He was said to prefer the isolated expanse of the wilderness to the noisy, populated villages and towns. People said he snacked on wild honey from the rock crevices and ate locusts for breakfast. And there were rumours an angel had announced his impending birth.
He must have been an imposing figure in his course camel hair tunic, his waist and thighs clad in leather, with his unkempt hair and beard only enhancing his wild appearance (Mat. 3:4). But most of all it was his eyes I suspect – eyes that fixed you and penetrated your soul before wandering away to a secret place known only to him. There was passion in those eyes. A dangerous, unworldly, irresistible passion that drew people, yet also alarmed them.
It had been hundreds of years since Israel had seen a prophet like this one. This John, who they called the Baptiser, reminded them of the ancient and renowned Elijah, who also covered himself in a hair tunic and leather girdle (2 Kings 1:8). Elijah had prayed for rain and the rain had come; Elijah had called down fire from heaven and slain 450 false prophets (1 Kings 18:40-45). Would John the Baptiser do similar wonders?
Israel wanted to know the answer. So Israel went out to see this strange new phenomenon for themselves.
“What did you go out to see?” Jesus would later ask the sign-seeking crowds. “A prophet?” (Matt. 11:9). Yes, they had gone to see a prophet, of course they had, for these were troubling times and a prophet’s presence in Israel may mean God was about to deliver His people from the oppressive occupation of idol-worshiping Rome. After all, if Israel couldn’t hope in God in these turbulent times, what else was there to hope in? But the one who Jesus would call “the burning and shining lamp” had not come to call fire down from heaven or slay idol-worshipers (John 5:35).
He had come as a witness and a revealer.
Investigators came from the religious authorities in Jerusalem to observe and examine this upstart ‘prophet’ who dared to invoke the esteemed Elijah. “Who are you?” they demanded. “The Messiah, Elijah, another Prophet?” No, none of those, was John’s response. “Who then?” they insisted.
“I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness make straight the way of the Lord.” (Jn. 1:19-23; Is. 40:3)
Oh, they knew those words from Isaiah well but would have been less than satisfied by the Baptiser’s crafty answer. One claiming to be the Messiah or even Elijah they could bring to trial for blasphemy, but what do you do with a ‘voice’?
But the Baptiser had other things on his mind. He had been sent for a purpose and that purpose burned in his bones like hot coals. His time was short, and he knew it. So he told them: “There is One among you who you do not know who, coming after me, is preferred before me” (Jhn. 1:26,27). Or, in 21st century paraphrase: “I’m just the warm up act for Someone here you can’t even see – if you think you’ve got problems with me you ain’t seen nothing yet!”
And just one day after that rather testy conversation John the Baptiser, seeing Jesus nearby, declared to his disciples the reason he had been sent.
“Behold! The Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world. This is He of whom I said ‘After me comes a Man who was preferred before me, for He was before me.’ I did not know Him, but that He should be revealed to Israel, therefore I came baptising with water.” (Jhn. 1:29-31)
Though others may have been confused about it, John knew who he was. Up until the Holy Spirit revealed the Christ to him at the Jordan, John didn’t even know the identity of Israel’s coming Messiah (Jn. 1:32). But he knew who he was. And consequently he knew why he was here.
“But that He should be revealed to Israel…I came”.
You and I, as members of the Bride of Christ, are currently in this world for a specific purpose. It is no co-incidence that we are alive here and now in this present chaotic age when hope is fading fast.
We are here as witness and revealer.
“You have sent to John, and he has borne witness to the truth”, Jesus would say to His religious persecutors (John 5:33). John, who lived and died under the Old Covenant, was indeed sent as Christ’s witness, but was witness only to Christ coming in flesh and blood, not to His resurrection. We, the Bride-church of Christ, are the only living witness in this world that Christ is risen. That is the reason why Jesus said he who is least in the Kingdom is greater than John the Baptist (Mat. 11:11), for John died before the New Covenant was ratified.
The earliest church understood their identity as revealer and witness (Luke 24:28; Acts 1:8; 1:22; 2:32; 4:33; 5:32; 10:39; 13:31; 1 Jn. 5:10). Understand that you do not need to do anything to bear this same witness, for you have the witness in yourself (1 Jn. 5:10). This witness is not about house to house evangelism, handing out tracts or preaching on street corners. If you are in Christ, then simply by being you are the living, breathing witness to His resurrection.
