Posts Tagged ‘John the Baptist’

Gospel of John: The Forerunner

December 25, 2014

There was a man sent from God whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all might believe. He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light. (John 1:6-8 NIV)

It’s interesting (to me) how John the Writer felt the need to clarify John the Baptist’s role in the story. Why he addressed JB’s (John the Baptist) status as the forerunner is not stated but I do think inferred. JB developed a following–of which John the Writer became a part before switching to Jesus at JB’s suggestion–who were nothing if not loyal to a fault. John the Writer seems to be targeting these disciples of JB in order to point them to Jesus.

In ancient and fairly modern times all rulers used heralds to announce their approach to a town, city or area. The person would wear the colors or bear the mark of a herald on his garments to give instant recognition as to the validity of his words.

John the Baptist’s livery defied the logic of kings, eschewing pomp and royal crest in favor of the humble camel’s hair and leather. This is vital to our understanding of the nature of Jesus, whom we call King of Kings. Every nuance held significance whether large or small. Jesus came humbly therefore his herald should take on the same demeanor. It also follows that those men He chose as His disciples would also come from humble backgrounds.

I don’t think God despises the rich and powerful it’s just these people tend towards a mentality which preserves their wealth and power. A person fully formed by education, shaped by being born into wealth and authority, will struggle to submit to a teacher who doesn’t present himself/herself within the familiar paradigm. JB’s humility must have been chosen since his father was a priest of some influence, one who performed in the temple, therefore probably not extremely poor. Meaning JB wouldn’t have needed to live in the desert eating locusts and honey but could have followed in his father’s footsteps and become a political influence in Jerusalem if he had so chosen.

So JB’s humility was chosen to a purpose.

Just to be clear: Jesus and JB were cousins, had to have known each other, and at one time or another connected. Anyone who suggests they didn’t can’t read between the lines. Mary, Jesus’ mother, went to visit her cousin, Elizabeth, JB’s mother, when she started to show she was pregnant. Elizabeth knew her cousin was pregnant after first laying eyes on her. These two women were close enough that an apparently “immoral” Mary went to Elizabeth to escape local social problems.

Nowhere does the Bible connect JB and Jesus socially. Yet the fact that Jesus and JB were related cannot be ignored. Did they have some sort of pact because of their mothers’ visions for them? I doubt it. Our modern travel abilities blunt our understanding of the past and how easily distances of even ten miles or less were accomplished. When one is poor, walking provides the only means of transporting oneself between destinations, therefore anything not within the needs of providing for the home become vital only out of necessity. So any collusion between the two women would have been exceedingly ambitious and probably not really possible. However, if they were in cahoots, why would Elizabeth take a backseat role as far as her baby being the forerunner instead of the Messiah? Selfish people tend to be ambitious, ambitious people don’t take to coming in second.

JB chose the path of the ascetic which in his culture gave him a certain credibility right from the start. Anyone, be they poor or wealthy, gained respect by rejecting the trappings of normal life in favor of seeking God or their gods. When JB came preaching people came to hear him in droves because he was a force to be reckoned with in their culture.

The difference between what JB and Jesus presented and the rest of the world’s self-proclaimed messiahs came down to message: our heroes proclaimed life change through attitude adjustment; the latter proclaim their own self-interest in the guise of religious or power-mongering stump speeches. What JB began through his preaching and baptism ritual about changing one’s life and attitude Jesus expanded on.

Whether through studied understanding or Spirit-driven insight JB’s message set people up for Jesus’ life and teachings. His entire goal was to point people to the Messiah–so that through him people might believe.

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June 30, 2009

“A man can receive only what is given him from heaven…He must become greater; I must become less.”  John 3:22-36

Jesus takes off after talking to Nic to go out into the countryside for while and in the course of this they baptize and He taught His disciples.

John A picks up on John B at this time to bring the chapter point home a little stronger.  John B’s disciples ended up in an argument over ceremonial washing with some Jews which set them off.  John A doesn’t get specific here about the subject exactly but does make it a point to mention the argument and what resulted from it.

