Monday, December 15, 2008

Focus and John the Baptist

One of the advantages of going to two different churches is that each week there are two sermons, which is twice as many as usual to remember something from. A few days ago I wrote about a sermon at my evening church, this time the one I remember is my morning church. My morning church is a very traditional church with a set plan for each week and a common order of service that is followed. It is the advent season and this week in the year is the week when the church remembers John the Baptist.

Now, I've heard quite a few talks on John the Baptist, I've heard he was the forerunner for Jesus, that he lived in the desert, baptised people, baptised Jesus, lived on locusts and honey and was beheaded. All of this is important stuff but wasn't the focus of this sermon, the passage used for the sermon comes from John 1:19-28, its not too long so here it is:

19And this is the testimony of John, when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, "Who are you?" 20 He confessed, and did not deny, but confessed, "I am not the Christ." 21And they asked him, "What then? Are you Elijah?" He said, "I am not." "Are you the Prophet?" And he answered, "No." 22So they said to him, "Who are you? We need to give an answer to those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?" 23He said, "I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, 'Make straight the way of the Lord,' as the prophet Isaiah said."

24(Now they had been sent from the Pharisees.) 25They asked him, "Then why are you baptizing, if you are neither the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?" 26John answered them, "I baptize with water, but among you stands one you do not know, 27even he who comes after me, the strap of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie." 28These things took place in Bethany across the Jordan, where John was baptizing.

The part the preacher focused on predominantly was how John responded to the questions, first of all John is asked '"Who are you?"', his response is completely out of the ordinary, one would expect him to respond with, his name (and given the time perhaps 'Son of Zechariah'), something that describes himself, what he does or is doing there but he doesn't, he responds with:

'"I am not the Christ"' - immediately John is turning the focus away from himself, he is immediately saying, I'm not important.

They then ask John if he is Elijah, he says he isn't and if he is a prophet, he says no. John is clearly not looking to make himself a big deal. John is not looking on and saying 'Ok, I'm doing this for God but a little credit here and there is nice isn't it? I deserve some praise!'

The priests and Levites still press John for an answer on who he is, they have done what is so easy for us to do, they've missed who John is trying to point them to and got completely and utterly caught up in the man in front of them. Stop and think about this for a minute, do you do this? For one I know I get caught up in situations like this all to often, think about a great speaker you hear, someone you respect a lot, is it not the case that a lot of the time we know (and want to know) more about the people telling us about God than the God they're telling us about? Is it not also the case that we often spend more time talking about the people who talk about God than talking about God himself? - Certainly much of this is for various different reasons but I suspect it isn't only me and the priests and Levites above who sometimes become focused on the man rather than the God.

John's response is to quote the book of Isaiah, again his focus points towards the Lord, he says I am just the preparing the way for the Lord. Still the priests and Levites do not focus on God, still they focus on John with another question about him, they question his authority to baptise, John's response again points away from himself and to the Lord this time in an even stronger way.

"I baptize with water, but among you stands one you do not know, 27even he who comes after me, the strap of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie."

Now, the statement above doesn't mean as much nowadays as then, sure it is obvious that John is saying the one to come after him (Jesus) is more important than him but he is in fact saying this in much stronger terms, the priests and Levites would have known that not even servants were expected to untie the strap of a sandal, John was using a statement that they would understand clearly, John was saying, 'I'm not even worthy of doing what you wouldn't even expect a servant to do', John wasn't just saying Jesus was more important than him, he was saying that compared to Jesus, he was nothing.

There is the second thing about John that is an eye opener, I will profess that Jesus is all important and I'm nothing, I know this is true, but do I live it? do I practice that? There is still that old man in me that looks on myself as very important, in fact that side of me probably looks on me as the most important. How often will we sulk and moan when things don't go exactly as we want them? How often will we have our plan and our dreams and if we're really honest, a lot of the time we think we know best and what we want, we deserve. John's response above isn't like that, John is really saying I am nothing - even when he has the opportunity to say he's important.

Getting to that position I actually think is a scary prospect, it is really tough to consider a situation where you're in the position where you're saying, it truly is all about Jesus and he is all that matters not me. The old man in us does not like the idea of God being in control, the old man wants us in control, only through God and his Holy Spirit will we ever be able to get anywhere in having a focus that is on God and not ourselves and I pray that regardless of whether its scary or not God would guide me to be who he wants me to be.

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