Thursday, March 29, 2012

John the Baptist

John the Baptist was unique—there was no one like him ever.  He was the last prophet of ancient Judaism.  He was the first to baptize people who were already in God’s community to restore the community to God.  He preached repentance for the sake of preparing the community for God’s coming.  He proclaimed that the chosen one of God was coming.  And he was the one who saw Jesus as the chosen one of God and prepared him for his ministry by baptizing him.  He, alone of all humans other than Jesus, heard the voice of God proclaim Jesus as God’s Son.  And he and Jesus connected in many ways over the years of Jesus’ ministry

John was preaching and baptizing as usual.  He was telling all of those who thought they were God’s people to repent. He said, “Why are you coming to me?  Who warned you to flee from God’s wrath?  The axe is at the root of the tree, soon it will fall.  And every tree that does not bear fruit will be burned.  Why do you call yourselves children of Abraham?  God could raise up descendents of Abraham from the stones like you.  You are only a child of Abraham if you act like him!” 

Many came to him, asking him how they should act differently.  He told the tax-gatherers, “Take only what you have been appointed, cheat no one.”  He told the soldiers, “Don’t harm people, don’t accuse people, and be content with your wages.”  He told everyone, “Be kind to your neighbor.  If you have extra clothes or food and you see someone who has need, give your extra to them.”

Some came from Jerusalem to investigate John, and asked him, “Who are you?  Are you Elijah, or the prophet or the Christ?”  John said, “I am none of these.  I am a prophet in the way of Isaiah, who said, ‘I am a voice crying in the wilderness.  Make straight the way of the Lord.  Every valley will be filled, every mountain will be brought down.  And all flesh will see the salvation of God.’”

John also spoke against the leaders of the Jews, especially Herod Antipas, who married his brother’s wife in opposition to Moses’ law.  Herod’s wife, Herodias, was furious, and she insisted that Herod arrest John.  He sent his soldiers and arrested John, but John’s disciples could still visit John and learn from him.  Herod secretly visited John and listened to John’s teachings.

At one point, John sent his disciples to Jesus to ask him, “Are you really the one who is to come?  Are you really the Christ?  Or should we wait for another?”  Jesus just told the followers of John to come with him for a day.  At the end of the day, Jesus spoke to the disciples of John and said, “Now you can go back to John and report to him.  Tell him what you have seen: the blind receive sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed and the poor have the gospel preached to them.  This is just as the prophets have said would happen on the final day.  The one who does not lose their faith in me is blessed by God.”

After the disciples of John left, Jesus spoke to his own disciples.  “You all went out to John to see him and to be baptized by him.  Why?  Did you go to see a rich man, so you could be like him?  Did you go to see a ruler, to be impressed by him?  No, for to see these kind of people you would have gone to mansions.  Of course, you went to see a prophet of God—a rough man with rough clothing and speech.  But he was more than a prophet, he was the greatest man who lived.  Yet, even the least of the citizens of God’s kingdom is greater than he.”

After this, Herod held a great party and invited some of the most important men in Israel.  To entertain the men, Herod’s niece (also his step-daughter) danced for all of them.  Herod was so greatly pleased by this dance, that he made a rash promise: “You may have anything you wish—up to half of my kingdom.”  Salome, Herod’s step-daughter, couldn’t think of anything she wanted, so she asked her mother, Herodias.  Herodias gave her an answer, and Salome repeated it to Herod, “Give me the head of John the Baptist on a platter!”  Herod was upset—he didn’t want to kill God’s prophet.  But he also didn’t want to be humiliated in front of his important guests.  So he commanded John’s head to be offered to Salome.  When receiving his head, Salome gave it to her mother.

When Jesus heard that John was dead, he separated himself from the people and mourned.  And a rumor went around that Jesus was John raised from the dead—and Herod feared that it might be true.

The disciples asked Jesus, “If the kingdom of God is coming so soon, why hasn’t Elijah appeared?  The word of God says that he would come to prepare the kingdom.”  Jesus replied, “If you can accept it, Elijah has come, and evil men has done with him as they liked.  In fact, John came in the spirit of Elijah, and he is the promised prophet to come.”

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