In the same way, each of us has a part to play in revealing Christ. Again, it is not about going to church, quoting scripture to your neighbour, or proving you’re a nice person. If you are in Christ and genuinely keeping fellowship with Him, He can and will reveal Himself through you whenever and wherever He chooses to do so. John the Baptiser, the last Old Covenant prophet, was the ‘lamp’ but he was not the Light. But Jesus said His Bride would be the “light of the world” (Matt. 5:14).
Imagine, then, the power and also the danger to enemies of the Cross that the combined presence of Christ’s bridal company carries in this world.
My friends, we are a prophetic Bride. There is a deep abiding burning, a passion within each of us that defines who we are. It’s time to get in touch with it.
I am not talking about launching into ministry, getting busier at church or rushing off to some foreign mission field without the unction and direct sending of the Holy Spirit. I am talking about connecting with Christ in us to a depth we have not yet known. I am talking about learning to rest in Him so He can increase and we can decrease. I am talking about walking in a level of communion with Him that lifts from us the burden to perform, and transforms us into His transparent, shining witnesses and revealers in this world. I am talking about knowing who we are and what is our reason for being alive right now. I am talking about not allowing the distractions of the daily news bulletins to define how we walk in this world.
The greatest enemy to that God-ordained prophetic passion in each of us is not Satan, the Defeated One. It is man-ordained, man-controlled, man-organised religion. The religious spirit can neither understand nor endure authentic Spirit-filled, Christ-centred passion. Man-controlled religion will always seek to rob us, violently at times, of whatever God-given passion burns within us. Man-controlled religion is happy to display a religious fervour that mimics the Holy Spirit, but true prophetic voices sent by God will always be a threat to false religion, because they will always call it for what it is – anitchrist.
The sole reason the religious authorities came to interrogate John the Baptiser was to find a way to shut him down. The only way you can shut down a voice is silence it, and eventually that voice was silenced, but not before he fulfilled the purpose for which he was sent by God – to reveal Christ to Israel.
On this earth, John did not have access to the whole unfolding panorama that could be seen from Heaven’s perspective. He was not God; he didn’t know the end from the beginning. But he knew who he was and what he was here for, and that formed his perspective. And so can we.
To participate in God’s unfolding purpose, we don’t have to understand everything He’s doing at the moment. We don’t need to read every new book by the latest celebrity leaders, we don’t have to attend all the coolest conferences, or own the most anointed worship CD’s. We just need to understand who we are as Christ’s corporate Bride and that our purpose for this hour is to reveal Christ – and then allow Him to fulfil that purpose through us wherever He has placed us. He will take care of the bigger picture.
Several years ago in a remote part of Kenya I was offered some fresh local honey. I imagined something similar to the honey available in western supermarkets. Instead I was presented with honeycomb straight form the hive, sweet and sticky, and still crawling with bees. It was pure wild honey – unrefined, undiluted, unfiltered.
Biblically, honey represents the sweetness of the pure Word of God while locusts symbolise destruction and invading armies (Ps. 19:7-10; Psalm 119:103; Sng. 4:11; Joel 1:4; Rev. 9:3,7).
True prophets live in the wild abandon of pure and undiluted sweetness of communion with Christ, the living Word (honey). They also learn to walk with Him as overcomers in the midst of their spiritual enemies (locusts.) They become adept at both. But where is this Bride adorned in prophetic passion for the Bridegroom? Where are the fierce and penetrating voices of her prophets?
There are any number of voices that want to soothe our itching ears with a ‘word’ about our nation, our family or our ministry. There are countless websites that will attempt to explain exactly how current events fulfil biblical prophecy. There is no shortage of conferences that promise to boost us to ‘a new level’, make us into ‘world changers’, ‘embrace, embolden and encourage us” and teach us to ‘dive deep into ministry’ or ‘blaze with God’s glory’*
But where is the locust and honey eating prophetic Bride of Christ with the Wind in her hair and the Fire in her spirit that loves not her life and thunders the revelation of Christ to the world?
I choose to believe that she lives – within you, within me, within us.
I choose to believe that she is awakening.
I choose to believe we ain’t seen nothing yet.
*These phrases are quoted from current Christian conference advertising.
© Cheryl McGrath, Bread for the Bride, 2017. Copyright Notice: Permission is granted to freely reproduce any Bread for the Bride articles in emails or internet blogs, unaltered, and providing this copyright notice is included. To permanently display an article on any static website please contact me for permission.