Updated: Jan 30
We live in the historical times called the Age of Reason. That age was born when human beings began cutting the heads off of kings and queens and placing the crowns of leadership on common men. That marked the “Advent” of human philosophies as justification for evils … as long as the majority accepted that.
After a little over two hundred years, we have come upon the Information Age, where we put technology in the hands of everyone above the age of three. The “spirit” of knowledge is upon us.
The only problem with all this intelligence about is it can make people … to use a simple phrase … “too big for their britches.” I like to call this Big Brain Syndrome.
Too often, we THINK we have everything figured out, when we really haven’t a clue. Simply because we have become so advanced in the capabilities of enhancing our minds … at the touch of a screen … it is an illusion to think we are any better than those countless souls who walked the earth prior to us.
What I am saying is we are roughly 2,000 years beyond the times of Jesus and the Apostles. We are as far as 6,000 years after the times of Genesis, when we read from that book, and the lineage before the Great Flood. Because we have access to I-phones and computers, we think we are the smartest humans ever to walk the planet.
But, that is where the Big Brain blinds us from the reality of it all.
Imagine just how stupid we would look, using that narrow-minded perspective, to someone living in the year 3,500 AD or even 7,500 AD. Imagine what advancements will exist then … if you can. Surely, we would seem like idiots and morons, with no grasp of what is to come.
In reality, we are always what we are, as smart as the times allow; and that is how we need to approach the readings of ancient times each week.
We need to imagine what it would be like back then, knowing that people back then were not the complete idiots we can so quickly write them off to be.
For example, put yourself in the situation where John the Baptist has been called before the temple authorities – the priests and Levites – because they want to know, “What’s up with this baptism thing?”
Imagine how it would be today, if you went to a Baptist church one Sunday and it happened to be when they dunked some new members in their large pool. You would see a line of children and adults, all wearing white robes, entering a pool where the preacher in standing in waist deep water, ready to dunk them completely submerge each in the water. In times past, preachers would go down to the river to do these dunkings … before technology allowed for indoor pools with heated water.
Compare that to the sprinkling of water on an infant’s forehead, which other denominations see as symbolically appropriate enough to cleanse the sins of would-be-believers. The two events are drastically different.
Would you not want to ask a Baptist preacher (or at least a member of the Baptist Church) to explain, “What’s up with that?” Regardless of where on the world’s timeline man is, as the ad used to say, “Inquiring minds want to know.”
Regardless of how much technology one has in his coat pocket or purse, people still need to question what their religion is about. We need to stop assuming it is a sign of weakness to ask a question, and to clear up something we know “everybody does,” but no one ever adequately explained why.
When we hear some people claiming to be messengers from God, we need to hear what they say the message is, don’t we? Unless we hear what someone has to say, how can we make sure we are not missing out on something important … FROM GOD!
In our modern society, we tend to love change. The older people tend to not adapt with the new times. Questions have to be an ongoing procedure, simply so that inappropriate desires for change do not get accepted as normal … without someone taking the time to question the validity of a request.
After all, when John the Baptist was dunking Jews in the Jordan River, the Jews had certain cleansing rituals already in place. They would also release a scapegoat once a year, where the sins of everyone happily rode into the wilderness sunset.
The Levites were responsible for ritualistic cleansing ceremonies in the temple. The priests would assist in them. So, it was natural for them to question John as to his authority to do baptism in the Jordan River.
According to John the Beloved, they asked John the Baptist, “Who are you?” He told them what he was not. He said, “I am not the Messiah.” He also admitted he was not the reincarnation of Elijah … who left in a whirlwind, riding in a chariot of fire. Thus, since he did not die, Elijah was expected to return one day … “So, John, is that you?”
“Nope, not Elijah,” said John the Baptist. He was not a prophet either. He was just a Jew who knew the prophecy of Isaiah … answering, as we read last week, “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness. Make straight the way of the Lord.”
So, John the Baptist was then approached by some Pharisees. The Pharisees are still around today, going by different names, in all the various denominations of Christianity. They are the preachers, priests, ministers, and church elders that study the Holy Bible. They are also the Rabbis of Judaism today, who still study the Torah and other relative documents. It is the job of a “Pharisee” to know the written word, backwards and forward, to make sure any new interpretations pass their tests and approval.
“What is your purpose for baptizing with water? What are you getting out of this act?” the Pharisees asked John the Baptist.
He said, in effect, “It is symbolism, man. Pure symbolism. It is symbolic of what this dude who is coming after me will do. None of you know any of what he is going to bring to the table. I don’t know either, so I could never pretend to be like him.”
The symbolism was not the use of water to wash away sins. The temple priests were all over that, because it was written in the Law. The Pharisees knew all about it, so they made sure all Jews knew what rituals and procedures needed to take place. So, John the Baptist was not symbolizing the washing away of sin.
