When John’s messengers had gone, Jesus began to speak to the crowds concerning John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken by the wind?… What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet” (Luke 7:24-26).
The role of the Old Testament prophet was to declare, “Thus says the Lord…” In that capacity he was the mouthpiece of God speaking with authority into the affairs of men. In the passage quoted above Jesus essentially called John the Baptist, the greatest of all of the prophets. That was high praise indeed.
Unlike the false prophets that are called out in several places in the Old Testament, and unlike many preachers in the Church today, John was not someone who was a “reed shaken by the wind.” He didn’t change his opinion about what God had spoken just because it wasn’t a popular message. Admittedly he was human and subject to the whims of his emotions, but to his credit, his doubts didn’t change his declarations from God.
The Church in this generation needs more prophets like John. As the current religious leaders in America re-interpret (read: misinterpret) the Scripture concerning the issues of the sanctity of life, the sinfulness of extra-marital sexual relationships, and the unchanging nature of the Scripture, the people under them search for someone who will declare, “Thus says the Lord…” and not modify their position just to mollify an offended person. Those willing to take such a stand are becoming fewer and fewer because it is easy for supporters in the Church to leave for other teachers/preachers who will say what they want to be said. Paul later wrote that, “The time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths” (2 Tim 4:3-4). Some believe that this time isn’t coming; it’s here.
These verses from Paul’s second letter to Timothy come from the context in which Paul declares unequivocally that Timothy is to “preach the Word.” I know of no other command in Scripture that is surrounded by such witnesses — “the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom.” Yet in this day religious leaders seem more concerned that they are preaching what makes their people happy and justifies their opinions rather than what God declares to be the Truth. If the Scripture is true (and it is), they will incur a strict judgment (James 3:1).
Rather than being a “reed shaken by the wind,” John the Baptist’s ministry could be characterized by a strong oak tree whose deep root provided nourishment and stability in the windy storms of life. He boldly confronted a powerful political figure with his sin and didn’t back down, even when he was thrown into prison. He became a martyr at the hands of that politician, and earned the eternal praise of Jesus.
John’s martyrdom (and that of countless saints down through history) perhaps discourages many from standing firm on the Word of God in this generation. But John knew that he would stand before the God that commissioned him, not a jury of men. I’m not so sure that preachers in this generation share John’s conviction. Perhaps that’s why the “prophets” of our day are more like reeds than oaks.