Preparation for a Prophet

How would you educate your baby if you knew that their ultimate cause in life was to prepare the entire nation of Israel—backslidden, legalistic, apostate Israel—for the coming of the Messiah? In Luke chapter 1, we find the story of an elderly couple, Elizabeth and Zachariah, who find out they’re going to have a child after years of waiting–but not just any child. In explaining the child’s mission to Zachariah, the angel Gabriel says, “He will also go before Him [Jesus] in the spirit and power of Elijah, ‘to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children’ and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”[1] As Zachariah and Elizabeth studied the prophecies outlined in the time of the Messiah’s appearing, they realized that the date of His mission was fast approaching[2]. In fact, John, still in utero, only had about thirty years to prepare the nation of Israel to receive Christ[3]. He had to work quickly and with the power of the Holy Spirit. There would be no time for him to go through the “terrible twos,” for rebellious teens, or for a confused young adulthood. Every facet of his life would have to be specially tailored to prepare him to fulfill the ultimate cause of his existence.

So how did John’s parents instill in him a deep commitment to and efficiency for his mission? What did his education look like? From Scripture and Spirit of Prophecy, we can draw four basic principles of John’s life and education that apply to us today.

First, John’s early upbringing was saturated in nature. His parents, Zachariah and Elizabeth, lived in the “hill country” of Judah[4] and it was here that John was raised away from the hustle, bustle, and corruption of the cities. Instead of attending the traditional schools that taught conventional interpretations of the scriptures, John learned of God directly through nature. He was able to study God as revealed in the grandeur of the everlasting hills and the beauty of a blue sky. In his simple life in the country, John was able to develop “habits of simplicity and self-denial. Uninterrupted by the clamor of the world, he could here study the lessons of nature, of revelation, and of Providence.”[5] John remained in the desert until the time came for him to begin his mission to Israel.[6] But even then, John was not a hermit—he kept up to date on the current events of his day. We find him rebuking the adulterous marriage of Herod and addressing the behavior of soldiers, tax collectors, and Pharisees[7], all of which would have been hot political and social justice issues. However, his secluded retreat in the desert allowed him to keep his purity of thought and be always aware of the exceeding sinfulness of sin[8]. Thus, he was able to rebuke the prevailing sins of the nation with power and firmness.

Second, John was raised to practice temperance in all he did. Before he was even born, Gabriel instructed Zacharias that his son should touch “neither wine nor strong drink and would be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb.”[9] Nothing would be allowed in John’s life that would cloud his senses and deaden the voice of the Holy Spirit in his heart. This temperance in diet followed John through his life—he ate the seed pods of the locust tree[10] and wild honey[11], representative of simplicity. Temperance in one area also led to temperance in other areas, such as his dress: Wearing clothing made from “camel’s hair and with a leather belt around his waist,”[12] John’s very appearance was a rebuke to the excess, opulence, and love of display prevalent everywhere.[13]

In John’s temperance, simplicity, and self-control, we find a powerful example of the course we are to follow, particularly living in the last days: “This self-discipline is essential to that mental strength and spiritual insight which will enable us to understand and to practice the sacred truths of God’s word. For this reason, temperance finds its place in the work of preparation for Christ’s second coming.”[14]

Third, John was raised to become acquainted with the scriptures and their prophecies. His parents had searched the scriptures and knew that the long-awaited Messiah was soon to appear.[15] That same dedication they passed on to their son. He studied the prophecies and knew both the time Jesus was expected to begin His mission and his own prophetic role to prepare the way for Christ. John himself testified that his mission was to “Make straight the way of the Lord” for Jesus, the One who “standeth among you, whom ye know not.”[16] “From childhood his mission had been kept before him, and he had accepted the holy trust.”[17]

Finally, and perhaps most critically, John was trained to accept his mission beyond being a vague theological idea. This can be seen in the practicality of his preaching: Instead of theoretical musings, John intentionally pointed people to Christ. His calls for repentance were only in light of the love shown by Christ. This mission, motivated by a love for souls, could not have come from a merely intellectual religion; it could have only stemmed from a heart changed by the Holy Spirit.

