Tag Archives: John the Baptist

What We Find in Our Fears

Herod wanted to kill John, but he was afraid of the people, because they considered John a prophet.

The king (Herod) was distressed, but because of his oaths and his dinner guests, he ordered that her request be granted and had John beheaded in the prison.
Matthew 14:5,9-10 (NIV)

A few weeks ago we journeyed through the account of Herod the Great killing all of the baby boys of Bethlehem under the age of two, fearing that the Messiah born there (as reported to him by the wise men from the east) would grow up to supplant him. Herod was more afraid of losing his worldly power than anything else.

One of the little confusions in the story of Jesus is the fact that the Herod who killed the babies (that would be Herod the Great) is not the same Herod as the one we read about in today’s chapter. Herod the Great died (doesn’t matter how hard you cling to power and riches, death gets everyone in the end) and his kingdom was split up and given to three of Herod’s sons [cue: theme from My Three Sons]. The Herod who killed John the Baptist in today’s chapter is Herod Antipas, son of Herod the Great.

Now think about Herod Antipas for a moment. He is the son of a brutal and ruthless tyrant and watched his father desperately clinging to power. Think about the sibling rivalry among Herod’s sons for the throne and all that came with it. Think about the fear, machinations, and intrigue that may have been present between the three brothers. Think about their inherited lust for power and desire to cling to it.

Matthew gives us a couple of fascinating clues about the mind of Herod Antipas. Herod Antipas wanted to kill John. He had learned a lot about rubbing out your enemies to solidify your power from his father Herod the Great (“Leave the knife; Take the humus.”). The goal of Herod Antipas was holding onto what power he’d inherited, and John the Baptist was very popular with the people. Killing John might create a riot among the commoners, which the Romans would then have to deal with. The Romans didn’t like uprising and unrest in their Empire. Caesar Augustus in Rome might choose to replace Herod Antipas just as he replaced Herod Antipas’ brother, Herod Archelaus, years earlier.

A few verses later we learn that Herod Antipas got played by his lover, who also happened to be his sister-in-law, his other brother Philip’s wife. Remember what I said about fraternal competition? Herod Antipas has stolen Philip’s wife who tempts Herod with her own daughter, his niece. Seriously, this is like a soap opera. Now, Herod Antipas is stuck with a house full of guests and his niece has publicly challenged H.A. to bring her the head of John the Baptist on a platter. Herod is afraid of the riot, but he’s even more fearful of looking weak in front of the rich and powerful players in the room. He’s stuck. Herod must choose between competing fears and their threat to his pride, prestige, and power.

This morning I’m thinking about Herod Antipas. He feared losing power. He feared losing face. What he obviously did not fear (and seemingly gave no thought to) was God or anything to do with the things of the Spirit. He was oblivious to the Great Story in which he and his father were playing, and would continue to play, a significant part.

Our fears tell us a lot about ourselves, our priorities, and our faith (or lack thereof). What are my fears? What do they say about me? Do my fears reveal a soul clinging to that which I can never really have, have enough of, or keep in the eternal perspective? Am more like Herod, or more like John and Jesus?

“Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.”
-Jesus

 

Firing a Warning Shot Across Religion’s Bow

But when [John the Baptist] saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to where he was baptizing, he said to them: “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not think you can say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.”
Matthew 3:7-10

As Jesus appeared on the scene, the political landscape in the land of Palestine was a complex one. The Roman Empire occupied the territory and the occupational forces maintained law and order. Rome maintained regional civil ruler which gave the residents of the area a local authority. Herod the Great died a few years after he slaughtered all the baby boys of Bethlehem, and his rule was divided between his sons. If you were Jewish, however, your life and religion was subject to the authority of the High Priest and religious leaders who managed the Temple in Jerusalem. It operated much like a city-state under Roman authority. The temple had its own currency (thus the need for the money changers that Jesus would throw out) and economy.

Both Rome and Herod knew that the Jewish people held allegiance to their religion above any civil ruler. They’d been living under one foreign power or another for over 500 years. Medes, Persians, Greeks, and Romans had all occupied their land. The Jewish people had no allegiance to any of them. They High Priest and religious leaders ruled their people through their intricate system of laws and held the power of salvation by cutting people off from making their sacrifices or deeming their sacrifices unacceptable. Religion had become a powerful racket.

