John wore clothing made of camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. And this was his message, “After me will come one more powerful that I, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”
John the Baptist’s clothing certainly was not from Versace or any contemporary designer of his day. Out in the hot desert he wore a thick garment of camel’s hair and ate simply.
He had retreated early in life to the shimmering, blistering desert—the lowest point on earth at 1,200 feet below sea level, just north of the Dead Sea.
His appearance probably belied his age—skin deeply burned from the desert sun; his feet, hands, and knees heavily calloused; hair and beard untamed by comb and mousse—you would have thought him more an eccentric hermit in his fifties than a prophet of the Almighty just turning thirty.
John the Baptist was the sort of person you would expect to see at the front of a demonstration. Modern news reporters might have dubbed him the leader of the Jordan River Protest Movement. But what was John protesting against?
Religion without repentance: If the religion of the time had been meeting the people’s needs, they would not have walked into the desert to hear John and to be baptized.
John didn’t appear in the wilderness preaching, “Improve, for God is about to raise up a new society.” Instead, he proclaimed, “Repent, for the kingdom of God is at your doorstep.”
Life can only be better when we begin at the right starting place—where John started, where Jesus started, where the apostles started—with the first word of the gospel, the good news: repent!
￼Liturgy without salvation: The banks of the Jordan River were lined with people who found no peace from the guilt of sin even though they had gone to the temple and offered animal sacrifice, prayed prayers of penance, and trusted in the ecclesiastical system of the day.
Public or private acts of worship afford no guarantee that sins will be pardoned or salvation will come. Any worship is empty if it calls attention to the worshiper rather than to the God who saves us.
Liturgy without salvation is an external performance that does not affect the internal.
History without fulfillment: Life in Jerusalem could go on with little sense of impending crisis. But, out in the desert, John knew that history was headed someplace. The Messiah was coming!
John did no miracles. Neither could he forgive sin or grant eternal life. John knew he was unworthy, but Jesus is worthy. John baptized people in the external and physical element of water, but Jesus baptizes people with the Spirit, a baptism that transforms from the inside out and empowers people to live for God far beyond their human potential.
A Prayer: Lord Jesus, help me never to think that religious ritual substitutes for a genuine relationship with You. You are the All Powerful One.
Excerpted from Dr. Wood’s book, Fearless: How Jesus Changes Everything, available from Vital Resources.