On Wealth Among Teachers, Humility and Obedience

John 1:29-34 Part I

Having endured the interrogations of the Jews, the priests and the Levites for a full day; the apostle tells us that the next day, the Baptist sees Jesus coming to him. Consider not only the courage, but also the humility on display in John’s response to this. Surrounded by his earthly followers, those who have pledged their earthly allegiance to his teachings, John plainly proclaims to all of them, “here is the Man who is preferred to me. While I remain here, the faceless, bodiless voice crying out in the wilderness, this Man is He whose face you must seek, for His is the power that can save.”

In Isaiah, we read, “Although He was ill-treated, He opened not His mouth. He was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a lamb is silent before His shearers, so He opens not His mouth.” (Isaiah 53:7-8). Here obviously this sacrificial lamb is an obvious reference to the Messiah. Thus, when John proclaims to all who are present, “Behold, here is the Lamb of God,” he is directly relating this passage, this prophecy of the coming One, to Jesus Himself. See, we have to remember that John, like so many teachers in our era, was greatly influential over the faith of those who had come to follow him. There are so many teachers, pastors, authors, theologians, whose teachings are accepted above others. And it would be so easy for those very teachers to corrupt that loyalty by teaching in accord with their own desires. Paul warns us against this very fact in his letter to Timothy. Paul admonishes Timothy that “the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up teachers for themselves; and they will turn ears away from the truth.” (2 Timothy 4:3-4). People oftentimes will hear what they want to hear, whether it be truth or not. And because of the greed of men, Paul teaches us that there will be those who “suppose that godliness is a means of gain,” (1 Timothy 6:5), thereby corrupting the teachings of the Church and of Christ in an effort to gain material, financial wealth. Seeking to feed their own avarice, it is so easy for one to become corrupted and use His name to suit their own desires. I think of the “best-selling authors” who constantly revise interpretations of Scripture in an effort to feed their insatiable hunger for financial wealth. As Paul teaches us, “the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil” (1 Timothy 6:10) and Jesus teaches us that “you cannot serve God and money.” (Matthew 6:24). Thus, whenever I see or hear about a teacher who has amassed great wealth for himself in this world based on selling Biblical teaching, I often question what motive they have for the selling thereof, and exactly what teachings they believe when the very Scripture that they are teaching strongly admonishes us not to “lay up treasures for yourselves on earth, where moth and rust corrupts and thieves can break in and steal.” (Matthew 6:19). I question the sincerity and motivation of anyone who claims to believe that Scripture is the sole authority and that we should eradicate the traditions of the Church, and then makes millions selling books interpreting Scripture in different ways, establishing their own tradition. Especially in contrast to this very passage, where John, the Forerunner of Christ, loudly proclaims before all, “Here is the Man to whom you should listen. I have nothing to offer and am worthy of no praise or glory, it is He alone to whom you should give glory.”

And, not only before his followers did he make this proclamation. His followers’ presence display the humility with which John lived. But, the part that is often overlooked is the courage that it took for him to proclaim this the day after the Jews and the Levites had spent the entire day interrogating him. Remember, even once Jesus begins working miracles and signs, the Jews refused to accept that He was the Messiah. And they would still have been present here. See, this wasn’t in a safe Church building, or someone’s house, or some other safe haven surrounded only by a congregation that John proclaimed this. Consider the attention that this sort of spectacle would have created amongst the non-believers in the area. Consider the atheists and philosophers, the pagans, the random lookers-on who would have been drawn to this great of a spectacle. Consider the Jews who had heard that the priests and Levites were coming to question the Baptist. Consider the hecklers who would have been ubiquitous in this setting, mocking and jeering those who were seeking this baptism. And it was before all of these people as well that John proclaims this fulfillment of prophecy. Consider the risk that John was undertaking when he loudly proclaimed that this One Man was in fact the fulfillment of the prophecy of the Coming One.

