Is a long life synonymous with influence? Perhaps. I can think of a few politicians that have been in office way too long. The length of your life, however, isn’t necessarily relative to the effect you have on the world. It’s how you choose to use your life, not the length of it, that matters. How familiar are you with these names: Anne Frank, Joan of Arc, Alexander the Great, Mozart? Their names live on, not because they lived a long time, but because of what they did in the few short years they lived. (Anne Frank died at age 15; Joan of Arc, 19; Alexander the Great, 33; Mozart, 35.)
Today’s read of Luke 3 reminded me that a life “cut short” by our estimation can have a great impact if it’s used for God’s glory. John the Baptist was just six months older than his cousin, Jesus. His public ministry began shortly before Jesus appeared on the scene. John was surely taught and trained by his father, Zacharias the priest; he was well-versed in the Law and Prophecies, and God had revealed to him that his cousin was the promised Messiah. He lived a wild life, preaching and living in the desert, eating locusts and honey. He was bold, even brash, holding nothing back as he confronted the hypocritical Pharisees, referring to them as a brood of vipers and calling them to repentance.
John is most famous, of course, for baptizing Jesus. The appearance of the dove (Holy Spirit) and the voice from heaven affirmed for John that Jesus was indeed the Christ, the One who would “baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire” (3:16). As the last of the Old Testament prophets, John completed his mission as the forerunner of Jesus.
John’s message is unique because he was a prophet, yet looked into the face of the fulfillment of the very words he spoke. He points to Jesus, the gentle healer and teacher, as the fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecies which refer to what we know will be His second coming. He connected the dots so clearly that those who knew the prophecies had no excuse.
Luke 3:4-6 – As it is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet, “The voice of one crying in the wilderness, make ready the way of the Lord, make His paths straight. Every ravine will be filled, and every mountain and hill will be brought low; the crooked will become straight, and the rough roads smooth; and all flesh will see the salvation of God.”
Luke 3:16-17 – John answered and said to them all, “As for me, I baptize you with water; but One is coming who is mightier than I, and I am not fit to untie the thong of His sandals; He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in His hand to thoroughly clear His threshing floor, and to gather the wheat into His barn; but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.”
Micah 1:3-4 – For behold, the Lord is coming forth from His place, He will come down and tread on the high places of the earth. The mountains will melt under Him and the valleys will be split, like wax before the fire, like water poured down a steep place.
Zechariah 14:4 – In that day His feet will stand on the Mount of Olives, which is in front of Jerusalem on the east; and the Mount of Olives will be split in its middle from east to west by a very large valley, so that half of the mountain will move toward the north and the other half toward the south.
The book of Revelation tells us these prophecies will be fulfilled when the seventh bowl of God’s wrath is poured out in that final battle with the antichrist at Armageddon when Christ appears. An earthquake greater than any since the world began will occur; islands will disappear, and mountains will be flattened (Revelation 16:17-21). Jesus will appear a bit differently this time: From His mouth comes a sharp sword, so that with it He may strike down the nations, and He will rule them with a rod of iron; and He treads the wine press of the fierce wrath of God, the Almighty (Revelation 19:15).
John preached a fiery message of repentance for sin because He saw the fullness of God’s plan in Jesus. He was not only the suffering Savior who would take on the sins of the world and make a way for salvation, but He is also the righteous Judge who will come to judge all evil and rebellion against God in the end. His message was a passionate warning to those in danger of eternal destruction.
In the end, John crossed the wrong political leader. He told Herod the truth – it was wrong for him to have his brother’s wife, and it cost him his life. He was no more than 32 years old when he (literally) lost his head for standing firm on God’s Word.
None of us know how long we have to live. Our life truly is a vapor; we have no guarantees of tomorrow, and it is foolish to think we have “all the time in the world” to do what God has called us to do or to be the people He commands us to be. Let’s be like John, and determine to live boldly, to proclaim Christ without apology, and to warn those in danger of the coming judgment of our Righteous Savior. If we do that, we will influence the world for God’s glory, and we will live exactly as long as it takes to fulfill our mission.