I myself did not know him but for this purpose I came baptizing with water, that he might be revealed to his people Israel. John 1:31
All the paths of the Lord are steadfast love and faithfulness, for those who keep his covenant and his testimonies. Psalm 25:10
“I myself did not know him…” They were relatives. Yet they didn’t know one another. They did not collude or discuss their respective callings. They didn’t meet at family gatherings, festivals or weddings. God kept them apart. Elizabeth and Mary, their mothers, apparently cooperated with God in his plan to keep the two boys separated from each other, though the two women were not only cousins but they shared secrets, and they could have naturally thought their remarkable sons should meet.
This fact, of John, a cousin of Jesus, not knowing him, intrigues me. It amazes me that the mothers, members of a strongly family oriented culture, didn’t scheme to get their boys, cousins, together. (Or if they did, it isn’t recorded and their scheming failed.) Family was super important in that culture, and rightly so. God created and ordained family. And all he does is good. Family togetherness, family unity, family ties are a blessing from our Father and Creator. This was again made so evident to me at a recent family gathering. Three of our five children and their families congregated in one home for a few happy days. For the first time in two years, all the cousins (13 of them) were together. It was a last-minute event as travelers and schedules converged, intersecting at this one point for a brief time. God plans our in-person events. No one but he is able to bring six family units, stretched across the globe, to meet in a single location at any point in time! God loves families and delights in delighting us in this way. Yet, it pleased him to disrupt this natural fellowship in the case of John and Jesus, only allowing them to meet towards the end of their lives. It often pleases him to disrupt familial fellowship in our cases as well.
Family members are often separated from one another. This separation can be geographical. Or there can be separation due to diverging world-views. Thoughtlessness, forgetfulness, and simply neglect can gradually separate loved ones from one another. Our various professions and callings can necessitate a distance between us. Some of us have very little control over the times and places of a family gathering. Presently, a pandemic prevents some of the usual family meet-ups. We simply can’t travel from one place to another. Parents are separated from children, siblings from one another, and cousins grow up not knowing each other.
Is it painful and lonely to be prevented from sharing life with family, to miss out on reunions, to not know what it’s like to have a son just drop in on his way home from work? Do you feel sad when a son or daughter embarks upon a course that leaves you in the dust, alienated from the sphere in which they live? I wonder if Mary, if Elizabeth, were similarly puzzled. Yet they pondered God’s master plan as it had been revealed to them, and yielded their natural inclinations to Him.
John lived in isolation, in the wilderness. He didn’t go to the reunion. He wasn’t at the birthday party. He didn’t attend Jesus’ bar mitzvah. He also wasn’t sitting in the wilderness messaging his mother or his siblings, or his cousins. No, the remarkable fact is that God, the Designer of family, intentionally orchestrated his separation. He actually intended that John not know his cousin until they met at the river that day. Is God a malicious kill-joy? On the contrary, he is good and he has a good purpose. “I myself did not know him but for this purpose I came baptizing with water…”
He not only has a purpose, but a marvelous purpose — that Christ might be revealed to his people Israel. Matthew Henry points out “There was no correspondence, no interview between them, that the matter might appear to be wholly carried on by the direction and disposal of Heaven, and not by any design or concert of the persons themselves.” Their separation gave credibility to the gospel message and person of Christ. What foresight is God’s!
So, can we not encourage our hearts that all His paths, including His path of separations from loved ones, are steadfast love and faithfulness, for those of us who keep his covenant and his testimonies? Can we not trust God, can we not wait on him, knowing by faith that someday his dark purposes will be illuminated? We will see his steadfast love and faithfulness in the full light of day. We will understand how our painful separations served his great purpose to bring his people to himself and save them from their sins; to restore relationship with himself; to destroy the wall of enmity between the holy God and his chosen people; to bring them close to him; to give them life and to “do life” together with Him in the present and — forever. May our present and temporal separations serve to draw others close to Jesus.
Oh my Father, use our separations to work in us your good pleasure and purpose for our sakes, for the sake of your Son, and for the sake of the world you love. Amen