Nurturing/ Teaching Courses
The Baptist and The Christ
Dr. Alex Tang
This year’s theme is “He must increase and I must decrease”. Basically it is about relationships. Relationship between a person and his God. It is about the character of the person and his God. It is about the influence of one person on another in this character building. A ‘Thou & I’ relationship. I would like to do a series of studies on this ‘Thou and I’ relationship. Over the next six months I would like to study the lives of Saul & Samuel, Paul & Timothy, Paul & Barnabas, Ruth & Naomi and the Baptist and the Christ.
The time of approximately 400 years that separate Nehemiah to Christ is called the intertestamental period (c.432-5BC). With the Babylonian captivity, Israel ceased to be a nation and became a territory under a succession of empires – the Persians, the Hellenistic, the Hasmonean and then the Roman empire. During the exile, Israel was cut off from the temple, divested of nationhood and surrounded by pagan religious practices. Her faith was threatened by extinction. Under these circumstances, the exiles survived by focussing their faith on the Torah and the belief that there were God’s people. There were no prophets for 300 years.
It was understandable then there was great excitement when word spread around that there is a prophet preaching and baptising in the Jordan valley (in Aenon near to Salim). Has God remembered the Israelites? Has God sent a new Prophet? Has Elijah returned? Has the Christ arrived? These must be some of the thoughts that ran through the minds of the people of Israel. It is not surprising that there is a national revival and people flock to this prophet. Mark noted that the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem went out to him (Mk1:5) This prophet was John the Baptist.
John was born (c.7 BC) to an elderly couple, Zacharias a priest and his wife Elisabeth. He grew up to manhood in the wilderness of Judea (Lk 1:80). There are speculations that he was associated with the Qumran community ( the Dead Sea scrolls) or a similar Essene community. The reason is that baptism was not common in ancient Judaism and the baptism with water that John practiced was similar to that prescribed in the Qumran Rule of the Community. It was also speculated that John broke away from the community and was living in the desert when he received his prophetic call (Lk 3:2) in c. AD 27. He was described by Mark that he worn clothing made of camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. He dressed like a prophet because most of the prophets like Elijah worn leather belt. It like what my golf coach told me. “Doc, you do not have to play golf well but you must dress like a golf pro”. Power dressing for prophets.
John’s prophetic ministry was threefold.
(1) He calls for repentance for the forgiveness of sins. He told them that the axe is already at the foot of the tree and every tree that do not produce good fruit will be cut down and burnt. The rich must share with the poor. The tax collector must not collect more that is due and the soldiers told not to extort money and accuse people falsely. (Lk3:7-14)
(2) He baptise them for entry into a new community- a remnant for the coming One. He is preparing a people for the coming One.
(3) He prepared for the coming of the Christ
He quoted Isaiah “I am the voice of one calling in the desert. ‘Make straight the way for the Lord’”.
MT 3:11 "I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me will come one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not fit to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. 12 His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor, gathering his wheat into the barn and burning up the chaff with unquenchable fire."
Jesus came to John and was baptised by John. Then Jesus was tempted by Satan. When he defeated Satan, he started his ministry near John.
JN 3:22 After this, Jesus and his disciples went out into the Judean countryside, where he spent some time with them, and baptized. 23 Now John also was baptizing at Aenon near Salim, because there was plenty of water, and people were constantly coming to be baptized. 24 (This was before John was put in prison.) 25 An argument developed between some of John's disciples and a certain Jew over the matter of ceremonial washing. 26 They came to John and said to him, "Rabbi, that man who was with you on the other side of the Jordan--the one you testified about--well, he is baptizing, and everyone is going to him."
There is evidence that suggest that Jesus may have worked with John – that man who was with you – and now Jesus crowd is getting bigger that John’s crowd. John’s disciples are complaining because Jesus’ ministry is flourishing and it must have affected theirs. “Everyone is going to him”.
John’s response revealed his character.
It revealed his relationship with Jesus.
There are 4 lessons we can learn from the character of John by his response.
JN 3:27 To this John replied, "A man can receive only what is given him from heaven.
1. BE CONTENT WITH WHAT YOU HAVE BEEN GIVEN AND WORK WITH IT
A man must be content to receive the gift which is given to him from heaven: there is no other source. And John is aware of this. He knows that he is a prophet that preaches repentance of sin. He knew that he have been given the gift of asceticism – living in the desert and feeding on locusts and honey.
As I look at our lives, I wonder how many of us are contented with what God has given us. Are we contented with our physical appearance? Our talents? Our achievements? Our degrees or companies? Or are we always asking for more? When we have one house, we want two. And when we have two, we want three. When is enough enough? And we spend so much time and effort and emotions trying to gain more and more. When is enough enough? When can we stop and enjoy what God has given us.
Can we say like Paul
Phil 4:11 I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. 12 I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.
Last year, I attended a course on the Christian Spirit by James Houston, Professor of Spiritual Theology at Regent College, Vancouver, Canada. As some of you know, book collecting is one of my hobbies. I bought along some of my books written by him for Houston to autograph. In one of my books, he wrote, “ Holiness with Contentment is great gain”. (1Tim 6:6) Wow. It was really a word of knowledge to me. It spoke to me as at that stage in my life, I was wrestling with whether I am doing enough for God. The Lord is teaching me to receive holiness with contentment from him. So I can identify with John when he said a man could only receive what is given to him from heaven. Maybe not with his diet of locusts and honey. I prefer sushi, McDonald and Kobe beef.
28 You yourselves can testify that I said, `I am not the Christ but am sent ahead of him.'
2. KNOW YOUR CALLING
John knew exactly what is his calling.
