Summary: What made John so special
Sermon: John the Baptist – Radical and Countercultural par excellence
Story: A young police officer was taking his final exam for the police academy and he was set the following problem to solve.
“You are on patrol in the outer city when an explosion occurs in a gas main in a nearby street.
On investigation you find that a large hole has been blown in the footpath and there is an overturned van nearby.
Inside the van there is a strong smell of alcohol. Both occupants—a man and a woman—are injured.
You recognize the woman as the wife of your Chief of Police, who is at present away in the USA.
A passing motorist stops to offer you assistance and you realize that he is a man who is wanted for armed robbery.
Suddenly a man runs out of a nearby house, shouting that his wife is expecting a baby and that the shock of the explosion has made the birth imminent.
Another man is crying for help, having been blown in the adjacent canal by the explosion, and he cannot swim.
Describe in a few words what actions you would take.”
The young man thought for a moment, picked up his pen and wrote,
“I would take off my uniform and mingle with the crowd.”
But just as a policeman CANNOT duck his responsibilities – neither can a committed Christian.
We are often called to swim against the tide of public opinion.
Jesus certainly did – and so did the subject of our Bible reading this morning – John the Baptist.
And interestingly all four of the Gospels tell us things about the life of John the Baptist (Mt3, Mk1 and Mk 6, Lk 3 and Jn1).
John was an important figure for the early Church.
John is a link from the Old Testament to the New. After all in the last book of the Old Testament, we see the prophet Malachi, who lived a good 300 years before John referring to John in these words:
5 “See, I will send the prophet Elijah to you before that great and dreadful day of the LORD comes. 6 He will turn the hearts of the parents to their children, and the hearts of the children to their parents; or else I will come and strike the land with total destruction.” (Malachi 4:5)
And with these words – the Old Testament comes to a close
So what was it about John that was so special
His birth was almost as remarkable as Jesus.
But that in itself would not have made John such an important figure
John the Baptist was both radical and countercultural in three ways:
1. In his lifestyle
2. In what he taught and
3. In his fearlessness of men in the face of adversity.
1. The first way that John the Baptist was radical and countercultural was his radical lifestyle
While the religious leaders of his day lived in fine houses – and the High Priest himself even lived in a palace – John the Baptist took to the desert to live a life of seclusion and prayer.
John wasn’t pretentious. He didn’t overrate himself. In fact quite the contrary.
He didn’t claim to be more than he was. There was a humility about John.
When Jesus came to be baptised by John – look at John’s reply:
“But John tried to deter him, saying: I need to be baptised by you, and do you come to me?” (Mt 3:14)
There was also a simplicity in his lifestyle
He didn’t wear an Armani suit or Designer jeans. He didn’t have a rolex watch either – and all the other trappings of worldly success. St Matthew records that
“John’s clothes were made of camels’ hair and he had a leather belt around his waist. His food was locusts and wild honey.” (Mt 3:4)
While I am not advocating locusts and honey for our harvest supper – I do think it is important to notice the simplicity of John’s living.
2. The second way in which John the Baptist was radical and countercultural was in his teaching
John the Baptist was very clear in his message. He called a spade a spade
He was hugely popular with the people – not just because he tweeked the nose of the heirarchy – but because the people recognised what he was saying was from God.
There was a mini revival. Even the outcasts of society – the tax collectors and the Roman soldiers are recorded as coming to him (Lk 3).
And I wouldn’t be surprised if the prostitutes came as well.
Yet his message wasn’t a populist message – indeed it should have been extremely unpopular as it was so condemnatory.
We read in Matthew 3 that he preached a Gospel of repentance. And He was quite a tough preacher.