God the Father’s providential plan for the sending of his only Son into the world includes the sending of John the Baptist.
Founded on what was then the northern frontier of European settlement in the emerging American colonies, Dartmouth College adopted the startling motto: Vox clamantis in deserto (“a voice crying out in the wilderness”). In the wilderness of New Hampshire, Eleazar Wheelock’s college was to have an evangelical mission: boldly proclaiming the Gospel where it had not yet been announced. His school was to be a type of John the Baptist, heralding the salvation that has come with the advent of Jesus Christ.
God the Father’s providential plan for the sending of his only Son into the world includes the sending of John the Baptist. John’s particular vocation was to announce the coming of Christ. But the Father’s plan was so complete that even John, the Forerunner of Christ, was announced! John is one of whom the prophets spoke. Isaiah foresaw him, leading him to prophesy about John as “the voice crying out in the wilderness.” In fact, elsewhere in Scripture Jesus himself tells us, “Among those born of women there has been none greater than John the Baptist” (Mt. 11:11).
But what makes John so great? Why is the cry of his voice in the wilderness so important? Because John always points to Christ. The Isenheim Altarpiece, which features a depiction of the crucifixion by Matthias Grünewald, includes the figure of John the Baptist. In the painting, John, who predeceased Christ and was thus not present at the crucifixion, stands at the foot of the cross—opposite the Virgin Mary, Mary Magdalen, and the apostle John—pointing dramatically at the cross. The powerful and bright figure of John harshly contrasts with the dark, mystical tone of the painting. A lamb sits at John’s feet, reminding the viewer that John announced the Lamb of God. His painted figure pointing to Jesus on the Cross, the Baptist announces to the world, this is the one who will save his people from their sins.