In reading Matthew 2:1-12, I wonder if God might not have selected a better advance man for Jesus’ ministries than John the Baptist. But then, Jesus may not have had a choice; let’s face it, John was his first cousin and who knows what promises Mary made to Elizabeth when either John or Jesus had no say in the matter. Maybe the two sisters were keeping it all in the family? In any case, John was a little rough around the edges and could have used a little advice on dressing for success, or winning friends and influencing people before he began his ministry. Let me ask you; would you have hired him to be your pitch man? He rolls into town from the wilderness all decked out in camel hair and leather while munching on grasshoppers and honey. He was hardly a fashion plate or someone with whom you wanted to share a meal. He was different!
So what was it that attracted the crowd and kept them coming, not to mention line up to be baptized? While John was inspired, his demeanor and deportment may well have been studied. He dressed like the prophet Elijah, who also ate locusts and honey, the sustenance that God provided to the Hebrews as they wandered the wilderness. So when he preached the coming of the Messiah, the people may have channeled the former prophet and were eager to follow, believe and anticipate the advent of the Lord. Not everyone, however. Two groups of the “elite” Jewish hierarchy, the Pharisees and Sadducees were uncharacteristically united in their opposition to John’s prophesy. After all, weren’t they the chosen people, the direct descendants of Abraham?
Who is this wild man who comes to baptize and calls for us “to bear fruit for repentance,” the signs of a changed life? John preached the love of enemies and rejected any claim to an elite status as “the chosen” by birth. This clash between heredity, privilege and equality for all in the kingdom caused John to lash out with his customary lack of diplomacy and called the Pharisees and Sadducees “children of snakes.” John invites us to participate in God’s coming kingdom wherever we are and whatever we may be doing. All we need is enough faith in God to help us work through the ordinary and mundane elements of our lives.
And so in promising the coming of the Messiah John message is powerful but he makes certain to clearly distinguishes his subordinate role as the “one who comes before:”
I baptize you with water for repentance, but one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and will gather his wheat into the granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.