Tag Archives: John the Baptist

Andy Stoddard ~ Are You John the Baptist?

As we start our journey through Mark together, today we are going to look at Chapter 1:1-8:  In the NRSV this section is entitled The Proclamation of John the Baptist:

1 The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
2 As it is written in the prophet Isaiah,
“See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you,
who will prepare your way;
3 the voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight,’”

4 John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 5 And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. 6 Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. 7 He proclaimed, “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. 8 I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

stjohnA few things that jump out to me in this passage.  First, in verse 1, the “good news.” That’s what the word Gospel means.  It is good news.  Jesus is Good News.  The grace of God is good news. When we tell folks about God, we are telling them about good news!  God loves you!  Do we communicate that “good news” like it is actual good news?

In verses 2-3, we see a quotation from the Old Testament prophet Isaiah.  Mark’s Gospel doesn’t have as many Old Testament quotations as Matthew does, but he does quote from the Old Testament a good bit.  Why? Well, a couple of reasons.  First, this shows the Jewish believers that this “new” Christian faith is really the same faith that their ancestors were pointing to.  It is actually what Abraham and Moses and others were hoping and longing for.

And second, it shows us non-Jewish (i.e. Gentile) believers that God was at work for a long time.  We aren’t the first believers in God ever.  God was working all of history towards the coming of Jesus Christ.  And we as Christians, we should not forsake the Old Testament. We should treasure it and read it as well.  It is our story as well. We believe that all the Bible is inspired.  The Old Testament matters to us as well!

In verses 4-8, we see the entrance of John the Baptist.  Can’t you just picture him with this description. And you know what?  He looks different, doesn’t he?  Mark makes it clear to us that he is not like the other religious leaders.  Not in his dress, not in his actions (baptism of repentance) and not in his message – the savior is coming.

John was different. But what was his purpose?  To prepare the way for Jesus.  To get folks ready for Jesus.  To make sure that people knew Jesus and were ready to follow him.

In fact, you and I have the same purpose.  To make Jesus known.  So, we too have a different message and a different purpose.  Just like John, we are called to be different. And we are called to point folks to Jesus.

Today, we share that same mission as John.  To point folks to Jesus.

Carolyn Moore ~ When Is It Time?

When is it time for ______?

I googled that question and my search engine finished the question in these ways: When is it time for a divorce? When is it time for a nursing home? When is it time for hospice care? To buy a new car? To break up? To let go? To move on? When is it time for the first kiss? (Side note: If you have to google that question, it probably isn’t time yet …) When is it time to move on from a guy? When is it time to move on from a girl? When is it time …?

The fourth chapter of Matthew inspires that question. This is the place in the story of Jesus where he decides the time is right to step into his public ministry. The Kingdom of Heaven has now come near, in earnest. A new movement is about to make itself known. And here, we learn how Jesus began the movement that changed the world.

The End of an Era

When Jesus heard that John had been put in prison, he withdrew to Galilee.

Matthew 4:12

A true prophet was called and equipped by God, and empowered by the Holy Spirit to speak God’s message. Prophets get people ready. Prophets have a way of explaining reality so that it changes the way we see things. They show us truths about God and about ourselves that we may not have seen on our own. God has always used prophets, and still does. Every age has its own prophets. But in our family history, there is a season of prophetic ministry leading up to Jesus that we call the Prophetic era.

The first prophet recorded in the Old Testament is Samuel, who lived and prophesied around 1020 BC. Then came Nathan. Then, a season when the Kingdom was divided – Israel to the north and Judah to the south. The prophets of Israel were Elijah, Elisha, Amos, and Hosea. The prophets of Judah were Isaiah, Micah, Zephaniah, Jeremiah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Ezekiel, Obadiah, Haggai, Zechariah, Joel, Malachi, and Jonah.

Then there was four hundred years of silence. Four hundred years of waiting and wondering and watching. Then … fire!

John the Baptist came into his prophetic ministry preaching fiery sermons. He had a thing for holiness. He called people to repentance. He called them to prepare for the coming Messiah. John’s arch nemesis was Herod, a politician who obviously had a personal war raging inside – a war between the two sides of himself. Herod was opposed to John precisely because of this inner battle. He had a thirst for spiritual things and for knowledge, and he also had a thing for his brother’s wife. John, opposed – on holiness grounds – Herod’s marriage to his brother’s wife. That got John thrown into prison.

