opening the eyes of our blindness, curing what prevents us from walking with Jesus, bringing us to a new way of living by embracing the good news of salvation.
Our problem is we have heard the gospel message, but we have not digested it; hearing God’s word is not enough. We must take what we hear and respond to it by embraced it. Do you believe God’s love for you is so great he has forgiven and forgotten every sin you have committed? Forgiven not because you are striving to be righteous but because he wants to give us a new life. If we can accept that as absolute truth (which it is) and if we believe the death of Jesus is foundational to our faith, then we can begin to live as a disciple proclaiming the spiritual truth that “Jesus Christ is the only way to salvation.”
We should hear the message of God speaking to us and telling us “we should live our lives in a way that shows the world that we believe Jesus Christ is the only way to the Father. If the kingdom of God is at hand, then are we living our lives in such a way that proclaims we are living in that Kingdom and not hoping to be in that Kingdom someday.
Like the people of John’s day, we can obtain a great deal of intellectual knowledge about Jesus without ever accepting what Jesus’ death on the cross obtained for us. John the Baptist challenges us not just to endorse what people are saying about Jesus but also to know him in such a way that we follow him. Follow him in a way that it changes how we live and open ourselves to the life changing power of God’s love and the work of the Holy Spirit.
I find that we, like John need to know more than facts about Jesus. We need to know what Jesus did then he is still doing now. We need to know repentance means more than saying we are sorry for our failures. We need to know repentance involves allowing our hearts to be changed by the touch of the Father. We need to know repentance means shaking off the belief our efforts to be holy are enough. Repentance means accepting Jesus Christ is the way, the truth and the life.