What he symbolized was how the temple priests and Levites, as well as the Pharisees and rabbis, were putting way too much emphasis on words on paper, while doing nothing to teach anyone how to go through life without sin.
They could heap the sin on, but they could never wash any of it off.
Just recently in the news, the comedic institution that is Bill Cosby has been accused of raping multiple women over the past 30-plus years. One woman told a reported that after her rape she went home and took a hot shower to tried to scrub herself clean.
I remember her saying, “It was something one shower cannot wash away.”
Sin has that effect on people who do not want to sin. They do not want to sin because they believe in God and know sin is wrong. Religions are designed to bring people’s awareness to good deeds, with Judaism and Christianity rooted in beliefs that the one God demands righteousness in believers.
So, if you listen carefully to what John wrote, as to what John the Baptist said, when he had him say, “Among you stands one whom you do not know,” if you tweak your ear just a little, you can hear how that “one” was God. He said, “Among you stands God whom you do not know.”
The priests, Levites, and Pharisees knew the Torah, they knew of Moses, Elijah, and the prophets, because of their words left behind, but among all those scrolls was the one presence Moses, Elijah, and the prophets knew, which those new leaders did not. The modern guys … the latest, greatest, biggest brained leaders did not have God in their hearts.
Today, there are those who are just like the temple priests and Levites, like the Pharisees, who also stand among God, while not truly knowing what standing with God means. It is not about a sermon read from teleprompters or handheld devices, where you give the impression, “I know some things,” when the people listening never know how to scrub the sin off them.
Now, in the short reading from Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians, he wrote, “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”
Paul was saying, “Through being born anew with Christ Jesus, you know God. You know God through the Holy Spirit.” He then added, “Do not put that fire out. Do not fail to let the prophets make perfect sense to you.”
Write this down and memorize it: Paul said, “Test everything; hold fast to what is good; abstain from every form of evil.”
What that means is this: Do not be like a priest of the temple, a Levite who serves the temple, or a Pharisee who teaches at the temple – none of who know God. UNDERSTAND EVERYTHING!
You must understand what the prophets said, because God has spoken through the prophets. God only speaks the truth. So, if ever there is some guy like John the Baptist running around making up stuff that maybe was written down by a prophet, but everyone else missed it – DO NOT JUST LET IT GO UNTESTED!
When you have God in your heart, meaning you know God and feel certain that God will lead you to the truth, you then know that God will lead you expose evil, so you can avoid it and tell others to avoid it too. Listen to what people say. Ask questions, as the people we read about today asked John the Baptist … nearly two thousand years ago.
However, if your only response to someone telling you, “I am just a voice in the wilderness telling you that you are not making a straight way for the Lord,” then hear that as your failure. Isaiah was a prophet made aware of the failures of nations, saying, “Guys, you are not walking a straight path to the LORD.” John the Baptist said the same thing to the people running Jerusalem, hundreds of years later. We read it today because the same prophecy fits. It is not “outdated.”
There are so many attacks upon Christianity right now; it is hard to list them all. By drawing a line in the sand and casting out blind condemnations on others, you are winding down a path that will crucify Jesus … from your ignorance and lack of true faith. To watch Jesus be born, as we will on the 25th, and then to watch him die, as we will during Easter week, but to not know him resurrected in us, it to stand as a group of know-it-alls, not knowing God.
In Isaiah’s reading today, we hear his say, “The spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me; he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and to release the prisoners.”
In short, when the Spirit of the LORD is upon you, you embrace all who need help. Perhaps they need help by sensing that God and can answer every question, so they go to a church for an answer. They come, just like the Jews went to Jerusalem and the temple there, to ask, “How can I ever feel clean from sin, when no one ever tells me how not to sin?”
Sin has tested God. Those who know God know what is good and needs to be held fast onto – which means understanding from one’s own past sins and the experience of seeing the value of not sinning. Those who know God also know what is evil, from past failures to sin. With the help of God, their experience can then tell others how to abstain from those sins. Otherwise, you do not know any answers.
When God is known by someone, fear of sin ceases. All one has to do is stand up and reach out to those who question. Simply by opening one’s mouth, in response to a question … as John the Baptist did … one lets the Holy Spirit flow through.
It is that simple, but it might require saying goodbye to smart phones and other gadgets of technology and modern advancements. John the Baptist lived like a wild man, eating insects and honey, wearing animal skins. In a modern world, that translates as “simple living, within one’s means.”
In this third week of Advent, we read the song of Mary, who praised the Lord, singing, “My spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked with favor on his lowly servant.”
We now have three candles lit on the Advent wreath. We should not be waiting for Jesus to be born again in Bethlehem. We should be “with child” right now, just as was Mary then. We should be anticipating the birth of Jesus within each one of us, so that on Christmas Day the world will have brought forth countless new extensions of the Savior, through newborn babes … Apostles-in-training.
If we open our hearts to the Lord, “then were we like those who dream. Then will be our mouths filled with laughter, and our tongues with shouts of joy.”
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