In Episode 33, we started looking at Luke chapter 3 and John the Baptist. We just laid some groundwork and scratched the surface in looking a little bit at who he was and what he did. Today I want to continue in Luke 3 and get a little bit more in-depth with John, specifically tying him into the story of the Old Testament. Let’s read starting in Luke 3 verse 1: “In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, Pontius Pilate being governor of Judea, and Herod being tetrarch of Galilee, and his brother Philip tetrarch of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene, during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John the son of Zechariah in the wilderness. And he went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” (Luke 3:1–3 ESV) The first thing I want you to notice is how Luke opens up his section on John the Baptist. A very simple formula: “in the year of…” and “the word of the Lord came to”. See that? This is not just random language. Think about passages in the Old Testament that describe some of the prophets. Like Isaiah 6:1: “In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple.” (Isaiah 6:1 ESV) Or Jeremiah 1: “The words of Jeremiah, the son of Hilkiah, one of the priests who were in Anathoth in the land of Benjamin, to whom the word of the LORD came in the days of Josiah the son of Amon, king of Judah, in the thirteenth year of his reign.” (Jeremiah 1:1–2 ESV) Also in Ezekiel 1: In the thirtieth year, in the fourth month, on the fifth day of the month, as I was among the exiles by the Chebar canal, the heavens were opened, and I saw visions of God.On the fifth day of the month (it was the fifth year of the exile of King Jehoiachin), the word of the LORD came to Ezekiel the priest,” (Ezekiel 1:1–3 ESV) If you see the pattern here, there’s obviously a very consistent way that those who God calls as prophets to the nation of Israel are described. Do you see the similarities with the way John the Baptist is described? John is clearly a very special individual, placed on the same level here in the Gospels as the Old Testament prophets. This places John directly in the understanding and context of Old Testament prophecy, and chronologically is now last in line with the other greats that have already gone before him, speaking God’s words to His covenant people Israel. If you remember back in Episode 15, we looked at Zechariah’s song and one of the things he said was that John would be called a prophet of the highest. The people of Israel as we’ll see later in Mark’s gospel will go on to confirm that John was a prophet, and even Jesus Himself will affirm his identity in Matthew 11. But, there’s even more right in Luke 3 itself. In the last episode we talked briefly about how John dressed and what he ate. Matthew 3:4 says: “Now John wore a garment of camel’s hair and a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey.” (Matthew 3:4 ESV) Now take a look at this passage in 2 Kings: “They answered him, “He wore a garment of hair, with a belt of leather about his waist.” And he said, “It is Elijah the Tishbite.”” (2 Kings 1:8 ESV) See the similarities? John is described as wearing the exact same thing as the prophet Elijah. For the first-century Jew, it would have been so clear as to what was being conveyed here. And if that isn’t enough, look at Matthew 3: “In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”” (Matthew 3:1–2 ESV) We’ll get into this in-depth later on, but the same message of “repent” or “turn” because something is “at hand” is very similar to the prophets in passages like Isaiah 13:6 “Wail, for the day of the LORD is near;” (Isaiah 13:6 ESV) And Joel 2: “Blow a trumpet in Zion; sound an alarm on my holy mountain! Let all the inhabitants of the land tremble, for the day of the LORD is coming; it is near,” (Joel 2:1 ESV) And Zephaniah 1: “Be silent before the Lord GOD! For the day of the LORD is near;” (Zephaniah 1:7 ESV) Do you see how this is exactly like the Old Testament prophets? Not only is he introduced in the same way as the prophets, but he wears the same thing as a prophet and He is reiterating the same message – the day of the LORD is near. I hope you feel the significance of who John is just a little bit more now. Let’s keep going in Luke 3: “As it is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet, “The voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall become straight, and the rough places shall become level ways, and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.’”” (Luke 3:4–6 ESV) Luke goes on to quote the book of Isaiah, specifically Isaiah chapter 40 verse 3. And it’s clear that the words of Isaiah are being fulfilled – John is indeed out in the desert and his message is one of repentance because the Lord is coming. But we can’t just throw the name “Jesus” at this and think we understand what’s being said. As I talked about in episode 4, the one who John the Baptist is preparing the way for, according to this passage in Isaiah, is none other than Yahweh, the God of Israel. And because of this, his mission goes beyond that of a prophet. Old Testament prophets never prepared the way for Yahweh. He is more than a prophet, as Jesus said in Matthew 11, where another passage from the Old Testament is quoted: ““Behold, I send my messenger, and he will prepare the way before me. And the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple; and the messenger of the covenant in whom you delight, behold, he is coming, says the LORD of hosts.” (Malachi 3:1 ESV) John is not just calling the people of Israel to return to the Lord like the Old Testament prophets did, He’s announcing that the LORD, the God of Israel was coming to them. This is so unlike any other normal time in the history of the nation of Israel and is really on par with the story of Moses and Mt. Sinai and how God actually came to the nation there. So just as back in Exodus, here, right at the beginning of the Gospels, the season is changing… Everything relating to God’s people, how He dealt with them, how He revealed Himself to them… That’s all changing here, just like it did at Mount Sinai. Now I want you to feel the significance of this even more. Imagine you’re a Jew living in Israel in the first century. For about 400 years, your people had not heard the voice of a prophet. The last one was Malachi, and of course that’s the last book in our modern Old Testament. Israel had been guided by the prophets throughout their history, but one prophet Amos, had prophesied that a famine of the word of the Lord was coming to Israel. Check this out in Amos chapter 8: ““Behold, the days are coming,” declares the Lord GOD, “when I will send a famine on the land— not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the LORD.” (Amos 8:11 ESV) Jewish writings during the 400 years of prophetic silence in Israel made it clear that they understood themselves to be in the fulfillment of Amos’ words. Think about that – year after year, generation after generation – they were wondering what was going on. Had the LORD abandoned them? Had he forsaken his covenant with them? Just like in the days of Samuel, there was no widespread revelation and no voice of the Lord in the land. And here, 400 years after Malachi, after just a quick flash at Jesus’ birth and then a stillness for nearly 3 decades, all of a sudden this just explodes on the nation again with the same two guys – John and Jesus. It’s been 400 years since Israel has heard from the LORD, and now there’s this guy in the desert saying “repent”, he’s wearing the same clothes as the prophet Elijah, his message sounds just like the Old Testament prophets, and there’s a little twist to what he’s saying. Yahweh is coming, so get ready. Oh, this is so significant. I hope you feel it just a little bit, and I trust you will more as we go along. I think this is so important because I want you to move from seeing the Gospels as a random collection of stories that don’t really have any significance beyond Jesus just healing people, giving some messages, dying on the cross, and rising again to seeing that there is a real story going on that has continuity with the Old Testament and is mostly about Israel. Think about this – this is the living God, he doesn’t do “random”. It may feel like that to us, but that’s just because we aren’t seeing the full picture. God didn’t take on flesh to resign himself to just a few years of total randomness walking around Galilee. I want you to really see that there is such a potent story going on here, that it began in the Old Testament and that John the Baptist is like a huge explosion in the middle of the night that wakes everybody up. In the next episode, we’ll begin looking at the message of John the Baptist. If he’s a prophet, and as Jesus said, more than a prophet, the message he is proclaiming should be of utmost importance. And it is. As I said already, rightly understanding the message of John will go such a long way in helping you to see what Jesus is doing, why He’s saying what He’s saying, why He died, and why we’re still waiting for Him to return.