Thursday, December 21, 2006

Our response to John’s witness to Jesus.


Gal 4.4But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law,

Rom 5.6You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly.

IT WAS NOT suddenly and unannounced that Jesus came into the world. He came into a world that had been prepared for him. The whole Old Testament is the story of a special preparation … .

Only when all was ready, only in the fullness of time, did Jesus come. Hence the importance of the Advent period. We need to prepare our hearts, our families, the church for Christmas. God prepared us carefully before he sent his son to be born on Christmas day

Isaiah and the Old Testament witness

The times and conditions in which Isaiah prophesied were dark, uncertain and perilous. The people of God were at the end of their tether. The Davidic house was sinking and the Jews had no where to turn. It was then that Isaiah prophesied about Jesus’ birth. The implications being: You have to look for a divine Saviour, the Lord’s anointed, the Messiah. Only God can give us hope. Only God can deliver us. God has to wean us from all other hope, such as :

  • Trust in our own personal strength, power, wisdom, wealth (family pedigree – e.g. the Kennedy clan) , education, status
  • Trust in a human leader (Churchill – after leading Britain so well during WWII was dumped as prime minister after WWII)
  • Trust in philosophies, ideals, democracy ( Greeks) Law and justice (Rome) Religion ( the Jews) : modern day equivalents communism, socialism, capitalism
  • Trust in naked power ( USA, British colonial imperialism, might of Rome)
  • Human nature – intrinsically good, only needs education, opportunities, training, etc

By the time of the NT, we are all suitably disillusioned

John the Baptist and the NT witness

The messiah had already been born – his primary ministry was to challenge the Jews to a proper response to the Messiah.

Prophecy concerning John the Baptist

Lk 1.13But the angel said to him: "Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to give him the name John. 14He will be a joy and delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth, 15for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He is never to take wine or other fermented drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit even from birth. 16Many of the people of Israel will he bring back to the Lord their God. 17And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous—to make ready a people prepared for the Lord." cf. Mal Leaving out the last part “otherwise I will come and strike the land with a curse.

Lk1.76And you, my child, will be called a prophet of the Most High;
for you will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for him,
77to give his people the knowledge of salvation
through the forgiveness of their sins,
78because of the tender mercy of our God,
by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven
79to shine on those living in darkness
and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the path of peace."

(glorious fulfillment of the prophecy in Isaiah)

80And the child grew and became strong in spirit; and he lived in the desert until he appeared publicly to Israel.

First witness of John the Baptist

39At that time Mary got ready and hurried to a town in the hill country of Judea, 40where she entered Zechariah's home and greeted Elizabeth. 41When Elizabeth heard Mary's greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. 42In a loud voice she exclaimed: "Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear! 43But why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? 44As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. 45Blessed is she who has believed that what the Lord has said to her will be accomplished!"

Luke wrote his Gospel in such a way that Theophilus would naturally ask the question, “Who is this man that such strange things happen even before he (Jesus) was born?”

Mature witness

John the Baptist was a stern, uncompromising prophet. He dressed the part too. Clothed in camel hair, surviving on a diet of honey and locusts. Livingi in the desert until he heard the call of the Holy Spirit. Mark gave us more details in his gospel:

1The beginning of the gospel about Jesus Christ, the Son of God.[a]

2It is written in Isaiah the prophet:
"I will send my messenger ahead of you,
who will prepare your way"[b]
3"a voice of one calling in the desert,
'Prepare the way for the Lord,
make straight paths for him.' "[c]
And so John came, baptizing in the desert region and preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 5The whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem went out to him. Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River. 6John wore clothing made of camel's hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. 7And this was his message: "After me will come one more powerful than I, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. 8I baptize you with[d] water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit."

Other gospel writers:

Lk 3. 2during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the desert. He went into all the country around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins

Jn 1.29 Look! The lamb of God that takes the sin of the world

In short, John is saying : repent, prepare to meet the Messiah that you may receive forgiveness for your sins. And be baptised with the Holy Spirit. This is the good news. But if you do want to receive the good news, be warned, His winnowing fork is in his hands….judgment awaits you.

Response to John’s witness

Lk 3. 7John said to the crowds coming out to be baptized by him, "You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? 8Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not begin to say to yourselves, 'We have Abraham as our father.' For I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. 9The axe 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."

10"What should we do then?" the crowd asked.

Notice how balanced and thorough, was John the Baptist’s answer. Faith was not meant to be privately engaging, but publicly irrelevant as Os Guinness once said.

11John answered, "The man with two tunics should share with him who has none, and the one who has food should do the same."

Biblical faith have a place for the marginalize and the disadvantaged Where are they in our churches? Are we all comfortably mainstream and middle class?

12Tax collectors also came to be baptized. "Teacher," they asked, "what should we do?" Biblical faith directs the way we view our business ethics, corruption, social and civic responsibilities.

13"Don't collect any more than you are required to," he told them.

