So why was the greatest man who was born of woman until his time, (Mathew 11:11) and who was one of the greatest (and most successful) Old Testament prophets never been given the power to perform one miracle?
Above, Matthias Grünewald, detail of the Isenheim Altarpiece, "He must become greater and I must become less".
I have no great insight, no commentary I've used, and no sermon I can point you to. I just want to focus on the holy Word of God and its effect on hungry, despairing hearts.
John the Baptist was a forerunner to the Messiah, one who was prophesied to come and who did come. (Isaiah 40:3-5; John 1:23). He had one message and one message only: repent and be saved. (Matthew 3:2; Mark 1:4). One would not think that a man with a singular message of sin, sinners, repentance and baptism would be popular. Men who preach that are not popular today. But John the Baptist had throngs of followers who listened to him. He had throngs who followed his preaching with a life choice to become baptised in water, in preparation for the Messiah's coming when they would be baptised by fire. Even King Herod liked to listen to John, even though John was no shirker of his responsibility to point out to the King his sinful actions! (John 6:18).
|Giovanni Tiepolo: John the Baptist preaching|
Of course, some undoubtedly followed John because they loved hearing him charge the religious leaders of the day with hypocrisy. Some undoubtedly followed John because he was the most interesting thing going on. Some undoubtedly were excited to think of their Messiah coming in all glory to rip the Romans from the death-grip they had on the land. But those were likely in the minority.
The fact is, John was filled with the Holy Spirit at birth, and a man speaking truth about the Messiah from a pure, Holy Spirit-filled heart is the most powerful miracle there is.
You can read about how demon-drenched the place was. (Luke 6:17-19). No prophet had spoken. No angel had come. No miracle had occurred. The religious services were saturated with hypocrisy, filthy lucre, and idolatry thanks to the failure of the leaders of the day and the years before and the generations preceding. The people were tired of sin- their own and others'. The whole land was crawling with demons.
|St John the Baptist Preaching, Gaulli|
In my opinion, John's ministry was miraculous in the way that it shows us what preaching the word does to weary hearts. Weary hearts want the word. They want to hear about the Messiah. They want hope of His coming to enter their hearts and fill them with knowledge of His glory.
Their hearts were hungry for message of hope, and even for a message of hard truths; a message of their sins and the hope of the coming of the Perfect who would deliver them.
You can imagine how hungry hearts are today. And as it was true then, it is true now: the preaching of repentance and the coming of the Messiah prepares us for Him
Though our generations will not be blessed with national revival, but instead be cursed with global apostasy, (Revelation 2:5; 2 Thessalonians 2:3; 2 Timothy 4:3-4), we know that individual hearts are still hungry. Individual hearts still thirst for the Living Water and we still need to proclaim it.
My New Year's wish for us all is that we resolve to cling to the Holy Word by diligent study, knowledge of, and living it out. I pray for us that we resolve to speak it, proclaim it, contend for it. His word, the holy bible, is now the miracle that sustains us and is His sign that He is living and active. (Hebrews 4:21).
Can we resolve to focus on the coming Messiah? Can we dedicate our lives to serving Him? Can we devote ourselves to proclaiming the only message worth sharing? The power of the holy Word has been demonstrated throughout the record of the bible. It has demonstrated itself through its staying power throughout the centuries. It has shown itself powerful by its ability to penetrate hard hearts and claim souls.
Do you know it? Do you read it? Do you hide it in your heart for the moment the Spirit might prompt you to share a message of sin and repentance?
Left, John the Baptist, by Preti, MetMusum. "Saint John the Baptist is shown seated in the wilderness exhorting the viewer to repentance, his right hand pointing heavenwards, his skin tanned through years in the desert. The lamb stands for Christ, the "lamb of God."
Isaiah said that one like John would come--
"A voice of one calling: "In the desert prepare the way for the LORD; make straight in the wilderness a highway for our God." (Isaiah 40:3)
John did come.
"He said, “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’ as the prophet Isaiah said." (John 1:23).
As we view 2013 ahead, we all feel like we are each in the wilderness as John was. I know many of us feel that we try and try but no one is listening. We know from the Word that as each year passes it won't get better, it will get worse. But the truth does have an effect. It does penetrate hearts. Maybe you don't see it right away but the fruits will become visible someday. That's why we can't lose heart and we have to stay true to Him. The Proverbs say for us-
"In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths." (Proverbs 3:6)
"The righteousness of the blameless keeps his way straight," (Proverbs 11:5a)
Keep on the straight and narrow, and always point to Christ. Here is a wonderful New Year's gift to us all:
"And from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ." (John 1:16-17)