Friday, October 7, 2011

What does it take to be even greater than John the Baptist?

A quick note: I've normally been posting on Thursdays. My schedule with the new job has changed, though, so I'm going to aim for Fridays instead.

Ok – we're continuing our journey through the (chronological) Gospels, checking out Jesus as He really was and is, and how different that is from how He's been portrayed by Good Religious People for nearly all of what most loudly calls itself "Christianity".

As always, you can find all our previous posts in this series, going through the Gospels chronologically to find the real Jesus, here

And as always you'll find the scriptures for today are here. (Note that you can change the human-translation version on this scripture page as suits you. I default to the NASB to get the more literal translation, but do use the one that works for you. Note also that I have no theological or other tie to the bible site I list above – it's just one that lists the NASB, KJV, and The Message, and most folks I've corresponded with seem to use one of those. However, another brother says you can also get the NRSV human translation at If you prefer yet another human-translation that isn't on one of these other pages, do send it to me. I will also list it here).

This week we meet the famous John the Baptist again – the same John we met earlier in the Gospels:
  • Amazingly-born into the elderly priest-family of Elizabeth and Zachariah and destined from birth to be filled with the Holy Spirit,
  • Chosen to be God's announcer to the Jewish people that the Messiah He'd promised them for so many centuries was at last here,
  • Baptizer of Jewish people who wanted to use baptism as a outward sign of their inner heart's turning away from their own way and back towards God's way (although the Good Religious People of then – no different than the Good Religious People of today – who wanted the experience of doing the outward sign without actually having the inner heart change, of course, showed up too), 
  • Rejecter of anything but give-it-all-up-for-God, speak-only-God's-truth-and-never-shut-up, especially when it torques off the Good Religious People and political/financial powerhouses, and,
  • Baptizer of his cousin, Jesus, even though he recognized that Jesus had no need for a sin-rejection / God-embracing baptism, as everyone else did.

When we meet John the Baptist again, he's been off still doing what he's been doing for some time now: calling people on their crap, and baptizing those who wanted to clean themselves up for God. But now John's own followers have been telling him some of the things Jesus has been doing – which included things like touching the dead (even though that's religiously disgusting, according to the Mosaic Law) and violating the Sabbath (even though that was such a violation of the Mosaic law that it technically required the death penalty). John had believed in Jesus before – recognized Him as having God's-spark like no other ever had. But even John had questions of faith. So (not able to go himself, since he was in prison for telling a high government official how immoral this official was by God's standards), John sent two of his followers to ask Jesus just what in the world is going on: "ARE You the Messiah? Or are You just a great prophet Yourself, and we should be waiting for the actual Messiah still?"

The answer Jesus gave back to John not only proved who He was according to scripture, but it also invited John (and everyone else) to decide based on their own eyes and ears. Jesus told him:

The scripture says the Messiah will heal blindness, lameness, disease, deafness, and even death, and will comfort the have-nots with the truth that God's going to fill them to overflowing – and that's exactly what's happening now, through Me. So you're completely right-on if you don't reject Me because I don't match Good Religious Expectations for the Messiah.

John's followers took the message back to John, and John must have felt so much better. Since his whole life had been about not only waiting like everyone else for the Messiah, but also about risking and giving up everything (literally) to proclaim the Messiah's coming and the need to repent to God's People, John could now sit even in the filth and horror of an ancient prison and know that he'd accomplished exactly what God had set for him to do – that all his work on his own heart, all his giving up everything to a real follower of God's way, had not been for nothing. What a great life!
  • Since even John the Baptist had questions about faith in Jesus, does that provide you comfort that you're still ok with God when you have uncertainty? Who did John go to to help solve his faith issues? Who should we go to, to get the answers we need?
  • John the Baptist took the harsh road of total denial of all the world considers "good" or even "necessary", so that he was only about God and speaking God's truth to His people. When the world around them was so corrupt that God's (real) truth wasn't allowed in the political or religious realms, that's what God's (true) prophets did: they sat outside it all, not allowing corruption to taint their own hearts or message, and did and said what God put in their hearts to do and say – even when it cost them everything. As corrupt at our "churches" are today, could John the Baptist's message or living be any different if he were living and speaking today? How is that people calling themselves "prophets" today imagine they can live and work as part of the "church" system and not become corrupt, even though no real prophet seen in the Bible ever could? 
  • The Jews of the day recognized John as a real prophet because he lived like what they had seen from their scripture as being a real prophet. What should we scripturally expect a real prophet of today to live and sound like?

