JOHN THE BAPTIST IS WORTHY OF IMITATION
Our youngest granddaughter is a little better than a year and a half. She is in the middle of learning the English language. She is on a crash course. It is fun to listen to her speak. She repeats absolutely everything. She has figured out that Mom and Dad have names other than Mom and Dad. She often calls Mom Rachel. Like any sinful child she has learned what the word “No” means very well. At least that’s what Rachel and Ben say. I do admit that she did say “No” one day, but it really wasn’t a “no.” She wagged her finger and said “no, no, no.” That’s not a “no” as in “No, I am not going to bed. Her “no,” no,” “no” made me smile. It isn’t hard to figure out who she learned that from. She was merely imitating what she has seen.
Someone said that imitation is the highest form of flattery. The Bible says we should practice imitation. “Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love just as Christ loved us.” If only we could… In Hebrews, “Remember your leaders who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith.” A whole chapter of the Bible – Hebrews 11 – records the names of many people who are worthy of imitation. Not on that list in Hebrews but is on our list is John the Baptist. “John the Baptist is worthy of our imitation.” 1) He testifies that Jesus gives light; 2) He testifies that only Jesus gives light.
In one of the assisted living homes I visit, there is a sweet elderly woman from Mississippi who is blind. Her name is Wille. I feel so sorry for her. When I arrive the caretakers get the people who worship with me to sit at a table. They take her by the arm and lead her down the hall. When I see her, I always say, “Hi Wille!!” and she starts reaching for me. I grab her by the hand and I take her to her chair. I always sit next to her. She always wants to touch my hand or arm and sit pretty close. In fact, if she isn’t touching someone she panics. When I leave I give her a hug. She doesn’t always want to let go. She wants to hug everyone, because she needs to know there are people beyond her dark world.
The Bible often contrasts darkness and light. The Bible associates darkness with sin and evil and judgment. The prophet Joel spoke about Judgment Day when he wrote, “The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord?” Satan and his evil angels are called “the rulers of the darkness of this world.” Hell, the destiny of Satan and every demonic spirit and unbeliever is called “outer darkness where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth.” Sin is called “the works of darkness.” Those who live in sin are spoken of as those “who live the works of darkness.”
The sad story is that darkness is such a major part of life. We were conceived and born in darkness. As the Bible says we were born in sin. “Nobody is perfect” is said and known by just about everyone. A lot of the people at the nursing homes where we conduct worship are at some stage of dementia, but there is something that I have noticed when I preach to them. They have a slight smile that breaks out on their face when I talk about sin. It is the kind of smile that people have when they agree with what has been said.
People, who are literally living in darkness and cannot see, stumble and grope and are afraid because they can’t see. Darkness is such an apt description of the person who is living without God. People who are living in spiritual darkness stumble through life bouncing from one thing to another. Is there a God? Why am I here? What is my purpose? Is there a heaven? Is there a hell? If there is a God, does he love me?
An audiologist said there have been studies done that state that people who start to lose their hearing are more likely to develop dementia. Since people can’t hear, they tend to slip into the own little world and parts of the brain shut down. I am guessing that happens when people lose their sight too. Living in spiritual darkness turns life inward. Selfishness, self-righteousness and self-centeredness are telltale symptoms.
We need light! We need light desperately. John the Baptist, among a lot of other godly people, came to testify about the one who gives light. “There came a man who was sent from God; his name was John. He came as a witness to testify concerning that light so that through him all men might believe. He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light. The true light that gives light to every man was coming into the world.” Notice he doesn’t say that he was light; he came as a witness to the light. He came to testify that Jesus is the light of the world.
While darkness is often symbolic of sin and Satan and everything that is evil, light is the opposite. Jesus is light. “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” In the Old Testament Malachi referred to Messiah (Jesus) as the Sun of Righteousness - Sun as in what is in the sky. He warms us with his love and warms us to love. He was the Sun of Righteousness. He declares those who believe in him as righteous and holy. An exchange occurs – our sins on him and his perfect and righteous life to us. God’s children are called “children of light.” It is as if his children wear reflective tape. The light of Christ reflects off us so people can see Jesus in us. As children of light we know that the Word of God is “a lamp unto our feet and a light unto our path.” As God’s children we have better things to do than to think of evil ways to live and get our kicks out of hurting and harming and insulting people. Darkness contrasted to light!
John’s role was to bring people to the light. While John lived in a different era and wore clothes that would never make it on the pages of GQ; while his diet of locusts and wild honey would never be on the menu of any restaurant that wanted to survive, when all is said and done, the task of testifying about the light of Christ has not changed. That’s our job too. That’s why we have Living Christmas. That’s why we open the doors of MessiahLutheranChurch. We are here to testify that Jesus is where real light is found.
