A Case of Mistaken Identity
Usually mistaken identity is embarrassing or amusing, but sometimes it can be a real problem and danger. It has wrongly destroyed reputations and even sent innocent people to their deaths. When it comes to religion, it can have serious consequences as well. Luke 3:7-18 involves such a case. Because of his works and words—and all those coming to be baptized by him—people are wondering whether John the Baptist might be the Messiah.
I love the line John uses to address the crowd “You brood of vipers! Who warned you too flee from the wrath to come?” (3:7-8) Then he says don't give me that family tree stuff—being related to Abraham—because a tree is known not by its roots, but by its fruits. What then should we do the people asked? John gives them an answer that applies to us as well. “Don't grab, give; don't accumulate, share. If you have two coats give the one without. Don’t extort, don’t blackmail… be content with what you have.” After all this, they start wondering whether John might be the One—the long-hoped-for Messiah. John answers them and says, "I baptized with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming: I am not worthy to unite the thong of his sandals. He will baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire.” (Luke 3:16)
John was sent to prepare the way for the Messiah–for Jesus. When Jesus was baptized by his cousin John, the Spirit came upon him and a voice from the heavens said, "You are my son, the Beloved, with you I am well pleased." (Luke 3:22) That left no doubt that Jesus was the Messiah and that John was a prophet preparing people for his arrival.
We, too, must be careful about to what we look as a ‘messiah’ in our lives. Is it truly the Lord Jesus Christ or is it something else? What do we look for as our object of worship? What–or who–do we trust in to save us? Something that provides financial security or provides us with what we want when we want it and can be managed as we see fit? Something that promises certainty? False messiahs can feel good for a moment, but they will ultimately fail us.
No, John the Baptist nor any man-made object of worship are not the Messiah, but it was his cousin Jesus–the One that died for our sins and worship of false gods–that was and still is. Thank God!