John 1:19 This is the testimony given by John when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?” 20 He confessed and did not deny it, but confessed, “I am not the Messiah.”[a] 21 And they asked him, “What then? Are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not.” “Are you the prophet?” He answered, “No.” 22 Then they said to him, “Who are you? Let us have an answer for those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?” 23 He said,
“I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness,
‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’”
as the prophet Isaiah said.
24 Now they had been sent from the Pharisees. 25 They asked him, “Why then are you baptizing if you are neither the Messiah,[b] nor Elijah, nor the prophet?” 26 John answered them, “I baptize with water. Among you stands one whom you do not know, 27 the one who is coming after me; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandal.” 28 This took place in Bethany across the Jordan where John was baptizing.
Today’s section of John has John the Baptist take center stage for a moment, as the Levites and priests ask who, exactly John is. Are you the prophet? Are you Elijah?” “No,” John says, “I am none of those people or things.” “Who are you to be baptizing people, then?!” they cry. John then exclaims, “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, make straight the way of the Lord!” John will not let us forget that his job is to proclaim Christ’s coming and that baptism is the preparation for doing so, a baptism which Jesus, with the Holy Spirit (and its fire) will perfect.
What wilderness are we proclaiming Jesus’s name from in our own day? In our private lives? Wilderness, in the Old Testament, carries great significance. Israel and its people were surrounded by the ruggedness of desert, rock, and sand but the prophets and psalmist used the image to indicate an inner wilderness that God would transform with his saving love. John’s purpose was to proclaim the coming cleansing of God’s Son by baptizing and calling God’s people into new relationship with Him. As we continue reading John’s Gospel, John the Baptizer calls for us to clear a path for the Lord’s coming into our lives. What does that mean for us, for you and me, right now?