“Camel’s hair, wild honey and locusts”
Malachi 3:1-4, Luke 3:1-6
Today is the second Sunday of Advent. Today’s texts, a portion of lectionary readings, are from Malachi, chapter 3 and Luke, chapter 3, about John the Baptist as the messenger preparing the way before the Lord’s coming. We have read, heard and learned about John the Baptist from our childhood; we seem to know almost everything about him, how he served God, leading people to repentance, baptizing them with water before the Christ came on the scene, how he was beheaded and ended his life. Let’s go over again about John the Baptist and listen to today’s message God has given to us.
As there are prophecies about Christ coming in the Old Testament, there are also prophecies about John the Baptist in the Old Testament although not many. Isaiah chapter 40:1, “The voice of one crying in the wilderness, ‘Make ready the way of the Lord, make His paths straight”, and Malachi chapter 3:1, “See, I am sending my messenger to prepare the way before me, and the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple.” These two places prophesying about the messenger coming preparing the way of the Lord, and we Christians take John the Baptist as the one. One of the major reasons for believing that is because in Malachi chapter 4:5 also prophesied, “See, I will send you the prophet Elijah before that great and dreadful day of the Lord comes” and Jesus himself confirmed that John the Baptist was the one who came “in the spirit of Elijah” preparing the way for Him.
Before we go any further, I have to mention that because of this Malachi 4:5, “I will send you the prophet of Elijah” or Jesus stating that John the Baptist came in the spirit of Elijah, some say, they can trace reincarnation belief in the Bible. I had a conversation the other day with a clergy couple in a Christian clergy gathering. The spouse of a clergy said that he is not a Christian, but he is more into interfaith believing all other religions have truth ultimately leading all people to God. I wanted to respond to him saying that there is no such notion in the bible, but I didn’t.
What do you think? Does our Bible believe in reincarnation, rebirth? NO! For one thing, if Elijah will ever come back before the second coming of Christ as in Malachi chapter 4, as one of the two witnesses doing ministry during the great tribulation period before the Christ’s Return as we can find in Revelation chapter 11, we have to know Elijah did not die physically on this earth. He was taken up alive to heaven being caught in a chariot of fire and horses of fire. So when and if he comes back, it will not be a rebirth for him; it will be a continuation of his life as Elijah.
Then, what does it mean by John the Baptist fulfilled his role as the messenger preparing the way of the Lord “in the spirit of Elijah”? If we list the things about both Elijah and John the Baptist, such as how they lived, what they wore and ate, what were the main messages they preached, etc., those things will help us better to understand what it means that John the Baptist fulfilled his role as the messenger of the Lord “in the spirit of Elijah.”
First of all, we note from the Isaiah 40, “a voice calling in the wilderness” which is seemingly depicting the physical location where John the Baptist first appeared, but we know that it denotes the spiritual barrenness in his time in the land as it was in Elijah’s time. As we have covered, in the time of Elijah, it was the spiritually darkest time in the history of Northern Kingdom of Israel before they were destroyed and dispersed. The official state religion was not YHWH worship, but Baal and Asherah worship. Elijah was the only prophet left in the land preaching God’s message, whereas both Baal and Asherah had 450 priests each, 900 in total. Although there were 7000 hidden believers in YHWH God, who did not worship Baal and Asherah, they were silent not speaking up at all in the name of YHWH. In a situation where everyone seemed to follow Baal and Asherah ridiculing and mocking believers of YHWH as foolish, it might have been difficult for them to say anything for YHWH. In a situation like that, Elijah, only Elijah was the one who spoke as his prophetic mission was to bring Israel back to the worship of God. He repeatedly exhorted the people to repent of their sin and return to God and warned them of the judgment from God that awaited them if they did not. From spiritually barren condition, in the wilderness, Elijah called out people to repent and to return to YHWH to the true God.
In this spirit of Elijah calling for repentance, John the Baptist cried out in the wilderness, condemning sin, urging the people of Judea to confess and repent of their sins in preparation for the imminent coming of the Messiah (Jesus), and baptizing them in the Jordan River as a sign of their repentance.
John was living in the time of spiritual barrenness as it was in Elijah’s time. No messages of true God were preached in the synagogues and temple. Remember? Out of all those religious people, Simeon and Anna were the only spiritually awaken people who had been waiting for the Messiah to come and met him in person when Jesus was born. Many wealthy and prominent priests and teachers of the Law were in the land of Judea at the time, yet people were living in the “wilderness” where they could not find water, the living water. They were dying of thirst and hunger for the true word of God. In such spiritually barren condition, John the Baptist cried out, “Repent and return to the Lord, the kingdom of God is near.” John was beheaded for speaking the truth of God even to King Herod, “What you are doing is not right”, repent your sin!
