Locusts a la Mode
Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Matt. 3:3b “Prepare the way for the Lord; make His paths straight!”
The purpose of John’s crying out was to urge people to fix a roadway before King Jesus came. When a king visited an area, potholes had to be filled, and portruding rocks removed. Unrepaired roads often broke chariot axles, and caused uncomfortable jostling. I learned the value of road repair in two third world countries. In one, riding was painful; in the other, potholes were so large that a car went down into them, and came back up.
John was to prepare a people for the Lord (Luke 1:17), to clear away obstacles in hearts that kept people from honorably welcoming the Lord.
Matt. 3:4a Holman John himself had a camel-hair garment. . .
Jesus said John did not wear fine clothes (MT 11:8). That’s for sure. His dress was odd, downright startling; he looked nothing like the other religious leaders. They loved riches and gaudy, prim and proper, clothing. John’s outfit was drab and dull, coarse clothes to match his stern preaching.
John was different in many ways. This was part of his appeal. The more self-indulgent society becomes, the more it is fascinated by self-denial.
Matt. 3:4b . . .with a leather belt around his waist,. . .
The belt kept the loose robe from blowing, and let the robe be tucked in to make walking easier. The religious leaders sported costly silk or satin belts. John’s was cheap and crude, made probably from sheep or goatskin.
This outfit was not original to John. He did not create a new designer line of clothes. He had a hero, Elijah, who dressed like this (1 K 1:8). Heroes influence us. I was named for John the Baptist; he was my hero. When I was a boy, I said I wanted people to cut my head off after I died so that I could be like John. At least I had enough sense to say do it after, not before, I died.
Heroes deeply impact us. Wanting to be like Willie Mays, I for years used his famous greeting, “Say hey!” I wished I could be Mickey Mantle; I walked, ran, and stood in the batter’s box like him. I wanted to be like Billy Graham. For years a North Carolina accent was sometimes detectable in my preaching. Jim Henry, longtime Pastor at First Baptist Orlando, said one time when he was Pastor of a small country church, so many people were coming forward that he got overly excited and said, “The buses will wait.”
Parents, as best you can, expose your children to good role models. The best ways to do this are to be one, and to pick good wholesome ones for yourself. Direct your children toward good examples. Know who the famous Christian athletes and musicians are. Send info about them to your children.
Matt. 3:4c . . .and his food was locusts. . .
It’s amazing to watch people who have hyperactive oral sensory issues use verbal calisthenics to try to say this wasn’t the flying insect. Sorry. It was. The Bible allowed it as a clean food, safe to eat (LV 11:22). Locusts are a health food, an effective source of protein, easy to prepare, easy to digest. Remove the head, legs, and wings; then stew, boil, roast or bake the body; add a little salt and butter; Voilà!! Tastes like shrimp.
You wonder how I know what locusts taste like. I take other people’s word for it. Be it known to you, though, that I wanted to get some locust and eat it as a sermon prop. This disgusted everyone I mentioned it to. Someone told me laws forbid the processing of locusts in the USA due to the danger of their destructive swarming. What sealed the decision not to eat locusts here was the fact Ruth probably would not have kissed me for six months.
Matt. 3:4d . . .and wild honey.
Honey made by wild bees could be found in rock crevices and tree hollows. In ancient times honey was especially prized as a sweetener. Sugar as we know it was rare then. Pythagorus, mathematician of theorem fame, often lived only on honey. A preacher friend of mine, every morning, put a liberal amount of honey on his corn flakes. He tried to convince me to do the same for health reasons. Another preacher friend ate a spoonful of honey between worship services to renew his energy before he preached again.
“Locusts and wild honey”–John didn’t go to market often; he lived off the land on poor man’s fare, found easily in the wilderness. Barren desert, humble clothes, simple food, he stood up against a greedy priesthood.
His simple life attacked their selfishness. He was a living protest against the selfish indulgent carelessness that was leading Israelites to doom.
The spiritual was all that mattered to John. Even his artless food and dress preached (Bengel). They were great sermon props indicting extravagance. Just looking at John was a call to repent. He was arresting attention, pushing his message deep into people’s hearts through as many channels as possible. Object lessons have long helped us teach our doctrines.
Jeremiah (18:1ff) went to the potter’s house to watch clay spin on a wheel. Ezekiel (4:5) stayed on his left side for 390 days to picture Israel had been in sin for 390 years. Jesus chose to not only say He loved children. He took them in His arms, blessed them, and laid hands on them (MK 10:16).
Symbolic expressions of ideas portray truth to the senses. Speakers must try to get past barriers that block old routine ways of saying things.
John had more to say than he could convey in words. He enlisted everything about himself to be included in his call to be a voice. Way to go, John. Thanks for reminding us good teachers make speechless objects talk.
Everything about John was a sermon, the wilderness, words, clothes, food, and yes, even the Jordan River. He made a river preach. Baptism did not save, any more than clothes and food did, but it was a powerful symbol, stating one’s intent to repent, to be ready for the coming kingdom.
Matt. 3:5 Then people from Jerusalem, all Judea, and all the vicinity of
the Jordan were flocking to him,
John was a loner who existed for God only. He lived and died alone. If people wanted to hear him, they had to go looking for him. He was totally independent of anyone but God. He couldn’t be bribed because he did not want anything but God. It’s hard to corrupt a man who is content to live in a wilderness, wear camel hair and leather, and eat locusts and wild honey.
Philip Brooks offered what I think is the best definition of preaching: Persuasion through personality. “Persuasion” means preaching is supposed to pack a wallop. Whenever God’s truth is powerfully proclaimed, something happens. If the pews are dead, it is because the pulpits are dead.
“Personality” denotes the use of a living breathing individual. If people think God may be speaking through a messenger, they come to listen.
The nation’s response to John was electric. A flood of people streamed to the River, migrating not to a lavish resort area, but to a barren wilderness.
The “multitude ministry” used by John and Jesus is not considered as favorably as it was in my younger years. I admit, many decisions made in large gatherings are superficial. Enthusiasm can be shallow; results fleeting.
But for some in the crowd, lives are changed forever. They are drawn to a place where the net can be drawn. A man once went to taunt Whitefield. The crowd was so big that he was scared into silence, but couldn’t get away. The people were so jam-packed he had to stay where he was, and got saved.