After his parents had fulfilled their part of instilling in him the importance of his work, John did all in his power to practically prepare himself to present the message to the children of Israel in a way they would understand and respond to. “With vision illuminated by the divine Spirit he studied the characters of men, that he might understand how to reach their hearts with the message of heaven. The burden of his mission was upon him. In solitude, by meditation and prayer, he sought to gird up his soul for the lifework before him.”[18] Everything he did centered on that one focus.

Often, we point to John’s stirring message of “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!”[19] as the reason he was able to convict hearts and fulfill his lifework of preparing the way for Christ. But a message is only as powerful as its messenger. His single-minded dedication to his mission, as evidenced in every area of his life, enabled him to fulfill his ultimate purpose. John needed purity of thought fostered by country life, self-control disciplined by temperance in both diet and dress, a purpose girded by the strong foundation of scripture, and a practical application of that purpose. This education, rooted in nature, temperance, and the scriptures allowed John to stand as the greatest prophet to have ever lived,[20] the one who had the honor of heralding Christ’s First Advent. Without early training in these four elements, John’s message would have failed to touch hearts because the man that brought it would not have had a heart touched by God.

“In preparing the way for Christ’s first advent, he [John the Baptist] was a representative of those who are to prepare a people for our Lord’s second coming.”[21] In the creation of committed missionaries, standing as heralds of Christ’s Second Advent, our education should mirror John’s. The same four foundational principles that shaped John’s life must be included: Nature, temperance in diet and dress, deep knowledge of scriptures, and a practical application of those scriptures.

These four principles are not unique to John’s time. Throughout the recorded history of God’s people through the ages, from the schools of the prophets to Madison College to the educational work of E.A. Sutherland and beyond, we see how these principles were used to prepare students for a great and glorious career of saving souls for Jesus. As Ellen White so succinctly states, “One great object of our schools is the training of youth to engage in service in our institutions and in different lines of gospel work.”[22] This was the one great object of John’s education, and it should be the one great object of ours.

Equipping our youth for this one goal may require restructuring some of our fundamental assumptions and practices in education. Do we count the cause of God important enough to motivate such efforts, as difficult as they may be? Are we willing to put those four aspects—nature, temperance, scriptural focus, and practicality—into every aspect of our educational system, from kindergarten all the way through to the most advanced university course? “There is no work in our world so great, so sacred, and so glorious, no work that God honors so much, as this gospel work.”[23] Are we committed to show by the way we train our youth that we also honor this great and glorious gospel work above all others? Zachariah and Elizabeth were, and the results shook a nation.

Are we prepared to create a generation that will shake not just a nation, but the world?

[1] Luke 1:17; Mal. 4:5-6
[2] Ellen G. White, The Desire of Ages (Mountain View, CA: Pacific Press Publishing Association, 1898), 98.
[3] The prophecy of Dan. 9:24-27 provides a detailed timeline pinpointing the beginning of the Messiah’s mission in 27 AD.
[4] Luke 1:39
[5] White, Desire of Ages, 101.
[6] Luke 1:80
[7] Matt. 3:7-10; 14:3-4; Luke 3:12-14
[8] White, Desire of Ages, 101.
[9] Luke 1:15
[10]  Ellen G. White, Testimonies for the Church, vol. 3 (Mountain View, CA: Pacific Press Publishing Association, 1872), 62.
[11] Matt. 3:4
[12] Ibid.
[13] White, Desire of Ages, 100.
[14] Ibid, 101.
[15] Ibid, 98
[16] John 1:23-27 (KJV)
[17] White, Desire of Ages, 101.
[18] Ibid, 102.
[19] Matt. 3:2
[20] Luke 7:28
[21] White, Desire of Ages, 101.
[22] Ellen G. White, Testimonies for the Church, vol. 6 (Mountain View, CA: Pacific Press Publishing Association, 1901), 133.
[23] Ibid, 19.

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