John the Baptist was a prophet, an outsider, and a troublemaker for the status quo. People flocked to the wasteland outside of Jerusalem to hear him preach a message that resonated with those marginalized by the Righteous Racket of the Temple’s power brokers. John told people to change their hearts, to repent of their sins, and he washed them in the waters of the Jordan rather than insisting they go pay exorbitant currency exchange rates to purchase “official” temple goods for sacrifice at the Temple. In other words, the more popular he became, the more he cut into Temple profits and represented a potential for uprising that threatened the power of the Sanhedrin’s powerful syndicate.

So, the High Priest sends envoys to check out this vagabond upstart. John wastes no time. He fires a prophetic shot across their bow. One is coming who will change everything. Tectonic plates in the spiritual realm are going to shift and the Temple’s racket will be no more. The first shot in a conflict is fired which will ultimately lead those same religious racketeers to pay 30 pieces of silver for Jesus’ betrayal and they will stop at nothing until He is executed.

Yet, just like Herod the Great in yesterday’s chapter, in God’s economy those who stop at nothing to cling to power will ultimately find it slipping from their grasp. The Jesus they executed would not stay in the grave, and His followers would “turn the world upside down” within a generation. At the end of that same generation the Romans would destroy the Temple in Jerusalem, and with it they would torch all of the Jewish genealogical records. If you can’t substantiate who is from which tribe then you can’t determine who the Levites are, or who descended from Aaron and qualified as a priest. The Temple and its sacrificial system were no more.

Come gather around people
Wherever you roam
And admit that the waters
Around you have grown
And accept it that soon
You’ll be drenched to the bone
And if your breath to you is worth saving
Then you better start swimming or you’ll sink like a stone
For the times they are a-changing

featured photo courtesy WallyG via Flickr

Dreams, Visions, and Bad Pepperoni

source: h-k-d via Flickr
source: h-k-d via Flickr

For God does speak—now one way, now another—
    though no one perceives it.
In a dream, in a vision of the night,
    when deep sleep falls on people
    as they slumber in their beds,
he may speak in their ears
    and terrify them with warnings,
to turn them from wrongdoing
    and keep them from pride,
to preserve them from the pit,
    their lives from perishing by the sword.
Job 33:14-18 (NIV)

I woke at 2:30 this morning out of a deep sleep and disturbing dream. Like most dreams it was surreal and strange. A thread of storyline was wound loosely around snatches of scenes and emotions. Terrorists were after me. I could trust no one and spent much of my time hiding and trying to avoid those who I knew were enemies bent on my death. I found myself entering what appeared to be a pre-game meeting with the Judson University men’s basketball team when I realized that the room was set to explode. I ran for the door and was barely outside when the bomb went off. Suddenly I was in the custody of two or three of the terrorists and they were dragging me away. I struggled from their grasp and ran for my life. I turned a corner and found that a large contingent of people from my alma mater had arrived (basketball fans, presumably?) and were getting off a bus. If I could just reach them I would be safe, but everything was moving in agonizing slow motion.

I’m not sure what to make of all that. Perhaps it was simply the effect of some bad pepperoni from my pizza the other night.

My local community of Jesus followers has been exploring the subject of dreams and visions of late, beginning with a look at the dreams, visions, and visitations surrounding the Christmas story. There were a lot of them when you think about it:

  • Zechariah (John the Baptist’s dad), had a vision in which the angel told him his barren wife was pregnant.
  • Mary had a visitation telling her she was pregnant by the Holy Spirit with the Messiah.
  • Joseph had a dream telling him not to put Mary away, but to marry her.
  • The shepherds were visited by the angelic host telling them of Jesus’ birth.
  • The Magi were warned in a dream to go home and avoid Herod.
  • Simeon had received a vision that he would not die before he had seen the Christ.
  • Joseph was warned in a dream to flee with his family to Egypt to avoid Herod’s murderous wrath.

I have no doubt that God speaks to people in dreams, in visions, and in visitations. It happens time and time again throughout God’s story. Elihu makes a point of it in his words to Job in today’s chapter. God can and does speak to people through dreams. I believe it a gross mistake to deny this, to close myself off to the truth of it, or harden my heart against the possibility that God might speak to me in such a way.