Before we judge Herod too harshly, we have to confess that we’ve all got a little of the spirit of Herod living inside us. It’s that thing that rationalizes our bad decisions, that makes us try too hard to make sense of things that make no sense for us. So we date things and marry things that aren’t good for us, that pull us away from God’s best. We lose sight of God’s timing. We neglect to let go, to move on, to grow up, when the Spirit calls us forward.

With John’s arrest the era of the prophets comes to an end. This is a huge moment, and we reach it in Matthew 4:12. Unless you know better, you could easily pass by this verse, assuming it merely marks a transition from one scene to another. But this one line is so much more than a place holder. This line signifies the end of an era. This signifies the end of the prophetic era and the beginning of the messianic era. Yes, Jesus has been on the scene for thirty years already, but that moment when John steps back and Jesus steps forward … well, that moment represents an atmospheric shift. A spiritual climate change.

From this one verse, we learn something about how movements are birthed. It begins with a shift from one season to the next.  The “trick” is learning how to recognize the time for that shift. God’s time. “When is it time for _____?”

The great theologian, Tupac Shakur, says, “You can spend minutes, hours, days, weeks, or even months over-analyzing a situation; trying to put the pieces together, justifying what could’ve, would’ve happened… or you can just leave the pieces on the floor and move on.”

Tori Amos says, “Girls, you’ve gotta know when it’s time to turn the page.”

The writer of Ecclesiastes says (Ecclesiastes 3:1), “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens.”

Matthew 4:12 inspires a hunger for divine timing. Is there a stirring in your spirit? Or even a sense that you’re pounding the brakes, trying to keep something from happening? Is there a nudge within, confirming what you may know or what you may be trying to ignore? The first step in any Kingdom movement is that step that moves us out of one season and into another. Divine timing requires a connection with the Holy Spirit.

The Way of the Sea

Leaving Nazareth, he went and lived in Capernaum, which was by the lake in the area of Zebulun and Naphtali— to fulfill what was said through the prophet Isaiah:

“Land of Zebulun and land of Naphtali,
the Way of the Sea, beyond the Jordan,
Galilee of the Gentiles—
the people living in darkness
have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of the shadow of death
a light has dawned.”

Matthew 4:13-16

Jesus marks his move from the prophetic era into the messianic era by physically moving into a new place. Matthew marks the move by quoting from Isaiah, who mentions the Way of the Sea. The ancient name for The Way of the Sea is Via Maris. This was a trade route that ran along the Mediterranean, connecting Egypt to Syria. It ran right alongside the territory of people who weren’t exactly enemies, nor were they friends. Zebulun and Naphtali were bad influences. These were like the hoodlum friends who lived up the street, the ones your mother didn’t want you to hang out with because every time you did, you paid for it.

On one side, the sea. On the other side, temptation. This is the road Jesus walked, right after he spent forty days being tempted by Satan out in the wilderness. This was the road he took out of the wilderness. Do you find an assurance in that thought, as I do? A comfort? This teaches me that long before you took that wrong turn, long before you ended up in enemy territory, long before you lost your battle with temptation, long before you called on God to heal your diseases and cast out your demons, long before you limped out of the wilderness and experienced your own treacherous journey toward Kingdom purposes, Jesus walked this very way. He walked out of his wilderness and traveled the Way of the Sea. He felt your pain and conquered your enemies and cut a path out of that darkness.

Be encouraged! There is a way forward, and it leads into the purposes of God.

The Call to Repent

From that time on Jesus began to preach, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”

Matthew 4:17

N.T. Wright says that in the first century, Kingdom talk meant revolution. Israel had experienced more than one political revolution and at the time Jesus showed up, they were living under the oppressive rule of yet another one. By entering into his public ministry, by claiming a new Kingdom was near, it sounds as if he is calling for a revolution. And in fact, he was. Not a political revolution, but a personal one. Jesus was calling for people to overthrow the oppressive and self-seeking kings who ruled over hearts, usurping the place of God at the center. And he called people to begin this revolution with the subversive act of repentance. Which means that repentance is not about shame. It is about freedom. It is the gift of another chance. Repentance is ultimately about hope.