After John's followers left, though, Jesus started speaking to the crowd about John. He asked them:

"When John was still proclaiming God's way in the desert and you went out to experience what John was doing, who did you think you'd find? A weakling that just goes this way and that? No? Well, what kind of man did you expect to find? Someone who lives in nice, soft clothing and enjoys big money in his pocket? No way – those kinds of people live in the high places of the world. So what did you go out to see? A prophet? Oh yeah – a prophet! And someone even more than a prophet. John's the one God spoke of in the Old Testament when He said, 'I'm going to send someone to announce I'm coming, to prepare people's hearts for Me.' But hear this: among human beings, there's no one greater than John, but as great as John is, everyone who lives like God says to live is even greater than that! So pay attention, because from when John started doing his thing until now, God's way has been shoving its way back into the world, and you've got to be a 'fanatic' like John to get on that train."
  • One of the ways that Good Religious Bible Scholars re-write God's Word is proved in this passage. Jesus literally says above, "But what did you go out to see? A man dressed in soft clothing? Those who wear soft clothing are in kings' palaces". And the word translated "soft" here literally means "soft" – it's the Greek word malakoi. Yet many Good Religious Bible Scholars decide in 1 Corinthians 6:9 that when Paul is writing about the kinds of people who don't get to go to heaven, the Greek word malakoi suddenly means "effeminate" or "homosexual" instead (though, of course, those two words don't mean the same thing either). So, when the Bible context isn't condemning, "soft" to them means "soft" like Jesus said it: the pampered, powerful rich. But when the Bible context is condemning, suddenly now "soft" means Gay or a feminine male. So instead of translating exactly what Paul wrote and what God meant us to understand, in a way that matches other contexts in the Bible, they changed what Paul wrote – changed what God meant for us to understand – so that it matches what they want it to say and condemns people they want to condemn (feminine males and/or Gay people) and let's off the hook the people they don't want to condemn (the pampered, powerful rich). How do they "justify" that? If they bother at all, they say it's because Good Religious Scholars a few centuries after Paul decided that the word here means "effeminate". The fact that those ancient Good Religious Scholars were from a Greek/Roman culture that so worshiped violently aggressive masculinity that they would have called every man today who isn't a bloody, raging cage-fighter "effeminate" means nothing to today's Good Religious Scholars. They re-write it like they want to see it. So what does that mean to you, seeing such a blatant re-make of God's Word by "experts" and "Good Christians" who claim to know and teach the Bible better than anyone else? Should you listen to these people without always making an intense study of everything they have to say? If they can provide "justification" for an entire false-"Christian" culture to hate, bear false witness against, deny job and family protections to, and otherwise abuse Gay people and feminine males (which totally violates all of God's Old and New Testament insistence that we protect and assist those who are oppressed or persecuted, and not help their oppressors), can they be said to even know the real Jesus? Or are they just more of the blind-leading-the-blind right into hell's pit, just as Jesus described? How have such re-writes of scripture impacted your life, your family's life, your community's life? What can you do to help make God's real truth known? 
  • Jesus obviously had very high esteem for John the Baptist – and yet Jesus tells us that when we live God's (real) way, we are even higher up the esteem-ladder than John was. Jesus didn't mean for us to think that made John less – but rather, us more! How does it change your life and your living to know that as someone who's working to live God's way, you can't even imagine how highly you are esteemed in God's kingdom? 
  • Some people who have a violent nature themselves have tried to make Jesus' statement about being zealous in our pursuit of God's kingdom mean that God wants us to be violent or aggressive in "His" work. Does that even make sense, though, considering the way that Jesus lived in the world (even when dealing with His mortal enemies), and how those who first learned from Him (Peter, Paul, etc) lived in the world?

But Jesus said even more to the crowd, didn't He? He said God's people of that day accomplished no more than do children trying to get other children to play their (and no one else's) game. He said:

"John the Baptist gave up even the bare essentials of food and fun to live God's way, and you say he's crazy. But I don't give up the bare essentials of food and fun, and you say I'm a food-hog and a drunk, someone who's friends with sinful and hated people. But you know what? We're proven right because what we accomplish is right."
  • Since what calls itself "The Church" is split into different "denominations" and "churches" and so on, and since there is line-drawing and spatting and infighting (and now even agreements not to "steal each other's sheep"), is there any better image today (and for the last many centuries) for the "Christian" "Church" than of a bunch of pouting, scrabbling little kids pushing people to "play Christian" their way, and not some other kid's way? What would happen if all these "Christians" put down their own egos and their own identification with human ways of re-imaging God? 
  • Have you even been caught in someone's condemnation of you no matter what you did? What do people who do that to us "get" out of it? When they are Good Religious People, are they even focused on what God's calls important?

See you next Friday!

This article written by Lynne at You can contact Lynne at