In October 2009, tens of thousands of Oklahomans descended upon the Gaylord Family Oklahoma Memorial Stadium for an event. Though thousands of people flock to this stadium every October, the event on October 18, 2009 was unique. On this day, the crowd was gathering NOT to watch a football game but to watch a rock and roll show. U2 had decided to make a stop on their 360 tour in Norman . . . and I was lucky enough to be in attendance.
The 360 concert was quite a spectacle. Playing in nearly 100,000 seat stadiums around the country, U2 had created a unique stage they called “the claw” which would sit on about the 50 yard line, with the crowd surrounding them in every direction. The concert was to begin at 7:00 PM, but before U2 would take the stage, the audience had to be prepared.
For their Norman show, U2 had invited the Black Eyed Peas to be their opening act. The first hour of the concert was given to this hip hop mega-band. From the moment they took the stage, we had a feeling that that night was gonna be a good night (sorry I could not resist.)
The job of the opening act is simple . . . showcase their talent in front of a massive audience, while prepping the people for the main show. The Black Eyed Peas did a fine job of this. The volume of their music took our ears right up to the Edge. Their energy got all us up on our feet and moving around. Their enthusiasm for the night was infectious. All this set the stage for when U2 finally came on stage and elevated us to the place “where the streets have no name.”
I was thinking about that today as I read Luke chapter 1. Luke 1 begins the story of Jesus with a tale of an angelic announcement and miraculous birth. However, this announcement and birth of Luke 1 is NOT an announcement about or the birth of Jesus . . . it is Jesus’ cousin John. Look at Luke 1:5-25:
“In the days of Herod, king of Judea, there was a priest named Zechariah, of the division of Abijah. And he had a wife from the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. And they were both righteous before God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and statutes of the Lord. But they had no child, because Elizabeth was barren, and both were advanced in years.
Now while he was serving as priest before God when his division was on duty, according to the custom of the priesthood, he was chosen by lot to enter the temple of the Lord and burn incense. And the whole multitude of the people were praying outside at the hour of incense. And there appeared to him an angel of the Lord standing on the right side of the altar of incense. And Zechariah was troubled when he saw him, and fear fell upon him. But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John. And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, for he will be great before the Lord. And he must not drink wine or strong drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb. And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God, and he will go before Him 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 for the Lord a people prepared.”
And Zechariah said to the angel, “How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years.” And the angel answered him, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I was sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news. And behold, you will be silent and unable to speak until the day that these things take place, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their time.” And the people were waiting for Zechariah, and they were wondering at his delay in the temple. And when he came out, he was unable to speak to them, and they realized that he had seen a vision in the temple. And he kept making signs to them and remained mute. And when his time of service was ended, he went to his home.
After these days his wife Elizabeth conceived, and for five months she kept herself hidden, saying, “Thus the Lord has done for me in the days when He looked on me, to take away my reproach among people.”
Luke’s Gospel begins the story of Jesus with the birth of John. As a matter of fact, all four Gospels begin the story of Jesus with John the Baptist. Do you find that odd? Only one Gospel mentions the shepherds. One Gospel mentions the Magi. One Gospel tells Joseph’s back story. One Gospel mentions Mary’s story. No Gospels mention the Little Drummer Boy, yet EVERY Gospel mentions John the Baptist. This indicates to us that there is something important about John’s life. But what is it?
The Gospel accounts all tell us the same story. John came in the “spirit of Elijah” as the “opening act” to Jesus of Nazareth. Before Jesus would take the stage and reconcile us to God, John came to help get us ready.
John was to showcase God’s Truth in front of a large audience, while prepping the people for the Main Show. His message of repentance helped remind people of their need that Jesus would meet. The water baptism he offered, gave people a chance to pull out of their orbit around self-righteous religion, and seek new life in God. John talked about Messiah coming soon, recreating or reinforcing the true hope for the people of Israel. John did this job, and he did it very well. When Jesus finally “takes the stage” after His baptism in the Jordan River, God’s people were more ready to respond based on the preparation they received from the opening act. As Luke 1:17 says, John was “to make ready for the Lord a people prepared.”
This Christmas, as you flip through the first few pages of each Gospel to get to the headlining event, don’t just skip over the story of John the Baptist. God wanted every heart to prepare room for Messiah, so He sent John ahead to make those arrangements.
Think about your own life. If you are in a relationship with Christ today, no doubt you too had an opening act that God used in your life to prepare you for Jesus. God uses a variety of things/people/experiences to prepare us for Him. For the Israelites of the first century, John was the opening act . . . who did God use in your life to prepare the way for Jesus?