Monday, December 31, 2012

John the Baptist did no miracles: the Truth is the miracle

File:Mathis Gothart Grünewald 024.jpg
Do you realize that? John the Baptist performed not one miracle. As a matter of fact, until Jesus came and changed the water into wine at Cana, no miracle had been performed in Israel for 800 years! Not since the time of Elijah and Elisha. No prophet had spoken to Israel as the messenger of God for 400 years, not since Malachi! No angel had appeared to the people (as far as we know) for 500 years!

So why was the greatest man who was born of woman until his time, (Mathew 11:11) and who was one of the greatest (and most successful) Old Testament prophets never been given the power to perform one miracle?

Above, Matthias Grünewald, detail of the Isenheim Altarpiece, "He must become greater and I must become less".

I have no great insight, no commentary I've used, and no sermon I can point you to. I just want to focus on the holy Word of God and its effect on hungry, despairing hearts.

John the Baptist was a forerunner to the Messiah, one who was prophesied to come and who did come. (Isaiah 40:3-5; John 1:23). He had one message and one message only: repent and be saved. (Matthew 3:2; Mark 1:4). One would not think that a man with a singular message of sin, sinners, repentance and baptism would be popular. Men who preach that are not popular today. But John the Baptist had throngs of followers who listened to him. He had throngs who followed his preaching with a life choice to become baptised in water, in preparation for the Messiah's coming when they would be baptised by fire. Even King Herod liked to listen to John, even though John was no shirker of his responsibility to point out to the King his sinful actions! (John 6:18).

Giovanni Tiepolo: John the Baptist preaching
"Then Jerusalem and all Judea and all the region about the Jordan were going out to him, and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins." (Matthew 3:5-6).

Of course, some undoubtedly followed John because they loved hearing him charge the religious leaders of the day with hypocrisy. Some undoubtedly followed John because he was the most interesting thing going on. Some undoubtedly were excited to think of their Messiah coming in all glory to rip the Romans from the death-grip they had on the land. But those were likely in the minority.

The fact is, John was filled with the Holy Spirit at birth, and a man speaking truth about the Messiah from a pure, Holy Spirit-filled heart is the most powerful miracle there is.

You can read about how demon-drenched the place was. (Luke 6:17-19). No prophet had spoken. No angel had come. No miracle had occurred. The religious services were saturated with hypocrisy, filthy lucre, and idolatry thanks to the failure of the leaders of the day and the years before and the generations preceding. The people were tired of sin- their own and others'. The whole land was crawling with demons.

St John the Baptist Preaching, Gaulli
So they listened.

In my opinion, John's ministry was miraculous in the way that it shows us what preaching the word does to weary hearts. Weary hearts want the word. They want to hear about the Messiah. They want hope of His coming to enter their hearts and fill them with knowledge of His glory.

Their hearts were hungry for message of hope, and even for a message of hard truths; a message of their sins and the hope of the coming of the Perfect who would deliver them.

You can imagine how hungry hearts are today. And as it was true then, it is true now: the preaching of repentance and the coming of the Messiah prepares us for Him

Though our generations will not be blessed with national revival, but instead be cursed with global apostasy, (Revelation 2:5; 2 Thessalonians 2:3; 2 Timothy 4:3-4), we know that individual hearts are still hungry. Individual hearts still thirst for the Living Water and we still need to proclaim it.

My New Year's wish for us all is that we resolve to cling to the Holy Word by diligent study, knowledge of, and living it out. I pray for us that we resolve to speak it, proclaim it, contend for it. His word, the holy bible, is now the miracle that sustains us and is His sign that He is living and active. (Hebrews 4:21).

Can we resolve to focus on the coming Messiah? Can we dedicate our lives to serving Him? Can we devote ourselves to proclaiming the only message worth sharing? The power of the holy Word has been demonstrated throughout the record of the bible. It has demonstrated itself through its staying power throughout the centuries. It has shown itself powerful by its ability to penetrate hard hearts and claim souls.

Do you know  it? Do you read it? Do you hide it in your heart for the moment the Spirit might prompt you to share a message of sin and repentance?

In most artistic renderings of John, he is shown with a hand or a finger pointing up toward heaven. My New Year's resolution for myself and my hope for all Christians everywhere is that we follow the example of John in pointing our lives toward Jesus. Do not seek after signs and manifestations, but rely on the sure word.

Left, John the Baptist, by Preti, MetMusum. "Saint John the Baptist is shown seated in the wilderness exhorting the viewer to repentance, his right hand pointing heavenwards, his skin tanned through years in the desert. The lamb stands for Christ, the "lamb of God."

Isaiah said that one like John would come--

"A voice of one calling: "In the desert prepare the way for the LORD; make straight in the wilderness a highway for our God." (Isaiah 40:3)

John did come.

"He said, “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’ as the prophet Isaiah said." (John 1:23).

As we view 2013 ahead, we all feel like we are each in the wilderness as John was. I know many of us feel that we try and try but no one is listening. We know from the Word that as each year passes it won't get better, it will get worse. But the truth does have an effect. It does penetrate hearts. Maybe you don't see it right away but the fruits will become visible someday. That's why we can't lose heart and we have to stay true to Him. The Proverbs say for us-

"In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths." (Proverbs 3:6)
"The righteousness of the blameless keeps his way straight," (Proverbs 11:5a)

Keep on the straight and narrow, and always point to Christ. Here is a wonderful New Year's gift to us all:

"And from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ." (John 1:16-17)

3 comments:

  1. Elizabeth, thank you for this post that I will read more attentively later. My guests are arriving in a few minutes.

    I marvel at the way the Lord speaks to us about the things he wants us to write about. Just in the past 2 weeks, I have written on the same subject as you, unwittingly.

    Here is a post I wrote a few years ago on the way we can prepare the way for the Lord´s second coming. A blessed New Year to you. May this one be the one we have been waiting for a long time. Jean-Louis.

    http://thelightseed.blogspot.com.br/2009/12/preparing-way-for-jesus-second-coming.html

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    Replies
    1. Hi Jean-Louis,

      I hope you have a relaxing time and a sweet fellowship with your guests! Happy new Year!

      Your essay is wonderful. As usual, you did a terrific job of evoking the nuances of many lessons from John The Baptist. Thank you humbly for sharing it :)

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  2. Thank you Elizabeth for your kind and encouraging words. This is the beauty of Christ moving the different parts of his body into action to benefit the whole. More than ever I sense a call to write more posts about counterfeits, false teachings, signs and wonders manifestation and call people to use discernment and be grounded, established and growing in and through the Word.

    I had a wonderful time of fellowship with my mother in law, my sister in law and my wife. A quiet family dinner with sweet communion, reading of the Word,a time for reflection and prayers mostly thanksgiving for this year of intense struggles, death of loved ones, accidents, moves, illness, but a year in which our Lord has demonstrated his faithfulness, his love and his power to sustain and protect us, his abundant provision to help us grow and be fruitful through his grace. We have truly experienced the consolation of the Holy Spirit. Our hearts are filled with gratitude, hope and joy as we are awaiting his soon return.
    Jean-Louis.

    ReplyDelete

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