Friday, September 28, 2012

Two Weddings ...

John the Baptist would proclaim Him; disciples began to follow Him; and now to make time for family.  In the beginning of the gospel of John, chapter two, verse one, it says … “And the third day there was a marriage in Cana of Galilee.”  Interesting that at the creation event of mankind, one of the first institutions God created was that of marriage and the Sabbath.  Here at the opening of the ministry of Christ, one of the first things he attends is a marriage.  There is no way to know for sure if He knew the bride or groom, but He was invited to the feast, both He and His disciples, so it seems possible.  This was after all the area where His family appeared to be living.  For verse one continues … “and the mother of Jesus was there:”.  Family is an institution the “Son” of God understands well; for we are created in the image of God.  All throughout scripture, Jesus is referred to as God’s “Son”.    This familial relationship is something we understand.  It is something illustrated in the story of Abraham being willing to sacrifice He and Sarah’s only son Isaac, a foretaste of the sacrifice God the Father must make of His only Son to redeem mankind.
Notice too, at the creation of mankind Christ was present, for as John has already said it was He who “created all things”.  Therefore it was Christ who made both Adam and then Eve.  He was there at the first wedding.  He created the family unit throughout all of creation both male and female.  It was the union of male and female that resulted in the perfection of intimacy of His designs.  Neither Adam, nor Eve, were complete on their own.  In fact, some of the first marital advice ever offered in scripture was by our God to our first parents in that they should “stay together”.  As a family unit only would they be able to resist the much older devil who desired their destruction.  It was that Eve found herself alone, where all of the troubles began.  Had Adam been at her side, the temptation might well have been resisted by the power of their combined love.  But the separation and isolation made her more vulnerable, and they fell.  Here in the earliest days of His ministry, Christ again attends a wedding.  This act offers more than a miracle of water turning to wine, it offers another affirmation, that marriage and more importantly the intimacy that results from marriage by the surrender of two individuals into one family unit, is still something valued by God.  A marriage is still something God is interested in.  And like in the perfection of the Garden of Eden, it is only through the surrender of marriage that we find our ability to pour out our love on someone else and share an intimacy that God alone ordained.  An intimacy He was supposed to be the center of.
A marriage, no matter what the traditions that surround it, is a joyful occasion.  At this time in earth’s history, it was a common event to have wine at a wedding.  The word “wine” however, carries more than one meaning.  Christ referred to his own blood as being represented by wine.  And due to our own carnal natures, it is sometimes common to assume the wine referred to here was alcoholic wine.  However despite the fact that this story never actually says Christ drank the wine He created (that would be assumed but not specified), nor even that His disciples drank this wine (again assumed but not specified).  It is clear that others drank it.  So does that make Christ a divine wedding bartender?  Logic would dictate that if the governor of the feast, was also participating in the feast, his taste buds would have already been dulled by alcoholic wine served early at the wedding.  He might not have had the sense, or remaining sharp taste buds to determine if the new wine was actually so much superior to the old.  It is also logical that if Christ wanted only what is best for mankind, for us to hear and understand His truth clearly, He would likely not have offered a drink designed to dull our ears and our perceptions.  Much more likely, logic alone would dictate this wine would have been of the grape juice variety.
Author Samuele Bacchiocchi, conducted an extensive study on the original biblical manuscripts that were translated into our modern bibles of today.  In his book entitled “Wine in the Bible” he provides a detailed account of how the original language used words for wine that clearly delineated it was referring to the non-alcoholic grape juice variety beverage, as opposed to the clearly alcoholic version of wine.  These terms were mistranslated intentionally over the years to promote the idea that alcoholic versions of wine might have been produced or consumed by Christ, when in fact this did not occur.  So the idea that whether Christ and His disciples were consuming alcohol at a wedding, or simply serving it, does not make logical sense, nor does it actually concur with the original language used to translate our scriptures.
