John the Baptizer is revered not only in Christianity but also in Islam, the Bahai’ faith and other religions. Why is he so important? I think the official answer to that is because he announced the One who would come after him. In that sense he was not a follower of Christ, but had more faith and trust than Jesus ever asked of his disciples.
The church celebrates his birth as well as his death. Only two other figures have their births celebrated in the church’s calendar: Jesus and Mary. He is looked upon as the greatest of the biblical prophets, more important than Jeremiah, Isaiah, Ezekiel and the others. In fact, Jesus said of him that ‘among those born of women, none is greater than John’ – Luke 7; 28
John was a fiery preacher just like the prophets of the bible were. And just like them, he spoke challenging words; words that challenged people to higher and nobler things, to truer and more loving lives. His preaching came to an end because he spoke the truth about King Herod, a conniving womanizer who had a lot of power and little conscience.
Like the prophets of old, John offered hope to people who were oppressed by the Pharaohs and Caesars of the world, and poisoned by the fake religion offered by high priests in their temples. The Promised Land flowing with milk and honey to which Moses had led the people out of Egypt had become, in the baptizer’s time, a desert and a wilderness without life or hope. But John knew things were about to change and he couldn’t keep quiet.
He preached the imminent arrival of the long-promised and long-awaited Messiah. Jesus would come and tell us that God loved us, was there for us no matter what, and all was forgiven.
“We are first called to be a community of celebration, celebrating the life Christ calls us to, the life given us to share together and then to give away for the sake of the world. We become a community of prophetic resistance to whatever diminishes life. But resistance flows from a joyful sense of praise and loving celebration” – Jim Wallis, CALL TO CONVERSION, 135.
Does the Baptizer have a message for the churches today?