Saturday, October 27, 2007

The Wisdom of John the Baptist

There are many fascinating people in the Bible, but probably the most fascinating to me personally is John the Baptist. You would think as a former Swedish Lutheran I would automatically say Paul, but there is something about John the Baptist's rugged lifestyle and counter-culture message that intrigues me. It also helps that my Applied Biblical Interpretation paper in college (moment to remember the late and amazing Peter Macky, kind professor and friend and the smartest person I have ever known) was based on a passage spoken by none other than John the Baptist. After 68 pages of writing, you tend to develop a fondness or a hatred for someone, and in those 68 pages I learned to admire this wild preacher man.

For some reason, J the B (that is his street name in the Message version, you know...) has been on my mind lately. I finally sat down and looked through the gospels and re-read his story. And you know what hit me? The wisdom of J the B wasn't always in knowing who he was, it was consistently knowing who he wasn't. Several times in the gospels people ask John if he is the Messiah, the promised one the Israelites have waited for. John is always clear in his answer - no. He is not. And he often goes on to tell the crowds that the one to come will be even more set apart and amazing, hardly worthy of John's touch. That speaks volumes to me about his character and spiritual health.

John's birth was announced by the angel Gabriel who also happened to name John. He reminded people of the great Elijah. He drew large crowds of both the common folk and religious leaders of the day. He baptised many, and people came from all over to hear him preach his message of repentance. Even Jesus called John the greatest of men. Whew! Can you imagine? I look at John's "spiritual resume" and I have to wonder if it were me, would I always remember who I wasn't? Yet never in Scripture does John waver on this. He is clear. John knew what he was called to do, and even more importantly he knew what he wasn't called to do.

I wonder if there would be more room in my life to be exactly who God has called me to be, if I stopped thinking I was someone I wasn't. Sometimes I get the roles confused and I think my spiritual resume is good enough to step in and act on behalf of God. There are relational issues I want to confront and "fix", I want immediate healing for people, and I egotistically think I can be God's love to everyone. Here's the deal - it is God's job to soften hearts for relationship, immediate healing could lead to missed opportunities for intimacy with God (although I can still pray for it), and He is the one who knows how to love each of His people the best. In the end, I am better off wearing camel hair and eating locusts than trying to step in and be God. John prepared the way. He didn't save. There is a lesson in that for me.

That is what I love most about John the Baptist. He knew who he was and more importantly, he knew who he wasn't. Sure, when he was in prison he began to wonder about Jesus and sent his disciples to ask Him if He really was the "one" or if they were to wait for another. But you know what? I think questioning who God is leads to far less sin and pain than never realizing who we aren't. Jesus wasn't offended by the question and praised John in that same passage (Mt 11).

My ABI paper was written on the following passage in the Gospel of John. It is John's response to people questioning John about people following Jesus and being baptized by Him.

To this John replied, "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 bridegrooms voice. That joy is mine, and it is not complete. He must become greater; I must become less." John 3:27-30

I know the joy of my life will increase and the sin and pain will decrease if I just remember who I am not. John the Baptist got it. I hope I can too.

1 comment:

Randy Bohlender said...

Ann - long time no pester. :) I LOVE John the Baptist. He gives me hope that there is room in the kingdom for someone who is an inherently lousy small group leader.