John the Baptist

What Did You Go into the Desert to See?

Jesus said, “I tell you the truth: Among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist.” Matthew 11:11

I’m glad the Bible tells us about people who struggle with the same things we do like doubt and fear. In his dark, dank cell, facing death, John the Baptist had second thoughts about Jesus, so he sent his disciples to question Jesus. They asked, “Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?”

John had identified Jesus as “the Son of God” and “the Lamb of God.” (John 1:34, 36). He told people  Jesus would baptize, not with water, but with the Holy Spirit and with fire (Luke 3:16). He called Jesus ““The true light that gives light to every man” (John 1:9).

After Jesus answered John’s disciples, He asked the crowd, “What did you go out into the desert to see? A reed swayed by the wind? If not, what did you go out to see? A man dressed in fine clothes? No, those who wear fine clothes are in kings’ palaces. Then what did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet (Matthew 11:7b-9).

Jesus was not putting John down. Jesus answered his own question, “No this man is not a swaying reed.” John had chosen a simple life in the wilderness, eating locusts and wild honey dressed in a camel’s hair with a leather belt—a prophet’s garb, rather than the fancy clothing and position of the religious leaders.

In his zeal for truth, John had fearlessly taken on the Pharisees and Sadducees who came to be baptized, saying, “You brood of vipers, who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?” (Matthew 3:7) John had also courageously challenged Herod for taking his brother’s wife. That’s why he had been arrested.

Jesus sent John’s disciples back to him with a message: “Blessed is the man who does not fall away on account of me” (Matthew 11:6). In other words, “Hang in there John, God’s in control.”

Have your circumstances left you discouraged and questioning Jesus because He isn’t doing all you expected? Jesus sends you a message, too: Don’t fall away. Don’t give up. God’s in control.


Read Isaiah 40:3-5 and Malachi 3:1. In what ways did John the Baptist fulfill these prophecies?

Read Jude 1:18-25. What kind of people can discourage us or cause us to doubt? What does Jude tell us do? What is the promise in the doxology (verses 24-25)?

Read Luke 1:5-25, 57-80. John’s name means “Jehovah is a gracious giver.” John had been given by God to Elizabeth and Zechariah. What did the angel say about John and what did Zechariah prophesy?

Read 1 Kings 17:2-2 Kings 2:13. John the Baptist’s ministry has been compared to that of the prophet Elijah. How were the conditions John the Baptist faced like those of Elijah? Compare especially religious leaders and political climate.

Nancy J. Baker

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