(This is a VERY long blog. We started a worship/Bible study last Sunday night at Bates Ford in Lebanon. This is the message. I won’t post it each week but if you’d like to get it send me an email. We are telling a story each week from the Gospel of John. If you’d like it know more, send me an email.)
Let me tell you a story.
The water of the small river is still and unusually clear on this spring morning. A wood duck swims along the bank, hardly making a ripple. The hills along the edge of the river are green and lush, different from the rocky desert just a few hundred yards away. Suddenly down an almost unnoticed dirt road, walks a man, then two, then five. The quiet scene is disrupted by a crowd of people pushing their way to the water’s edge. They are half passionate worshipers and half skeptical onlookers. Through the crowd emerges a rough figure. He is not old but he has the weather beaten face of an outdoorsman. He is muscular and almost angry looking, dressed in animal skin and carrying a heavy wooden walking stick. Without pausing at the water he strides right into the stream, turns around in the waist deep middle and cries in a loud voice, “Make straight the way for the Lord.” His name is John.
Now this John is not the same John that wrote the book. This is John the Baptist, son of Elizabeth and Zechariah, cousin to Jesus, the prophet and preacher for Israel. The other John, the one that wrote the book, was a follower of Jesus. He calls himself “the one that Jesus loved.” His book is sometimes called the Maverick gospel. There are four gospels at the beginning of the New Testament, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Matthew, Mark, and Luke are called the Synoptic Gospels. They tell many of the same stories. They rely on the same background material. In many ways they are “synonymous” with one another. But John is different. John tells stories that the other three don’t. He leaves out things that the others seem to think are very important. And John has no apparent regard for chronological order. He tells stories at the beginning that happen late in the life of Jesus. He puts stories at the end that happened early in Jesus’s ministry. In fact, about half of the book focuses on the last week of Jesus’s life before the Crucifixion. There are 21 chapters. Chapter 13 is Jesus in the Upper Room. 14 is His message to the disciples there. 15 is the Vine and Branches. 16 is the promised Comforter. 17 the High Priestly Prayer. 18 and 19 are His arrest, trial, and crucifixion. And chapter 20 is the Resurrection. All of that is basically Thursday through Sunday.
Before that, the first 12 chapters, are mainly stories. John is a great story teller. I love his stories. Every story is written for one purpose, to convince us that Jesus is the Son of God and that He is the way to Eternal Life.
Now, since that is true for John, I thought it might be fun for us to just tell stories. For the next few weeks I invite you to listen again to the stories of Jesus. Try to hear them like you are hearing them for the first time. Strip away all of the stuff you learned in church, the things you think are so important and just listen like a little child to the stories. Oh, we might make some applications. We might do a little background work. But the main thing is just to hear the stories.
I think if we do that we will discover three things. We will discover who Jesus really is. (We’ll see part of that tonight.) We’ll discover who WE really are. We are children of God, loved by Him like we love our own kids. And we’ll discover what we are really supposed to be doing. There are three things I hope for in our little group and I think those three things will come out of this. First, that we know and love Christ better. Second, that we know and love each other better. And third, that we know and love the people around us better.
John starts out helping us to know Christ better. Ἐν ἀρχῇ ἦν ὁ λόγος, in the beginning was The Word. John gives Jesus a name. The name is The Word. Not the words, like the syllables and sounds that come out of our mouths but The Word, the verbal, creative power of God that was there before anything else was. “And God said. ‘Let there be light.’” That was Jesus, The Word that brought everything we know into existence. Colossians 1:16 says “For in Him ALL things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; ALL things have been created through Him and for Him.” John says in verse 3, “Through Him all things were made; without Him nothing was made that has been made.”
Here’s the deal, we see Jesus, especially at this time of the year, as the sweet baby in a manger, kind of a gentler, kinder god, maybe even a lesser god to the God of the Old Testament. But John wants us to understand that The Word is all God, full of power and majesty and glory. He was there before anything else existed. He is at the heart of everything that is. And He will be there to pass judgment at the end of time on everything and everyone that has been. This same John will write in another book of his, The Revelation, that Jesus says, “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End.” (Revelation 22:13) And that’s important. Before we can really appreciate who we are, we need to understand who He is. You see what we will find out is that our identity, what makes each one of us special is fully dependent on who we are in Christ. And that makes His identity vital.
Let’s go back to the story. John the Baptist stands in the middle of the Jordan River challenging the people of Israel and defying the Roman soldiers. He says to them that someone is coming who is the light of the world. In verse 7 the message of John the Baptist and John the writer of the book comes together, “so that through Him all men might believe.” John (the Baptist, not the writer) stands in the creek and points his finger at the crowd and booms, “Repent, Repent, there is one coming who is so amazing that I can’t even lace up his sneakers.”
