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Do you know your purpose in life? a look at John the Baptist in John 1:19-23

Updated on January 27, 2014
the voice of one crying in the desert
the voice of one crying in the desert

John 1: 19 - 23 -What does it say?

Now this was John's testimony when the Jews of Jerusalem sent priests and Levites to ask him who he was. He did not fail to confess, but confessed freely, "I am not the Christ." They asked him,"Then who are you? Are you Elijah?" He said, "I am not." "Are you the Prophet?" He answered, "No." Finally they said, "Who are you? Give us and answer to take back to those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?" John replied in the words of Isaiah the prophet, "I am the voice of one calling in the desert, 'Make straight the way for the Lord.'"

What does it mean?

John the Baptist was a man who knew exactly who he was and what God wanted him to do. The Jews had not seen or heard from God in 400 years. Then along came John, living in the wilderness, dressed in animal skins and eating locust and honey. It is not surprising that they were curious. They were really hoping that he was the Messiah. They were tired of the Romans bossing them around and wanted to be free of them. So the Jews in Jerusalem sent priests and Levites to question him. What they found was a man who was himself a priest and a Levite. Not only was his father a priest with the temple duties of a Levite, but his mother was also a descendant of Aaron, the very first high priest. As their son, John was both of these and as God’s chosen messenger he was even more. John was a prophet. He spoke the words of God and people came out to the desert to listen. This got the attention of the leaders in Jerusalem. Could he be the Christ they were waiting for; the Messiah that was promised? But John freely confesses that no, he is not the Anointed One, he is not Christ.

It is not surprising that they next ask him if he is Elijah. He looked like Elijah and they were expecting Elijah to come back before the Messiah. The Jews had a prophesy which said, “See, I will send you the prophet Elijah before that great and dreadful day of the Lord comes.” (Malachi 4:5). While John was the fulfillment of this prophesy, Matthew 11:13, 14 – “For all the Prophets and the Law prophesied until John. And if you are willing to accept it, he is the Elijah who was to come.” He was not the same physical Elijah that had lived all those years ago which the Jews were expecting. Rather he came in the spirit and power of Elijah, Luke 1:17 – “And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah” meaning that he would be like him having the same spirit and power, but not literally the same person. John fulfilled Malachi 4:5 in a figurative way instead of the exact way the Jews were looking for.

Finally they ask him if he is the Prophet. They are not just asking if he is a prophet in general, they have a specific prophet in mind. They are looking for one like Moses which had been promised to them by Moses in Deuteronomy 18: 17 & 18. “I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers; I will put my words in his mouth and he will tell them everything I command him.” Again John denies that he is who they are looking for. We know from Acts 3:17 – 26 that the prophet Moses is talking about is Jesus.

Finally the priests and Levites who are questioning John get frustrated and just ask John to tell them who he is so they have something to say to those who sent them. John replies with another prophesy that tells exactly who he is. He quotes Isaiah 40:3 –“I am the voice of one calling in the desert, ‘Make straight the way for the Lord.’” In this way he clearly identifies himself as the forerunner to the Messiah that their prophet Isaiah had told them about. He is also telling them that his role and ministry is to prepare the hearts of the people for the coming of the Messiah. This was especially necessary since Jesus was not going to be the kind of Messiah that they were looking for. Jesus would come to save men from their sins, not to save them from Roman oppression. He would come to give them the inner peace within their hearts that comes from a personal relationship with God, not political peace by defeating Rome. John’s job was to help the people see that they were sinners, to repent of that sin and desire to change their lives to live in obedience to God. He showed them that they needed a savior to save them from the penalty of their sin because they couldn’t do it themselves. It was a message that many embraced, but those in power were threatened by. It is a message that is still valid today.

John was a man who not only knew who he was, but he also knew who he was not. John knew what people were saying about him. He could claim to be the Messiah and many would believe him. If he did that, he would instantly have fame and importance, power and wealth. Instead, he is humble and honest. He doesn’t claim to be more than he is. Neither does he claim to be less. He could say to God, “I am not good enough to do this find someone else” or “I just want to live a normal life, why can’t I be like everybody else?” He could worry about what others would think about him; after all he did dress and eat funny. Rather, he embraced his destiny. He took the responsibility that God gave him. I read about John and I have to ask myself, “Do I know who I am, do I know what God wants me to do?” God promises that he has a purpose for all of us. Ephesians 2:10 –“For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” I must admit that I struggle with doing what God wants me to do. I just want to be like everybody else. It is easier to be anonymous than responsible. But when I think of all He has done for me, I want to be obedient. After all, how will my life have purpose if I don’t fulfill the purpose God has for me?

Thank you for taking the time to read this study, you can continue with a Pharisee's view of John the Baptist.

What does it mean to me?

Do you know what God's purpose for you is? If not, why not ask him to show you. No matter what your job or place in life, there is something you can do for him. It could be as simple as being kind or helping someone.


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