As John the Baptist comes on the scene to announce the coming of the Messiah, he reaches back to the prophet Isaiah for his call and his message.
Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and proclaim to her that her hard service has been completed, that her sin has been paid for, that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins. A voice of one calling: “In the wilderness prepare the way for the Lord; make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be raised up, every mountain and hill made low; the rough ground shall become level, the rugged places a plain. And the glory of the Lord will be revealed, and all people will see it together. For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.” (Isaiah 40:1-5)
Their message was one of promise and hope. But that hope was centered on the LORD, and not on any human endeavor, people or person.
Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom. He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint. (Isaiah 40:28-31)
But as we know, John’s message (and the words of Christ who came after him) were at times not all that comforting of a message. They were a call to repent; a call to heed God’s word and learn from the history of God’s people. And that was the same message Isaiah spoke back in the 8th Century B.C.
Do you not know? Have you not heard? Has it not been told you from the beginning? Have you not understood since the earth was founded? He sits enthroned above the circle of the earth, and its people are like grasshoppers. He stretches out the heavens like a canopy, and spreads them out like a tent to live in. He brings princes to naught and reduces the rulers of this world to nothing. No sooner are they planted, no sooner are they sown, no sooner do they take root in the ground, than he blows on them and they wither, and a whirlwind sweeps them away like chaff. (Isaiah 40:21-24)
In Isaiah’s day, that message was for God’s people. The Jews of the northern kingdom of Israel would be swept away into captivity by the Assyrians. And the southern kingdom of Judah would be saved from the same fate (at the time at least) only by the courageous preaching of the prophet Isaiah and the obedient faith of King Hezekiah.
Like Isaiah, John’s message was one of fiery judgment, and not just “All is well; God loves you; you’re just fine.” It seems that, however, is the only message our culture wants to hear from God. Anything else and we are considered unkind, unloving, judgmental and intolerant.
Guess that puts us squarely in the same boat with Isaiah. And John. And Jesus. I think I’m okay with that.