Lk. 7:23 "Blessed is he who does not take offense at Me."
In this series we have studied the prophetic wilderness--what it is, how we got there and God's ultimate plan for us on the other side of it. We've zeroed in on three factors that characterize the wilderness experience--negative corrective revelation, zealous anger, and prophetic woundedness.
In all, we've said that though we may pay prices associated with these factors that drive us into the wilderness, the wilderness is not our final home. It does not capture all of the Father's heart for His people and we must yet pay other prices to enter the wholeness awaiting us past our desert experience--moving from negative revelation to first love, from zealous anger to divine temperament and from woundedness to inner healing through forgiveness.
If we fail the complete circuit and get stuck on our wilderness issues, we will never realize the full destiny for which we were sent there. We'll instead develop a warped "wilderness shaped" view of the Lord--just as flawed as the happy-go-lucky mainstream view of Christ our hearts have been stirred to expose and oppose.
The story that teaches us most about this challenge is that of John the Baptist and his disciples--specifically the offense that grew in their own hearts over Yeshua's ministry as it unfolded over time. Wilderness saints must at all costs grasp the real truths behind this story if we are to escape the pitfalls of spiritual wilderness attitudes.
So in these waning sections of this series, let's look at John and his disciples, what marked John in God, how the Lord offended His desert herald, and what it means for us.
Assessing John's Nature in God
John was a very unique man. First off, he was filled with the Holy Spirit from the womb. He was also a "Nazarite" from birth. A Nazarite was one who took a special vow of separation to the Lord, one that included alcoholic abstinence. A priest's son, John lived monastically in the wilderness all his life--away from society. His acquaintances were few. No big meetings. No conventions or conferences. Maybe a little cluster here or there--but always out in the desert.
John belonged to no "group" or "party." He wasn't a Pharisee or an Essene, though both these groups heavily emphasized "separation." (The Essenes, a fringe desert group never mentioned in the Bible, were consumed with baptism to the point of cultic obsession. Some have thought John was one of them.) Nor was John a political Zealot. No, John was just John. He was perhaps what somebody once called a friend of mine: a "one man denomination."
John had little time for the mundane or banal. His vision was too intense for that. He wouldn't have attended social functions (like weddings and dinner parties). He didn't go to synagogues. He lived "spartanly." He didn't have a job and lived in poverty. He fasted a lot, and when he did eat, ate only the most rudimentary things the desert afforded. No fine cooked meals. He wore camel's hair and leather. Nothing pretty or comfortable.
As for the inner man, John was consumed with a message of righteousness beginning with repentance. And that was it. Nothing supernatural about it. No miracle ministry. No "signs and wonders." No healings or deliverance. Just a burning message of repentance and vision of Messiah--of someone who was going to set it all straight, incinerating every vestige of unrighteousness in the land, taking out all the evil Rome-compromising Sadducees, hypocrite Pharisees and every careless unholy job-consumed, socializing synagogue-attending "mainstream" Israelite.
And according to Jesus, John was the greatest man ever born.
Assessing John's Vision of the Messiah
Now, put yourself in John's shoes. Think about the life you've been called to live for 30 years and the message burned into you by the power of the Holy Spirit. Look around. See everything you've been called out from. Then think about the Messiah you've been called to proclaim. Think hard about what kind of Man He is going to be--especially since you know you're the only one in all Israel appointed to prepare the way for this man's arrival.
Now ask yourself the "million dollar question:" Given all you know about your call and your message in God, do you think by any stretch you would expect your Messiah to live and act in any way other than the way you have been instructed for a life time?
What do you really think? This is your whole life now--to live in the desert proclaiming repentance and this man's coming. What are you going to expect this man to be like?? Here's what you're going to expect: You are going to expect Him to be just like you.
Well, Messiah came. Cousin Yeshua by name, and of all people. Yet He was not like John. That is, He was and He wasn't. For though Yeshua shared John's nature and call, He was not confined to John's nature and call. John represented only one part of the heart of Messiah.
Nor does it take long for this to come out. As soon as Jesus is baptized by John and comes out of the wilderness, the differences begin emerging. The very first place He goes is to a wedding where everyone is drinking wine. Then He performs a miracle of turning water into more wine. Oh no! (If anything, from a Nazarite's holy perspective, Jesus should have been turning all wine into water.)
So then, three strikes against Yeshua right off the bat: a feasty social event, lots of wine and a miracle. Definitely not "John-like."
Jesus next meets and talks with a woman in private at an out-of-the-way well--another great cultural no-no. And His new disciples just inherited from John watch dumbfounded. (Eventually, the Lord's ministry is surrounded by women as well as men.)
The Differences Escalate
But this is just the start. As the months progress, Yeshua ministers in and out of all kinds of venues and in ways entirely outside the dedicated wilderness focus John and his disciples hold. He ministers in "dead synagogues" as well as in the desert. He dines at the homes of both Pharisees and tax collectors. He merrily eats and drinks among the common folk as well as fasts in secret. And of course, the miracles just multiply--nothing John had any experience with or way to verify.
