CHECK THE FRUIT!
"There was a man sent from God whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all might believe. He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light." John 1:6-8 (NIV).
Don't you love the way John puts John the Baptist into the correct perspective? If you have travelled with me through Luke's gospel, you will have seen how Jesus struggled to teach His disciples to interpret what was going on from the perspective of the kingdom of God. But at that time they just didn't get it.
He promised them that things would be different after Pentecost -- and they were! Once they had the Holy Spirit in them, they saw things from God's point of view just like Jesus did. Although he was a prophet, John the Baptist's ministry was unique and special. Just in case anyone mistakenly thought that he was the Messiah, John assures his readers that he was only a witness but a powerful one.
How did John the Baptist bear witness to the light? His preaching on repentance had a twofold purpose -- to call God's people back to a life of generosity and service and to prepare them for the coming of the Messiah who would immerse them in the Holy Spirit.
The religious leaders had led the people away from what God wanted into what they thought God wanted, religious people who meticulously kept the minutest details of the law at the expense of loving God by being kind and generous to all people. John's preaching was fiery and explicit. He called his curious congregation who went to hear what he had to say, "A brood of vipers, a bunch of bastards -- fatherless people!"
"Return," he urged them. "There is someone coming who is far greater than I. My baptism in water is only a preparation for His baptism of fire." What Jesus was about to do would be like the fire that consumes the chaff that is beaten off the wheat -- He would expose and get rid of everything in His people that was incompatible with God - greed, selfishness, unkindness, pride and arrogance. He was not interested in religious rigmarole. He wanted real people who would love God and love their neighbour.
John the Baptist had no desire to promote himself. His only mission was to prepare the way by alerting the people to their need to get back to the simplicity of God's way and to recognise the Messiah when He arrived because He would continue what John began.
"The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. He was in the world, and though the world was made through Him, the world did not recognise Him. He came to that which was His own, but His own did not receive him. Yet to all who did receive Him, to those who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God -- children born not of natural descent or a husband's will but born of God." John 1:9-13 (NIV).
There is a sad note in John's story -- in spite of what John the Baptist preached and testified to, neither the world at large nor God's people recognised or acknowledged the Messiah when He came. His own people, who should have known Him because they had been taught His Word from their mother's breast, refused to receive Him.
Since the day when they were taken into covenant relationship with God at Mount Sinai, they persisted in rebelling against God's best way to live and going their own way with disastrous consequences; yet they never learned. And here they were, repeating history all over again.
Except for a few. In God's story there are always those, few in number, yes, but true children of God who take what God says seriously, act on it and are welcomed into God's family as dearly loved children. John hastens to add that this is not about natural birth. The Jews assumed that, because they were born Jews and had been circumcised -- an external sign of their Jewishness, they were "in" and everybody else was "out".
John made sure that he told them that it didn't work like that. There had to be another "birth", a supernatural one that brought them back into the family of God and reproduced the character of God in them.
How tragic that this erroneous thinking has crept into the church as well! Some branches of the church bring their babies into the family of God by "Christianising" them and "confirming" that ritual when they are of age and yet they have never been supernaturally "born" into God's family by receiving Jesus as the Son of God and the Holy Spirit as the Spirit of sonship (Romans 8:14-16).
Jesus said, "Check the fruit. That's the real test."
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