14Then some soldiers asked him, "And what should we do?"
He replied, "Don't extort money and don't accuse people falsely—be content with your pay."

Those in power, authority and influence must work out their biblical values

Cost of John’s witness.

Lk 3.19But when John rebuked Herod the tetrarch because of Herodias, his brother's wife, and all the other evil things he had done, 20Herod added this to them all: He locked John up in prison. From which he was later put to death. This contrasts greatly with the Chinese fear of being involved. Of not looking for trouble. Or not disturbing the peace and bringing trouble to ourselves.

But in prison, John the Baptist experienced a crisis of faith. He had believed fervently in the truth and authenticity of his message and his witness to Jesus as the Christ, the Messiah.

But now, John was confused, bewildered. Not solely because he was in prison. The questions running through his mind are these:

“If Jesus was indeed the Messiah, how come things are still the same. Why is it that evil men like Herod are still on the throne, still in power? Where is the justice, the righteous rule, the godliness that is said to mark the reign of the promised Messiah? Why is it that it is still very much the ‘same old, same old?”

Wrong witness? John’s crisis of faith

Lk7. Calling two of them, 19 he sent them to the Lord to ask, "Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?"

Where was the dazzling clarity of the message that John received when he was in the desert? Where now the unshakeable conviction that marked his preaching? Confidence, clarity, conviction, zeal turned into doubt, confusion, discouragement, and near despair. This is what happen when what we hoped for, believed in does not come to pass.

Lk7.21At that very time Jesus cured many who had diseases, sicknesses and evil spirits, and gave sight to many who were blind. 22So he replied to the messengers, "Go back and report to John what you have seen and heard: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor. 23Blessed is the man who does not fall away on account of me."

Jesus is saying to John: “Yes I am the Messiah. You did not give a wrong witness.

But no, you will not be freed from prison and you will die in prison.

Nevertheless ‘Blessed is the man who does not fall away on account of me.’”

Jesus gave the assurance needed by John the Baptist that he was indeed the Messiah. Look he said to all and sundry: “The signs prophesied of the Messiah is evidently present. I am indeed the long promised messiah”. But He gave no other assurances apart from that.

For no other assurances are needed

Pastoral challenge

This Christmas are we celebrating the birth of a wrong saviour? Are we saying in our hearts : "Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?"

If we are, why are we saying that?

What do we hope to hear from God?

What assurances do we hope to hear?

Actually it all boils down to this final question: What do we want from God?

Many of us do not ask much from God : Agur son of Jakeh in Proverbs 30: 8 wrote

give me neither poverty nor riches,
but give me only my daily bread.

9 Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you
and say, 'Who is the LORD ?'
Or I may become poor and steal,
and so dishonour the name of my God.

Is that too much to ask? We are reasonable people. We are not demanding. We are not greedy.

If indeed this is more or less the lot of our life, we celebrate the birth of the saviour gladly. We have no anguished, confused, despairing questions to ask of the Lord.

But if even this simple thing that Agur asked of the Lord is not given to us, then the questioning begins, the doubts surface, the anger and bitterness consume us.

Phillip Yancey’s latest book, Prayer. Does it make a difference? P 240ff

Yancey shared a letter written to him from a couple who were leaders in their church. He writes.

“ In 1991 their 21 year old son, a scholarship athlete and youth leader in the church, fell asleep at the wheel while driving a green Datsun pick-up truck. The accident severed his aorta and caused paralysis from the waist down. Thirty thousand people in the close knit community prayed for divine healing, elders anointed him with oil, and a national television minister prayed over him. Fifteen years later, the young man is still paralysed. ‘Where was the answered prayer that I longed to share with my friends?’ writes the mother. ‘Where was my Father in heaven who sees the sparrow that falls and loves my son even more than I?’ The father minces no words, ‘What is the value of prayer?’ he asks.”

"Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?"

The Lord’s answer to us is clear: I am the Messiah, the Son of God, your Lord and Saviour. My dear brothers and sisters. This assurance is enough. The Lord Jesus is God. He is sovereignly and providential in control. There is nothing outside his rule. He is utterly and completely trustworthy. He is loving and merciful. He knows what is best for you. He is for you and not against you. You will have a future and a hope. He will not forsake nor abandon you.

"Never will I leave you;
never will I forsake you."[a] 6So we say with confidence,
"The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid.
What can man do to me?"

The sense of the Greek here is “never, never, never will I leave you, never, never, never will I leave you.

Therefore, my brothers and sisters. Ask no more questions. Doubt no longer. Be not in despair. Have faith in your Lord and Saviour.

Rejoice, celebrate, take great joy and comfort in the birth of our saviour.

At the same time, our faith must result in actions. So take note the words of the Baptist and do what he asks:

"The man with two tunics should share with him who has none, and the one who has food should do the same”.

To the tax collectors "Don't collect any more than you are required to," he told

To the soldiers :
He replied, "Don't extort money and don't accuse people falsely—be content with your pay." (those in power, authority and influence)

Then indeed all will be well!

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