Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Who Are We Not?

Here we see John the Baptist giving testimony. Often testimony is about who we are. We tell people we are Christians and we tell them why. This testimony is mostly about who John is not.
A man named John was sent from God.He came for testimony, to testify to the light,so that all might believe through him.He was not the light,but came to testify to the light.
And this is the testimony of John.When the Jews from Jerusalem sent priests and Levites to him to ask him, “Who are you?”He admitted and did not deny it,but admitted, “I am not the Christ.”So they asked him,“What are you then? Are you Elijah?”And he said, “I am not.”“Are you the Prophet?”He answered, “No.”So they said to him,“Who are you, so we can give an answer to those who sent us?What do you have to say for yourself?”He said:“I am the voice of one crying out in the desert,‘make straight the way of the Lord,’”as Isaiah the prophet said.”Some Pharisees were also sent.
They asked him,“Why then do you baptize if you are not the Christ or Elijah or the Prophet?”John answered them,“I baptize with water;but there is one among you whom you do not recognize,the one who is coming after me,whose sandal strap I am not worthy to untie.”This happened in Bethany across the Jordan,where John was baptizing.
People wanted to know if John was the messiah. He said No. It was important for the gospel writer to note this because there were some groups of people following John the Baptist even in the late first century. The church wanted to encourage those people to become Christians so they highlighted the fact that John himself pointed to someone greater than he was. He pointed to Jesus.

He even went too far in terms of denial. He denied being Elijah. Yet he really was. Jesus said that the prophesy that Elijah would come as a forerunner to the messiah was referring to John the Baptist. So he was a prophet and really was Elijah in the relevant sense that it was being asked. So he erred on the side of humility. 

There is often a confusion between humility and boldness. We think humble people are those that never make any waves. They labor behind the scenes and you don't notice them. John the Baptist is not like that. He made a lot of waves. He is a strong preacher. He draws crowds. He gets religious leaders to leave Jerusalem and come down to the Jordan to see him. He even had the courage to talk about King Herod's sexual sins,something that eventually got him executed. He was no shrinking violet. Yet he was humble. 

You hear this today. People say we should be more humble meaning we should not make definitive statements about God's will. We should not call anything sinful or disordered. That we should not suppose we have the truth. We are just people and not God. 

Yet it is precisely because we are not God that we must speak. We don't have the right to decide that this or that part of God's word is too offensive or too uncertain. Humility is about being who we are. We don't have the truth. The Truth has us. It does not mean we never confront anyone. It means we choose to fight God's battles and not our own.

This also fits with the second reading from 1 Thes 5. 
Brothers and sisters:Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing.In all circumstances give thanks,for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus.Do not quench the Spirit.Do not despise prophetic utterances.Test everything; retain what is good.Refrain from every kind of evil.
I found this quite interesting because many of these verses are quoted in widely different contexts. Seeing them all together was surprising. Yet humility is the constant theme. Why do we pray without ceasing? Because we are wholly dependent on God. It is not an impossible rule to follow. It is a mindset that makes the Christian life possible. 

Give thanks in all circumstances. This verse was quoted in a book called The Hiding Place about a Nazi concentration camp. Can we give thanks there? The point is not to give thanks for the fleas as they did. The point is to know God is there and give thanks for that. If you see His presence in the fleas that is great. If you don't then just trust that God is there and give Him thanks.

Don't quench the spirit. This is often used in Pentecostal circles when arguing against church authority. Obviously the spirit is on my side and the pastor had better not reign me in at all or he will be quenching the spirit. Actually the spirit is what should reign you in. Legitimate church authority is one way He does it. 

Test everything. Again this is often applied to others but not to yourself. When we lack humility we think we need to test everything but our own ideas. Somehow it is obvious those are completely in line with God. .

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