The more I know about religious attitudes the less I seem to want to be party to them.  I don’t care whether they are liberal or conservative or somewhere in between.  These labels and practices are so much a part of man’s efforts to please God without actually serving Him whole heartedly that it boils down to a waste of time and mental energy.  I don’t know which is worse here the religiosity which causes the unbendable closed thinking or the liberal view of never pinning anything down.  Both sound to me like a godless way to live.

John B’s disciples also were jealous of Jesus’ disciples baptizing up the way a bit.  They came to John to complain, “Rabbi, that man who was with you on the other side of the Jordan–the one you testified about–well, He is baptizing, and everyone is going to Him.”  This seems strange to me.  The fact that they acknowledged John B’s testimony concerning Jesus but still followed John B amazes me.  Their teacher just told everyone Jesus was the Messiah and the Prophet who was to come yet here they are worried Jesus would take away from John B’s following.  I mean, follow my logic here, isn’t that what’s supposed to happen naturally?  John claimed over and over again that He wasn’t the Christ but was here to announce His arrival and all the John B’s disciples were concerned with was whether he was being upstaged or not.

OF COURSE JOHN B WOULD BE UPSTAGED!

Jesus was the Messiah, God With Us, the King of kings, Lord of lords.  How could there be any other result?  John B’s followers were worried they would be on a losing team, if I know my human nature, or may be they were simply so loyal to this man they couldn’t move themselves to Jesus.  It’s like a contractor who likes one brand of tool over another in some ways.  No matter how much better the other tool is, there’s no convincing him that his tool of choice should be discarded for something he’s not used to and has never used.  We get so used to our habitual lifestyles and viewpoints we tend to push away anything better.

Jesus is better than everything, everyone and every other teaching because He offers life and a change of heart without all the self-worth crap the other religions teach.  God relegated all men over to death (worthlessness) so that He might have mercy on all (infinite worth).  This teaching isn’t a pretty slogan but a way of saying everyone belongs to God now.  Once Jesus conquered death by rising from the grave, the world belonged to God.  Technically, may be, it never belonged to anyone else but in spiritual terms God couldn’t redeem us (buy back our souls) without paying a price He set.  The wage of sin is death.  The price of rebellion against God–choosing to be our own gods–is death or eternal separation from Him. 

John B troubleshoots his follower’s misunderstanding without missing a beat.  I think it’s important to quote this section: 

“A man can receive only what is given him from heaven.  You yourselves can testify that I said, ‘I am not the Christ but am sent ahead of Him.’  The bride belongs to the bridegroom.  The friend who attends the bridegroom waits and listens for him, and is full of joy when he hears the bridegroom’s voice.  That joy is mine, and it is now complete.  He must become greater; I must become less.

“The one who comes from above is above all; the one who is from the earth belongs to the earth, and speaks as one from the earth.  The one who comes from heaven is above all.  He testifies to what He has seen and heard, but no one accept His testimony.  The man who has accepted it has certified that God is truthful.  For the one whom God has sent speaks the words of God, for God gives the Spirit without limit.  The Father loves the Son and has placed everything in His hands.  Whoever believes in Him has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on him.”

John A, through John B’s words, gives us a conundrum.  If we choose to believe in the Son of God, we must accept His testimony about what is true.  The only way to validate it is to accept it–did you catch that?  Another thing which jumps out at me here is the John B’s turn of the phrase in the lst sentence: “whoever rejects the Son…”  Those who have not heard about the Son of God cannot reject Him.  Those who hear and refuse to follow what He says or commands, reject Him because we cannot in one sentence accept Jesus as a superior and in the next disregard His superior commands.  There is no way to accept Jesus but to move into obedience.

Not everyone who says “Lord, Lord…” will enter the kingdom of heaven because not all those who call out His name willingly submit to being His.  Just because we use the name of Jesus in a sentence doesn’t mean we obey Him, trust Him or believe Him.  We might believe things about Him, but that is not the same as believing Him.  If what He says is truth, then everyone who follows Him should learn that truth and live up to it.

Let me give you an example from history.

