The world changed when the world was no longer lit only by fire. And even that is far enough in the past so as to make it difficult for us to fully appreciate. All such transitions in the story of mankind require intimate involvement if we wish to comprehend what has transpired. So it was/ is with John the Baptist.
Image by Joseph Saxan Pulikkottil Rappai
By Steve Hall
I read A World Lit Only by Fire, by William Manchester several years ago. While the title intended to describe the period following the fall of the Roman Empire, it could just as easily have referred to all of man’s history up to the time of gaslights.
Today, we walk into a room and flip a switch. We carry light in our flashlights and our phones. We illuminate our homes with gas, with incandescence, with fluorescent and with LED’s. We have headlights on our cars, our motorcycles, our bicycles and our heads. We see photos from space and marvel at the light we discard. We make dark sky laws that we might occasionally see a star. We are among the atypical if we’ve actually seen the full beauty of the Milky Way. Consequently, darkness/night was, for centuries, a time of vulnerability, menace, danger, fears — when witches and goblins came forth and evil spirits resumed their work of disrupting what goodness remained. It is this radical difference between light and darkness in the ordinary living of life that escapes us, because, if we’ve known it at all, we have known it by choice, and it’s not so frightening. So today, if we live in darkness, it is because we choose it.
It was not always so. It was not true in the Middle Ages. It was not true at the time of the Apostles. That difference between the past and present is monumental when Paul admonishes: “The night is far gone, the day is at hand. Let us then cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light.” (Romans 13:20) In Paul’s day the teaching carried a weight that is difficult to embrace today. Why? Because we do not live with the extremes of light and darkness in the same limited way.
But the point here is not to reflect on the shift that technology has brought about. Rather it is to consider how and why the world is different from what it ever was before. The world changed when the world was no longer lit only by fire. And even that is far enough in the past so as to make it difficult for us to fully appreciate. All such transitions in the story of mankind require intimate involvement if we wish to comprehend what has transpired. So it was/ is with John the Baptist. John was the end of an Age. He was the last and greatest of the Old Testament prophets. He emulated them in lifestyle and words. His constant message — REPENT — was the same as had been heard for centuries. But he was more than those who preceded because his message would be the last time it was prophetically proclaimed. John announced the end of an Age; he proclaimed the beginning of the new. What would follow him would usher mankind into a new era, a new dimension, a new Age; and John was the one who would announce it.
"Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29)
John’s Age was one of formation and covenants and divine promises. Why? It was simple.
“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." (Matthew 3:2)
With Jesus we have a dramatic shift. Repentance takes back stage. It is replaced with a call to believe.
"The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent, and believe in the gospel." (Mark 1:15)
As usual, Paul describes it well:
“In many and various ways God spoke of old to our fathers by the prophets; but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the ages.
He reflects the glory of God and bears the very stamp of his nature, upholding the universe by his word of power. When he had made purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become as much superior to angels as the name he has obtained is more excellent than theirs.” (Hebrews 1:1-4).
Note the details. Once God spoke of old to our fathers by the prophets; in these last days he has spoken to us by a son. It is John, as we just heard, who broadcast the news. And the words of Isaiah and Ezekiel immediately come to mind:
“Remember not the former things, nor consider the things of old. Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.” (Isaiah 43:18-19)
“A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will take out of your flesh the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.” (Ezekiel 36:26)
In Isaiah our attention is directed to the eternal work of God, which advances even now. “For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth; and the former things shall not be remembered or come into mind.” (Isaiah 65:17) It is a message that will be repeated at the end of the Book of Revelation; and in the interim all is awesomely, marvelously different from anything and everything that was before.
“Behold, I am with you always, to the close of the age." (Matthew 28:20)