Carl Medearis is a follower of Jesus who is considered an expert in the field of Arab-American and Muslim-Christian relations. He lived as a missionary in Lebanon for twelve years. In his book, Muslims, Christians and Jesus, Medearis talks about going to a meeting of some top-level Lebanese political leaders. He says he was there “to discuss how these men could work with us in bridging the Arab East with the American West.” At that gathering, he met a man named Mohsen, a Sunni Muslim parliament member. In the course of conversation Mohsen asked Medearis what he did for a living. Now, Medearis is something like a missionary to the Muslim world, but he’s pretty careful about saying it that way. So when this guy asked him who he was, Medearis said he’d never used this term before or since, but in that moment he was inspired to call himself a “hope broker.” Mohsen asked what a hope broker was, and Medearis said, “Well … I deal hope.” Mohsen had just been talking about how desperate the situation in Lebanon was at the time, so he was really interested in this hope broker. He asked Medearis, “Where do you get it? The hope. Where do you get your hope?”

Medearis said, “Well, it is so simple it’s almost silly. Here’s the idea: we gather a few people together about once a week. We do a few basic things. First, we try to pray for the country. We are a mix of Muslims, Christians and Druze [Druze are a sect of Islam]. We all say we believe in a God who can save people, so we thought we’d start where we agree–with prayer. But lately, we’ve realized we need more than prayer. We need something to bind us together. Something to focus on. To study. So we decided to study the life of a great person who we could all agree on.”

Medearis asked if Mohsen could think of someone they could study that they could all agree on and Mohsen mentioned a few names like Gandhi and Mother Teresa. Then, suddenly he pounded his fist on the table (Medearis said it scared him to death) and he said, “I’ve got it! It’s Jesus! Muslims like Jesus. Druze like Jesus. Even Christians like Jesus!” That’s exactly the way he said it! “Even Christians …!” Then Mohsen asked Medearis if he would start a group with members of the Lebanese parliament and so they did. They started a study in the Lebanese parliament and they studied through the gospel of Luke. That little group of Lebanese leaders studying Jesus together hasn’t changed the world – at least not yet. But do you see how it could quite possibly start a revolution?

This is the way of Jesus. He creates revolutions. He infiltrates cultures and souls and he calls on us to change direction, and he does it not to shame us but to give us a future with hope. To give us direction. Forward movement.

The Gathering of Leaders

As Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon called Peter and his brother Andrew. They were casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will send you out to fish for people.” At once they left their nets and followed him.

Going on from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John. They were in a boat with their father Zebedee, preparing their nets. Jesus called them, and immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him.

Matthew 4:18-22

Talk about revolutions. These first men who laid down their lives to follow Jesus had their worlds rocked by his very presence. And Jesus conquered their hearts by taking their natural gifts – the things they are already good at – and spiritualizing them. Good fishermen began to fish for people. Think of it as a conversion of purpose – a moment when a person realizes they are made for more than a paycheck. A great God makes people for greatness! We discover from the example of the disciples that when our lives are aligned with the values of the Kingdom, we become part of a movement of God. If not, we can actually stifle forward movement. N.T. Wright phrases this same idea as a question: “Are we working to extend God’s Kingdom in the world? Or are we standing in its way?”

The Coming of the Kingdom

Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people. News about him spread all over Syria, and people brought to him all who were ill with various diseases, those suffering severe pain, the demon-possessed, those having seizures, and the paralyzed; and he healed them. Large crowds from Galilee, the Decapolis, Jerusalem, Judea and the region across the Jordan followed him.

Matthew 4:23-25

In this passage, we’ve moved from the prophetic era into the messianic era. We’ve witnessed Jesus as he negotiated the tests that come with change. We’ve heard him vocalize what is most important to a Kingdom movement. And we’ve seen him call a team together.

