A new look at John the Baptist

The humility of John the Baptist is striking. In an era when most are compelled to blow their own horns and where self-aggrandizement is the order of the day, John’s response might be a paradigm to us all. “Who are you?” ask the priests and Levites. It is a question about authority. “Who do you think you are? How dare you behave in this manner? Who gave you the authority to proclaim a message of repentance? Are you a prophet? Are you Elijah? Elijah was expected to return before the end of the age based on the prophecy of Malachi in Malachi 4.5-6, where it is written, ‘I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and terrible day of the Lord comes. And he will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children and the hearts of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the land with a curse.’”

Those are the last words of the Old Testament. Those priests and Levites want to know by what right, by what commission, by what authority, is it that John does what he does. “Who are you? Give us an answer.”

And John’s answer is not very satisfactory to them. “I am not a prophet. I am not the Messiah. I am not Elijah. I am just one single, solitary voice crying out in the wilderness to prepare the way of the Lord. To get ready for His coming. To make his ways straight. I am here to get you ready to receive the one who will baptize you, not with mere water, but with Holy Spirit.”

We, of course, have been baptized with water and the Holy Spirit. While most of us are not holy rollers, wave our hands in the air and speak in tongues sorts of people, being infused with the Holy Spirit compels us to a certain world view:

For starters that includes:

The ability to rejoice always. We may not always be in circumstances that are happy circumstances. We may not always be able to be filled with cheer. Yet, as we know that we are in the fullness of God in Jesus Christ, we are in on a secret—that’s how the sufferings of the present time are not worthy of comparison to the glory that shall be revealed. The grounding of our rejoicing is that God has a plan for us and that God will carry us through all things, even when we do not see how it shall be possible for us.

Secondly, we are called to live a life of prayer. Living a life of prayer includes regular worship on the Lord’s Day, but it transcends filling a Sunday obligation. If you have a relationship with a significant other, but you only see them once a week, that relationship is not going to flourish. Chances are that relationship would deteriorate from your lack of attention. If your life is truly hidden with Christ in God, then you will find yourself resorting to pray frequently, such that it would be essentially praying with out ceasing.

Thirdly, in a life that is filled with the grace of the Holy Spirit eventually we learn not to quench the spirit. Have you ever the experience someone coming into a group with such negativity that they manage to poison any positivity that might have been?

If the spirit of the Lord is truly upon us, we will be preoccupied with building community and building relationships. We will focus on those things that unite, not divide us. We will come to recognize that we all bear a responsibility to encourage and to lift up not only ourselves but the culture in which we live. Because that’s what it is to be transformative in the name of our Lord Jesus and in the power of the Holy Spirit.


Canon G+




About canongreg

I have been Rector of St. Paul's Episcopal Church in Wellsboro, PA since 1994.
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