We are here to testify to the fact that Jesus is the only light. There was an era of history called the Age of Enlightenment. Historians would say it occurred from the 1650’s to 1776. One historian defined it like this: “(It was a time) in which cultural and intellectual forces in Western Europe emphasized reason, analysis and individualism rather than traditional lines of authority.” When he says that people were encouraged to put their reason over traditional lines of authority, remember that the traditional lines of authority were found in the Bible and in God’s church. People who are equated with being part of the age of Enlightenment, sometimes referred to the Age of Reason, had no use for God’s inspired word. They had no use for Jesus. They had no use for faith. They were held captive to themselves and not to God’s Word.
There is only one source of light. That’s Jesus and the word he has given us. “Now this was John’s testimony when the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem sent priests and Levites to ask him who he was.He did not fail to confess, but confessed freely, “I am not the Messiah.” John the Baptist created quite a stir in those days. The Bible says that all of Jerusalem and Judea went out to see him and hear him preaching and baptizing near the Jordan River. There could have been hundreds and hundreds of thousands of people who went to check him out. But what did they see? There was no magnificent cathedral; there was not a man wearing a Brooks Brothers suit. Just a lot of dust and rocks and a man who could have used a good day at a barber! But he could really preach!
There were all kinds of opinions about him. Some even thought he was the Christ, the Messiah. Even the religious leaders in Jerusalem wanted to know more about him. But they were too haughty and uppity to go and have a conversation with John. They sent representatives. They asked him, “Who are you?” John made one thing clear right off the bat - he was NOT the Messiah. “Are you Elijah? Are you the Prophet?”
Why would they think he was Elijah? The Lord took him up to heaven in fiery chariot centuries before. But I am sure they remembered some of the last words of the Old Testament written by Malachi. “See, I will send the prophet Elijah to you before that great and dreadful day of the Lord comes.He will turn the hearts of the parents to their children, and the hearts of the children to their parents.” The Jewish religious leaders took that passage very literally. They were expecting Elijah instead of an Elijah like prophet who preached with tenacity and power. That Elijah like prophet was the one to whom they were talking whose message of repentance was powerful because the Spirit of God accompanied the message to change so many hearts to see their sin but also their Savior Jesus..
Are you the Prophet? Again it would seem that those representatives were referring to something that Moses wrote 1500 year prior in the book of Deuteronomy. “The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your fellow Israelites. You must listen to him.” Hey Mister John the Baptist, with the long and unkempt hair and beard, is that you? “No! Not that one either.” That prophet was Jesus, the anointed one to be the prophet, priest and king!
John finally told them as he quotes the prophet Isaiah, “I am the voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way for the Lord.’” John took them to the fortieth chapter of the book of Isaiah. He was the one God called to make a straight path for the Lord himself.
John’s preaching included heavy doses of sin. Sin is severe. It is the obstacle between people and a relationship with God. Once convinced of it, there is only one way we can go – directly to the one who came after John, the Lord Jesus who forgives and can only forgive. Be baptized because it is through Baptism the Spirit connects you to Jesus who takes your sins away.
During the summers of my high school and college years, I worked for my dad. I lived at home. My dad paid me well so I could put myself through school. My days were long. They began at six in the morning. One night I went out. It doesn’t make any difference with whom or where I went. Where I grew up people went to bed early to get up early to work. As I was going home (plenty early mind you), I hit a stretch of road that was under construction. One lane of traffic was shut down and detoured. I am convinced that detour signs were put up randomly by the road construction crews that didn’t give them thought. Instead of taking the detour I drove right into the construction zone and into the lane they were preparing to pave probably the next day. I got stuck, sand up to my axels. There was no traffic because everyone went home early to sleep so they could go to work early. I was there for hours. No cell phones! There was a day, kids, when there were no cell phones.
I started to dig around the wheels with my hands and drove a little way to get stuck again. Hours later all dirty and sweaty I got the car out. I got home when my dad and the sun were coming up. He didn’t exactly say it like this, but in essence said, “Well, where were you, son?”
“I got stuck.”
“In the ditch?”
“No, in the middle of the road.” There were these signs and arrows and they were pointing this way and that way.”
“We will talk about this later. “Change your clothes and get to work.”
Hey, it all sounds funny now, but it wasn’t then. And it sure isn’t funny when people are confused and lost when it comes to heaven. John made it clear that he was not the Messiah, not Elijah or The Prophet. He was not the way to heaven. Jesus is and only Jesus, the babe born in Bethlehem, the bloody and bludgeoned Jesus of Calvary. But also Jesus of the empty grave! Keep following him. Keep leading others to him who is the only and real light.