When I was younger, I went to a few concerts. These concerts were a lot of fun and I got to see some great bands. There was a process that the experience went through. In just about every concert I went to, there was a lesser known band that played as a warm up to the main band. The idea behind the warm up band was that as they played, you would get in the mood to cheer and be ready to give the main band a wild welcome once they took over the stage and that the cheering would continue. There were a few times that I enjoyed the warm up band so much that I couldn’t believe that the main band could be better, and yet, it was. And that realization made me cheer all the more, even though I lost my voice cheering them on.
As our Bible reading shifts back to Luke and the Christmas story, we begin reading about the circumstances leading up to the birth of John, the ultimate “warm up act.” John was the forerunner for Jesus. His parents knew before he was born that he had been called to prepare the way of the Lord. While his calling in life was to be second fiddle, he had an important role to prepare the way for Jesus. “He will bring back many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God. And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the parents to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous—to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.” (Luke 1:16-17 NIV)
Israel had gone a long time without a word from the Lord. They had seen no prophet, no great leader, except for, perhaps, the Maccabees. Perhaps they thought that God had forsaken them. Perhaps they thought that God didn’t care about them anymore. Maybe some had experienced the power of the father exercised by the Romans and had begun to accept and embrace Roman ways. Whatever was happening, people needed to get right with God again. John had a mission from God: he was to get people thinking about God’s ways again. Parents were created to love their children. The Roman belief that some children could be thrown away was not part of God’s plan back then, nor is it now. Those who were straying from the faith were to be led back into the wisdom of the righteous. John’s message was to be harsh, and strict. Many would respond and repent of their sin. Ultimately, though, people began recognizing how far they had strayed from God, opening the door to the message of grace that Jesus taught. John would preach, and the people would want more, and in the end, they got Jesus.
The preaching of John opened the way for the message of grace that only Jesus could preach. The message if repentance reminded people of their sins; it drove people to respond in ways that showed that they were living according to God’s law, and yet, there was still something missing. As much as people sought to follow the law, they recognized that there had to be more. When John baptized Jesus, and then later told his disciples that Jesus was the one to follow, many of them left John without hesitation. Even those closest to him knew they needed more of God, and from God. To put it in show business terms again, John was the warm up act. People who didn’t realize that got excited about his preaching, but then Jesus, the main act, took the stage, and people realized who the real star was. John went from signing autographs with his groupies, to telling people which way to go to hear Jesus.
Lord, when we read about John, we read of a man that Jesus called great. His message reminds us of how we fall short of Your plan. Still, his message pales in comparison to the message of grace we find in Jesus. Give me Your grace and help me to show Your grace to others.
Scripture taken from the Holy Bible, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.