Welcome to 2015 and hello from the Ask God Today Ministry Team. Today is the first day of our “Way In” challenge. Thank you for joining us. Here is the link to join the “Way In” Facebook group to keep holding you accountable this month. https://www.facebook.com/groups/811717242207462/
Well, I can think of no better way to usher in 2015 than with the story of John the Baptist, and I’m so stoked to dig into this with you. Can I just offer a word of encouragement: read these passages for yourself? God’s Word is “living and active”; it’ll speak to you in ways it won’t speak to me. And we don’t want you to miss a single word. . So let’s dig in…Matthew Chapter 3.
Shake it Off and Clear a Path
by Wendy Duke
John the Baptist was revolutionary in every way. Instead of preaching in the religious centers of the larger cities, he brought a message of a coming Savior to the people on the margins, those “in the wilderness” who wouldn’t otherwise hear the good news (much like the angels’ proclamation to the shepherds on the first Christmas night in Chapter 2.). And people came for miles to hear from this rebel, clearly unconcerned with fashion or earthly comforts, but laser-focused in his mission to “prepare the way” for the coming Messiah. He stood out from the crowd in his camel-hair coat and sticky beard. Who was this guy and what did he have to say?
Prophesied 500 years earlier (Isaiah 7:14), John was an integral part of God’s plan to bring the Gospel to the world. Every game-changer needs others who “prepare the way”—draw attention, introduce the name or concept, stir up interest, plow the ground for the seed to be planted. We mortals are “slow of heart,” you know. ([Jesus] said to them, “O foolish men, you are slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken! Luke 24:25) For Jesus’ message to be received, John’s role was to pave the road with an announcement.
And his message is this: REPENT. Turn back to God. Leave your sin and selfishness behind—there’s something more, something better coming.
He’s most direct with the religious leaders, who, for generations, used religion to hoard power for themselves. John warns that their titles, training, even ancestry is worthless unless their actions nurture others and produce eternal results. John’s words, even the location of his baptizing, turned the religious structure on its ear. John was new on the scene, with no training, no resume—just a guy in the wilderness baptizing people in the dirty waters of the Jordan River.
But he’s a Jesus guy, and Jesus has always been about breaking rules and getting dirty. I love this about Him.
John explains the work of the Holy Spirit through a metaphor his audience would have known well: the harvesting of wheat. The wheat is first threshed—beaten until the grain falls from the stalk—and then “winnowed” with a large rake-like fork that scoops up the wheat and tosses it into the air to break loose any grain that still clings to the stalk. Religion has a way of making people cling to its leaders and rules. Sin has a way of making our flesh cling to it, too. Sometimes God has to shake us loose. Jesus’ mission was to set us free from anything that isn’t pure, doesn’t nourish or grow something other than itself—all that ends up being burned away. We’ve got to let go of that stuff before we go down with it.
Photo credit: www.prophetsandpopstars.com
Even John had to break free from the chaff of preconceived notions about how things needed to be done. Though his humility is stunning (“I need to be baptized by you…”), Jesus needed someone to baptize Him so He could carry out His next steps. Jesus never asks His followers to do anything He’s not willing to do first, so even John had to let go of his own plans to help Jesus forge a path for others to follow.
A hippie prophet, broken rules, scratched plans, dirty water…the life of John the Baptist illustrates for us that we cannot box God in. He does not follow our silly rules. People who follow God whole-heartedly break free of the chaff in every way. There’s no other way to follow Jesus than to shake it off and clear a new path.
So I ask myself and challenge you to ask yourself a few questions in light of John the Baptist’s life:
- Am I willing to forsake earthly comforts, reputation or self-made “kingdoms” to fulfill my role in the Kingdom?
- Am I laser-focused in my mission to prepare a way for others to come to Christ?
- Am I willing to clear a path in my own life, remove and let go of anything that would block someone’s way or be difficult to get past?
Oh, God, keep me focused, that my life would look so different from the world that others would be able to see you clearly and make their way to you without stumbling. Remove any plans, pride, possessions, desires or thoughts in me that would block another’s path to you. Amen.
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