Appreciating John the Baptist a Bit Differently – Blogging Through Our Sermon Series

Well, I’m behind on my goal of blogging through the Living God’s Story sermon series but it doesn’t mean I’m not thinking about it. And lately, I’ve been thinking about John the Baptist and his prophetic ministry.

Back in February, Bryan preached this sermon on John the Baptist and my favorite part was when he contextualized what John might say to us as present day believers. He said, “Give it up, churchgoers! God’s not interested in your choirs and praise bands, your screens and sermons. You sing your hearts out on Sunday, then swear and slander and gossip all week long. You throw money in the plate to soothe your conscience, then spend the rest on clothes and cars while the world goes hungry. You read your Bible, but don’t do what it says. You call yourself Christ-followers, but your lives are no different than anyone else’s! Turn away from your old way of “doing church” and “being Christian.” Start over! Let God rule! Get with God’s agenda, or get left behind!” You can listen to the sermon here.

It resonated with me and I kept hearing the same from others. It also came up a couple times at that evening’s Reading Circle (we’re discussing Don Miller’s Million Miles in a Thousand Years). I liked that Bryan said it. I liked that he included his own preaching in the critique and I liked that we liked it. It was a collective moment of self-awareness and I am praying that continues to lead us to Spirit-led change.

Many have said that John the Baptist (and Jesus) would be kicked out of most churches today. That may be true, I don’t know – sadly there are a lot of “bad” churches out there. The real question is, “Would John (and Jesus) be kicked out of our church today?”

Some would answer yes, some would be defensive and I think many others would say, “Well, maybe. Depends on what they said.” Maybe. It also depends on who you are in your church. If you’re an influencer, decision-maker, or a wall-flower, the answers will likely vary.

Anyway, I had prepared the Oasis study that week (our study for small groups following the sermon series) and I was reminded of two things.

One is how hated John really was by the political leaders like Herod and his wife Herodias. As you may know, he publicly criticized Herod Antipas (one of Herod the Great’s sons) and Herodias (his brother’s ex-wife). The story goes that when Antipas visited his brother, Phillip, he wanted Herodias as a wife for himself. So Herod Antipas divorced his own wife, and married Herodias. She, of course, had to divorce Philip first. Which of course angered Herodias which eventually led to his arrest, imprisonment and eventually beheading. If you understand this, you see why he’s been out in the wilderness. It’s not just because he’s weird or because he failed to pay his rent and got evicted – he’s out there to stay alive.

Two is how just how much the people really loved John. They went out into the wilderness to find him, be baptized by him and hear his preaching. We’re talking about the wilderness here. So parking is not a problem but John’s worship service is missing a few things like ushers, seats, nursery care, a building, even service times.

Let’s face it – John was probably a little weird. But he wasn’t the weird protest guy standing outside the post office with the weird signs and flyers; John was a prophet with an audience. He was more like Bob Dylan (they’re both Jewish, both liked the outdoors, both love a good protest. I’d say an important difference was that John the Baptist likely had a better singing voice. Don’t hate on me, I’m a big Dylan fan, I’m just saying.)

He’s so popular among the people that even the Pharisees and Sadducees came out to find him in the wilderness and they were competing religious sects! Often, the establishment would ignore someone like this – dismiss him as an idiot. In John’s case, they wanted the people to see them in connection with him. That’s pretty interesting.

I’m not sure if John would have got kicked out of most of today’s evangelical churches. Unlike many of them where you vote in the elders and select staff and remove them through by-laws, etc. the people couldn’t actually “kick out” a Pharisee. If I am understanding the stories right, the people kicked themselves out of their own fellowships to go find John and be baptized by him.

I think I got a bit carried away by the caricature of John that I started to miss that part of the story. His courage cost him not only his life but his home and community before he was arrested. He was an outlaw not because he robbed banks but he because he was faithful to his calling. In seeing this, I appreciate John’s ministry even more and reflect further on the nature of courage and calling.

Have a thought or two about John the Baptist? Feel free to comment.

Speak Your Mind