Some in the crowd start yelling back at him. “Who are you?” they ask. “Are you Elijah, or Elisha, or Isaiah?” We still ask those some questions today. “Are you Calvinists or Wesleyan? Do you go to the Baptist Church or the Methodist? Speak in tongues? Once saved always saved? Dunking or sprinkling? Hymns or choruses?” And the answer is still the same too. “That stuff doesn’t matter. All that matters is Jesus.” John (the writer not the Baptist) starts using words like “fullness, glory, grace,” and we begin to get a picture of who Jesus really is. He is “the Bread of Life, the Living Water, the Son of God that take away the sins of the world.” And guess what He says about us. He says that WE ARE THE CHILDREN OF GOD as well. Look at verse 12. “To all who received Him, to those who believed on His Name, He gave the right to become the children of God.” Now I like that.
So John (the Baptist, not the writer) says repent and they do. They begin walking out into the water and he starts baptizing them one after the other. All afternoon he is dunking and dipping, probably not even looking up. He baptizes until his arms are tired and his vision is blurry. I had a large baptismal service when I was pastoring in Ohio. I don’t know how many candidates but so many I quit looking up, that is until Art stepped out and the whole congregation lost it. Art was a big ol’ guy, not really paying with a full deck, but a good heart. He had accepted Jesus in the back of our minivan with Jacob witnessing to him. (Jacob was about 10 at the time.) And now he came to be baptized. He step out from behind the platform with blazing red BUD LITE swimming trunks on and a Hawaiian shirt on. He cannonballed into the baptismal pool and when I reluctantly asked him if he wanted to say anything he grabbed the mic and said, “This mother’s cold!”
John baptizes all day until the crowd starts to murmur and John looks up. He looks into the face of someone he knows very well. He looks into the eyes of his cousin, Jesus. Can you imagine how hard it was for John to grow up with Jesus for a cousin, I believe they were best friends. They played soccer together. They had sleep overs. They went to each others birthday parties. John says, “Hey Jesus, I made straight A’s on my report card.” Jesus says, “I taught the scribes and the priests at the temple.” John says, “Jesus, I made eagle scout.” Jesus says, “I made the world.” Imagine they are playing little league baseball and John gets a hit. He’s standing on 1st and Jesus comes up to bat. Jesus takes the bat and points at the left field fence. The 1st baseman look at John and says, “Who does he think he is, the Son of God?” To which John has to reply, “No, He IS the Son of God. He thinks he’s Babe Ruth.”
John knows Jesus. Now here’s a place where the writer John doesn’t tell as much of the story. We have to look at the other gospels to get the whole picture. Matthew 3, gives us a good account. John (the Baptist, not the writer) tries to talk Jesus out of it. He says, “I need to be baptized by you.” But Jesus says, “No, this is the right thing to do.” And He is baptized by John. Jesus, the Word, the Creator of the Universe, the Son of God, the Great I Am, kneels down in the water and lets John baptize Him.
Now listen, He doesn’t get baptized in order to become the Son of God. He is already the Son of God. HE gets baptized to respond in loving obedience to the Father. In the same way, I don’t seek to live a life of holiness and righteousness in order to win God’s approval. I am already a child of God. Jesus said so. I seek to live an obedient and godly life in response to the love of the Father and because of what Jesus did for me. In fact, I believe that’s even true of the act of baptism itself. I am not saved by the water. I can go in a dry sinner and come out a wet sinner. I am saved by the incredible grace of God and out of a heart of thanksgiving for that I am baptized as a witness to what God has done.
Well, let’s finish this story. Jesus is baptized. John (the Baptist, not the writer, Oh, you’ve got it by now.) steps back and reports two things. He sees the Spirit of God come down from heaven in the form of a dove and land on Jesus, and he hears the voice of God say, “This is my son and I love Him.” Can you believe that? “I love Him.” Not just any voice. Not someone yelling from the crowd. Not some guy with rainbow hair and a John 3:16 T-shirt on. No, the voice of God says, “I love Him.” How’d you like to hear that? You know what? You can.
When Mom was in her last days at the hospital she quit talking. We went for a week or two with her not saying anything. Then one Sunday she began to talk. I had spent the night in her room. I was up, straightening up the room and cleaning her up. She opened her eyes and looked at me with a huge grin and said, “I love you!” Man, can you imagine that? I got on the phone can called the whole family. They came up and as each one would come in the room Mom would say, “I love you.” I love you to Doris. I love you to Chonda. I love you to Josh and Jennifer and Jacob and Jon-Mical. Then, I love you to the orderly. Then, I love you to the folding chair. That’s all she said all day long but she kept saying it, I love you. And you know what? I didn’t care that she said it to the orderly or the folding chair. It didn’t bother me that maybe she didn’t even know what she was saying or who she was saying it to. All that mattered is that she said to me, “I love you.”
When I am so alone, or afraid; when I feel pretty worthless or wasted; when it seems I have fallen and failed for the umpteenth time; if I just stop for a moment I can hear the Father say to me, “I love you. You are my son (or my daughter) and I really love you.” It’s not because of what I’ve done or how perfect I’ve been, it’s not because if what I have accomplished or who I’ve impressed. It is because He is the Father, and Jesus is the Son, and I, well, I believe in Him, and I am a child of God. That’s what this story is all about. That’s why Jesus was baptized. That’s what John the Baptist and John the writer are trying to say. The Word, the Creator of the Universe, the Savior of the World loves me and He loves you and all I have to do is believe that. That is some pretty cool stuff. I like that story. Don’t you?