"I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me will come one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not fit to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. 12 His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor, gathering his wheat into the barn and burning up the chaff with unquenchable fire."~ John the Baptist in Matthew 3:11-12
"What comes to minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us."~A.W. Tozer
I began a study on the gospel of Matthew for the new year. I have read the book of Matthew countless times and have studied using many different well-accepted Biblical tools for analysis. While those have been very useful and have blessed me, I decided to read through the gospel differently. I was not reading for information, but reading for spiritual formation. This requires an approach where the focus is on listening. Spiritual formation is a growth process. It is the process of becoming whole through mystical, mental, and moral transformation the comes through the dynamic engagement of scripture and the Spirit of God.
This is my formational nugget from this morning
In Matthew, chapter 3, we are introduced to John the Baptist. He is identified as a prophet who was prophesied about 700 years before he was born and that he would "prepare the way for the Lord's coming". He was sort of an eccentric guy but deeply respected. He is described by Jesus himself as "among those born of women there is no one greater than John." (Lk 7:28). This highly esteemed prophet understood his historical role as the herald and servant of Jesus.
Interestingly, what struck me in today's reading was John's understanding of the person of Jesus. You see, in the back of my mind, I am thinking about the end of John's life when he would question if Jesus was really who he said he was (Mt 11:2-6). This is the same John who would baptize Jesus and be with Jesus when he is confirmed by God publicly by saying audibly, "This is my Son whom I am well pleased". How could John be unsure?
John describes Jesus ministry in terms of salvation for the righteous and judgment towards those who are unrighteous. John openly challenged religious people of his time and declared them as "brood of vipers" and states that the coming Messiah would collect the good toward himself and burn/destroy the unproductive and unrighteous. It is the emphasis on the conquering Messiah portrayed in not only liberation of the righteous, but on punishment and retaliation against the unrighteous and unjust.
As Jesus' ministry progressed, he was constantly upending conventional expectations. During his ministry, he did provide hope for the righteous" but spent a majority of his time ministering among the "unrighteous" and "the sinner". Jesus exercised grace over judgment. He preached and practiced the "love your enemies" and the non-violent approach to horrific violence and oppression.
John, despite his being filled with the Holy Spirit since birth (Lk 1:15) experienced a misunderstanding in the nature and person of Jesus. He began to experience significant doubt in the mission and identity of Jesus because he simply mischaracterized Jesus.
How often do loose faith because we have mischaracterized the object of our faith. We understand Jesus as our "genie in a bottle", or maybe our "means to prosperity", or even our superman who saves us from badness but has no relationship with us. When Jesus fails to meet our superimposed expectations, we experience crisis.
Jesus wants to know us and be known. He is not beholden to the image that others, including very well meaning people, place upon him. Our role is ask the subversive questions within our own contexts where it is tempting to design a Jesus that meets our desires and does not challenge our presumptions about ourselves. When we truly seek the authentic Jesus, we find that Jesus will surprise you because:
He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.
I pray that we do not fall into doubt or crisis because our understanding of Jesus is flawed. After all, according to A.W. Tozer, our understanding of Jesus Character is the most important thing about us.
God bless you,