Now, he goes out to practice the Kingdom of God. He begins to live this, painting a radical picture of the Kingdom: lame walking, blind seeing, lepers being cleansing, dead being raised and poor people soaking in good news. What a work! What a revolution! This is not the staid and stuffy display of religious scholars one-upping each other on the ability to follow rules. This is a messy, joyful, radical display of healing power!

When is it time for you to get involved with that kind of work?

Carolyn Moore ~ From John to Jesus

The Kingdom of Heaven is the rule and reign of God on earth, and this is what God is building among us.

Matthew teaches us that this King and his Kingdom have come and are coming. Thirty-two times in Matthew’s gospel, he uses the term “Kingdom of Heaven.” That’s his working theme as he shares the story of Jesus with the Jewish world in the first century. They were looking for a Messiah and Matthew tells them that in Jesus, that Messiah has come, bringing healing and forgiveness. In Jesus, death has been defeated, and that message is now the hope of the whole world.

This is the message of the Kingdom of God, and this is the message John the Baptist came preaching. This is the Kingdom he called people to get ready for. David Platt says, “If this Jesus is the King of all history, then it follows that He should be the King of your life. When you realize His rule and submit to His reign, it changes everything about how you live.”

In 2012, I went to India to preach the good news about Jesus Christ. We preached in little villages and under tents and one night in the middle of a bug-saturated street. We preached a message about this consuming fire of a God who wants our total allegiance. We preached about the exclusive nature of God, that he doesn’t want to share space in a heart with other gods or other interests. We told crowd after crowd of hungry souls that it can’t be “Jesus Plus.” To work, it has to be Christ alone. Night after night, we asked if there was anyone ready to give their exclusive allegiance to this God above all other gods. We challenged them: anyone responding must make a totally counter-cultural choice to reject thousands of Hindu idols in favor of the one, true God, who has revealed himself through Jesus Christ. Over the course of twelve days, hundreds of people said yes to that challenge.

And I was just one voice calling out in a few villages in a country of more than a billion people. But there are literally hundreds of thousands of “John the Baptists” in India, preaching and teaching the Word of God in thousands of little villages and under countless tents and in little hole-in-the-wall buildings. And through those voices, one by one, the Kingdom of God is being built in India. Sparks are flying all over India! Every person who claims Christ alone is like a spark and every preacher who cries out in the wilderness is like a spark, and one day, all those sparks will start a fire that will consume that country and eventually, the world.

Do you believe that?

If the witness of scripture is true, then this is how the Kingdom of Heaven comes. It is like preaching in the wilderness, like a voice calling out in a desert. Jesus says it is like a mustard seed that someone plants in a garden. It is the smallest of all seeds, but against all odds it becomes the largest tree in the garden and a place for birds to nest.

This is how the Kingdom message was first proclaimed. In a few words … in a line. In these verses, Matthew gives us the message and the means of the gospel. The means, as we’ve discovered already, is counter-intuitive; the message is repentance. “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.” This is the message John came preaching and it is the message Jesus came preaching. Repent. Change. Reorient toward God. The Kingdom is at hand, is coming, is near!

The Invitation

In those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the wilderness of Judea and saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” This is he who was spoken of through the prophet Isaiah:

“A voice of one calling in the wilderness,
‘Prepare the way for the Lord,
make straight paths for him.’”

John’s clothes were made of camel’s hair, and he had a leather belt around his waist. His food was locusts and wild honey. People went out to him from Jerusalem and all Judea and the whole region of the Jordan. Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River (Matthew 3:1-6).

The Kingdom message is first of all an invitation: Repent.

Repentance is me exchanging how I’ve done it for a different way. It is me course-correcting, exchanging one path for another one that heads more directly into the heart of Jesus. N. T. Wright says it this way: “Repentance is a complete and lasting change of heart and life.”

This is how we prepare the road that leads from my heart to the heart of Jesus, the King. It is a spiritual exchange – exchanging the Kingdom of Self for the Kingdom of Heaven. Angel Davis teaches us that the Kingdom of Self is small and limited and focused on my personal feelings and happiness. It is very much based on my desire for control. In the Kingdom of Self, “self” reigns and God is dethroned. The Kingdom of Heaven, on the other hand, is big, hopeful, and focused on God’s truth and God’s pleasure. In the Kingdom of Heaven, God reigns and self surrenders.