But not having alcohol is hardly the point where it comes to making a marriage a joyous occasion.  Genesis tells no stories of wine consumption being the thing that gives a marriage a reason to celebrate, or the cause for joy.  It is the love and union of two hearts that brings the joy to a wedding.  Having an outstanding grape juice there to drink, along with celebratory foods that comprise a feast, only adds to the joy of two families now blended in marriage.  And in this marriage in particular, having the blessing of the God of the universe, who despite His mother rushing Him a bit, still took time to resolve a very human dilemma, was the real win at this feast.  Notice the difference between serving self as opposed to  serving others.  Christ does not take the initiative to make wine because He is thirsty.  He only does this, to build the faith of His disciples, and to bless those in attendance at the feast.  Jesus was not a walking wine maker for those who were constantly thirsty.  Much later you will recall the story of the woman drawing water at the well, a Samaritan woman who Christ asks for a drink.  There would be no need of this, if He simply went around creating grape juice whenever He was thirsty.  Instead He remained thirsty.  In this instance, the needs of others, resulted in Him meeting those needs (again never even mentioning if He also participated in enjoying what He had created).
Marriage is an intimate thing.  In verse 12 of chapter 2 John continues … “After this he went down to Capernaum, he, and his mother, and his brethren, and his disciples: and they continued there not many days.”  Marriage brings the blessing of children.  Love expressed generally does not stay dormant, or have no effect, it produces a result.  Joseph married Mary, despite her virgin conception, and kept her virginity intact until after the birth of Christ.  He did this to honor the direction given Him, as well as to see the scripture fulfilled.  But after the birth of Christ, the institution of marriage does not call for continued celibacy.  Joseph and Mary loved each other, their love knew the normal union, and in that expression, brothers and a sister of Christ were brought into this world.  Notice how scripture distinguishes between his mother, and his brethren, and his disciples.  If his brethren and his disciples were the same thing, there would only be need to state it once.  Instead John draws the distinction.  Christ had siblings.  They shared a mother, and for Christ an adopted father here on earth, and it appears his siblings knew who He was, and some followed Him as disciples (such as Jude and James mentioned earlier). 
Verse thirteen reveals the reason for their travels as Passover was near, and Jesus went up to the Temple at Jerusalem.  This would be the second symbolic wedding He went to attend, the one between God and man, the one more sacred to us all, in that each of us is not only bound to our marital partner, we are also bound to our God in the intimacy of our divine relationship.  It is God who knows each of us more than we know ourselves.  It is God who, like with Nathaniel, hears the deepest longings of our hearts, and who desires to be with us so much He would lay down His own life to achieve that end.  It is God who so loved us first, while we were yet His enemy, that He would do everything to redeem and free us from the slavery of sin and self and pain.  This is the God, the Bridegroom, who goes to the place of His worship, who goes expecting to receive us, and expecting to reciprocate our desire to see Him.  But alas this kind of intimacy is not what He finds.  This kind of pure worship cannot even take place in His house, as by then every tradition has been corrupted.
The Temple at the arrival of Christ is filled with commerce.  Religious profiteering has replaced real worship.  The place where one should go, during the most important time of the year to do so, is now so full of livestock, and salesmen, selling religious supplies and making money, that real worship is literally impossible.  How poignant, that the nation given so much instruction, with so rich a religious system steeped in symbolism to point forward to the Messiah, is now wholly unprepared to receive the object of their longing.  No one there sees Him enter as Messiah.  How could they, the sound of livestock, and profiteering salesmen fill the place.  So Christ fashions “a scourge of small cords”.  Notice this is not a 12 foot bull whip, nor does it carry the shards of glass in the tips of the whip that would soon be used to tear the flesh from His own body.  It is just enough to move the livestock.  And He began driving the livestock out of the Temple.  When divinity flashed through the eyes of humanity, those who were selling religious tokens immediately saw themselves in the eyes of Christ.  Like at no other time in their lives, were their evil deeds and intentions brought forward to them.  Evil cannot stand in the presence of God, it craves darkness, not light.  Light reveals evil for what it is.  And in the presence of light, evil must flee.  And so they did, running for reasons they could not fully explain.  Leaving behind the very money they worked so hard to swindle from innocent religious victims.  They ran before they themselves realized it. 
The force of the scourge was not the reason why those doing evil flee from the brilliance of the light.  It is not the fear of punishment or pain that causes the evil ones to run or to change.  In a straight up fight, they outnumber Christ, and could easily defeat Him.  Unscrupulous men, tend to know how to fight, how to struggle for what they want, and they do not surrender easily.  But this encounter was different.  When faced with pure love, evil is revealed, and it cannot remain in place.  They run.  It may even be possible they do not see the whip, it is the purity in the eyes of Christ, that makes them tremble all the way into their bones.  This is not a man who moves their cattle, this is the Owner of the Temple they have corrupted.  For those who wish no intimacy with God, for those who want what they want and have no desire to ever see themselves rid of sin and pain and evil, there is but one choice when confronted with purity … run. 
