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jesus the radical pastor
Expectations and Jesus: Part 3 John the Baptist
With the recent death of Edward (Teddy) Kennedy, we were reminded how Ted lived in the shadows of his brothers, Jack and Bobby. We were reminded not only of JFK’s presidency and Bobby’s reforms, but their tragic assassinations. Ted did go on, however, to carve out his own impressive place in USAmerican politics.
Jesus, at his baptism, walked out of the shadows of his impressive cousin–John the Baptist. John the Baptist broke the oppressive, enduring silence of God by becoming a shouting, prophetic voice in the Jordan River wilderness. In the silent night, John the Baptist burst out like bomb-like fireworks on the 4th of July. Cousin John, like a magnet to iron filings, drew thousands from Judea and Jerusalem to the river for a baptism of repentance. Messianic fever was in the air as John quoted Isaiah and looked like Elijah. John the Baptist kept harping that a greater One is coming; a stronger One, One whose sandal he was not worthy to untie. John the Baptist created very high expectations in the people and, I suggest, had very high expectations about “the coming One” himself. John merely baptized with water. The One coming would baptize with the blazing fire of the Spirit of God.
When it came time for Jesus’ coming out, I suggest it felt like a fizzled fire-cracker to John. John didn’t know his cousin well because he couldn’t recognize him in the crowds. God had to point Jesus out to John. What kind of dramatic Messiah is that? (But Isaiah told us that Jesus was not a physical specimen that would turn heads: “He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him”). Jesus was no rock star. Then, what was this about Jesus wanting to be baptized, even insisting on it? This was a baptism of repentance! A ‘repentant’ Messiah?! John even countered Jesus by saying that Jesus should baptize him, not John baptize Jesus. Jesus would have none of that. John’s brain was getting scrambled.
Later as John intuits his impending death, he sends some friends to Jesus to ask if Jesus was indeed “the One who was to come.” Read “the Messiah.” Did John the Baptism wonder if his whole ministry was a Shakespearian phrase: “much ado about nothing”? I venture to think that John the Baptist held that the
Messiah would sweep in with world-shaking fury and nuke Rome into oblivion. At least, the Messiah could take out the puppet-king, coward Herod Antipas who wanted John the Baptist’s head.
Do you suspect that some evangelical Christians today have the same smoking vengeance in their hearts about Jesus’ second coming that the Jewish people had in theirs at his first coming? That one of the main reasons Jesus comes is to burn to death those who dare get in God’s people’s way; to condemn to hell fire those who don’t share our family values and don’t vote our self-preserving principles. Jesus is the Big Bully who beats up the bad guys who are against the church. What are some of us going to say to the millions of martyrs for Christ when we get to meet them in the new heavens and earth?
We need to allow Jesus to walk out of the shadows of our expectations. I think we need to ask Jesus to transform our expectations lest we become like those who those shouted, “Crucify him! We have not king but Caesar.”