It didn’t take long for great crowds to start following Jesus around. I don’t know for sure what motivated all those people. I’m sure some were just curious about the new preacher. Some probably were hoping Jesus would give them something they wanted. Some were probably desperate enough for healing that they were willing to try anything. There were likely some that came just because everyone else seemed to be going. Others came seeking something they may not have even been able to describe. Some were responding to their soul’s acknowledgement of who was in their midst. Did they consciously understand? I don’t think so, but our souls often understand things our minds refuse to accept. I think that is why people responded to the person of Jesus the way they did. If they truly desired God, they were drawn to Jesus and could not be turned away. If they only wanted the parts that fit with their lives, they were drawn but found reasons to dismiss what he said. If they were content in their self-righteousness, they scoffed and fed their hatred. Whatever their reasons for coming to him, Jesus did not turn them away. He ministered to them all. He taught them. He healed them. He loved them. If they rejected and abandoned him, it was by their own choice, through their own unwillingness to be changed by the truths Jesus revealed. This is the way it is with salvation. God freely offers it to everyone. It all comes down to our response to the offer.
After Jesus’ baptism and temptation (Wasn’t that the ultimate battle of Scripture?) comes the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry. Matthew begins this part of his narrative with Jesus hearing about John’s arrest. When he heard, “he withdrew to Galilee.” That’s an interesting choice of words, isn’t it? Withdrew. At the very least that word implies that Jesus was removing himself from the situation. Was he that upset about John? Did he think his presence would hinder or prevent the things that needed to happen? Or did he just know it was time to start the next part of the plan and knew that wouldn’t happen on his home turf? Maybe it was all of that (or none of it). Whatever the reason, when Jesus gets to Capernaum, he starts proclaiming a message similar to John’s but with a life-altering modification.
Matthew records that both John and Jesus proclaimed, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” John followed this with the message that someone greater than him was coming. Jesus preached repentance then called people to follow him. How is this life-altering? It probably wasn’t for Jesus. He was, after all, already doing what he came to do. The people who followed him, on the other hand, their lives were irrevocably changed and not gradually either. Jesus called Peter and Andrew, James and John. Their responses were immediate. Maybe they knew something about Jesus before hand, maybe not. I doubt they really understood what they were getting into. Regardless, they acted. Something about Jesus grabbed them and they obeyed. They followed Jesus into something far greater than any of us. None of us can know where God is leading us in the long run. We may be given glimpses but we just aren’t capable of understanding God’s whole plan. We are too small. But that’s okay. God uses tiny drops of water to carve canyons into rock. He’ll use us to do unimaginable feats if we just heed His call. We don’t need to plan. We just need to follow when He says, “Come.”
The baptism of Jesus is a familiar story for me and many others, so familiar that I nearly skimmed right over it this time. I’m glad I didn’t. Some things caught my attention this time that I had never noticed.
First of all, we know from other Gospels that John and Jesus are related. So, how much did John know about Jesus? Was the miraculous conception of Jesus shared at family gatherings? Were the star and wise men discussed over feasts? Unless God chooses to send a message, there’s no way to definitively answer these questions, but it seems clear that John at least knows that Jesus is not like everyone else, that he knows Jesus is remarkable. The second thing I noticed though makes me think that even his own family didn’t fully comprehend who Jesus really was.
When Jesus approaches John, John’s immediate response is a declaration that Jesus is greater than John and, therefore, John should be baptized by Jesus, not the other way around. Of course Jesus responds to John and the baptism proceeds. Here’s the part I missed before: The heavens were opened up to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove. I have always pictured this scene as a grand revelation to a crowd along the banks of the Jordan River. The phrasing suggests something quite different. “Opened to him” and “he saw” indicate these miraculous revelations were for John alone.
Maybe God was rewarding John for his faithfulness or needed John to have a greater understanding of what was unfolding. I don’t know but it seems clear that God didn’t want an “easy” revelation of Jesus’ nature. He could have openly proclaimed the identity of Christ right there. He didn’t. I wonder how the religious leaders would have treated Jesus if God had made this visible to all. I can’t help thinking that they wouldn’t have acted that much differently. They seemed pretty good at rationalizing things away whenever they didn’t match their preconceived notions.
It has become politically incorrect to call people on their sin and false beliefs. We are apparently supposed to “live and let live” because such things supposedly do no harm. While I understand why the world might believe this (or at least want to), I am appalled by how many Christians do. It certainly isn’t a Biblical concept. We are commanded to love but when did “love” start meaning unquestioning acceptance and total approval? If you truly love someone, will you just stand there when the person puts a gun to his/her head and say, “Well, if that’s what you feel you need to do…”? True love will question. True love will act. True love will shed light on damaging behavior. True love will not be silent when someone is doing wrong, even if the harm is only to that person’s soul.
Christians need to be more like John the Baptist. He saw the spiritual leaders of his faith and pointed out their wrongs in clear words: “You brood of vipers” he calls them. There is no doubt what John is saying and he told them what needed to change right after that. Was he harsh? Yes. Do most situations in our lives call for this level of confrontation? No. It would, in fact, be the opposite of loving in most situations. However, John was not condemning them to eternal damnation. Rather, he was reminding them that it was a possibility if they didn’t straighten up. John may sound like the stereotypical street-corner “prophets” so many people write off as crazy but that doesn’t make him wrong. Whether they are taking thousands of others with them (like the religious leaders John addressed) or they seem to be going it alone; if we truly love, we cannot stand silent while those we claim to love destroy themselves.
Along with many Christians, I find it difficult to maintain any sort of disciplined study of the Bible. I let the details of my life take priority over the health of my soul. A while back, I started writing down the thoughts I had as I read my Bible. In an effort to have some accountability to continue reading, I posted a few of these writings on a social media site. I stopped though because I felt that the posts were longer than that venue was truly meant to support. Since then, I have been asked by by several different people to start sharing those thoughts again. This blog is my answer to those requests. I do not profess to be a Biblical expert. I do not pretend that I am always correct in my interpretations. As I read the Bible, thoughts and questions occur to me. I write them down. If they bless anyone else, if they play a role in drawing anyone else closer to God, then I praise Him for allowing me to be a part of such wondrous things.