The men who spent three and a half years with Jesus of Nazareth were compelled to declare Him God’s long-promised Messiah. The gospel accounts confirm their integrity by painting a brutally honest picture of these men. That they endured incredible hardships (including gruesome deaths) for the sake of what they believed further demonstrates their conviction. Though they were initially slow to accept the full meaning of the Messianic prophecies, they were later convinced beyond the shadow of a doubt that Jesus of Nazareth is the Christ. Lord willing, over the next few posts, I plan to look at some of the prophecies that convinced these men and that have in turn convinced me of Jesus’s identity. As I mentioned in a previous post, the book of Isaiah is ancient. Isaiah prophesied in the days of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, a period of roughly 50 years (~739-690 B.C). The book that bears the prophet’s name contains a wealth of Messianic prophecies. Isaiah is so Messianic in nature that some Christian writers have dubbed it “the fifth gospel,” likening it to the accounts of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.
Isaiah 40 records a key Messianic prophecy concerning the forerunner of Christ.
A voice of one calling: “In the desert prepare the way for the LORD; make straight in the wilderness a highway for our God. Every valley shall be raised up, every mountain and hill made low; the rough ground shall become level, the rugged places a plain. And the glory of the LORD will be revealed, and all mankind together will see it. For the mouth of the LORD has spoken” (verses 3-5).
Isaiah forecast a day when a voice would cry out from desolate regions, urging people to prepare for the revelation of God’s glory. God would humble the mighty, exalt the lowly, transform the dishonest into honest, and teach all submission. God would remove all obstacles and all humanity would witness His work.
In their gospel accounts, Matthew and Luke introduce us to an unusual man, John the Baptist. He came “preaching in the Desert of Judea.” John proclaimed a simple message, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.” People flocked from the neighboring regions to hear John preach. The preaching of John resonated with the lowly in spirit, provoking the sincere to confess their sins and receive a water baptism in the Jordan River. Through John, God exalted the humble. In mercy, the heavenly Father granted the penitent the forgiveness of sins. When asked by the people, “What shall we do,” John urged generosity, integrity, compassion, and contentment (Luke 3:10-14).
This revolutionary ministry incited a level of anticipation among the people: “The people were waiting expectantly and were all wondering in their hearts if John might possibly be the Christ” (Luke 3:15). John insisted this was not so, “I baptize you with water. But one more powerful than I will come, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire” (Luke 3:16). Rather than assume the mantle, John exhorted the people to look for the one to follow him; one of greater stature with a superior message. In other words, John prepared the way for one who was to follow.
The common folks were not the only ones interested in John’s message. The Pharisees and Sadducees, two important ruling sects, came to hear what John had to say. To these prominent men John spoke plainly:
“You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not think you can say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire. I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me will come one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not fit to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor, gathering his wheat into the barn and burning up the chaff with unquenchable fire.”
John humbled the mighty with his words. Like those who sincerely accepted John’s preaching, these renowned men were sinners who needed forgiveness. The one who followed John would condemn those who trusted in their heritage, or their power, or their scrupulous service. “Prepare yourselves for His arrival or face the consequences,” was John’s warning. John withheld his righteous judgment from no leader: he “rebuked Herod the tetrarch because of Herodias, his brother’s wife, and all the other evil things he had done,” for which Herod imprisoned the bold prophet of God (Luke 3:19-20). John’s message was the great and lowly alike. One is coming and you must prepare yourselves or face judgment.
John’s father believed his son was the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy from his birth. Filled with the Holy Spirit, Zechariah predicted, “And you, my child, will be called a prophet of the Most High; for you will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for him” (Luke 1:76). Matthew, Mark, and Luke testify that John was the “voice of one calling in the desert, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.’” Even Paul obliquely referred to Isaiah when he said to the early Ephesians disciples concerning John, “He told the people to believe in the one coming after him, that is, in Jesus” (Acts 19:4). Lest we be mistaken, John himself believed he fulfilled Isaiah’s prediciton:
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 an 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'” (John 1:19-23).
Every witness of John – from his earthly father, to the apostles, to first century evangelists, to the prophet himself – recognized John as the forerunner Isaiah predicted 700 years prior to his arrival.