Just as the angel had told Zachariah, John would be very special. His job was to announce the Savior to everyone and prepare the way for Him. Normally, a priest’s son would grow up to be a priest, too. But instead, John was different. VERY different. God sent John to prepare the way for Jesus.
John went out to live in the desert, which was the last place anyone wanted to live, where was little water or shelter from the sun and food could not grow. The only animals that traveled through the desert were camels, so John used their hair to make his clothes. Since there were no apple or orange trees or gardens with rows of carrots and lettuce, he had to eat whatever food he could find in the desert: grasshoppers and honey.
John would walk to the Jordan River, and there people from Jerusalem and all the areas around it, crowds of people came to him to be baptized. It was how they would show they had stopped putting themselves first and wanted God to be first in their lives instead. John would dunk them under the water to symbolize how God was washing them clean and surrounding them with Himself.
But not everyone who came out to get baptized did it because they truly believed in God in their heart. Some people just wanted to look good in front of others. These people were the Pharisees and Sadducees. They loved showing off how religious they were. But in their hearts they loved tradition and rules more than God.
“You bunch of snakes!” John called out to them when they arrived. “You’re not fooling me!” And he refused to baptize them.
“Well,” they thought in their hearts, “we’re descendants of Abraham, so that automatically makes us good people.”
But John told them that it didn’t matter who your ancestors are. God could turn the stones into descendants of Abraham if He wanted to.
The people who truly wanted to follow God asked John for advice.
“How should we live in order to serve God?”
“Share what you have,” John told them. “If you have two coats, give one to someone who doesn’t have any. If you have more food than you need, give some to a person who doesn’t have enough.”
Some tax collectors came and asked for advice.
“Stop charging people more than the Romans are making them pay,” he said. “Don’t sneak extra money into your own pocket.”
To the Roman soldiers, he said, “Leave people alone. Don’t tell them you’ll be mean unless they pay you money. Be satisfied with what you earn.”
John’s teaching was so extraordinary that people began to wonder if he was the Messiah, or perhaps if Elijah had returned from heaven. But John told them, “I just baptize you with water. Pretty soon someone much more powerful than me will come along and baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. I’m not even worthy to untie His sandals.” Then he quoted the prophet Isaiah, saying, “I am just someone in the wilderness, telling people to prepare a path for the Lord to come in on.”
But one day John was taken completely by surprise when he saw who had come to him to be baptized. Before him stood his cousin, Jesus, who he knew was the one he had been preparing the way for.
“I can’t baptize you,” John stammered out. “You should be the one baptizing me!”
Jesus smiled at him in understanding. “But this is what the Father wants,” He explained. “I’m on earth to set an example for everyone. So I’m going to do everything God wants people to do, including getting baptized.”
John dunked Jesus under the water, just like he had done with everyone else. As He came up from the water, the sky opened and he could see the Holy Spirit coming down on Jesus like a dove. Then God the Father spoke, saying, “This is my precious Son. I am so very pleased with Him.”
Then John called out to the people who were watching from the banks of the river. “Remember when I told you someone was coming who is greater than me? This is Him! He existed before I was even born.”