Of course, when John had these amazing teachings which called people to repentance, people started to speculate about him. They asked whether he was the messiah. Because they had been looking for a messiah.
The people John spoke to, the Jewish people, had been living under Roman rule for generations. They had been looking for a leader who would bring them to freedom. The way Moses had brought them from Egypt. The way Isaiah had promised. The way the Maccabees had for awhile.
And John demonstrated the kind of courage a messiah might have. He called the religious leaders “a brood of vipers.” He accused Herod of adulterous machinations. He came out of the wilderness, lived on the edge, gave no concern for what anyone thought. And had great advice about how to live.
Today, we would look at John as a messiah, of sorts. Many would subscribe to his blog, believing that his formula of good behavior had merit. Many would go through his baptism, viewing it, perhaps, the same way people go through cleanses this time of year, or join gyms, or subscribe to teaching video series or back particular presidential candidates.
Nothing against any of those. I’m simply pointing out that John acquired a compelling and controversial reputation for speaking out against the status quo, offering hope to underdogs, and finding opposition irrelevant.
John’s calling, however, wasn’t to acquire a reputation. It was to proclaim a simple message: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”
John’s run at celebrity was cut short when Herod arrested him. But that was of no concern to John. Because he meant what he said. His job wasn’t to be the messiah, it was to point toward the messiah. When the kingdom and the king proved to be truly at hand, when John saw and talked to and baptized Jesus, John’s work was done.