“Either way, Christ’s love controls us. Since we believe that Christ died for all, we also believe that we have all died to our old life. He died for everyone so that those who receive his new life will no longer live for themselves. Instead, they will live for Christ, who died and was raised for them.” – 2 Corinthians 5:14-15
In this week’s sermon, we learned about John the Baptist. From Mark 1:4-6, we know that John lived in the wilderness, wore coarse clothing, ate locusts and honey directly from beehives and preached “that people should be baptized to show that they had repented of their sins and turned to God to be forgiven.” But what does all this mean?
John lived in the wilderness. The Jordan River, where John was baptizing people, at its closest point to Jerusalem was 20 miles away. To you and me, this is less than an hour by car, but to the people who were coming to see John, this was about a day’s journey from Jerusalem. And Mark 1:5 says that “all the people of Jerusalem went out to see and hear John.” Exaggeration or not, that is still quite a distance for large groups of people to travel to hear someone speak.
John wore coarse clothing. He wasn’t dressed like you or me nor was he dressed like most of the people of his time. But, his clothing was similar to that worn by Elijah the prophet who is said to have worn “clothing made of hair and he wore a leather belt around his waist.” (2 Kings 1:8).
John ate locusts and wild honey. Matthew 3:4 also describes John’s diet this way, and as Mike mentioned in his sermon, these foods were considered clean by the Jewish dietary laws. But not only that, these foods were simple and non-indulgent (that latter part may be an understatement!).
John preached a message of baptism. Baptism was not something that was practiced by these descendants of Abraham, the native Jews. It was, however, something that was required of Gentile converts to the Jewish faith.
So, people were willing to travel for a full day to see a man who did not dress like them or eat like them to hear him preach a message which was foreign to them: the baptism of Jews. Why? Think about the last time you traveled for a significant part of the day just to see someone speak or perform? What was it about that person that caused you to travel that far? Was it his athletic prowess, his humor, her superior singing and acting talent or words that inspired you to do more or be more? Did she look like you or was there something extreme about him? Something drew you to that person.
A bit of information that may be of significance here is that Israel had gone for centuries without a prophet. Since prophets were the men and women who heard God speak, many Israelites had experienced generations where God was silent. Yet, in spite of his message, his clothes and diet, people came out to hear John speak. They were hungry to hear the words of God.
Most of us may have encountered a man or woman who stood so staunchly on the views of his faith that his attitude towards other was abrasive. We may have also seen those whose pious dress and overly stoic expressions were off-putting to others because of how unusual they were. But some time ago, I was challenged by a speaker who said that in order to have my message – that of the saving grace of Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection that He offers to all people – be attractive to people, I need to be at least a little likable to them.
But therein lies maybe an even greater question: how do I be likable as a person in this world but not of this world? If that doesn’t leave you scratching your head in wonder, please come and talk to me because I would LOVE to hear your thoughts.
The simple answer is “be like Jesus.” The reality is that this is tougher than it looks. These verses in 2 Corinthians offer us some answers. We need to die to our old life and no longer live for ourselves. Our lives need to reflect Christ in such a way that our love for others far exceeds our desires for our own wants and needs. What about us, even though by choosing to follow Christ we are choosing not to conform to the ways of most of the world, will still draw people to us like they were drawn to John the Baptist to hear a message that may seem strange to them? We live in a world that desperately needs God, but that alone is not enough to draw them to us.
That was part of the challenge Mike gave us. We should be and will be challenged to be light in a world of darkness, to be the hands and feet of Jesus. If I have learned nothing else about God, I know this… when you let Him challenge you He tends to be more than willing to step up do just that. Are you willing to let Him teach you and challenge you, to have your heart and mind opened to what it looks like to be Jesus in our world today?