Abraham Lincoln fought the for the emancipation of slavery according to the history books I read in school.  However, the reality is more complicated than that.  Honest Abe fought to hold the Union together because the southern states wanted to secede from it.  The profits from the south sustained in some measure the north at times.  Although many histories claim the major reason for the war was emancipation, the primary reasons were economic and power fragmentation.  Slaves were freed, yes, and that constituted a major portion of the war propoganda, but even after the war slavery existed in some midwestern states for a time–until popular opinion pressured these places to relent.

We have lived up to the unity of power and economic ideals of America but not to the emancipation of slaves.  Yes, slavery is over, but the attitudes toward African Americans continues to be less than the ideal stated in the constitution which says, “We believe that all men are created equal…”  So those who are “freed” move into poverty and struggle to make life work, are given few chances to better themselves or make better lives for their children.

We believe Honest Abe worked for the deliverance of the slaves as part of his agenda, for he did believe in it, but the truth is that wasn’t his main goal.  Jesus, on the other hand, tells us He is the only way, the only truth, the only life and that no one comes to the Father except through Him.  Abe may not have lived up to his own rhetoric in his heart but Christ did.  History doesn’t have much to say about Jesus other than the gospels–unless one reads the gospel of Thomas from the apocryphal writings.  What we do have as records show a consistent man/God who fought for a lifestyle and teaching a way of freedom from man’s legalism.  This freedom equalled being children of God and growing to be like Him in everything by exposure and constant influence.

Jesus, John B and John A all show us that the only truth is found in Christ.  To actually follow Him is to follow His teachings, believing and practicing what He taught without deviation or adjustment.  We cannot add anything to Jesus and we certainly have no right or need to subtract anything from Him.  So our best bet is to follow Him whole heartedly or give up and find something which fits the paradigm we wish to serve.

I vote for Jesus.  He must become greater and I must become less self-absorbed.

The Business Model

June 4, 2009

Finally they said,  “Who are you?  Give us an answer to take back to those who sent us.  What do you say about yourself?”  John 1:22.

Categorization is one of the best means to profit for big business.  Those who would gain big time from a product have to know how to market it or they see no profit in it.  The leaders of the Jews in Jesus’ day were of the same mind in this regard.  They seemed more concerned about their image, wealth and influence than the purposes of God.  They even taught the people that if they were financially successful, it meant God’s favor for their life choices, etc.  The converse was also true for them, however, if a person was poor, destitute, or diseased, God must be punishing them for something.  So the Jews concerned themselves with externals rather than focusing on making the internal life clean and clear.

When we concern ourselves more with what other people think of us than what God does, then we tend to worry about the who’s who.  It’s good to consider the feelings of others, the culture we find ourselves in or the accountability of the body of Christ, for these are Scriptural, but worrying about the opinions of others to the exclusion of God is spiritually foolish.

Notice the messengers asked John what he could say about himself rather than what God said about him?  Jesus’ method of looking at the fruit is not simply a NT teaching but a principle throughout the whole of Scripture.    Proverbs is full of warnings about those who display a lack of judgment or build themselves up for the sake of public opinion without having the character to back up their claims.

John B replies without hesitation from Scripture that he’s the voice of the one who is to make the way  (take all the twists, turns, bumps and potholes) straight for Lord.  That’s all.  It’s prestigious enough, don’t you think, to be the one to announce the Messiah?  I like his stark honesty.

But his methodology doesn’t equal a good business model for securing his future ministry.  In fact, at the rate he was going it’s no wonder Herod chopped his head off.  John B. just couldn’t leave well enough alone, he had to open up his mouth and stick his foot in it by calling the leaders to spiritual and moral accountability.  Come on, John, that never goes over very well, you should know that!?!  Not once did he try to take over the government or start an insurrection against the current ruling party—Roman or otherwise.

Living the life Christ stands opposed to the way the world sees both success and the use of truth.  We see it as a means of inner change, which in view of God’s mercy is conformity to the mind of Christ.  This change becomes our wealth, those whom we influence, our crown and everything we do brings profit in spiritual gain.  Worldly wealth is incidental to the cause of Christ.

Think about this point for a minute.

If Jesus could bring enough food out of five loaves and two small fish to feed 5000 men + women + children, then why would we ever worry about food?  He promised our food, clothing and water would be sure, if we trust Him, then we’ll live and think in a way which reflects this as true. 

