John the Forerunner

MP3 Audio:  John-the-Forerunner.mp3

This homily was preached on Sunday morning, December 15, 2013,
at Christ the King Orthodox Church in Omaha, Illinois, by Sdn. Ambrose.

~

Gospel Reading:  Matthew 11:2-10

The first chapter of John’s gospel recounts the baptism of Christ. So John the Forerunner had just then experienced the Trinity. And the very next day, John is there again. And he has two of his disciples with him. He saw Jesus passing by, and he points to Jesus and he says,“Look! The lamb of God, the Lamb of God which taketh away the sins of the world.”And his disciples did look. And immediately they left John and they followed Jesus. And one of these men Scripture records was Andrew.

The apostle Andrew used to be an apostle of John the Baptist, who went and followed Jesus. But when they said “two” of John’s disciples, it insinuates that there were other disciples of John as well, others that didn’t turn and follow Jesus at that moment. They stayed with John. And a lot of the Fathers have said that the reason that they didn’t follow Jesus was because John’s disciples were jealous of Jesus.

In John chapter three, verse twenty six, John’s disciples actually came up to Jesus and said,“Rabbi, that man who was with you the other side of the Jordan, the one you testified about, Look! He’s over there baptizing now, and a lot of people are coming to Him instead of you.” And we get that recorded that John’s disciples were really concerned that people were following Jesus instead of John now all of a sudden, and they were jealous.

In Matthew’s gospel, we find John’s disciples were in a confrontation or a debate with some of the Jews, and they came to Jesus and they said, “Rabbi, how is it that we and the Pharisees fast all the time, but your disciples don’t fast?” And Jesus answered them, but the bottom line is, here they are confronting Jesus, “How come your guys aren’t fasting when our disciples are? We are; how come you’re not?”

You know, I think about how difficult it must have been for those who didn’t know Christ, didn’t know that Jesus was the Messiah. They didn’t know Him for who He was, but they thought He was a mere man, and then they thought that John to be greater then a mere man. They were following this one who [they thought] was greater. To now see Jesus being highly esteemed and John now fading away, with less importance, the problem was their jealousy had become a roadblock to coming to Christ.

John was actually steering them to Jesus, pointing them to Christ–his own disciples–just like he pointed the rest of the people. “Look! The Lamb of God, that takes away the sins of the world.” He wanted them to follow Him. And they wanted to stay with John. So as long as John was with them, he was continually teaching them and exhorting them. But now as he is approaching death, he becomes even more diligent, and he fears that if he fails now with his own disciples, he may leave them and still leave them broken off from Christ, not joined to Him.

So, why didn’t John just say, “Look guys, go with Jesus. He’s better than me, He’s the Messiah.” A lot of them think–the Fathers, anyway–two of them that I read said that they would likely have simply thought he was being modest in his final days and would have been even more riveted to him, would have thought that “he’s such a modest man, even in his death he’s trying to be humble.” But instead he just sends two . . .  And has them ask, “Are you the one who will come, or should we look for another?”

So it’s interesting to note that when the disciples of John arrived to Jesus, He doesn’t rebuke them. In fact, it’s almost like He comprehends what John is doing. He understood John’s question and his motive. And instead of running the risk of being offensive to them–He could go, “Yep, I’m the one. Yep, it’s me.”–He doesn’t do that. He leaves them to learn from His acts, His miracles.

Remember when Jesus was in that full house of men, and they had to cut a hole in the roof and let the paralyzed man down in the middle? Jesus’ first works to that man were not “Get up and walk.” Jesus’ first words were, “Your sins have been forgiven . . .” And it caused a commotion in the house and all these people thinking, “Who can forgive sins but God?” And here this man is forgiving sins. And Jesus says, “Wait a minute . . . Just to show you that I do have the power to forgive sins, get up and walk. I’m going to prove my power this way, to show that I have the power this other way.” So He doesn’t just say, “Your sins are forgiven you,” and just leave it that way. He says, “I’m going to prove it. Get up and walk, and your sins are forgiven you. I can do both.” That’s what Jesus is trying to say.

He is trying to not–in the case of John’s disciples–He is trying not to inflame them as maybe He inflamed the other people in another example. So instead of saying, “Yep, I’m the Messiah, I’m the One,” which He could have and it would have been truthful, instead He says, “Oh, let’s look at My actions. The blind are receiving sight, the lame are walking, the deaf are hearing, the lepers are being cleansed, and the gospel is being preached to the poor.”

This wasn’t to convince John; it was to convince his disciples. John already knew who He was. He was the forerunner. And Jesus, knowing their hearts and the jealous offence that they had basically taken of Him, He ends it and says, “Blessed is he who is not offended in Me.”

They have been jealous, they have been offended all this time, and they want to know–John is wanting to know–but really it is they that are wanting to know, “Are you the Christ?” He doesn’t say, “Yep.” He says, “Look at all these things I’ve done. By the way, blessed are you who have not been offended in Me.” And so He leaves them to think that way.

So Jesus and John were working together, basically, from a distance working together to carefully-but-effectively bring John’s disciples over from being jealous for John, to following Christ.

