THE PREDECESSOR

Are you struggling with leaving the familiar and moving in a new direction? You aren’t alone. It’s HARD to change. I find this Bible account about the life of John the Baptist very moving. John was the predecessor of Jesus, called to prepare the people for the Savior who would soon begin His ministry. Maybe you find yourself in the same situation, wondering what is God preparing you for.

There was in the days of Herod, the king of Judaea, a certain priest named Zacharias, of the course of Abia: and his wife was of the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elisabeth. And they were both righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless. And they had no child, because that Elisabeth was barren, and they both were now stricken in years. And it came to pass, that while he executed the priest’s office before God in the order of his course, according to the custom of the priest’s office, his lot was to burn incense when he went into the temple of the Lord.” Luke 1: 5-9

“And there appeared unto him an angel of the Lord standing on the right side of the altar of incense, and when Zacharias saw him, he was troubled, and fear fell upon him. But the angel said unto him, Fear not, Zacharias: for thy prayer is heard; and thy wife Elisabeth shall bear thee a son, and thou shalt call his name John. And thou shalt have joy and gladness; and many shall rejoice at his birth. For he shall be great in the sight of the Lord, and shall drink neither wine nor strong drink; and he shall be filled with the Holy Ghost, even from his mother’s womb. And many of the children of Israel shall he turn to the Lord their God. And he shall go before him in the spirit and power of Elias, to turn hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just; to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.” Luke 1:11-17

“And his father Zacharias was filled with the Holy Ghost, and prophesied, saying, Blessed be the Lord God of Israel; for he hath visited and redeemed his people, and hath raised up an horn of salvation for us in the house of David; as he spake by the mouth of his holy prophets, which have been since the world began: that we should be saved from our enemies, and from the hand of all that hate us; to perform the mercy promised to our fathers, and to remember his holy covenant; the oath which he sware to our father Abraham, that he would grant unto us, that we being delivered out of the hand of our enemies might serve him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before him, all the days of our life. And thou, child, shalt be called the prophet of the Highest: for thou shalt go before the face of the Lord to prepare his ways: to give knowledge of salvation unto his people by the remission of their sins, through the tender mercy of our God; whereby the dayspring from on high hath visited us, to give light to them that sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.” Luke 1: 67-79

“And as the people were in expectation, and all men mused in their hearts of John, whether he were the Christ, or not; John answered, saying unto them all, I indeed baptize you with water; but one mightier than I cometh, the latchet of whose shoes I am not worthy to unloose: he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost and with fire: whose fan is in his hand, and he will thoroughly purge his floor, and will gather the wheat into his garner; but the chaff he will burn with fire unquenchable.” Luke 3: 15-17

“John bare witness of him, and cried saying, This was he of whom I spake, He that cometh after me is preferred before me: for he was before me. And of his fulness have all we received, and grace for grace.” John 1: 15-16

“And he confessed, and denied not; but confessed, I am not the Christ.” John 1: 20

“The next day John seeth Jesus coming unto him, and saith, Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world. This is he of whom I said, After me cometh a man which is preferred before me: for he was before me. And I knew him not: but that he should be made manifest to Israel, therefore am I come baptizing with water. And John bare record, saying, I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it abode upon him. And I knew him not: but he that sent me to baptize with water, the same said unto me, Upon whom thou shalt see the Spirit descending, and remaining on him, the same is he which baptizeth with the Holy Ghost, and I saw, and bare record that this is the Son of God.” John 1: 29-34

John, called the Baptist, because “he preached the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins” (Luke 3: 3), was chosen by God from His conception in the womb to prepare the people for the coming of the Messiah, Jesus Christ. He performed a new ritual, that of cleansing the entire man, baptizing each of his converts in the river Jordan. The Hebrews, you see, were used to washing as a ceremonial ritual.

He was about the same age as Jesus, and an actual cousin; his mother, Elisabeth being a cousin to Mary, the mother of Jesus. John spent his life in the desert, clothed in camel’s hair with a girdle of skin, eating locusts and wild honey. He was faithful to do the work He had been called to do, and when it was over, he experienced the same doubts we all do when things change.

Imprisoned by Herod, he sent word to Jesus asking, “Art thou he that should come? Or look we for another?” (Luke 7: 20) Scholars have pondered these questions, wondering if John needed reassurance, or if he was being tested and needed strengthening. They have even considered that John thought someone else might come along as well as Jesus. Many times, even when we know the truth, we still need to ask again. I think of the school child who hears the directions, but asks for clarification and confirmation. Was John touched with doubt? Or was he simply confirming what he already knew, so he could relinquish his role? I believe John was clarifying what he already knew, yet hoping for a new role, possibly participating with Jesus in His ministry. He was aware that Jesus would move into a more prominent role. John himself stated in John 3:30 that his ministry would “decrease” and finally cease. Jesus replies to John’s messengers asking them to tell John about the healings that they have witnessed.

The answer from Jesus brought by his messengers gave John a measure of peace. It confirmed what he already knew. Jesus was the Messiah! John knew now that his mission was not cut off, just completed. Soon John’s life would be taken from him. He was beheaded at the whim of Herod’s lover, Herodias.

Many times we are unwilling to make the changes necessary for God’s ministry to continue in a new direction. We hang on beyond our calling, fearful of being left behind or pushed aside. We forget that God raises up one over another. We forget that His will is sovereign.

“But God is the judge: he putteth down one, and setteth up another.” Psalm 75:7

Years ago, I remember something that my employer told me when I had to resign due to my husband’s job change. He was the Associate Pastor of a mega church, and he told me that he believed that God had sent me to work for him “for such a time as this.” Our church was in the middle of a major building program, and he was needed to perform more tasks than there was time for. He needed a helper. I was privileged to be that helper. When my time was completed, my Lord moved me on. I too felt as John. I wanted to stay. I wanted circumstances to remain the same. I wasn’t ready to go. In fact, I hadn’t even realized that my job was completed. Circumstances do not remain the same. In fact, within two years, an entirely new ministry team was in place at that church. All of the pastors had been called to other churches. A new work had begun.

We need to remember that God calls us to participate in ministry, but we do not own that ministry. It belongs to God, and He is in control of it. Whatever God is preparing you for, He will see it through. Trust Him.

Inspirational writer and photographer.

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