Posts Tagged ‘John the Baptist’

There’s not much glory in being the sidekick, particularly if the person is true to his/her mission.

A man named John was sent from God. He came as a witness to testify concerning the light, so that through him everyone would believe in the light. He himself wasn’t the light, but his mission was to testify concerning the light. The true light that shines on all people was coming into the world. The light was in the world, and the world came into being through the light, but the world didn’t recognize the light. [John 1:6-10, CEB]

It’s an interesting story, this tale of John the Baptist, who made such a huge splash (pun intended) in Judea, living on the fringe of society, prophesying endlessly, drawing colossal crowds, and calling on the people to ceremonially cleanse themselves in preparation for the coming of the long-awaited Messiah. He was all fire and determination. But he was also a catalyst.

John did not ride with Jesus and yet he was one of the key disciples. John moved things along. He challenged the norm; he challenged Jesus himself. (See Matthew 14.) John instigated the situation with Herod and knew that condemning a leader’s actions would get him put into jail. He was no fool. But he also knew he had to step away from the limelight in order for Jesus to take the reins of that moment in history.

Up until then, Jesus was doing a lot of teaching along with a few miracles and he built his team of twelve and even sent them out to try their hands at ministry, but he hadn’t really inflamed the leadership. But after John was in prison and eventually beheaded, Jesus began manifesting a series of fantastic unexplainable miracles from feeding thousands of people to walking on water and even transcending our three-dimensional world on Mount Tabor during his “transfiguration.” He stepped up his game.

John was the sidekick who was willing to sacrifice everything for the mission of Jesus. John the Baptist had been in the limelight and turned that light toward his cousin Jesus.

In our modern world, people are not always as willing to step aside or step down for the sake of the friend or partner or colleague.

I complain so often that my young adult children still believe the world revolves them. But perhaps I am no better. Can I learn from John and say, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” [John 1:29b, NIV]

Turn your eyes and look with me this day.

Advent: Day five.

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turning pointOnly in the re-telling of the beheading of John the Baptist in the book of Matthew, do we see a seemingly direct response from Jesus. He wanted to be alone and I can assume, he wanted to pray and contemplate the implications of John’s death. Not long after this self-imposed sequester, the crowds find him, he heals a ton of people, he feeds a ton of people, and he is basically “outed” as more than the average human.

When Jesus heard about John [the Baptist], he withdrew in a boat to a deserted place by himself. When the crowds learned this, they followed him on foot from the cities. When Jesus arrived [landed] and saw a large crowd, he had compassion for them and healed those who were sick. [Matthew 14:13-14, CEB]

The death of John the Baptist was a turning point in Jesus’s ministry. No longer a game of secret miracles and teachings on the hill, Jesus went into overdrive, preparing his teams for the next round in transforming the way humans would engage their God. John’s execution is approximately the midpoint in Jesus’s three-year crusade. From this moment on, I believe Jesus saw his work in the light of life and death, not only for himself but for anyone who believed.

John the Baptist died for unabashed truth-telling. He was not terribly diplomatic or politically correct. In fact, he was brash and tactless, a veritable bull in a china shop. Whether at the hands of Herod or another, John would have been killed sooner than later. He was a fish swimming upstream all of his life. He saw the world in black or white terms.

I believe Jesus was much more measured in his dealings with people of all stripes, colors, and persuasions. Even at the end, he often chose silence instead of outspokenness.

But I am getting away from myself. Turning points are important to see clearly in our own lives, but unfortunately, we can only see them in hindsight and not by foresight. All the same, those moments are meaningful and we should all take the time to evaluate our own. Take the time to write them down. Usually, they are fairly easy to identify — those moments where we took the left road instead of the right.

But the biggest question for me today is whether I have reached that turning point in my faith. Have I reached the ultimate understanding of what it means to follow the Christ? Life and death. Total abandon. All in.


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Icon: John the Baptist

To wash ceremonially in ancient Jewish times was to participate in a mikveh (or mikvah). For rituals, particularly washing from impurity, required “living” or flowing water such as a river or mikvot (the mikveh place) fed by a natural spring. It constituted the washing away of the old impurities and to mark the beginning of the new.

Matthew 3:1-2,
In those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the wilderness of Judea and saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” . . .  “I baptize you with [or in] water for repentance. But after me comes one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with [or in] the Holy Spirit and fire.