Repentance means exchanging the Kingdom of Self for the Kingdom of God.

Pick a behavior. Pick something you’re not particularly proud of, like what you say on Facebook after a frustrating day, or how you act when you first wake up or how you respond to things you don’t understand. Now, ask yourself, “Is my approach small and limited? Do I default to pessimism or paranoia? Am I focused here on my personal feelings or happiness? Do I get quickly agitated when I cannot control this situation/ person/ habit?” If so, maybe this is the place of repentance for me. Maybe this is a thing for me to surrender.

Remember: The Kingdom of Heaven is big, hopeful and focused not on me and my feelings but on God and His Kingdom. God reigns and I surrender; surrender is the posture of the Kingdom of Heaven. It is my right response to the invitation to repent.

The Initiation

But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to where he was baptizing, he said to them: “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not think you can say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.

“I baptize you with 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 the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor, gathering his wheat into the barn and burning up the chaff with unquenchable fire” (Matthew 3:7-12)

The Kingdom of Heaven is also an invitation to be baptized. To link baptism with repentance was an oddity, by Pharisee standards. The Pharisees weren’t often the kind to get baptized, certainly not for repentance’ sake. After all, to do so would be to admit they’d failed at a rule or two. To these people who thought they were pure, John preached a message of repentance, using two images: the fire and the axe. The axe is what cuts away anything that isn’t bearing fruit. And John says the axe is laid at the root of the tree. Not the branches, but the root! He was calling people to start over, to be born again. To come and die.

Fire is mentioned three times in this passage. All three times, it is a reference for clearing the way. If a king is coming into the wilderness and you want to make a road for him, you’d use fire to burn away the scrub and make a road. Jesus used fire to talk about burning the trash after you separate the wheat from the chaff. You keep what’s good and burn the rest. This is how the Kingdom gets built in us.

John was preaching a new thing, challenging his audience not to tweak or adjust, but to come and die … to do a new thing.

There is an invitation, an initiation and now an invocation to be filled, linking spiritual renewal to the coming of the Holy Spirit.

The Invocation

Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to be baptized by John. But John tried to deter him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?”

Jesus replied, “Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.” Then John consented.

As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:13-17).

Now, the plot twists. John finds himself surprised by Jesus’ desire to be baptized. Isn’t baptism only for those who need to repent? A Messiah should not need to repent! Especially not out here in the open, in front of religious people who care a lot about the appearance of things.

But Jesus insists. In N.T. Wright’s translation, his response to John reads this way: “This is how it’s got to be right now. This is the right way for us to complete God’s whole saving plan.” Jesus now links repentance with God’s saving plan, then links the Messiah with those who need to repent. God’s plan is to save sinners, so by being baptized Jesus identifies himself with sinners. Jesus stands in this moment as an act of supreme obedience. This is how it is done in Kingdom: Surrender is the posture of the Kingdom of God.

What happens next is beautiful. When Jesus comes up out of the water, all of God is there. Father, Son and Holy Spirit … all there. The Son is on earth being buried by the water, then raised up, identifying completely with this Kingdom call to come and die. The Spirit is hovering dove-like above the Son, defining the character of the King and his Kingdom. This isn’t a warrior but a dove, a sign of hope and peace. The dove, which in the flood story found signs of life when it looked as if all life was dead and buried.

And the Father is speaking the blessing that sends his Son out into Kingdom purposes. With this blessing, he teaches us that effective, fruitful ministry isn’t motivated by my need but by God’s love. My call isn’t empowered by my steam but by the Holy Spirit.

Here in this scene we are given a gift. We’re shown what a good baptism does for us. It kills everything in us that won’t live in the Kingdom and it surrounds us with the love of God. It fills us with the Holy Spirit. Baptism matters in the Kingdom of God because it is the essence of surrender. This is what it means to come and die.

The road that leads into the Kingdom of Heaven runs through fire and axes and water. That road invites us to separate the Kingdom of Self from the Kingdom of God – to let go of things that have no Kingdom value and clear a road for Jesus to come in.

Are you ready to come and die? To do a new thing? To become a new thing?