“What in the world were they going out to see?” This is the question that occurred to me the first time I read about the crowds going out to see John the Baptist. Mark tells us that it seemed like all of Jerusalem and the Province of Judea were going out to him, in the wilderness. John is following none of the modern rules of evangelism or church planting. He is not going to where people are and engaging them in their particular context. Instead he is to all appearance a misfit, dressed oddly in camel skins and has a strange diet of locusts and wild honey. Yet all these people thronged to him! Why?
The message as recorded doesn’t seem that attractive either. “Repent.” is his message. This is not a message that is usually gladly received. It means that you are doing something wrong. You are going the wrong way! No one likes to hear that they are wrong, let alone travel into the barren wilderness to be told this. John’s message contained much more than “You are wrong ! Get turned around!” He was herald announcing the long awaited Kingdom of God was being ushered in.
John like a royal herald was announcing, after generations of silence, the age of the ‘Messiah’s Reign’ was about to begin. His call was to prepare our hearts and minds for this new reality. The Kingdom of justice and peace was at hand. John was saying if we were to fully enter this Kingdom we must first renounce allegiance to the Kingdom of this world.
People gladly heard John not because of what they were to give up through repentance but what they were to receive as citizens of the Kingdom of God. This is what drew them to him so magnetically.
John heralded the coming of the Messiah, Jesus many years ago as the rule of Christ was declared. Today we live in that reign begun in those heady days of John, and we await the second advent of the Lord. He will one day establish peace and justice firmly and finally. In the meantime we partner with our Lord in actively living out his reign in our lives as we live as his agents of peace and justice. This is the good news that drew people to John and it remains as a gospel that resonates in this weary old world today.