See, this part bares such relevance to us today. It’s no wonder that this fact is so plainly overlooked in our generation. We tend to lack this virtue, and in the name of soothing the scars of our shattered pride, we ignore the sheer courage that John the Baptist models for us in this passage. The world has trained us to be so sensitive to others feelings, so tolerant to others beliefs, that it has trained us to place it’s feelings and emotions above the commands of our Lord. It has taught us that sensitivity is more important than truth and that the opinions of others is far more important than obedience to the word of God. We fear offending anyone because then they won’t like us, they may be upset with us. But John, with no such pride, is freed from this fear. Whether others like him or despise him matters not; his sole obedience, his sole allegiance, is to the Lord. He may have lost his friends, his followers, his very life; and none of those possibilities prevented him from speaking the truth. How often can we truly say the same? Jesus Himself warns us, “woe to you when all men speak well of you, for so did they about the false prophets who came before.” (Luke 6:26). See, Jesus recognized that if we are speaking the truth, many people will not want to hear it. Many will do everything that they can to silence us from speaking the truth. And so, especially when everyone likes us and we “fit right in,” are we truly living the Gospel?

See, I’m not saying that we should actively try to offend anyone. We should never go out of our way to cause strife and controversy. However, our lives should raise questions. Our lives should stand out, and when we are asked those questions, we should never fear the repercussions of our answers. There are many things in the world that stand opposed to the doctrines of God, and while we must adhere to those doctrines, we should never actively challenge the world with them. However, our lives should be such that they raise questions about things, and our answers must never be censored. Our lives should be holy, joyful, and peaceful; and those things tend to raise questions in a world where 1 in 6 people are on anti-depressants. And when we are asked about our lives, about our hope and joy, we must give full glory unto the Lord for being able to live in such a state. When people notice that we, during our lunch break, are abstaining from food, they will often ask why. And we must be prepared to answer that. We must be prepared to answer that in fasting, we are strengthening our control over our body rather than allowing the impulses of the flesh to control us. As Paul taught us, “I discipline my body and bring it into submission.” (1 Corinthians 9:27). And while I used fasting as an example, all of our lives should be filled with those visible signs that those around us would question. Those who know us and pay attention. We should never advertise our faith, or our obedience; but in abiding in it, there are those who will notice and question, and we must be prepared to give an answer.

The Baptist continues his proclamation. “He is the One who is preferred before me, for He was before me.” He is here stating that this very moment is the before. This is the very moment that the Messiah has come for, as was foretold all through the Law and the Prophets. This is the moment that He has come to take upon Himself the sins of the world. In the Old Testament, the sin offering was smeared with blood which represented the sins of the people. In being baptized in the same waters as the people, this is Jesus as the sacrifice, being submerged in the waters of the sins of the people, thereby taking upon Himself those very sins. The sins of whoever touches the waters of Holy Baptism are thereupon taken away from them and placed upon Him as the perfect sacrifice, the sin offering, the Lamb of God. In so being baptized, Jesus perfects the waters of Holy Baptism, that those who offer their lives to Him through it are thereby cleansed by His own baptism.

John continues stating that “I knew Him not.” This statement renders his testimony free from the suspicion of conspiracy and acquaintanceship. See, it would have been easy for the Jews to have stated that this Man was a friend of John’s and that the whole event had been pre-arranged, and yet, there could have been no pre-arrangements between two who had never met before, who had not known one another previously.

It’s so important that we pay careful attention to this entire event. There are so many important elements that are plainly there, we just must pay attention to each of them, not seeking to either add or subtract from the lessons of the Scripture, but merely paying careful attention to it. We see in this entire exchange the humility, the courage, required to lvie a life as a follower of Jesus. No fear of the world, of earthly loss; no pride in worldly matters or affairs. We see the importance of the sacrament of Baptism, the very picture of Jesus taking on the sins of the world through the living waters of Baptism. And mostly, we see the absolute necessity of having a faith strong enough that it permeates our life, which implies that we must know our faith well enough that it can be allowed to do so. We can not abide in the commands of the Lord if we don’t know them, but knowing them alone is not enough, we must know them well enough to abide in them and believe them strongly enough that we do. Remember the words of our beloved Lord, “Who is My mother, or my brothers…here are My mother and My brothers! For whoever does the will of God is My brother and My sister and mother.” (Mark 3:33-35).

May the peace of the Lord be with you, my beloved family.

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