THE PROPHET IN THE WILDERNESS

Matthew 3:1 to 17; Mark 1:1 to 11; Luke 3: 1 to 22.





E come now to a time when Jesus, the son of Mary, was a young man about thirty years of age. John, the son of the old priest Zacharias, was six months older, but these two young men had never met, for one was in the north at Nazareth, and the other was living in the desert on the south of Judea. Suddenly the news went through all the land of Israel that a prophet had risen up and was giving to the people the word of the Lord. It was more than four hundred years since God had sent a prophet to his people; and when it was known that again a man was speaking what God had told him, and not what he had learned by studying the old writings, a thrill went through the hearts of all the people. From all parts of the land, out of cities and villages, people poured forth to the wild region beside the river Jordan, where the new prophet was preaching the word of the Lord.

This prophet was John, the son of Zacharias. He lived in the wilderness, where he was alone with God and listened to Gods voice. Then he spoke to the people the words that God had given to him. In his looks and dress John was not like other men. His garment was made of rough cloth woven from camels hair; around his waist was a girdle of skin; and the food which he ate was dried locusts and the wild honey from the trees. And this wag his message, "Turn from sin to doing right, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand, and the King is soon to come. The people came to hear his words, and when they asked him, "What shall we do?" John said to them, "He that has two coats, let him give to him that has none; and he that has food, more than he needs, let him give to him that is hungry." The men who gathered the taxes, and were called publicans, asked of John, "Master, what shall we do?" And John answered them, "Do not cheat the people, nor rob them, nor take more money than the law tells you to take from them."

And when the soldiers came to him, he said to them, "Do not harm any one, nor bring false charges against any; and be content with the wages that are paid to you." There came to John some people who were called Pharisees. These men made a great show of being good, and of worshipping often, and of keeping the law of Moses. But in their hearts they were evil, and their goodness was not real. John said to these men when he saw them, "0 ye brood of vipers! Who has told you to escape from the wrath of God that is soon to come? Turn from your sins to God, and do right. And do not say to yourselves, Abraham is our father, for God is able out of these stones to raise up children to Abraham."

When men who heard the words of John wished to give themselves up to serve God and to do his will, John baptized them in the river Jordan, as a. sign that their sins were washed away. And because of this he was called "John the Baptist." Some of the people began to ask, "Is not this man the Christ whom God promised long ago to send to rule over the people?" John heard this, and he said, "I baptize you with water, but there is one coming after me who is greater than I. He shall baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. He is so high above me that I am not worthy even to stoop down and untie the strings of his shoes. This mighty one who is coming shall sift out the wheat from the chaff among the people. The wheat he will gather into his garner, but the chaff he will burn up with fire that no man can put out." Nearly all the people in the land came to hear John in the wilderness, and were baptized by him. Among the last who came was Jesus, the young carpenter from Nazareth. When John saw Jesus something within told John that here was one greater and holier than himself. He said to Jesus, "I have need to be baptized by thee, and comest thou to me?"

Jesus answered him, "Let it be so now, for it is fitting that I should do all things that are right." Then John baptized Jesus, as he had baptized others. And as Jesus came up out of the water, and was praying, John saw above the head of Jesus the heavens opening, and the Holy Spirit coming down like a dove and lighting upon him. And John heard from heaven a voice saying: "This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased." And then John knew and told to others that this was the Son of God, the Christ whom God had promised to send to the people.