We are all familiar with the passage at the end of John's gospel where Jesus asks Peter three times, "Do you love Me?" Of course, Jesus already knew that Peter loved him, but used this line of questioning to both clarify and magnify the implications of that love. Jesus poses questions to get to the heart of every matter, and to the motive of every heart.
Being God, he does not do this in order to acquire information which he lacks. But rather, since He knows the thoughts in the heart of every man (for He Himself knew what was in man), He draws these thoughts out into the open in order that men might be confronted and exposed for who and what they really are, for better or for worse.
Likewise, in Matthew's gospel, Jesus again is seen posing three rhetorical questions to the multitudes, addressing their true motives for going out to see and hear John the Baptist. And those same questions concerning our motives are no less relevant in our day, asking the difficult question which must be asked of each one of us, "But what do you go out to see?"
"What did you go out into the wilderness to look at? A reed shaken by the wind?" This illustration refers to the commonplace, the mundane, the humdrum aspects of life. There are those who seek little, expect little, and therefore receive little. They find comfort and security in the status quo. They know what to expect in their church gatherings and are rarely, if ever, disappointed. Form is more important than spiritual life. The Body of Christ has been transformed into a pre-programmed mechanical robot, responding automatically to human command.
For the sake of tradition, the Word of God is made null and void, and so it goes; this great man-made monster is perpetuated by sucking the very life out of what otherwise would be living stones. Over a period of time, that natural, God-given drive towards spiritual curiosity, that hunger and thirst for God and His kingdom has become retarded and the spiritual senses dulled. And no one, after drinking old wine wishes for new; for he says, "The old is good enough."
Conversely, there are those who have adopted the mentality of, "expect a miracle every moment," virtually upon demand. When this is not the case, the logical conclusion is that apparently God did not show up, or what is more likely to occur, the giving in to the pressure to conjure up "moves of God" in the flesh in order to gratify the flesh, but not the spirit. An evil and adulterous generation craves for a sign ... and false Christs and false prophets will arise, and will show signs and wonders ... These people are ripe for deception. Their faith is built upon signs and wonders. They become addicts of a different kind. To keep them going, the next "fix" must be better than the previous one.
For them, "strange fire" is preferable to "no fire." Having a "great service" is the priority, even to the extent of producing a carnival-like atmosphere. The consideration of, “Be still and know that I am God,” would be the equivalent of allowing the mortal broadcasting sin of "dead air" on a radio program. Meeting the Lord and allowing Christ preeminence is not the object of their gathering. In time, the artificial glue, which has bound them together, will fail and the faulty foundation upon which they have built their house will no longer support them, and great will be its fall. Man builds with brick and mortar. God builds with living stones and His Spirit.
"But what did you go out to see? A man dressed in soft clothing?
Behold; those who wear soft clothing are in kings' palaces." If we use opulence and statistics as the measure by which God affirms His stamp of approval upon men and ministries, then we are as carnally minded as the blatant unbeliever is. In fact, the believer might be surprised to find that there is a kindred spirit connecting them, albeit a wrong spirit, who set their minds on earthly things, and who suppose that godliness is a means of gain. We have fallen into one of the great traps that is set before the Church; a mentality that says, "We can be just as good as the world!"
However, Paul teaches us not to be conformed to this world but to be transformed by the renewing of our minds so that we can prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect. Jesus warned, "Woe to you when all men speak well of you, for in the same way their fathers used to treat the prophets. " History shows that when Christianity has become not only acceptable, but even popular to the point where it is yoked and supported by the State, it will inevitably fall into spiritual decline.
Such was the case with Christianity and the Roman Empire with the conversion of Constantine early in the 4th century. Soon afterward, Christianity was declared the State religion. When the Church became popular with the State, the world's system came into the Church, and before long that Church was transformed into a corrupted form of Christianity. Having become unequally yoked with the world, the Church's spiritual decline was inevitable.
Paul instructed the Corinthians, Therefore from now on we recognize no man according to the flesh. James wrote, My brethren, do not hold your faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ with an attitude of personal favoritism. For if a man comes into your assembly with a gold ring and fine clothes ... and you pay special attention to the one wearing the fine clothes ... have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil motives? Remember, charm is deceitful and beauty is vain.
Paul made reference to those who desire to make a good showing in the flesh. This also pertains to the focus and process of ministry and our personal walk. Where our treasure is, there will our hearts be also. Ultimately, we all get what we pay for. For the one who sows to his own flesh shall from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit shall from the Spirit reap eternal life. If our heart's desire is to see those who wear soft clothing, we should seek out a king's palace. If our desire is to be entertained, we should seek out a nightclub. If our desire is for a carnival atmosphere, we should go seek out a circus. If our desire is to hear "dynamic" speakers, we should seek out the nearest equivalent of Mars Hill.
But, if our heart's focus is to meet and fellowship with God, then we will make it our ambition to seek after the simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ. Why was the Old Testament Tabernacle in the wilderness referred to as the tent of meeting? Because it was where Moses met face to face with God. He went out in order to enter in; into fellowship and communion with God, his sole and soul purpose. What God desired to do upon this meeting was His business and prerogative, and not Moses'. If it is truly our desire to meet with God, then it is with Him that we shall meet, for He has promised that when we search for Him with all our hearts, we shall find Him. The primary purpose for the House of God is to meet with God, and He is always home.
"But why did you go out? To see a prophet? Yes, I tell you, and one who is more than a prophet. " To desire to go out and see a man of God who speaks for God is a good thing. There are many legitimate men of God who are gifted in presenting the word of God, for as Paul wrote, there are countless tutors in Christ. But, there is a realm in which a man can abide where the calling and the vessel become virtually indistinguishable. Behold I send My messenger before your face, who will prepare your way before you.
He is more than a prophet. The man and the message have become one. His ministry is known, not for what he says, but for what he is. He is a living epistle, known and read by all men. He is not a man accompanied by his gift, calling, or ministry. His life is the embodiment of his gift, calling, and ministry. His life is the expression of the Word of Christ richly dwelling within. His life is dedicated to seeing that a worthy habitat is prepared for His Lord, suitable for His Kingdom and Purposes.
Through him, men are not simply taught about Christ, they learn Christ, they are shown Christ; that men might see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God And. they do not preach themselves, but Christ. The Body of Christ is not merely called to witness. She is called to be a living corporate witness within the everyday affairs of men, to bring to light what is the administration of the mystery which for ages has been hidden in God, who created all things; in order that the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known through the Church to the rulers and the authorities in the heavenly places. This was in accordance with the eternal purpose which He carried out in Christ Jesus our Lord.
We are called to be not only a voice, but a living corporate witness in this worldly wilderness, to make ready the way of the Lord. As He has gone to prepare a place for us, we also have been called to prepare a place for Him. So then, you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow-citizens with the saints, and are of God's household having been built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together is growing into a holy temple in the Lord; in whom you also are being built together into a dwelling of God in the Spirit.
Would to God that at the conclusion of our meetings, or rather His meetings, we would be able to exclaim as Mary Magdalene did so long ago, "I have seen the Lord! " But then, is that not why she went out? One day, some will see the Lord because they want to, others because they have to. And so, we return to the original question which will determine that eternal outcome. What do you go out to see?