Monthly Archives: July 2011

The Fire

          The next day John was there again with two of his disciples.  When he saw Jesus passing by, he said, “Look, the Lamb of God!”
When the two disciples heard him say this, they followed Jesus.  Turning around, Jesus saw them following and asked, “What do you want?”
They said, “Rabbi” (which means Teacher), “where are you staying?”
“Come,” he replied, “and you will see.”
So they went and saw where he was staying, and spent that day with him. It was about the tenth hour.
Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, was one of the two who heard what John had said and who had followed Jesus.  The first thing Andrew did was to find his brother Simon and tell him, “We have found the Messiah” (that is, the Christ).  And he brought him to Jesus.
Jesus looked at him and said, “You are Simon son of John. You will be called Cephas” (which, when translated, is Peter).
John 1:35-42 (NIV)

When John pointed out Jesus to a couple of his disciples, they started on a path that has been replicated over and over again through the last 2000 years.

First of all, they left their old life, their old teacher, and their old ways of doing things, and they followed Jesus.  Starting that moment, they no longer considered themselves to be disciples of John; they were now disciples of Jesus.  They called Him “Rabbi,” and they began learning from Him.  They spent the whole day with Him, the first of many hundreds that they spent in His presence.

Today, all around the world, people are leaving behind their old life, their old teachers, and their old ways of doing things and they are following Jesus.  And this is actually at the very core of true Christianity.  When we decide to follow Jesus, there is necessarily a profound break with the life that we were living before we met Him.  When we take advantage of the salvation that He bought for us at the cost of His own life, when we receive Him as our Lord and Savior, and when He comes to inhabit our lives, everything changes.  As Paul put it, “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” (2 Corinthians 5:17 NIV)

And when we are made new, we end up leaving behind old habits, old ways of thinking, old patterns of behavior and speech, and even old friends and associates.  A lot of the labels that we applied to ourselves are now replaced with the all-encompassing label of “Christian.”  We trade in our old teachers and their instructions for the Teacher of all teachers and His words of life.

And we start to spend time with Jesus.  Not just a few minutes here and there, but lots of time.  We develop a profound hunger for the Word of God, finding new meanings in passages of Scripture that we may have read dozens of times, but which now speak to our hearts with fresh urgency.  Prayer starts to feel more and more natural as we begin to spend time with Jesus, just talking, listening, and learning.  It’s all part of a brand new life that is launched at the moment of salvation, but that goes on forever.

And the second thing that changed for those former disciples of John was that they immediately started sharing their experience of Jesus with those close to them.  Andrew immediately went to his brother, Simon, and brought him to Jesus so that he could have HIS life totally transformed.  And Peter came!  Not arguing, no “well, I’m glad you found something that works for you, but I really don’t need anything like that.”  Andrew’s testimony was immediate and compelling.  The change in his life was evident.  And his enthusiasm was contagious.

These days, all over the world, people who have received new life for themselves are bringing their friends, their families, their co-workers, and even perfect strangers, to their Lord and Savior.  And they don’t need a class on evangelism or a list of Bible verses to do it!  They simply share their own experience with Jesus, take the ones that they care about by the hand, and introduce them to Jesus in exactly the same way that they were introduced to Him.  Amazingly simple.  Amazingly effective!

These two profound changes are the marks of the new birth.  When someone is truly born again, their lives are immediately transformed as they turn away from the things that used to be at the center of their lives, and follow Jesus instead.  And those changes continue as they learn more and more from Him, and shape their lives according to His pattern.  And these new-born believers have an inborn desire to see their family members and friends become followers of Jesus, too!

When we see a new believer, so fired up and excited about their new-found faith, their new God-created life, and the Jesus that they have come to know, we can sometimes feel a little embarrassed by their excitement and their unbridled enthusiasm.  But before we decide to take a few steps away from these new dynamos of the faith, or to talk to them in order to cool them off a bit, we need to remember that, according to the pattern shown in the Bible, this is the NORMAL state of a Christian.  I suggest instead that we take a few steps closer; encourage them and support them, and pray that they stay burning hot and strong for the kingdom.  And in the process we will find our own fire getting stoked back up to the white-hot intensity that is supposed to be the norm for disciples of Jesus!

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The Lamb

The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!  This is the one I meant when I said, ‘A man who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.’  I myself did not know him, but the reason I came baptizing with water was that he might be revealed to Israel.”
Then John gave this testimony: “I saw the Spirit come down from heaven as a dove and remain on him.  I would not have known him, except that the one who sent me to baptize with water told me, ‘The man on whom you see the Spirit come down and remain is he who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.’  I have seen and I testify that this is the Son of God.”
John 1:29-34 (NIV)

I really love John the Baptizer!  You would have to look long and hard to find anybody who was more sold out to the Lord and to His agenda!

Soon after John baptized Jesus in the Jordan River, he saw Jesus walking by and clearly and unequivocally identified Him as the one who would give Himself as a sacrifice to pay for the sins of the whole world.  The Jewish people who were following John would easily have understood that as the meaning of the title “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world,” even if they really couldn’t comprehend how a man like Jesus was going to be able to pull that off.  The people understood that a pure, spotless lamb was a God-chosen sacrifice to pay for the sins of humanity.  But this whole concept that John was talking about was a little different.  When God initially instituted the process of animal sacrifice, the rule was:  one sin, one sacrifice.  The wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23), so there had to be a death for each sin.  But the people quickly realized that if they tried to keep that up, they would quickly run out of animals!  And so they eventually “tweaked” the rules, bringing one animal to pay for all of the sins they had committed since their last sacrifice.

