Monday, October 24, 2011

The Message Of John The Baptist

If you were John the Baptist, and if you were given the responsibility of preparing the way for the Messiah's ministry, which was to usher in the Kingdom of God, where would you start?  Matthew tells us that John foretold the coming of the Kingdom of God, the coming of Jesus, and baptized people for repentance, but that doesn't tell us a lot about the nature of John's message itself.  Mark isn't any more helpful.  Luke, however, provides us with some dialogue.

John, frustrated by some of the social and religious abuses he saw going on, warned that when the Lord returned it wouldn't necessarily go well for everyone.  This is right in line with many of the Minor Prophets' warnings about the coming Day of the Lord.  This got the attention of many who were listening because they asked him what they could do, I'm guessing to divert any coming wrath.  John's response is interesting.

1) If you have two coats, give one to someone who has none.
2) The same applies to food.
3) Tax collectors shouldn't falsely increase taxes and then skim off the top.
4) Soldiers (for a modern reading, read "police") shouldn't use their power and influence to take advantage of others.
5) Learn to be content with your wages.

Seems pretty simple, right?  But Luke points out that the people where filled with a sense of expectation.  What does it mean that the Messiah is coming, and the Kingdom of God with him?  Generosity, fairness, true protection, those are things to get excited about, because let's be honest, we don't see those things real often.  When God's will is done on earth as it is in heaven, those are the ideals that rule the day.

I love John's message.  Buildings of books have been written about who Jesus was and what he was about and what the Kingdom of God even means, but when crowds asked John about it, he got right to the nuts and bolts of it all.  If you have more than you need, give it to someone who doesn't have enough.  Don't use power to extort others, but rather use it for their benefit.  Don't be greedy, but learn to be content.  That's great.  In a Christian culture that is presently obsessed with application and relevancy, John's message seems pretty applicable and relevant to me.

But also challenging, if I'm honest.  John's message truly was radical.  Outside the Kingdom of God, if you have extra you put it away for a rainy day.  If I give a loan, I want it back with interest.  And as we have all experienced in some small way or another, power corrupts.  There was a reason the crowds were expectant, a reason they longed to see the world John was painting for them.  I think that if the Church would listen to John a little more, the communities surrounding our buildings, homes, and work places might develop a sense of expectation as well.  A glimpse of God's kingdom would be seen here on earth.

Stopping point: Luke 3

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