Do we know what our callings are? Often, when we Christians speak of the word ‘calling’ we often mean a call to full time Christian service. Os Guinness, in his book, The Call: Finding and Fulfilling the Central Purpose of Your Life, made a very important point – “We are not primarily called to do something or to go somewhere; we are called to someone. We are not called first to special work but to God. The key to answering the call is to be devoted to no one and to nothing above God himself”.
John understood this very well. He is called to his God and his work is to prepare the way for the Christ. So are we. We are called by God. Our calling is to live before God. Before the audience of One. If we can understand that, everything in our lives – our lives, our families, our jobs, our possessions will fall into place.
29 The bride belongs to the bridegroom. The friend who attends the bridegroom waits and listens for him, and is full of joy when he hears the bridegroom's voice. That joy is mine, and it is now complete.
3. BE JOYFUL THAT YOU ARE DOING GOD’S WILL.
In a Jewish wedding, the friend or the best man has a very important role. He will organise the whole event, make sure everything is in place, invite the guests, and will give away the bride at the wedding ceremony. Once he has given away the bride, the bridegroom becomes the center of attention. The best man quietly steps aside. There will be great joy for the bridegroom. There will be no envy. John used the illustration of a wedding to show that he has great joy in doing God’s will.
So will we have joy when we are doing God’s will.
30 He must become greater; I must become less.
KJV “ He must increase but I must decrease”.
4. BE WILLING TO LET GO WHEN THE JOB IS DONE
“ You yourselves were there when I made it public that I was not the Messiah but simply the one sent ahead of him to get things ready. The one who gets the bride is, by definition, the bridegroom. And the bridegroom’s friend, his ‘best man’- that’s me – in place at his side where he can hear every word is genuinely happy. How could he be jealous when he knows that the wedding is finished and the marriage is off to a good start?
‘That’s why my cup is running over. This is the assigned moment for him to move into the center, while I slip off to the sidelines’ Eugene Peterson, The Message
That is the greatest words anyone can say. John has worked hard and developed a very successful ministry. Thousands have come to repentance and are being baptised. So successful that the religious authorities in Jerusalem are getting worried. It is equivalent of being a pastor of a megachurch in this century. Yet he is willing to step aside and let Jesus take over. How many people can do that? How many people can spend years and a lot of hard work to build a successful ministry and then voluntarily give it to another? If we look at the successful Christian ministries, how many leaders have voluntarily given their ministry to another when they felt their job is done? Most gave it up because they died or they are too sick to continue. Look at Billy Graham and John Wimber of the Vineyard Churches. Billy Graham is too sick to continue and John Wimber died. In both ministries, there was a leadership vacuum and a power struggle to be the successor.
I have a friend who was with a church planting team. For 7 years he worked hard in church planting. Finally the church is able to stand on its feet and he felt the Lord leading her to a new ministry. But he could not let go. He is still struggling after 2 years to let go of the church he helped planted. It has affected his relationship with the Lord.
On 24th October 2000, Jack Hayford of The Church on the Way (a megachurch in California) stepped aside after 30 years as senior pastor. (Ministries Today, May/June 2000) He gave the following reasons:
(1) I stepped aside because of a holy sense of God’s call and promise - called to start another ministry to nurture younger pastors.
(2) I stepped aside because of a conviction about an all-too-human tendency – subtle but real tendency to clutch onto whatever position, security, recognition or prestige God’s grace or people’s favor has given us.
(3) I stepped aside because of a persuasion regarding pastoral integrity – after years of delegation; the other staff members are doing all the work.
(4) I stepped aside because of the confirmed evidence of a qualified successor- the transition was a 5 years process with Scott Bauer taking over.
I do not believe John can let go if he did not have the character that
(1) was contented with what God has given him and worked with it
(2) knowing his calling
(3) joyful in following God’s will
Without these three components he will not be able to let go of his ministry when the job is done.
And it was a successful ministry. It was because John was so successful in preaching repentance that the people of Israel were ready and receptive to Jesus’ ministry. When he called Simon and Andrew the fishermen, they were prepared to follow him.
Jesus regards John as the last member of the prophetic succession.
LK 16:16 "The Law and the Prophets were proclaimed until John. Since that time, the good news of the kingdom of God is being preached, and everyone is forcing his way into it.
John is the last of the prophets of the Old Covenant. He marks the end of the Covenant Kingdom based on the Law and the Prophets. He built the bridge to Jesus. Jesus, by his redemptive work on the cross, started the Kingdom of God, built on grace.
From our study, 4 important aspects of John’s character stood out
(1) he was content with what he has received and he worked with what he had,
(2) he knew his calling,
(3) he was joyful in following God’s will
(4) he was willing to let go and let Jesus take over.
CONTENTMENT, CALLING, JOY AND LETTING GO
I do not believe John developed his character overnight. It must have taken him a long time with many ups and downs, with failure and success, with joy and pain. But his over-riding motivation is the love of God.
A.W.Tozer wrote in God Tells the Man Who Cares, “Not only are we all in the processing of becoming: we are becoming what we love. We are to a large degree the sum of our loves and we will of moral necessity grow into the image of what we love most; for love is among other things a creative affinity: it changes and molds and shapes and transforms. It is without doubt the most powerful agent affecting human nature next to the direct action of the Holy Spirit of God within the soul….
Loving wrong objects is fatal to spiritual growth; it twists and deforms the life and makes impossible the appearing of the image of Christ in the soul. It is only as we love right objects that we become right, and only as we go on loving them that we continue to experience a slow but continuous transmutation towards the objects of our purified affection”
These are the characteristic of John’s character that we can learn. That we can ask the Holy Spirit to produce in our character.
Soli Deo Gloria
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