Then Christ proceeds to show the world what He thinks about the value of money, particularly where it comes to money as it inhibits true worship, he overturns the tables and casts the money on the floor of the Temple.  He does not count the coins.  He does not gather the funds for the poor.  He does not return it to those who have been swindled.  The condition of the money is put in the priority of its value according to Christ – on the ground where it is literally meaningless. 
The words “I desire obedience more than sacrifices” have never gone out of style with Christ.  The blood of rams was not the goal of the sacrificial system of worship, the reformation of the heart was the goal.  Buying a dove, or a ram, or another animal to offer was supposed to rend the heart of the sinner, and instill in them a desire to never have to repeat this process again.  It was supposed to send the broken hearted sinner into the loving arms of Christ who alone could change in them what they wanted, and how they lived.  But instead, it became a game of spending money to have sins wiped off the board, for this year, knowing full well, we will need to do it again next year, because we have every intention of repeating how we live every single day between now and then.  No intimacy with God.  No broken hearts over the innocent blood that would be shed.  No desire to be any different; only to fulfill the law, and be made pure through the acts of symbolism.
And today, what has changed?  We go through the traditions of our worship services.  We sing repetitive worship songs with mind-numbing tunes, and simplistic lyrics that repeat ad-nauseum until all meaning has been lost.  We give offerings and consider our debts to God paid in full.  We listen to sermons and consider ourselves filled.  We buy bumper stickers, and necklaces with religious icons, large print bibles to carry to church, and hope these symbols alone will do our witness of the gospel for us.  We ask forgiveness of our sins, but not for reform from them.  Our hearts are steeped in pretense, not in desire to actually change.  If our system of worship had not changed from the ancient days of Israel, we would be no different than those who went to the Temple on the day in which Christ cleansed it.  Our love does not define our reputation, rather our judgment of evil does.  We are obsessed with the condemnation of others, and wholly complacent with the redemption of our own souls.  Like those who felt no broken heart at the killing of the innocent sheep, we feel no broken heart every time we repeat our sins, having lost all perspective at the cost of our actions in the very blood of the Lord we claim to love.  As in the days of old the words …”I desire obedience rather than sacrifices” still applies with poignant fervor to us.  Obedience that could only come from the surrender of the will to Christ; this is what He desires way more than our money, or our meager attempts at worship and praise.  To drop the pretense, and experience the intimacy with God, this is the desire of our Lord.  This is what He came to experience in that Temple, and what He cleaned it out to make room for.  I wonder if confronted with the purity of love in the eyes of Christ, if we too would have run away before we even realized why we fled.
The priests however, were going to lose quite a bit of money on this deal.  So having gathered their senses they return to challenge Christ as to His authority to do these things.  After all He had said in verse 16 … “Take these things hence; make not my Father's house an house of merchandise”.  He referred to the Temple as being “my” Father’s house, again denoting the relationship of Son to Father.  The priests were still reeling from the flash of divinity in the eyes of Christ, they knew who He was, but they did not want to accept what He was saying.  What is more, there were people still here, people who did actually come to worship.  If they allowed this young upstart to reveal His truth unchallenged they might lose all sway over the religious rubes, and see profits come crashing down.  How alike in some of our churches today, where maintaining the hierarchy and organization of the church becomes more important than the dissemination of the truth, or the ministry of love and redemption to the world.  So the priests, despite recent events, ask for another sign from Christ.  He responds in verse 19 … “Jesus answered and said unto them, Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.”
Here again, Christ is attempting to turn the conversation from the errors the Jews clung to, to the real reason of His mission.  Jesus had come to redeem mankind, and He would be the Lamb of God who must be slain.  Where could a more relevant message be delivered than at the very spot where lambs were killed every year?  Instead of condemning the priests for the complete lack of understanding of the meaning of His mission, He guides them to think about something in a way they have never considered, while providing His disciples with His words in their memories when times would be dark after His crucifixion.  He would arise in three days.  Most of the priests did not comprehend the spiritual truth He was saying.  Like us, we view scripture through the lens of our own ideas and greed, and therefore interpret it according to what makes us happy.  So the priests failing to recognize the symbolism He was drawing attention to, interpreted His remarks as literal and being about the physical building He was standing in.  Thus they thought they had Him, but given that recent flash of divinity, they were not entirely sure, even if He was talking about the building, it might still be true.
