In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” For this is he who was spoken of by the prophet Isaiah when he said, “The voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord; make his paths straight.'” Now John wore a garment of camel’s hair and a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey. Then Jerusalem and all Judea and all the region about the Jordan were going out to him, and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins” (Matthew 3:1-6).

After viewing my newest Facebook profile picture an old (OK, not old, “mature”) friend of mine called my hair “preacher hair”. Another mature friend chimed in with, “You have a PHD, a Preacher Hair Doo.” It looks like I’ve been profiled based upon my profile picture. I feel violated. Worst than that, I feel stereotyped. After all, I would never call myself a preacher and am currently not one. I know my friends will catch my sense of humor here and realize that I’m just trying to make a point (at my own expense). And the point is that we all tend to stereotype others based upon a variety of factors.

A respected woman Bible teacher (and it’s not Joyce Meyer) once told a story about going to a large conference to speak. As she got on the elevator she was uncomfortably standing next to a man with very long hair and rough-looking clothes. She was tempted to move away from him as the door closed (as we are all prone to do when faced with that awkward moment of being only 1 of 2 people in that kind of space). She doubted that he was going to a “Christian” conference but was in hopes that he might. ‘He sure looked like he needed it’, she thought! But much to her humbling surprise she met the man again; as he was being introduced as the keynote speaker at that very conference. She was mortified at her baseless assumption that he was not a follower of Jesus. She later admitted that he had delivered one of the finest messages she had ever heard!

Does this resonate with us? Shouldn’t we all admit that we tend to draw conclusions without merit based upon our own stereotyping or profiling of others? Now really, based upon what we know about John the Baptist – this wild man who lived in the desert, wore only a camel’s hair coat accessorized with a leather belt (not exactly a Rodeo Drive outfit), and eating a simple diet of locusts (yuck) and honey (yum) – would we have been drawn to his simple yet pivotal message of the coming King and kingdom? Would we have had any real interest is accepting a message of repentance from this freakish loner (most of us don’t care much for the command of repentance no matter its source)?

Yet this oddball was the forerunner of Jesus the Messiah (see John 1:23-27). John was the one that introduced the ministry of Jesus by proclaiming that, “…the kingdom of Heaven is at hand” (Matthew 3:1) and, “Make straight the way of the Lord” (John 1:23). And, of all the folks that Jesus could have chosen, it was this man who baptized Christ in the river Jordan while apologizing that, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” (Matthew 3:14). Later Jesus remarkably says of John that, “among those born of women there has arisen no one greater than John the Baptist” (Matthew 11:11).

But, then again, it makes sense that God would have chosen such an unorthodox man for such an honor: Jesus was Himself wholly unique and primarily came for those outside of the mainstream of society (and particularly the mainstream religious culture). “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,” He said in Luke 4:18, “because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed.” 

So let’s be careful that we don’t presume too much about folks based upon appearance or dress or social status or education. John the Baptist reminds us that God’s kingdom and power cross-sects such externals. God may well be working in and using those we negatively stereotype for something far greater than we can imagine. For even our Savior Himself was described by the prophet Isaiah as, “a young plant, and like a root out of dry ground; he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him.  He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not” (Isaiah 53:2-3).

Which reminds me of some of the lyrics from Todd Agnew’s  insightful and convicting song “My Jesus”:

Who is this that you follow
This picture of the American dream
If Jesus was here would you walk right by on the other side or fall down and worship at His holy feet

Pretty blue eyes and curly brown hair and a clear complexion
Is how you see Him as He dies for Your sins
But the Word says He was battered and scarred
Or did you miss that part
Sometimes I doubt we’d recognize Him

Cause my Jesus bled and died
He spent His time with thieves and the least of these
He loved the poor and accosted the comfortable
So which one do you want to be?

Cause my Jesus would never be accepted in my church
The blood and dirt on His feet would stain the carpet
But He reaches for the hurting and despised the proud
I think He’d prefer Beale St. to the stained glass crowd
And I know that He can hear me if I cry out loud

I want to be like my Jesus!
I want to be like my Jesus!