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Shouting in the desert

"Who are the prophets today? Where are the men and women of God who are willing to live the Gospel message and proclaim it by their words and in their lives in this town?"

John 1:6

The emphasis is very much on a person, John the Baptist - a remarkable man in many ways.

Firstly and perhaps most importantly, John was a man sent by God, as verse 6 tells us. He was also a man who lived the message that he preached.

John was different. If you saw him walking the streets of any town you wouldn't fail to notice him, as his whole appearance and demeanour would make him stand out. You might very well cross the road to avoid bumping into him, but you couldn't ignore him.

It was as if his choice of clothing and indeed his whole lifestyle was a political act, a deliberate and very visible protest against the excesses of modern life as it was then.

But John wasn't living in any city or town. He was in the desert, and a particularly hostile area it was as well, between the centre of Judaea and the Dead Sea - a limestone desert which was unbearably hot in the daytime. If you wanted to find somewhere to be alone with your thoughts, to find solitude, then you couldn't wish for a better place. It was not the destination of choice for a day out.

There was also something about the man's appearance that spoke to those who saw him. It jogged a memory at the back of their mind about one of the greatest of their prophets, Elijah.

2 Kings 1:8

To be recognised simply by the clothes you wear must be the ultimate fashion statement!

John the Baptist, a man sent by God.

Can you think of any contemporary person who you could fit that description to?

The media is always very quick to label individuals as "prophets of our time" be they politicians, pop stars, astrologers or just well known personalities with something to say about society. But who would we say are those "sent by God" to deliver God's judgement or comment on the world today?

They might not be the people you would expect, just like John wasn't perhaps the person we might have chosen. Maybe someone well known like Nelson Mandela, who in his inaugural address in 1994 asked his listeners to recognise themselves as "born to make manifest the glory of God within us".

Mandela challenged us to let our light shine because by doing so "we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same". But maybe it could be someone less well known, writing a letter to the Llanelli Star or speaking up at a community meeting to try and put right an injustice.

Or perhaps we don't think there are such prophets in the world today. But if we start thinking like that then we run the risk of saying in effect that God no longer speaks, no longer takes an interest in this world he created.

It's a point worth thinking about!

But back to our story.

So it was that word spread about this strange man in the desert who reminded people of the great prophets of old.

It must have been similar in the days of the great Welsh preachers such as Daniel Rowlands, Howel Harris and their contemporaries. There were no methods of mass communications such as we have today, no radio or TV to keep people informed as to what was going on. But word spread slowly but surely, and curiosity if nothing else would ensure that people travelled great distances to be a part of what was happening in their country.

And what did they get for all their effort? They found someone who not only had a message to preach but someone who lived that message.

And that can be a bit scary, as the authorities discovered. To them John was a loose canon, and they needed to know who on earth he thought he was saying the things that he did. Was he claiming to be Elijah or the prophet that had been foretold in Malachi 4? Was he just some poor demented soul affected by the desert heat?

No! John claimed to be nothing other than a voice shouting in the desert, preparing the way for what was to follow.

There's something not quite right about someone in a smart suit, a bulging wallet and a comfortable home talking about poverty. A little voice seems to call out 2It's all right for you to talk!" But here was John who not only preached the word but lived it.

It wasn't as if John told the people anything that they didn't already know, but the words he spoke went straight to the heart. Plato once said that education didn't consist of telling people new things, merely extracting from their memories what they already knew.

A message that speaks to the heart and spoken by someone who has the authority to say it will always get a response, and the response was one of repentance

Between the end of what we know as the Old Testament and the beginning of the New Testament is a period of around 400 years. Four hundred years for the people to drift away from their God and become accustomed to the world's way of living. Four hundred years without a prophet to stand up and tell the people that they were heading in the wrong direction away from God and His Laws.

The people must have been waiting in trepidation for God to send His man into the world. They knew that they couldn't get away with their lifestyle for much longer, and in John they found God's man.

John would have them and us believe that he wasn't worthy even to take the place of a servant, but in that humility those who saw John recognised that he was worthy of the respect and honour that they showed him. A famous violinist said that when Toscanini mounted the rostrum the whole orchestra felt his authority flowing over them.

John the Baptist is a wonderful role model for any Christian. What do we say if the world out there asks us as individuals and the Church "Who are you and what do you stand for?" Are we going to give the impression by our words that we're somehow better than they are because we go to Church?

Or are we like John going to show by our lives that it's not to us that they should look, but through us to the One who is the light of the world. That we, like John are voices shouting in the desert - and what an apt description of the spiritual state of the world that is - that there is a Saviour who is Jesus Christ who has come into the world, and will come again in Glory.

Who are the prophets today?

Where are the men and women of God who are willing to live the Gospel message and proclaim it by their words and in their lives in this town? Because if they are not here then what hope is there for the Church. And if the Gospel is not being proclaimed, the light being revealed, then what hope is there for the world.

 

 

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