Look at the results of John B’s life.  No money, status in the world’s eyes or happy ending, according to the mentality of human fairy tales.  Instead the man lived a stark existence, preached to those who would rarely do anything but become religious about it sans a relationship with the Almighty and died alone in a dungeon betrayed by his own people.  Yet Jesus claimed no one was more honored in God’s eyes than John.

Where do we place our value?  In who’s hands do we entrust our lives?

It’s very easy to mouth the words and talk the talk, use the Christianese (that special language Evangelicals have for using Scripture in the everyday) and let ourselves be lulled into believing that’s enough.  Jesus called us to more than that—by a long shot.  We are to be doers of the Word not merely hearers. 

For an exercise in what it means to follow Jesus, read Hebrews 11:32-40.  The choice to belong to Jesus is costly by the world’s value system, but the dividends in peace and contentment grow exponentially.

Knowing Our Place

June 2, 2009

Now this was John’s testimony when the Jews of Jerusalem sent priests and Levites to ask him who he was.  he did not fail to confess, but confessed freely,  “I am not the Christ.”  John 1:19, 20.

 What does it take for honesty in the body of Christ?  People who don’t fudge on their calling but confess it openly with little fan-fair don’t usually get the red carpet rolled out for them.  Why?  I think it’s because they don’t need it or want it, mostly, the other reason is, of course, those who like rolling out or strolling the red carpet always look for externals to guage a person’s worthiness.

I like John’s matter-of-fact attitude towards his own calling to serve God.  The Jews were interested in categorizing him by some known prophecy they were concerned with when his real mission was a lot less glamorous to them:  The call to repentance and announcing the Messiah.  This should have been enough for the Jews, but notice they ask all the other questions first.  Oddly enough, most of those who came proclaiming themselves something from out of prophetic writings went for the grand titles instead of the simple service.

It is ever thus (always wanted to use that phrase) in the kingdom of God.  Those who are important in the eyes of God usually can’t even get a “hello, how ya’ doin’ ” from those who advertise themselves as something great.  The Jews who came to John B. already had a set of categories he could fall into, and the reason they had these at all was the power with which he preached and the crowds he drew.

The difference between those who know the Master and those who simply know how to talk is subtle, but very real.  The power of a good speech can’t be dismissed because it swells the heart and gives rise to grand ideas.  The power of a man or woman of God, however, permeates the life, the thoughts and brings conviction to the soul that will not go away.  A good speaker can be admired for his or her delivery; one inspired by the Spirit of God, however, turns the hearts and minds of the children to God.

The contrast is stark and noticeable for those who know their Lord:  one person impresses us with who they are while the other impresses us with who God is.  “For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say,  ‘He has a demon.’  The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say,  ‘Here is a glutton and drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and “sinners.” ‘  But wisdom is proved right by her actions.”  Matthew 11:18, 19.  No matter what a person does for God there will always be detractors and naysayers, it’s kind of in the job description, to be blunt.  Jesus demonstrates through His testimony about John that nothing impresses those who remain fixed on earthly glory except earthly glory.  John lived a simple life, eating locusts, wild honey and dressing in the poorest garments of the day, which speaks to the probability he gave up all rights to his own property through Zachariah his father.  Jesus arrived on the scene associating with everyone in need and they rejected Him as loving sinners and being a party boy.

John B. came as a conservative at one end of the spectrum, Jesus, liberal (by the standards of the day) at the other end, yet the literati and those in charge still complained, showing clearly that nothing will please the carnal mind except carnal things.

We who would follow Jesus need to be wary of this trap.  We must avoid at all costs whatever smacks of pleasing the carnal nature in either us or others and seek instead to please only God.  Yet even this latter goal can also go awry if we don’t humble ourselves by constant submission to God’s Word (both the written and living) in order to keep ourselves from being carnally holy.  False humility is a performance for those around us or an attempt to gain God’s trust, favor or salvation.  True humility knows its place and contrasts itself only with that which is truly exalted.

John B didn’t seek any titles other than the job given him; Jesus avoided even the title He deserved because He knew the preconceptions would get in the way of His mission.

Wisdom is justified by her actions.