Saturday, February 27, 2010

The Inspector General

("Jesus gives John drink from a shell"
--Murillo, 1670)

The Word for today:

Matthew 11:1-14


"I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance, but He who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire." (Matthew 3:11)

"Brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Therefore bear fruits worthy of repentance, and do not think to say to yourselves, 'We have Abraham as our father.' For I say to you that God is able to raise up children to Abraham from these stones. And even now the ax is laid to the root of the trees. Therefore every tree which does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire."(Matthew 3:7-10)

More than a prophet:
"A prophet? yea, I say unto you, and more than a prophet." (Matthew 11:9)

This he, of whom it is written, "Behold, I send my messenger before thy face, which shall prepare thy way before thee." (Matthew 11:10)

And John himself was clothed in camel's hair, with a leather belt around his waist; and his food was locusts and wild honey. (Matthew 3:4)

Spiritual giant:
"Verily I say unto you, Among them that are born of women there hath not risen a greater than John the Baptist." (Matthew 11:11)

Spiritual commando:
He didn't knock on the door of heaven, and he didn't pick the lock. He kicked the door down--
"And from the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and the violent take it by force." (Matthew 11:12)

But all of these were secondary roles. John the Baptist's foremost role was that of highest priest (1). In today's terms we might call him God's Inspector General.

To understand John's role, we must go way back to Exodus. There we learn that the priests were to be descended from Moses' brother, Aaron. John was in the line of Aaron, son of the priest Zechariah and his wife Elizabeth.

We also learn that a lamb which was to be offered as a sacrifice for sin was first kept for four days in the household (Exodus 12:3-6).

After four days, the lamb was taken to the Temple, where the priest would inspect the lamb to see that it was without spot or blemish. If the lamb passed the priest's inspection, the sins of the people were ceremonially confessed over the animal. Then the lamb was placed on the altar of burnt offering, taking the fire of God's judgment against sin. (See Leviticus 1.)

John the Baptist was Jesus' cousin. John knew Jesus before either of them were born:
In those days Mary arose and went with haste into the hill country, to a town in Judah, and she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the baby leaped in her womb. (Luke 1:39-41)

Since Mary and Elizabeth were so close, it can be assumed that John and Jesus grew together. In fact they were not only close but in some ways alike: the last verse of Luke 1 telling us that John grew and became strong in spirit; the last verse of Luke 2 telling us that Jesus grew in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man.

And so time turned days into years. Learning to walk and talk and run together, the boys turned into men.

At 30 years of age, God presented his Lamb to the highest priest:
The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him... (John 1:29)

Kin to Jesus, he'd grown up with the Lamb. Highest priest of God, he'd upheld God's moral standard more strictly than any priest in all of Aaron's lineage. God had placed John in unique position to be his Inspector.

Having found no spot or flaw, John pronounced the Lamb worthy for the altar of sacrifice:

"Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!"


(1) Technically, Jesus is the Highest Priest, of the order of Melchizedek. John, in this writer's view, is the highest priest of the Levitical order, descended from Aaron. See Hebrews 7:11 and Psalm 110:4.

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