Yeshua's disciples are an interesting lot too. They do not all come from John. A few do. But the rest come from elsewhere, including a zealot and a publican--absolute political opposites. And the ones who don't come from John don't have a "repentance & righteousness" wilderness perspective. (Judas certainly didn't.) What a bunch. It's not a group I would have assembled--that's for sure.
But perhaps the most troubling difference between John and Yeshua is the difference in the tone and priority of their messages. For though Jesus is preaching repentance and expecting repentance, repentance is not His only message. More importantly, unlike John, it is not his basis for ministry to people. This is really really important to watch.
The Dual Natured Message of Messiah
The truth is Yeshua had a two-tiered approach to the people of Israel. He had a freely inviting entry-level message displayed in unconditional goodness for leading men to repentance and eternal life. And He also had a more demanding advanced message of discipleship for proving the genuineness of that eternal life and bringing it to maturity. This was entirely different than John's single track repentance-first-and-only focus.
John had preached that Messiah was going to "burn away all the chaff" of mainstream Israel. But when Yeshua came, He did not take that tack. Rather, He first allowed "wheat and tares" to grow together. In fact, His ministry was set up in such a way that it actually expected and made room for the breeding of tares, beginning among His closest twelve.
For John, the call to repentance and its evidence was prerequisite to any participation with his ministry. But for Yeshua repentance was His ministry objective, not the prerequisite to receiving ministry from Him. The record is clear: Jesus healed many people on whom He put no condition of repentance before His anointing would flow out to them. Faith is all He required. Some He exhorted after healing to "sin no more." Others received no such word at all. Again, this led to the flocking of crowds out of all kinds of mixed motives--as he taught it would. (What do you think this looked like to the righteous John?)
It was only as an accompaniment that the issue of and forgiveness of personal sins became clearly associated with this miraculous ministry. And only after the ministry of goodness had run its course and the rejection of repentance was clearly established did Yeshua finally call down the scathing nationwide rebuke John's original wilderness message had sounded--by which time John was dead!
Lk. 7:15 The dead man sat up and began to speak. And Jesus gave him back to his mother. 17 This report concerning Him went out all over Judea and in all the surrounding district. 18 The disciples of John reported to him about all these things.
19 Summoning two of his disciples, John sent them to the Lord, saying, "Are You the Expected One, or do we look for someone else?"
20 When the men came to Him, they said, "John the Baptist has sent us to You, to ask, `Are You the Expected One, or do we look for someone else?' " 21 At that very time He cured many people of diseases and afflictions and evil spirits; and He gave sight to many who were blind.
22 And He answered and said to them, "Go and report to John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the poor have the gospel preached to them. 23 "Blessed is he who does not take offense at Me."
When Yeshua first appeared, John the Baptist had every reason to be joyful. At last, the one to whom He had always been pointing had come. "This my joy is now complete," he said. Knowing he had been only the preparer of the way, it was a natural to John that his disciples should leave him to go follow Yeshua. John saw Jesus as the Bridegroom and himself as the "best man."
And yet, the "best man" did not end up at "the wedding" (as we shall see in a moment.) As best man, John would have expected to play a role in the development of Messiah's kingdom--not to have no part in it! Yet oddly, almost as soon as Jesus comes on the stage, John practically disappears altogether. Remaining on his own, his fiery message eventually lands him in jail where Herod puts him to death.
Why do you suppose this is? Why was John no more to be found after Yeshua arrived?
Sometimes silence speaks louder than words. Pastors know this well--or at least they should. Not all sheep voice their issues. Instead, after a time of watching and concluding things are not heading in the direction they have expected of the Lord they should go, they just quietly "check out" of the hotel.
John's absence from the remaining narrative of Christ coupled with this closing story from prison, as well as other factors we will note, strongly hint that John was not really able to get on board with the new program of Yeshua, but held onto deep reservations about Him as Yeshua's ministry developed. Those reservations would have been due to the huge differences between John's original vision of Messiah and how Messiah actually appeared when Yeshua executed His ministry--one which surpassed John's nature and style in almost every way conceivable. Yes, Jesus did share John's wilderness heart, but as we saw, He was not confined to that heart!
John's jailing under Herod while the "Messiah" was supposedly "loose" and leaving him there to languish would have been part of the offense. But this was just the last of many offenses over the entire way Yeshua conducted his ministry from the start. John simply could not conceive of a "part wilderness / part mainstream-accommodating" Messiah. He couldn't imagine a jovial socializing Messiah in light of the dire times. He could not picture a miracle ministry--especially one that started by turning water into forbidden alcohol--and He could not conceive of a miracle ministry that didn't make the message of repentance a prerequisite to receiving!
It was John's partiality to His own wilderness conception of the Lord that would have undone him the most, and that alone explains why so late in his own ministry, John had no clear way to believe that the one He had first anointed was truly the "right one!"
But if the way Yeshua conducted His ministry was an occasion of stumbling to John up to John's end, what do you think it was to those who continued to follow John?
New Meadow Neck, RI
First Love Ministry
- a ministry of Anglemar Fellowship
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Page created October 5, 2008