We all know that both Elijah and John the Baptist both wore camel’s hair and leather covering for their loins. Many explanations can be given for what they wore, camel’s hair and leather covering: some would say that was the typical prophet’s attire in the Old Testament time, or that was the clothing of the poorest people at the time. But when we think about a camel, what camel does, we can learn something deeper than that. As we all know, camel is a desert animal that endures days in scorching hot in the desert while transporting precious cargo. John the Baptist wearing this camel hair symbolizes him being in the desert, spiritual barrenness, enduring the scorching oppositions and trials, carrying precious cargo, God’s message of salvation. Leather covering symbolizes Christ’s sacrifice and blood, covering our shame and sins as an animal leaves skin after it died. John the Baptist preaching the message about the kingdom of God, about repentance, about Messiah the lamb of God who was to come and die for our sins. Only through Christ Jesus, we can come to God, he preached. In John’s gospel chapter 1:29, John the Baptist exclaimed when he first encountered Jesus, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” Repent and return you all to God and be saved!!
John the Baptist ate wild honey and locusts, a sign of self-denial, humility and repentance, denying our fleshly desires and things of the world, –a reminder that how much we focus on earning, preparing what we eat satisfying our fleshly desires, a reminder that we need to focus on what our mission is, instead of focusing on satisfying our fleshly desires that have little to do with kingdom of God.
John was the messenger before the coming Messiah, preparing the way of the Lord, making his paths straight. Luke 3:5-6, basically about John the Baptist encouraging those people who were hitting the rock bottom in their lives with the hope in Jesus the Christ, He exhorted arrogant and prideful people to be humble, urged sinners to be corrected of their crooked way.
With this said, I would like to remind you that “Advent” refers to the second coming of Christ. And Christ will be coming soon as we see that the end time prophesies are being fulfilled in our days. In this time and age, who is John as the messengers preparing the way of the Lord who will be coming soon? Who are the ones that are sent in the spirit of Elijah calling people to repentance and urging people to return? We are the ones. God wants to prepare people’s heart for the coming Lord through us. Before the great and dreadful days of the Lord, God sent us to people around us to prepare their hearts. The question is whether we are doing our mission faithfully. What does it mean for us to endure scorching heat in the desert carrying precious cargo, God’s message of love to people around us?
There is a missionary who is doing ministry for homeless and street people in London for 20 years. His name is Paul Song. He faced life-threatening situations at least 13 times being attacked by groups of gangsters, with a knife, beaten to death with baseball bats or threatened with lethal weapons during his homeless and street ministry. Literally, every day before he goes out to the street to preach even to this day, he prepares himself to be martyred since he does not know when and how he will be attacked in the street. One day, when he was preaching the message of salvation in a street of London, a former professional boxer came, very tall and huge with a mean look on his face. He asked Paul Song, the missionary, “Can I beat you up?” When Paul Song looked at him, he could see that he was full of hatred and anger in his eyes. He felt the Lord’s prompting to let this man beat him up. Paul Song responded and told him, “wait” and he braced the bible and fixed the Bible with his two arms to his chest. The reason for doing that was because Paul Song was a former policeman in Korea. He has been trained in martial arts and skills in knowing how to defend himself. He did not want to defend himself unconsciously as he was being beaten. After that, Paul Song told him, “Okay. I am ready!” This man started beating him up targeting his face only. Soon his face was covered with blood. Still, Paul Song did not avoid his punches. After a few minutes, this man who beat him up as hard as he wanted, yet still Paul Song did not fight him back, he realized. He could not go on beating him up but collapsed at his feet and asked him, “How could you not fight me back?” and he started crying. Paul Song knelt before him and touched his trembling shoulders and said, “My brother, Jesus loves you and I love you, too!” His anger and hatred this former boxer had been accumulating from his past hurts and wounds which later turned into anger and hatred toward other people and the world, that started melted and tumbled down when he encountered Jesus’ love through Paul Song. He became a preacher himself as a result of Paul being a messenger of God’s salvation.
We, messengers, are to spread God’s love even in the face oppositions, persecutions and trials without compromising the truth to our desires, wishes, and likings. When people attack us, we tend to attack back. When people pick a fight, we tend to fight back. When people defame us, we tend to get even, holding grudges. When people repay evil for good, we tend to respond to them in kind. Christ wants us to be faithful ambassadors of God’s love, being transparent of God’s love toward others with absolute love, with absolute forgiveness, —with the love Christ has loved us. That is the only way we can be effective messengers of God. May God give us the strength, courage, and love to carry out our missions in God!!