John the Baptist treated sin as the greatest impurity of all and called everyone who wanted a new start to celebrate a mikveh with him, right there in the desert, in the river Jordan. While priests, via the regulations in the Torah and other rabbinical writings, performed the mikveh for a variety of circumstances (after sexual relations for men, a menstrual cycle for women, after the birth of a child, upon declaring someone healed of a skin disease or leprosy, prior to Yom Kippur, and so forth), this may have been the first time that a mikveh was performed without a traditional priest.

John’s message was clear: prepare the way (prepare yourselves) for the coming Messiah. Release the old and make room for the new.

The water submersion was a ritual meant to mark a moment in time. And yet, John promised another moment, a time that would be marked by something more permanent than water: the Holy Spirit and Fire.

The baptism of the Holy Spirit came after Jesus’s resurrection, the gift was given (and promised) to all believers — the in-dwelling of God [Acts 2]. This in-dwelling changed everything and everyone. We tend to minimize this deeply motivating presence today.

There is so much “Jesus Junk” (Tchotchkes) and pat phrases like “Jesus loves you brother.” But it’s more than that. It’s not just that Jesus loves you; it’s that Jesus is you [Philippians 1:21]. Jesus and the Holy Spirit are one. And once Jesus has been invited to occupy us, then the process of true sanctification begins, fusing me and the Christ. And with sanctification, unnecessary elements must, like chaff, be cast away and in some cases, burned away through experience, pain, persistence of motion, and repetition. We are all intended to “get it.”

The occupy movement from Wall Street to Washington, D.C., has nothing on the potential power and change that comes from the occupation of a human being by the Holy Spirit. This is the most authentic change of all.

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To some people, Jesus is just another dead man in a long list of religious zealots or crowd-fabricated leaders. Many cannot wrap their sensibilities about the idea that he resurrected. Nevertheless, this is core; the ultimate miracle.

Acts 25:19
Instead, they [Jewish leaders] had some points of dispute with him [Paul] about their own religion and about a dead man named Jesus who Paul claimed was alive.
[Festus speaking to King Agrippa]

Christianity is a miracle-based faith. Becoming a follower on the Way includes several leaps of faith. During this time of year, we have the first miracle to digest: a baby born to a virgin. Then we get a 12 year respite. After that, but then, this same Jesus, as a boy, engages learned scholars in the temple after a high holy day. That’s no less miraculous. But then, nothing. For twenty years, Jesus lives and works in obscurity.

Just by his appearance at the waters of John the Baptist and his baptism there, Jesus’s short ministry begins by a miraculous voice… dove… light… whatever. And then he goes into the desert for forty days without food or drink. Only a miracle could allow for that kind of fast.

From there, it’s one miracle after another. Is his death and resurrection such a surprise?

If the first leap is made, that Jesus is God come down to dwell among human beings… Emmanuel… then the none of the subsequent miracles are really miracles, they are a “norm” in the world of God.

Jesus is not another dead man. He is alive because God is alive. And to be on the Way is to connect with God’s Spirit and live the life that God is calling people to live. I can be alive in Christ Jesus.

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John 24:35
John was a lamp that burned and gave light, and you chose for a time to enjoy his light.

A lamp gives light, but in those days, all lamps were fire that was fueled by something else. The fire was dependent on the fuel… usually oil. All of these words are used symbolically throughout the scriptures: lamp, fire, light, oil. They all go together and are combined to give a strong picture of what must happen within.

One of my favorite songs is “Refiner’s Fire” (based on Malachi 3:2). The message is simple: my prayer is to be holy … and the only way to be holy is to be refined by the fire of God…. purified.

John the baptizer had this fire within, gifted directly by God. It was this fire that drew others to him. The people recognized that fire. But John said that one was coming who would not just baptize with water, but with fire… one Christ Jesus. He would give pour out this fire directly from the “one who sent him,” [God]. This fire, then, is given when we invite Jesus to dwell within. He comes as a fire with the oil of the Holy Spirit that continually fuels the fire, continually refines our souls. [2 Chronicles 7:1] Sometimes, that fire can cause pain.

So often, I see myself trying to hang onto the ashes that have been burned away by the fire. But they are worthless, really. Sometimes the pain is by my feeble efforts to protect or “save” the parts He is trying to burn away. But it is then I realize that the best part remains. That part cannot be burned. Gold must be purified to be gold. The soul must be purified to be holy. Amen.

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