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The One Who Comes After
April 4, 1993

MATTHEW 3:1-12

My name is John. Jesus and I were cousins; actually we were second cousins. We were tied together by blood--we were kin. We were prophets. We preached the same message. But, I gradually discovered to my amazement; my cousin Jesus was the One Who Comes After.

I was called John the Baptist because I baptized. Actually, John the Baptizer is more accurate. I preached throughout the province of Galilee, and baptized followers in the Jordan River.

My message was simple--simple to preach, simple to understand, but difficult to practice. My message, which Jesus also preached, was "Repent, for the Kingdom of God is at hand."

I had a deep passion for my people and for my country. I could see catastrophic judgment approaching. They called me a prophet like Elijah; not because I could prophesy the future, but because I could see clearly what was happening around me. It didn't take too much insight to see that people were drifting far from God and far from how God wanted us to live. And, when people drift away, the consequences of their actions inevitably follow. If you plant weeds, you will harvest weeds. If you plant grapes, you will harvest grapes.

I told them to repent--to turn around--to be sorry for the way they were living. Turn around, turn to God, get their sins forgiven, and live lives worthy of God's people.

They asked me what to do. They asked how they should live. I told them, "Simple--share with the needy. Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none. Whoever has food must share with the hungry."

Tax collectors asked me what they should do. I told them, "Collect no more than the allotted amount. Be honest and fair in your dealings. Don't cheat, don't collect more than the tax, and keep the difference for yourself!"

Soldiers asked me what they should do. I told them, "Don't extort money from people by taking advantage of your position. Don't threaten or intimidate people."

I preached honesty, fair dealings, integrity As a sign of their willingness to repent, be forgiven, and live ethical lives, I baptized them.

I even baptized Jesus. What a day that was! He was just beginning his ministry, but I had a premonition of the mighty acts he would do. I told him he should baptize me, but he insisted that I baptize him.

Some people wondered if I were the Messiah, if I were the chosen One of God who was to come to save our nation from the Romans. I told them, "I baptize with water, but the One who comes after me, the One who is more powerful than I, will baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire. He will come with his fork to separate the wheat from the chaff. He will gather the wheat into the granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire."

One day soldiers came--not to ask me how to repent, but to arrest me. I had offended King Herod. I criticized his wife Herodias, and told King Herod it was not lawful, not right for him to marry Herodias who was already married to his brother, Philip. For preaching the truth, for proclaiming God's standards, for demanding accountability of the King to God's law, I was arrested.

While in prison, I began to hear reports of my cousin Jesus' ministry. I knew there was something special about him. Before I was born, while still in my mother's womb, Mary came to visit. Mary was pregnant with Jesus at the time. It has been told to me that when she entered the house and greeted my mother, I leaped for joy in my mother's womb.

I knew there was something special about Jesus, and when I began hearing about some of the things he was saying and doing, I sent two messengers to ask Jesus, "Are the One who is to come?" Jesus did not answer the question directly but told my messengers, "Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, the poor receive good news." My heart warmed within me when I heard this report. I was truly humbled to have baptized Jesus. Imagine! I baptized the One who Comes After. I baptized the Messiah!

My joy was short lived, however. Not only was I in prison, but I was in even deeper trouble. For preaching against King Herod and Queen Herodias, I had incurred her wrath. She never forgave me, and just waited for the opportunity to get me.

It happened on Herod's birthday. He gave a party. All the important people were there. Herodias' daughter danced, and evidently enchanted the guests. King Herod was so captivated with her dancing, he impulsively said to her, "Ask me for whatever you wish, and I will give it." She, with the connivance of her mother, asked for my head on a platter. I was executed--beheaded--that same night.

My cousin, Jesus, was also executed. They hung him on a cross. Why? He had no guile, no sin! His crime? He stood up for the poor, and he dared to challenge those in authority. Jesus, the Messiah, the Chosen One, the One Who Comes After,

did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of human beings. Being found in human form, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross. Wherefore, God has highly exalted him, and bestowed on him the name which is above every name; that at the name of Jesus, every knee shall bow in heaven and on earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

© 1993 Douglas I. Norris