Verses 23 to 25 of John chapter two, conclude with a worst case scenario for the priests of His day.  Following this exchange Christ does “miracles” and “many believed”.  Christ then restores the intimacy that weddings are supposed to bring.  He restores the intimate relationship with God and mankind, by meeting the individual needs of those who came to worship.  Notice that the slaying of lambs, and traditional Temple services do not appear in these words.  It was Passover after all.  If the traditions and symbols were more important than the God who stood behind them, we might well have found Christ conforming to the daily traditions and customs of the Temple worship establishment.  Instead He is there meeting the needs of individual people who came to worship, both physical and spiritual needs.  Many believed by the work He performed.  Christ made no attempt at becoming high priest of Israel.  He did not try to take over the religious power structure and lead it.  He made no attempt at being international president of the church to which He belonged.  Instead He tried in every waking moment to return the religion back to its fundamentals of surrender to God, and the intimacy that results when two are blended as one, both God and man.  When we allow Christ inside of us, when we surrender our will to His, we become something different than what we are today.  We become a new person, a creation re-created by God, reborn, as someone else was about to learn …

Friday, September 21, 2012

Gathering Disciples ...

In the gospel of John, chapter one, and in verse 38, John records the first verbal exchange he and Andrew had with Christ.  As they began to follow Him, Jesus turns to them and says … “What seek ye”?  A very good question for them, but also for us; what do you want from God?  Our first responses are often like those of a child talking to a mythical Santa Clause; we begin with a list of things (often material) that would make our lives “better”.  Then as we catch a breath, we realize we might just be being a bit greedy, so perhaps we begin to ask for things (again often material), for others who we know and love.  Then when our list is winding down, we begin to think about spiritual things and maybe what we might need in those areas.  How much different would be our relationship if the first answer that sprang to mind was … “save me from all the evil that lies within me”.  What if what we wanted more than anything else was to truly be saved from ourselves?  What if our highest ambition was to be fully transformed into the perfect image or reflection of the God we stood before?  This accomplished, no material thing in the world would matter again.  This accomplished, the length of our lives in this world would be irrelevant.  This accomplished, our very next thought would no longer be for ourselves, but for those we love, and now, for those who refuse to love us.  The question appeared to surprise the two would-be disciples and the best answer they could think of on the spot was … “Rabbi (which is to say, being interpreted, as Master), where dwellest thou”?  That’s it!?  You want to know where He lives?  His address? 
But our Savior in His tender mercy, does not ridicule their answer, nor give them the brush off, nor reject their attempts to follow Him.  As He does with us, when our prayers and requests are far from perfect, He accepts them anyway.  And with a tone of love in His voice, He responds to them … “Come and see”.  And they went and spent the day with Him.  It was only one day.  But it was one day in the literal presence of God on earth.  And for both of them, one day was all that was needed.  It took only that long for Andrew to decide that his brother Simon (later called Peter) needed to come and follow Christ.  What Andrew was actually proposing to his brother was a radical idea, whether back then, or even now in modern times.  Andrew was not asking his brother to take a part time job, so he could study scriptures in the evenings as time permits, and when it was convenient.  Andrew was literally asking his brother to drop everything, quit your job, give up all assurances you won’t starve to death.  Leave your family behind, leave every other responsibility you have in this world, and at present trust me, I have found the Messiah all Israel has been waiting for.  In essence, Andrew asked his brother to give up his entire life, and begin a new one.
Simon Peter was not rich.  He had no mansions to dispose of, or tax shelters to wrangle out of.  But he did have a life he was familiar with.  He made enough money to eat, cloth himself, and take care of his family.  It was something to him, like our lives are something to us.  But perhaps based on the fervor in the eyes and expression of Andrew, Simon knew he had to check this out.  Andrew brought him to Jesus, but before he could introduce him to Jesus, He called him out by name.  And what is more He gave him a new nickname, “a stone” or perhaps better interpreted “a pebble”.  Simon Peter must have liked the idea, and he stayed, leaving as Andrew had proposed his entire former life behind, in exchange for the complete unknown of following this Son of Man.
