One Step Ahead Of Jesus
July 15 2018
John the Baptist took his place on the world’s stage just before Jesus’ birth. John was born six months before Jesus. He was a relative of Jesus, a cousin. John and Jesus were close in age, and would be close friends as grown men. John’s parents, Elizabeth and Zechariah, were elderly. They were too old to have a baby. But the angel Gabriel appeared to Zechariah promising that Elizabeth would soon have a boy. The old woman, Elizabeth, did get pregnant. Six months later, when Elizabeth was getting uncomfortably pregnant, the angel Gabriel appeared to Mary to tell her that she was next.
Elizabeth first, then Mary. John first, then Jesus.
There were problems with both pregnancies, of course. Elizabeth was too old to have a baby––and Mary was too young. Mary didn’t even have a husband. She was a virgin. How could she have a baby? So both Elizabeth and Mary would require a miracle to get pregnant. But they did get pregnant. Both of them. First Elizabeth, then Mary.
So we are starting to see a pattern here. First Elizabeth, then Mary. First John, then Jesus. John started his life one step ahead of Jesus, lived his life one step ahead of Jesus, and John died one step ahead of Jesus.
We don’t know much about John’s childhood, or Jesus’ childhood for that matter. Except for the story of Jesus visiting the temple as a boy, we know nothing. The next that we hear about either John or Jesus is when John emerges as God’s messenger, preparing the way of the Lord and making Jesus’ paths straight. That was “the beginning of the Good News of Jesus Christ, the Son of God” as Mark 1:1 tells us.
So it was John first, preparing the way for Jesus.
Once John had set the stage, Jesus would begin His ministry. John began preaching “a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins”. Listen to that one more time. John preached, “a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” Jesus followed shortly afterwards, preaching, “Repent, and believe in the Good News” (1:15). Did you get that? First John preaches repentance, then Jesus preaches repentance.
John first, then Jesus.
One thing that jumps out at me when I think about John and Jesus is the way that both men were doing what God had called them to do. They were both operating according to God’s plan. Another thing that jumps out at me is the fact that God’s purpose was salvation. Both John and Jesus preached repentance. The Greek word is metanoia. We tend to think of repentance as feeling guilty, but repentance is really a change of mind or direction. Metanoia means seeing things differently. Once we begin to see things rightly, we will probably feel bad about having been wrong for so long, but repentance begins with living differently.
When Jesus called the Israelites to repentance, He called them to turn away from false gods that would betray them and turn to the true God who would save them.
Repent, and believe the Good News. That was Jesus’ sermon. It’s what Jesus talked about. That’s what we need to be talking about today too. “Repent, and believe in the Good News.” What is the Good News? The Good News is that God so loved the world that He gave his only Son, that everyone who believes in Jesus will have eternal life. Jesus says, “Repent, and believe that!” Believe that God loves the world, and has begun the process of saving the world, and that includes you, no matter how bad you have been or what you have done. Repent! Get a new vision! Live a new way. Live God’s way! Start moving in a different direction! Receive the salvation that Jesus came to give you. Our mission is to talk about that message and spread that message around the community and around the world. God has called every Christian to proclaim, “Repent, and believe in the Good News”, the Good News that God loves you and wants to save you from the false gods who would destroy you. Now. preaching that is my job! But it’s your job too! You know people whom I don’t know. You rub shoulders with people I’ll never meet. Pray for them. Tell them about Jesus. Invite them to church. Help to spread the Good News.
But don’t think that God will make your life easy if you do that. People don’t like truth-tellers. The worse they are, the more they hate truth-tellers. The really bad ones kill prophets. That brings us back to John the Baptist. The scripture reading for today from Mark 6 tells the story of Herod and John the Baptist. There were several Herods in the New Testament. This happened to be Herod Antipas, one of the sons of Herod the Great. The problem started when Antipas married, his brother Philip‘s wife. Let me say that once more. Herod married Herodias, who was the wife of his brother, Philip. Philip, by the way, was still alive and kicking. Herodias was not a widow. If that sounds improbable, then you don’t know much about the Herods. The family patriarch was Herod the Great, who had seven sons. He murdered three of his seven sons, lest they try to take over his throne. See if you can follow this: Herodias, was the daughter of one of Herod the Great’s four living sons, and she married two of the remaining four sons. In other words, Herodias married two of her uncles. That reminds me of the song made popular by Ray Stevens years ago – I Am My Own Grandpa. The Herods were like that––for real.
So Herod Antipas married Herodias, his niece and his brother’s wife. John the Baptist was a prophet, and h knew that God did not tolerate that kind of behavior, so John rebuked Herod . You would think that would be the end of John the Baptist, but it wasn’t. Herodias wanted to kill John, but Herod wouldn’t permit it. Here’s the surprising part. Herod liked John. Herod liked to listen to John so Herod moved John to a safe place where Herodias couldn’t get to him.
Why do you think Herod like John? Why did Herod like to listen to John? Mark doesn’t tell us, but I can guess. People like Herod often find themselves surrounded by “Yes” men who tell them what they want to hear. But occasionally a man like Herod will see someone like John who tells the truth, who walks straight and talks straight and tells the truth and isn’t afraid of anyone. That must be like walking by a really nice restaurant when you have been eating nothing but fast food. At some point our hearts yearn for quality, for integrity, and for truth. Herod knew that there was only one man in the whole world who would tell him the truth, and that man was John the Baptist. So Herod liked to listen to John.
We can learn from that. So many people today are living sinful lives. They know that they are in trouble, but they don’t know where to turn. Where can they go to find someone who can guide them out of their sinfulness? We need to be that guide. We need to be an island of truth in the sea of lies that surrounds us. We need to be saying, “Jesus loves you, and we love you”, but we also need to be saying, “Repent! Let Jesus lead you into a totally new kind of life.” At some deep level, people are yearning for that kind of truth-telling.
But we should never think that being Christ’s disciple is going to be a bed of roses. The last chapter in John’s life was his death. Herod threw a party for his friends, and his daughter, Salome, was part of the entertainment. She danced a dance that pleased Herod so much that he did a foolish thing. He promised Salome whatever she wanted. “Ask whatever you want,” he said, “and I will give it to you”
Rather than giving a quick answer, Salome asked her mother, “What shall I ask?” And Herodias, recognizing what a blunder her husband had made by giving his promise in front of his friends, said, “Ask for the head of John the Baptist” So that’s what Salome did. Too late, Herod recognized his error. He didn’t want to kill John the Baptist, but he especially didn’t want to be embarrassed in front of his friends. So he sent word to his soldiers to behead John and to send John’s head to him. He put it on a platter, and gave it to his daughter, and she gave it to her mother.
Mark closes that story by saying, “When (John’s) disciples heard this, they came and took up (John’s) corpse, and laid it in a tomb” His disciples laid his dead body in a tomb. Doesn’t that have a familiar ring to it! Isn’t that what is going to happen to Jesus in a very short time! Just as they laid John’s body in a tomb, so also they will lay Jesus’ body in a tomb.
John first, then Jesus! From the first chapter of his life until the last, John went out ahead of Jesus, preparing the way. Faithful unto death!
We can take a lesson from that too. Just as everything in John’s life was intended to prepare the way for Jesus and to point to Jesus, so also we needs to make those things the center of our lives, the center of what we say and what we do, just as John did. Just as John prepared people for Jesus, we need to do the same by what we say and do. We need to spend our lives preparing the way for Jesus, pointing toward Jesus, and drawing people to Jesus.
If you will commit yourself to living a life of preparing people for Jesus and pointing out Jesus to the community and the world, you will make a difference as John did as he lived one step ahead of Jesus. Amen.