“A man was sent from God, whose name was John” (John 1:6)
John the Baptist, though unique in prophesy, was not the only preacher that delivered a message to the people of Israel during his day. Some believe that he belonged to the Essenes, an ascetic movement that lived separated from the world. In this grouping would have been other preachers. Some believed that he may have lived alone in the desert. The Scriptures really don’t tell us, except that he wore unusual clothing and ate delicacies that few of us may want, “clothed in camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey” (Matt.3:4). Yet Jerusalem, all Judea, and all the region around the Jordan went out to him (Matt.3:5). His message was stern and to the point. “Brood of vipers! Who has warned you to flee from the wrath to come. Therefore, bear fruits of repentance” (Matt.3:7-8). Not the best way to build a church or keep TV ratings.
So what made his message so effective? Why did the multitudes flock to hear him? What caused genuine repentance among some, curiosity among others and hatred by those stung by his message? I believe the key is found in two verses. The first is found in the prophetic words given to Zechariah his father, in Luke 1:15.
“For he will be great before the Lord, and wine and strong drink he will not drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit from the womb of his mother.”
The first key to John’s life is the phrase: “he will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from the womb of his mother.” There were other preachers in John’s day, probably some were better scholars or more proficient speakers. The great teacher Gamaliel spoke of Thaddaeus who drew four hundred, and Judas of Galilee who swayed many people (Acts 5:36-37) but these came and went, soon to be forgotten. Yet when John came, news of his message rippled across the lands of Israel and people flocked to hear this man of God, to hear a word from the Lord. He was filled with the Spirit.
The second key verse to John’s life is found in Luke 3:2.
“A rhema word of God came to John, the son of Zacharias, in the desert”
This was not just any word. It was a specific word, given from God and to be delivered to the people of Israel. As with the prophets, when they declared “Thus says the Lord,” John’s words carried the weight of heaven and the force of conviction. Hearts were quickened and lives changed in preparation for the One who would follow John.
The order is very specific. It has to be this way, otherwise it becomes nothing more than “sounding brass or clanging cymbals”. John was filled with the Holy Spirit and then given a rhema word for the day He lived in.
The order is still the same in our day. Men and women, filled with the Holy Spirit, listening for His voice and willing to declare His word unashamedly. Like fire on dry tinder may the flames of revival break forth over our land and many be brought to saving faith in Jesus Christ.