By the same token, I don’t believe that God speaks to all people through all dreams. A dream may be spiritually significant, inspired by Holy Spirit. A dream may be the surreal by-product of memories, thoughts, and emotions inspired by bad pepperoni. I tend to think that the latter is a common reality, while the former is more the exception than the rule. When signs and wonders become common, everyday occurrences they cease being wonders.

Today, I’m thinking about the wonder of the events surrounding Jesus’ birth, and the role that dreams, visions, and visitations played in this most momentous of events in human history. I’m thinking about my own life journey in which wondrous events of divine design seem to happen on prescribed occasions for specific purpose. They are interspersed by long periods of mundane, daily toil. I’m thinking about finding and maintaining healthy balance and perspective in all of this. I don’t ever want to be guilty of chasing after  obscure, hidden meaning in my dreams while ignoring the plain truth presented clearly in God’s Message.

By the way, I’m also thinking about the Judson University men’s basketball team who blew up in my dream last night. Sorry guys. I’m not a prophet, and I really don’t think that was from God. Blame the pepperoni. Go Eagles!

source: 15918528@N00 via Flickr
source: 15918528@N00 via Flickr

The Intriguing Person of the Prophet Elijah

The upper part of The Transfiguration (1520) b...
The upper part of The Transfiguration (1520) by Raphael, depicting Christ miraculously discoursing with Moses and Elijah. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So [Elijah] did what the Lord had told him. He went to the Kerith Ravine, east of the Jordan, and stayed there. The ravens brought him bread and meat in the morning and bread and meat in the evening, and he drank from the brook. 1 Kings 17:5-6 (NIV)

The prophet Elijah is one of the most intriguing characters in the entirety of God’s Message. He appears out of nowhere, has a brief ministry marked by miraculous events, confronts the evil and powerful King Ahab and Queen Jezebel of Israel, and then disappears in a whirlwind.

Most people don’t realize it, but Elijah also figures into Jesus’ life and teachings. When asked who people that Jesus was, his followers respond that Elijah was a trending vote getter. Jesus told His followers that John the Baptist was the person of Elijah returned to restore all things. On the mount of transfiguration when Jesus was revealed in His glory, Elijah appeared with Him. Jesus referred to Elijah in His teaching on multiple occasions. While hanging on the cross, witnesses thought Jesus was calling out to Elijah.

As I read today’s chapter, I found it interesting that the miracles of Elijah seemed to strongly parallel the miracles of Jesus. The widows flour and oil never ran dry, much like the baskets filled with bread and fish when Jesus fed the crowds with His all you can eat fish fry by the Sea of Galilee. When Elijah takes the dead widow’s son into an upper room and bring’s the boy back to life, it is eerily reminiscent of Jesus going into the room of Jairus’ dead daughter bringing her back to life.

One of the things I have come to appreciate more and more in my sojourn through God’s Message is the connections, parallels, foreshadowing, and recurring themes that stretch across the entirety of the story that God has told and is still telling. I love that God is both an artist and an author. He is telling a story. It is His-story.

Playing the Roles We are Given

English: A painting created by Leonardo Da Vin...
English: A painting created by Leonardo Da Vinci depicting St John the baptist (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“Look! I am sending my messenger, and he will prepare the way before me.” Malachi 3:1 (NLT)

I am teaching a Wednesday night class on creativity. In the first week I made a case for the truth that every human being is made in the image of the Creator, therefore every human being is creative. How the creativity plays out from one person to the next is determined by a whole host of variables, but we are all creative.

Last night our class talked about the fact that some people are creatively gifted in unique ways. A few individuals are prodigies and artistic geniuses in a way that the majority of us will never know nor experience. This does not mean, however, that our creativity is not necessary nor important.

When I read about the messenger in Malachi’s prophesy, I thought about John the Baptist about whom Jesus said the prophecy pointed. John lived a life scratched out in the Judean desert. His role was to prepare the way for and hand the spotlight over to Jesus:

The interest of the people by now was building. They were all beginning to wonder, “Could this John be the Messiah?” But John intervened: “I’m baptizing you here in the river. The main character in this drama, to whom I’m a mere stagehand, will ignite the kingdom life, a fire, the Holy Spirit within you, changing you from the inside out. He’s going to clean house—make a clean sweep of your lives. He’ll place everything true in its proper place before God; everything false he’ll put out with the trash to be burned.” Luke 3:15-17 (MSG) [emphasis added]

I love that John understood his role, and played it well. We so often and unwittingly commit the sin of envy. We compare ourselves to others who have gifts and abilities that we wish we had. We feel less than. We choose to believe that because we do not have the lead role, because we are not in the spotlight, or because our gifts and talents go unrecognized that our gifts and talents do not matter. Nothing could be further from the truth. We each have a role to play, and when we do not play our role the entire drama is diminished.