But here was Jesus, now proclaimed by John to be God’s sacrificial lamb, able to pay for the sins, not of just one person, but the sin of the whole world!  Had I been one of John’s followers, I think I would have been asking for some additional information.  And John gave it!  He indirectly points to Jesus as God Himself by his statement that Jesus had “surpassed me because He was before me.”  Jesus was actually 6 months younger than John in the flesh, so the only way He could have been before John was if John was referring to His existence before He took on flesh.  He then identifies Jesus as the very Son of God.  It would be impossible for a human being to pay for even his or her own sins, let alone the sins of others.  But the Son of God could do the job!

I also find it fascinating that, according to John himself, the key reason that he was sent by God to baptize was so that he would be able to clearly identify Jesus when He appeared.  God’s instructions were very clear:  “The man on whom you see the Spirit come down and remain is He who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.”  I can see John now, dunking each person, and then looking around to see if the Holy Spirit is coming down.  Nothing.  And so he moves on to the next one, always with a sense of anticipation.  Finally Jesus comes.  John seems to have had some initial discernment that Jesus was more than He appeared to be, because He argued briefly that he, John, needed to be baptized by Jesus, and not the other way around (Matthew 3:13-15).  But after John consented, and Jesus came up out of the water, the Spirit descended and remained on Jesus, clearly indicating that this was the one that he (and everyone else) had been waiting for!

John also clearly understood that he himself had been given only a preparatory ministry.  He would baptize with water, bringing people to the point of repentance, turning their hearts back to God.  But this was in anticipation of the greater work of Spirit baptism that Jesus was going to do after He had risen from the dead.  John was to prepare the people, Jesus was to receive to Himself the people that John had prepared.  John was to lead the people to repentance, Jesus would lead them right on into the kingdom of heaven.  John was to clean the outside of the body with water in a symbolic manner, Jesus would clean the hearts of the people with the promised Holy Spirit in a concrete manner.

John was fine being the one to prepare the way.  He never tried to grab a little bit of the spotlight for himself.  He never seems to have shown any jealousy of Jesus rising acclaim.  He knew the part that he had been given to play by heart, and seemed to simply be glad that he had a part to play at all.

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The Roadie

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.”
They asked him, “Then who are you? Are you Elijah?”
He said, “I am not.”
“Are you the Prophet?”
He answered, “No.”
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 replied in the words of Isaiah the prophet, “I am the voice of one calling in the desert, ‘Make straight the way for the Lord.'”
Now some Pharisees who had been sent questioned him, “Why then do you baptize if you are not the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?”
“I baptize with water,” John replied, “but among you stands one you do not know.  He is the one who comes after me, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie.”
This all happened at Bethany on the other side of the Jordan, where John was baptizing.
John 1:19-28 (NIV)

John the Baptizer came for a purpose; a purpose that God had chosen for him from before the world began.  John was to be the herald for the Messiah, the one who would prepare the way for Him and announce His arrival to anyone within earshot.  The one who would be, in the more complete words of Isaiah, “A voice of one calling: ‘In the desert prepare the way for the Lord; make straight in the wilderness a highway for our God.  Every valley shall be raised up, every mountain and hill made low; the rough ground shall become level, the rugged places a plain.  And the glory of the Lord will be revealed, and all mankind together will see it. For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.’” (Isaiah 40:3-5 NIV)

You see, John knew something that many, if not most, of the people around him had kind of lost track of in the hustle and bustle of everyday life:  God was coming to visit His people!  He had promised to come to them, and He was going to keep His promise.  And He knew that the visit was going to happen any day now.  These were amazing times, and they were going to get even more amazing!  And John’s job was to get everything ready.  Not just to spruce up the sidewalks, and repaint the buildings and make sure that the garbage was picked up along the motorcade route.  His job was to make ready a PEOPLE prepared for the coming of the Lord Himself.

The way that He did this was to proclaim the age-old standards that God had given to His people 1500 years before out of a cloud of fire on a mountaintop; to help the people see that they had fallen short of that standard; and help them to repent and turn back to the God that they had defied and neglected for so long.  Now, none of this was politically correct.  None of it could be done in a way that was really non-offensive.  When you show people that they are headed entirely the wrong way, you are likely to ruffle some feathers (at least among those who figure that they have their act together!).

John’s was not a highly desirable job.  It wasn’t a cushy job.  And it definitely wasn’t a job that had a lot of upward mobility built into it.

When the priests and Levites came to John to find out if, perhaps, he was the long-awaited Messiah, John didn’t hesitate a bit:  “I am not the Christ.”  That wasn’t the job God had called Him to and created him for.  When they pressed further, asking if maybe he was Elijah come back to earth (Elijah had been taken to heaven in a whirlwind and was supposed to reappear before the coming of the Messiah), John’s answer was even more concise:  “I am not.”  When they asked if he was the Prophet that was foretold by Moses, the one who was to be a powerful new leader of the people (Deuteronomy 18:15), he gave them just a single word:  “No.”

You see, John never wanted to be anyone other than who God had called him to be.  He had no aspirations, no plans beyond the singular calling for which God had made him.  He was content to find his place in history as the one who would prepare the way; a God-called roadie, who would never appear on the stage, but who had to be there in advance to make sure that everything was up and ready to go when the main attraction showed up.  And he did it well.  He did it with all of his heart.  And when Jesus, the star of the show, made His appearance, everything was ready for Him.

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