The next day, Jesus went into Galilee into the same home town of Andrew and Simon Peter and found Phillip.  And in verse 43 Christ calls out to Phillip and says … “follow me”.  To me this is the essence of our Lord and our Gospel.  Those who, what looks like on their own, are seeking God – find Him.  John and Andrew found Christ because they were looking for Him at the side of John the Baptist.  Christ accepted them as followers.  Simon Peter was called by his brother, and came to Jesus based on the words and witness of one who he trusted, even though up to then, he had no personal experience with Jesus.  But Jesus accepted him as well.  Phillip however, was at home going about his daily routines.  He had no one to call him into service, he had no expectations to meet the Messiah.  But Phillip was about to have the best day of his life, when out of nowhere, comes the God of the Universe, to ask him specifically to … “follow me”.  Whether it is we who are looking for God, we who will find God through the testimony of another, or we who find God because God is looking for us – there is no distinction on the part of God to accepting us into His service.  Phillip, being called, did not delay, he immediately followed.
Phillip knew in less time than it took Andrew, who it was who called him.  His first thought was to call his brother as well.  So in verse 45, Phillip calls to Nathaniel his brother and says … “We have found him, of whom Moses in the law, and the prophets, did write, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.”  Phillip appeared to know this in an instant.  That is the mark of being touched by the Holy Spirit, to find wisdom in a spiritual matter that you had no inherent reason to know.  Phillip did not hedge his bets.  He did not say it “might” be him.  He did not appear to doubt, and perhaps in a further rebuke to the priests of his day, Phillip cited the very patriarch of their religion Moses, and all the prophets who followed, as the evidence that this was the Messiah.  Nathaniel however, was a skeptic.  Nathaniel would have made an excellent modern day American Christian.  For his first response was … “can any good thing come from Nazareth?”
Nathaniel felt like Nazareth was the Harlem of his day, a neighborhood known more for crime than for accomplishment.  Given that Jesus was supposed to have come from such a wicked place, how could he be the one they were looking for?  For Nathaniel where you come from mattered.  Phillip does not ridicule him for his response.  He does not judge his brother harshly, or rebuke his lack of faith and trust in pretense.  Instead, with a faith in Christ that could have only originated outside of himself, having just met Jesus only a little while ago, he responds … “come and see”.  I doubt Phillip knew he was actually quoting the words the Savior Himself used with Andrew and John only a day ago.  But those words imply Phillip had no doubt about who he was following, and he knew too, when Nathaniel saw for himself, he would be convinced.
Jesus, knowing all things, decides to give Nathaniel a boost in his faith, and seeing him coming he declares to those around Him … “Behold an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile!”  A rather nice compliment, but as Nathaniel is quick to perceive, you would have to know me for quite a while, in order to know I am an honest man in my dealings.  Nathaniel challenges this new Jesus in verse 48 … “Whence knowest thou me?”  So when did we meet, and how do you what kind of person I am.  Jesus responds with an answer only God could know.  It is clear these two have never met.  It is clear Nathaniel is trying to call out Jesus by challenging Him in how He might know what He is talking about.  But the answer Jesus offers is a private one to Nathaniel.  For only Nathaniel knew where he poured out his own heart to God in prayer.  He did this only when he was alone.  He did not pray in the temple and under the spectacle of a public audience.  Instead he sought solitude before he came to God to confess the private thoughts and feelings of his heart.  He craved solitude to do this and he had found a private spot where he knew he would be alone when he did it.
Verse 48 continues … “Jesus answered and said unto him, Before that Philip called thee, when thou wast under the fig tree, I saw thee.”  Jesus was saying directly to Nathaniel, something private, that only Nathaniel would understand; you sir, were praying to me, I am the God who heard your words under that tree when you were alone to pray.  The rest of the disciples might have simply thought that Jesus had seen Nathaniel before, or had encountered him some time in the past.  Nathaniel knew this was not the case, and knew that only God could know what Jesus knew.  In verse 49 Nathaniel responds to Jesus saying … “Nathanael answered and saith unto him, Rabbi, thou art the Son of God; thou art the King of Israel.”  Nathaniel first acknowledges Christ as the Son of God.  He marks His divinity first, as he knows the private answer Christ has given, having heard the prayers of Nathaniel.  He then proceeds to reveal he shares the common misconception that the Messiah is there to restore the kingship to Israel.
