We speak of our church as a ship set sail, but at the moment we are not up on the foils. The lockdowns have becalmed us and taken the wind out of our sails.
John the Baptist stood at the opening moments of Jesus’ ministry. He raised expectations, not with mere words, but through his active mission baptising people and pointing them to Jesus. John new exactly what his mission was. As a prophet he spoke with God’s authority, repent and be baptised, and many people responded to his call. Recently we looked at John in prison, beginning to doubt Jesus and asking, Are you the One or should we expect someone else? Jesus answered John’s question by pointing to the miracles that were taking place, the spiritual power that was being exercised and the obvious signs of the Kingdom of God. Jesus was ministering with great power and authority. But he used his power, not to overthrow Rome, but to overthrow the spiritual powers of evil. He used his authority not to lord it over others, but to command demons to leave, sickness to go and wholeness to be restored.
In the verses we look at today Jesus comments on John and his ministry. He asked the crowd rhetorical questions, what did you go to see? Jesus pointed out John was not a swaying reed bending to the will of others. John spoke boldly, with authority, to the tax collectors and soldiers who repented. He spoke with equal boldness to the Jewish authorities and to the adulterous king who opposed him rejecting his message. John was a thorn in the side of both the king and the Jerusalem leaders. This is why, when the Jewish leaders questioned Jesus’ authority, Jesus turned the tables on them and asked where did John get his authority? They were cornered and couldn’t answer because they didn’t want to admit what everyone else knew, John spoke with the authority of God and the effectiveness of his mission was proof of God’s approval. In reality, these leaders, who only had limited, delegated authority from God, had come face to face with the greater authority in John and more so in Jesus. John did not bend to their will, their questions or their authority.
Neither was John revelling in the fame, the riches or power his popularity could have gained for him. John lived an austere life, not one of luxury. The interest in the recent interview with Megan Markle shows how people are interested in the royal family. Jesus pointed out this was not how John lived, he did not have fine clothes, nor did he live in a palace. John’s authority was not derived from human privilege, pomp or prestige. Rather his authority was from God.
What difference does this make to us? We are living through a crisis. I know people in other nations have it much worse than we do. But that is not to say it isn’t hard for us. If we use the image of our church as a ship set sail or think of our individual commitment to Jesus. Are we becalmed, perhaps back in the boatshed, checking our equipment, trying to discern if this ship is seaworthy or likely to sink? Can we trust our lives to this? Can we continue our involvement? Should we continue to invest our heart and soul, our time and energy to the mission here? A key plank in the hull of this ship is the ministry of John the Baptist. He did not buckle or bend. Lives were changed by his ministry “For the Lord’s hand (authority) was with him” (Luke 1:66–67).
This is a great starting place for us. John a firm foundation, the hull intact, pointing to Jesus the lamb of God, who makes the whole thing seaworthy. As we gain this assurance we can again prayerfully discern where the wind of the Holy Spirit is blowing, when to tack, how the currents around us are moving, and again engage in the mission God gives us.