But if that happened in a room of people who knew John, who knew Jesus, and all of a sudden two of John’s disciples come and say in the middle of this crowd of people, “Jesus, are you the One?” Now the whole crowd is going, “Whoa, even John doesn’t know. Maybe we are not right to follow Him. John doesn’t even know; he is asking his disciples to come and ask. We thought John was sending us to Christ, but now he is not even sure.”

So Jesus has to turn to the crowd and and calm them. They overheard that exchange. They were now suspicious too. Well, Jesus doesn’t mention their suspicion, thankfully. He doesn’t say, “Whoa, whoa!” He just provides a solution to the thoughts that were in their heart. And He didn’t tell them their thoughts were evil. . . . He just corrects their weakness. He didn’t want their confusion, or their weakness, or their fear to be a roadblock for them on continuing to follow Him.

So Jesus first asks,“Why did you leave your homes, why did you leave your cities and come to the wilderness? Did you come out here to see someone who is pitiful, someone who is flexible? Did you come out here and see John, and think that he was a guy who could be swayed by the winds, someone who could get put into prison and then change his mind? Is that who you came out here to see, a reed swayed by the wind? No, you wouldn’t have come out here for anyone other than someone who is marvelous, firmer than a rock. The prison has not waivered John.”

And Jesus said, “Well, did you come out here to see a man wearing soft clothing? No, this belongs in a king’s court. John is used to suffering. He has been wearing camel’s hair and eating locusts and honey for goodness sake. He is used to suffering. This prison isn’t anything more to him. The prison has not wavered John’s faith. He is seeking for a heavenly kingdom, not an earthly one. That is why he is not wearing soft clothes. That is why prison hasn’t bothered him.”

And then finally Jesus says, “Did you go out to see a prophet?” He says, “Absolutely you did, and even more than any old prophet, but the one who was foretold in Malachi. You have met the one that has been prophesied about. You have been reading the Scriptures and having them read to you for generations. And now the one that we have been talking about has showed up. That is the one you went out there to see. Do you really think he is going to waver? Do you think John has changed his mind? Absolutely not.”

As the greatest of all the prophets, John  actually signified the law and the prophets. Well, Christ is the epitome of the gospel. So as the law and the prophets point to and make a way for the gospel, so John pointed to Christ, and then made way for him to ascend. So the law and the prophets pointed to the gospel and then receded, while the gospel could rise. John did the same thing. John pointed to Christ and receded, so that Christ could rise up. And Jesus is making this point very clear to those there.

So He is actually addressing two different groups of people: John’s disciples, who were jealous and let jealousy be the roadblock, and the rest of the people who heard that interchange and now were starting to let confusion and fear be a roadblock to Christ.

And Christ answered them both and said, “Don’t let your fear, don’t let your confusion, and don’t let your jealousy be roadblocks.”

What would have happened if they had stayed faithful to John? Well, it is almost impossible to do so, because his teachings were pointing to Christ. So to be faithful to John, they would have had to follow Christ. But what would have happened if they had stayed faithful to John, and then John had died? Where would his disciples be left then, if they had not turned to Christ? This is exactly what the Jews did. They were faithful, most of them Jews, in temple worship. When they learned about Christ and the change that Christ brought, they chose not to follow Christ. They chose to stay Jews, and now they have worked themselves outside of the circle of the Church, because the Bible, the Church, and the fathers have said that the Orthodox Church is the continuation of Israel. We are the true Israel, and those who continue down that trajectory of temple worship and Judaism actually moved themselves outside of the Church by doing so.

John’s disciples were in that line pointing to Christ. Had they not followed Christ, and stayed with John, they would have moved themselves outside of the circle of what the true teachings were, even though they were staying faithful to what they knew before. So staying faithful to what you know before–when you are given some new information–moves you outside of the truth if you stay faithful to what you knew before. And that is what would have happened to those disciples, had they stayed with John until he died.

There is actually a group of people–I don’t know if we could call them a church–but there is a religion that is in the middle east right now, that is still followers of John the Baptist. The church is wholly devoted to John the Baptist. I didn’t do a lot of research on them; I don’t know their teachings or anything, but I know that they still exist, they are small but they still exist.

And how easy would it have been to miss Christ? They could have stayed with that teacher they knew, and held firm and stuck with him. They could have also stayed in their comfort zone. Everything that John was teaching was one thing, and then Christ starts teaching something else. “This is a new teaching. I would rather stay in my comfort zone. I don’t want to get out of that and learn some new stuff.” And they could have stayed and maintained their sin, their jealousy, their confusion, their weakness, whatever it was that they were sinning in. They could have missed Christ.

So in this season of Advent–we are about halfway through now, a little over half–let us not allow the same roadblocks of jealousy or confusion to keep us from seeing Christ for who He is. Instead, like John, may we allow the Holy Spirit to direct the lives of us sinners in this wilderness of this life, just like He did John, according to His will.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

~

This homily was preached on Sunday morning, December 15, 2013,
at Christ the King Orthodox Church in Omaha, Illinois, by Sdn. Ambrose.

 

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About Fr Joseph Gleason

I serve as a priest at Christ the King Orthodox Mission in Omaha, Illinois, and am blessed with eight children and one lovely wife. I contribute to On Behalf of All, a simple blog about Orthodox Christianity. I also blog here at The Orthodox Life.
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