Jesus responds in verse 50 saying … “Jesus answered and said unto him, Because I said unto thee, I saw thee under the fig tree, believest thou? thou shalt see greater things than these.”  He continues in verse  51 … “And He saith unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Hereafter ye shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of man.”  In a subtle way, Jesus turns the attention away from the misconception about which Kingdom He is here to establish, and points them forward to His ultimate ascension into heaven where they who were gathered there would all be a witness to.  At the same time Jesus confirms His divinity by stating that Angels would be attending to Him, and that indeed He saw Nathaniel where no one else knew he went to pray.  Jesus also addressed Nathaniel’s skeptism, by saying to him, “thou shalt see …”.  If Nathaniel must see to believe, as his brother Phillip had responded when he first challenged the Messiah, Christ lets him know, there is far greater things which he will see as they move along together.  Nathaniel had already been convinced.
The lesson is perhaps more for us.  It is Christ who hears the desperate prayers of our hearts, no matter where we are when we give them voice.  He hears them even when they are nothing more than thoughts in our brains.  There is no privacy when it comes to us and our God.  There was never supposed to be the need for privacy, as an intimate relationship was always the intent of our God with us.  Our nakedness was never a barrier to spending time with God, nor was our union between man and woman in the sacred vows of marriage.  Our God desires to be with us at all times, and is unashamed to call us His children, despite what we do, and what we desire.  His goal is to see us freed from our sins and bondage to pain and evil.  His goal is to see us restored to the perfection He intended.  Therefore Jesus points out to Nathaniel and to us, is it HE who hears our prayers when we think ourselves alone.  It is HE who meets the needs of our hearts, and longs to show us His great love for each of us.  It is HE who values the prayers of a single person, and knows us better than we know ourselves.  This is the lesson of the discipleship of Nathaniel, despite our skepticism, Christ is still here to save and redeem us.
All throughout these first few encounters, our responses to God are far from perfect.  We come with the baggage of our own misconceptions about the interpretation of scripture and the mission of the Messiah.  Yet our God is patient with each of us.  He does not rebuke our lack of faith, or judge us as we deserve.  He does not cast our efforts aside, or reject our service because of our imperfections.  He did not tell a single person who wished to follow Him, that they were not welcome.  Only Phillip had been directly called to that point in time, yet 4 others were there and welcomed as well.  Even in the earliest part of his ministry, while he was still gathering disciples, Jesus was not condemnatory, judgmental, or requiring that his followers have a perfect understanding of truth.  Instead He was happy to welcome them into a collective mission to redeem mankind, a service oriented mission in which they would be a part.  This is the mission, in which He still welcomes us today.  Christ knew then, as He knows now with us, a perfect understanding of truth can only happen as we spend more time with Him.  Only then will our errors and misconceptions about scripture, be corrected in the face of the love of Christ.  It is with Him that truth can be revealed, for He is truth.  It is we who are changed and molded by the encounter.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Book of Signs ... John the Baptist (witness number one) ...

In chapter one and verse 19, John our author transitions from the prologue describing the Messiah and very essence of salvation, to the “proof” or the “evidence” that our writer was witness to.  John begins his witness, not with the birth of Christ, or His lineage, or His early adult life, as it appears John either did not know Him in those things, or was not aware of Him during those periods of this life.  But John, later referred to as “the beloved” began his own account of the divinity of our Savior where he first remembers encountering Him, at the ministry of John the Baptist.
Our author John picks up in verse 19 with a conversation between the servants (or spies) of the religious leadership and John the Baptist whose ministry had become famous and whose message now stood in conflict with current church policy.  For the traditions of the church had focused on the removal of sins, in the symbols that were designed to point forward to the Messiah, instead of in the transformation away from sin, that our God had intended.  John the Baptist preached repentance.  He called for a change within his listeners, and a public baptism to reflect this decision to change.  John did not spend his time building sacrificial altars, and slaying sheep, doves, and other sacrifices.  He could not be corrupted by selling the meat that would come from this practice, nor by accepting the financial tithes and offerings of his listeners.  He ate what he found in the wilderness.  His clothing consisted of what could be fashioned in the wilderness.  He did not seek to keep his appearance in the latest styles, or best attire.  Instead his entire ministry was designed around preaching of repentance, and preparing the way of the Lord.
