19 Dec 2014 by Adeline Lum CM-
“Who do you think is the greatest leader to you other than Jesus?” asked Rev Dr Robert Weniger of Saint Andrew’s Presbyterian Church, International Church of Kuala Lumpur on 14th of December.
Our answer may be Abraham Lincoln, Moses or Mother Teresa. But Jesus Christ told us that the greatest person who ever lived was John the Baptist.
“I tell you, among those born of women there is no one greater than John; yet the one who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he.” (Luke 7:28)
Yes, the greatest man who ever lived camped out in the desert, dressed in camel hair and ate locust and wild honey. (Matt 3:1; 4)
In this Christmas season, Rev Robert shared the life and ministry of John the Baptizer to give us a clear insight of Jesus’ mission.
Scripture tells us that John the Baptist was a gift from God to Zechariah and Elizabeth who were righteous in God’s eyes. Elizabeth was barren and the couple had no children until old age.
As Zechariah was serving as a priest in the temple, an angel appeared before him and said, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to call him John.” (Luke 1:13)
The only part in Scripture, which tells us about John’s childhood, is how he lived in the desert before appearing publicly to Israel; John grew and became strong in the Spirit. (Luke 1:80)
On a side note, while we think that John may have lived in solitude, Rev Robert hypothesized that John might have lived with one of the desert communities. Like the monasteries we have today, these communities chose to live away from the cities to devote their lives to God.
“It was there in the desert that John was shaped and formed by God. Away from all the distractions and interfering noises of the city life, John was able to focus his attention on God.
“It was a time of preparation, training, and formation, so that when John emerged from the desert and appeared to the public scene, he was in his peak spiritual condition. And he was ready to fulfill his calling to prepare the way of the Messiah,” said Rev Robert.
As for us, we may not able to get to a desert or an isolated place for a lengthy time. But all of us need to regularly withdraw to God, so that we can hear Him. During this time, God truly can shape us and prepare us to fulfill His calling for us in our life. And when the time of preparation concluded for John, what a ministry it was! (Isa 40:3-5)
How is understanding John’s background related to our life? We can understand its significance by asking ourselves three questions: Where? What? Why?
Firstly, where did John proclaim the message? We know he proclaimed it in the desert, where Israel had a part of its land in the desert. So, the Israelites knew how to survive in the desert. It was known to be barren, lonely, desolate, terrifying, and even life threatening. In a deeper sense, the desert symbolized the absence of God in the Israelites life. They had not heard from God for 400 years. At that time, they were also living under the oppression of the Roman rule.
“It is in that environment of desperation, John was sent to prepare them for a spiritual refreshment from the Messiah. Perhaps, today, you feel like you’re in a spiritual desert because God seems so far away. God seems absent. You don’t feel His presence.
“There is stress in your marriage, hassles a work, strains on your finances, anxiety about your health. You’re tired and worn out. And you feel like you’ve been wandering through the desert of one sand dune and then another. But no matter where you look, all you can see is more sand, more problems,” said Rev Robert.
But in the midst of our desert experience, a voice is calling out the Lord of hope. John is proclaiming, “Someone is coming right into the heart of our desert!” The desert is often where the Lord comes to meet us. If you are going through a desert experience, take heart! God has not abandoned you.
“Desert times will guide us to deepen our faith, refine our character, purify our desires, and strip away from us all those things that are hindering us from drawing into the fullness of Christ,” said Rev Robert.
Often times, when we are in our oasis, we typically do not sense a great need for God. We believe in Him. But God is pushed into the background. However, in the desert, we realize our need for Him to be in the center of our life. It prompts us to seek God in a new and refreshing way.
Secondly, why did John cry out for the Israelites? When Jesus was born in Bethlehem, no one was prepared to receive him. Religious leaders were oblivious to his birth. The people in the inn did not give up their room. But only a few lowly shepherds took notice. God sent John the Baptist to prepare the hearts of men to receive Jesus. He made sure that spiritual apathy would be absent when Jesus began His Ministry, so that the Israelites would not miss out when Jesus came.
Isaiah prophesied the purpose of John the Baptizer’s coming in Isaiah 40:3-4:
A voice is calling,
“Clear the way for the LORD in the wilderness;
Make smooth in the desert a highway for our God.
“Let every valley be lifted up,
And every mountain and hill be made low;
And let the rough ground become a plain,
And the rugged terrain a broad valley;
This passage tells us that every obstacle, which prevents the Israelites from recognizing the Messiah, should be removed. Scripture tells us John was preaching ‘a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.’ (Luke 3:3) The first obstacle John was removing was the Israelites’ dependence on their Jewish heritage and legalism. John wanted to raise their awareness of sin in the face of a Holy God. He wanted them to realize their need for a Savior, and thus the need for Jesus Christ to bear their sins.
Another obstacle John wanted to remove was the belief that the Messiah would come as a political deliverer or military ruler to set them free from the Romans. But John wanted them to make sense of Jesus’ larger purpose, which is setting them eternally free from sin and gaining an eternal inheritance. They would be able to understand Jesus’ purpose for crucifixion.
Finally, John promoted anticipation of the coming Messiah by firstly denying that he is the Messiah but there would be someone much greater after him.
“Like the Israelites, we must also recognize our need for a Savior. If we don’t, then we don’t desire Jesus. We must acknowledge that no matter how good we are, we will never be good enough to save ourselves.
“So, one of the mountains that must be made low is the mountain of pride. If we are proud—trusting ourselves and trusting our accomplishments—we will never cry out for Jesus, and we will never embrace his forgiving mercy and grace,” said Rev Robert.
Besides leveling the mountains to salvation, we need to level the mountains to experience the fullness of Jesus’ presence. The mountains include resentment, belittling others, indulging in pornography, and other destructive habits. It could also come in a willing form of self-pity.
“Well yes, we are forgiven. But still, we will not experienced the joy and wonder of God’s transforming grace in our lives because we have these obstacles, these mountains, that prevent God’s mercy and grace from breaking into our life,” said Rev Robert.
Finally, what does the voice promised us? Isaiah prophesied:
And the glory of the LORD will be revealed, and all people will see it together. For the mouth of the LORD has spoken. (Isa 40:5)
John promised us that we would see the glory of God! (Isa 40:5) And the glory of the LORD specifically refers to God’s nature and character. We see how God is because of Jesus carrying the exact representation of God’s nature. In His crucifixion, we are convinced of the depth of God’s love for us.
Hence, in this Christmas season—as we understand the where, why, and what of John the Baptist—let us find time in our busy schedule to withdraw and prepare our hearts for God, to celebrate the true meaning of Christmas. Let us also meditate on our need for a Savior in our life and also Jesus’ promises for our life.
“Like the Israelites during the time of John, we are in danger of just going about our business. The Israelites missed the coming of the Savior. So, I want to encourage your today to prepare your hearts for the next twelve days before Christmas.
“Read the gospel that describes the events surrounding the birth of Jesus. Do some things together as a family that will help you focus on the true meaning of Christmas… Level the mountains, make the way smooth, and remove all barriers from reveling in the true meaning of Christmas,” said Rev Robert.
God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16)
Visit Saint Andrew’s Presbyterian Church for their special Christmas services on December 24th, one held at 6:30 PM and the other at 11 PM. The latter service would be a candlelight service. Visit their church also for their Christmas day service with Holy Communion on December 25th at 10 AM.
Address of Saint Andrew’s Presbyterian Church:
29/31, Jalan Raja Chulan
50200 Kuala Lumpur
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