Last week a man came out of one of the services and almost hugged me! Now that’s not unusual for a lot of men, but not this guy. He’s not a hugger. So instead of hugging me he says, “I want you to know that I came this close (holding his thumb & index finger a fraction of an inch away from each other) to standing up and shouting hallelujah for the way you elevate the grace of God in your preaching.” Instantly I said, “Do it! Who knows? Others may join in.”
Now I mention this because that’s exactly the target of John’s aim; not only in the prologue, but throughout his gospel.
Someone has said, “Religion can make you weird. It can also make you afraid. If God is a police officer at best and a child abuser at worst, you had better be careful, and careful will kill the freedom of your new life in Christ.”
Think of it. If the work of Christ depends on your faithfulness, obedience, and purity; and you must work to maintain your witness; maintaining it will kill your freedom. If there are angels piling up the good things you do on one side of some gigantic scale, and demons stacking up all the bad stuff on the other side; you’re like the Angolan basketball team Charles Barclay talked about in 1992 – “You’re in trouble!”
I’ve heard the parable of the talents taught for years as an endorsement of religion. Now that was rarely the intent of the teacher; but that’s the gist of what was being taught.
You remember the story (Matthew 25:14-30). The master leaves home and entrusts his stuff to 3 servants. The first servant gets 5 talents, the second gets 2, and the third gets 1. When the master gets back, the one who gets 5 gives him 5 more. The one who gets 2 gives him 2 more. But the one who receives one returns only one. And Jesus says that the master is ticked, “At least you could have invested it with the bankers and given me some interest, along with the principal.”
For years people have used that story to teach people to live up to their potential so that one day they might hear those oft quoted words at a funeral, “Well done, good and faithful servant”. I have a friend who says that, if he hears those words one more time at a funeral, he will set propriety aside, stand up, and say, “That’s nonsense! Only Jesus was faithful enough to hear those words…certainly not Sam!”
But Jesus is teaching something far greater than watching your P’s and Q’s in this parable. We know that, because in the very next chapter-the “Jews of Jerusalem,” the religious leaders were getting together planning how to kill Him. Now I would suggest that teaching people to work harder at being good and faithful doesn’t make you a target for death. The parable’s not about doing better. It’s about taking a risk. If that third servant had gotten his eyes off himself and his fear and lost that talent by doing something risky, the master wouldn’t have been displeased one bit. In fact, it was his attempt to be safe and secure in his own strength that caused him to be castigated by the master. We don’t serve a hard Master. We don’t serve a greedy Master who reaps where He doesn’t plant. We serve a Grace-Giving Master who says, “Here’s all I’ve got I give it to you to use for my glory and your joy. Now go out and forget yourself and take a risk!”
Now if anyone in the gospels does that any more clearly and effectively than John the Baptist, I don’t know him or her. That’s why John features John the Baptist not only in the prologue (John 1:1-18), but at several other points in the first three chapters. Why? Because John the Baptist is a perfect example of someone who is living out being adopted, elected, receiving of divine revelation and a daily supply of grace. In short, he is a perfect illustration of a life where the implications of what the incarnation of God is being lived out.
In preparation for the message entitled, “A Baptist Role Model,” you may wish to consider the following:
1. Read our preaching text for Sunday – John 1:6-8, 19-34; 3:25-30.
2. What tribe of Israel does John come from?
3. What is unusual about him when it comes to his profession?
4. Why does John use the word “witness” to describe him 3 times in verses 6, 7, & 8?
5. What are the marks of his witness?
6. How different is his witness to Jesus from the ones we normally hear about?
7. How does his witness align with grace?
8. Who does John identify himself to be in chapters 1 and 3?
9. Who does John identify Jesus to be in chapters 1 and 3?
10. Who would he define to be the good and faithful servant?
See you Sunday!