In God’s Economy, Less is More & the Least is the Greatest

Pope Francis Day OneBut Joseph was upset when he saw that his father placed his right hand on Ephraim’s head. So Joseph lifted it to move it from Ephraim’s head to Manasseh’s head. “No, my father,” he said. “This one is the firstborn. Put your right hand on his head.”

But his father refused. “I know, my son; I know,” he replied. “Manasseh will also become a great people, but his younger brother will become even greater. And his descendants will become a multitude of nations.” Genesis 48:17-19 (NLT)

One of the things I find fascinating about reading through God’s Message again and again is the discovery of themes and patterns throughout. The fact that we are reading through a compilation of disparate books, writings and letters that cover hundreds and thousands of years it is amazing to find themes emerge.

“…but his younger brother will become greater.”

In the ancient days of Jacob, the culture and the laws greatly favored the first born son. Yet even in Genesis we find a pattern of the younger son being blessed in God’s economy:

  • Joseph was blessed over his older brothers
  • Jacob was blessed over Esau
  • Isaac was blessed over Ishmael
  • Abel’s sacrifice was accepted over Cain’s

Time and time again, God uses the weaker, lesser, less powerful and prestigious for His divine purposes:

  • Peter, a headstrong fisherman became the “rock” on which Jesus’ church was founded
  • Jesus chose simple, uneducated men from the sticks to be his disciples
  • God’s messenger, John the Baptist, lived like a hermit in the wilderness
  • God’s own Son was born to a poor girl from a backwater town inside a stable
  • Solomon, Israel’s greatest king was a younger son of David’s
  • David was the youngest of his father’s sons, but called “a man after God’s heart” and God chose the boy David over the strapping, handsome choice of the people: Saul.

I could go on. The point is this: God continually chooses the foolish people of this world to confound the wise; He uses the powerless to shame the powerful. Not one of us should think for a second that God could not or would not desire to use us to further His kingdom’s work on Earth.

I am not a Roman Catholic. Nevertheless, I love my Roman Catholic brothers and sisters and have a deep appreciation for the beauty of the Roman Catholic mass along with a fascination of its history. I, with the rest of the world, was enthralled to watch as the College of Cardinals chose their new leader this week. When I began to read and hear about the life story of Pope Francis I, I thought to myself that he sounded like a choice Jesus himself would have made. It was confirmed when I read the on the front page of the Wall Street Journal this morning:

Pope Francis Day One: In his first hours as leader of 1.2 billion Catholics, the pope paid his own hotel bill, took a bus, and called for renewal in the church.

Chapter-a-Day Jeremiah 16

Uri at the sea of galilee
Image by yanivba via Flickr

“Now, watch for what comes next: I’m going to assemble a bunch of fishermen.” God’s Decree! “They’ll go fishing for my people and pull them in for judgment.” Jeremiah 16:16 (MSG)

For centuries, those who follow Jesus have followed a yearly calendar that, across the seasons, celebrates Jesus’ birth, ministry, death, resurrection, and ascension. The traditional calendar marks this coming Sunday as remembering Jesus calling his first followers. In a little synchronicity with today’s prophetic chapter in Jeremiah, they happened to be fishermen:

As Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon called Peter and his brother Andrew. They were casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will send you out to fish for people.” At once they left their nets and followed him. Matthew 4:18-19 (NIV)

I grew up fishing, and I know a lot of passionate, amateur anglers. The thing about true fishermen is that they are both patient and tenacious about going after their catch. Isn’t it cool that when Jesus could have chosen academics and students of religion to be his followers, he instead went after rough and hardened blue collar fishermen? He could inspire them with the knowledge they needed, what Jesus was really looking for were followers with the heart and soul required for the tasks that lay ahead.

“Jesus would never want me,” people have told me as they weigh the emotional, relational and spiritual baggage of their own wayward journies.

Yes, actually. Yes, he would.

Enhanced by Zemanta