John did not speak against the laws or traditions of Moses.  However, he did not focus on the traditions that had been corrupted by the greed of religious leaders, and instead zoomed in completely on the hearts of Israel.  John did not rail against the Roman oppressors, nor speak the truth of how corrupt their government was, and how difficult it was to serve God under their pagan regime.  John was not a political activist of any kind.  As such the Romans had no interest in him, outside of crowd control.  The priests however could not keep so silent.  The message of John had gained national fame.  The reach of the crazy man in the desert baptizing with water, but whose sermons carried the fire of the Holy Spirit had reached the ears of those who ran the temple systems.  King Herod himself knew the power of the words of John and was reluctant to “deal” with him.  John was cutting in to the temple profit machine, by eliminating the “need” for sacrifice.  If I desire sin no more, I need less lambs to cover my otherwise evil intents.  When I change the focus of my life from slavery to evil, to surrender to God, the transformation reforms what my heart wants, and then what my hands do.  This transformation was what God intended all along, and what his current leadership had all but abandoned.
So the priests sent spies to ask John the Baptist who he was.  Had John claimed to be the Messiah, they might have been able to write him off as just another self-deluded nut case, screaming blasphemy in the desert, but John made no such claim.  Just to be sure, they asked him if he was Isaiah, or Elijah risen from the dead.  Keep in mind, half the leadership of the Sanhedrin did not actually believe in resurrection, so even if he were; and claimed to be a risen prophet, half the men asking the question would have again written him off as an eccentric nut, crying in the wilderness.  But John made no claim to be a risen prophet; instead his responses to their inquiry centered on his mission, and the immediacy of the mission of the Messiah that was to follow his work.  John felt the passion, of his work.  John knew the time was at hand.  This was no far off fairy tale to John.  It was a real, immediate need to see Israel get the word – “NOW” was the time to repent.  In verses 19-28 John’s entire conversation in response to their demands of who he was, was a return to the attention that the Messiah was already here.
In verse 26, John offers perhaps the most biting rebuke of the current priests and leaders of the Jewish faith … “there standeth one among you, whom ye know not.”  Of all the people who should have been the most prepared to recognize and worship the Messiah, were the ones who dedicated their lives to studying the prophecies and words, and intentions of His laws.  If would be like having a baseball statistician who dedicated his life to knowing every player, on every team, in every year since the sport began, fail to recognize Babe Ruth, or Hank Aaron.  And even when introduced to perhaps Baseball’s most famous celebrity, and see a demonstration of his skills, still refuse to accept the idea of who he was.  Here were the priests who knew all the requirements of prophecy the Messiah would have to fulfill.  Here were the same folks who only 18 short years ago, spent three days in the temple at Passover, being taught by a 12 year old child, whose truth was so compelling they could not turn away from it.  They had been captivated by this young man, yet for whatever reason had lost sight of Him.  His birth in Bethlehem, his sojourn to Egypt, his raising in Nazareth, all fulfillments of prophecy the priests should have been the first to recognize, yet were completely oblivious to.
But before we become too pious in our own eyes, I wonder if we would do any better in recognizing Christ within in our own church walls.  Would our instinct be to turn around and look through the pews for the best dressed believer in the room?  Would we expect at a minimum good personal hygiene with perfectly trimmed hair, a shaved face, and clean attire?  Would we expect at least a steady employment, a community contributor who works, pays taxes, and keeps the laws of man, and the traditions of our faith whatever they may be?  Or could we see the face of God, in the homeless man who is reluctant to enter our doors?  As for personal possessions, Christ had none more than the clothing on His back.  He was homeless by choice.  His only occupation was the redemption message He came to bring to the world, not the traditional employment we expect of a peer.  He ate what He could find, or what He was offered.  He may have kept Himself as clean as His circumstances allowed, but His circumstances resided in the great outdoors.  And finally His adherence to the traditions His own church leaders had corrupted and lost sight of, did not support their misguided ideas.  Instead He was forever trying to lead them back to the meaning of the law of love, instead of what they traditionally taught.  As such, He did not fit the “mold” of the Messiah they expected.  And as such, He might not fit ours either.  Thus John calls attention to the fact, that they were missing the very Messiah they as a nation had so longed for.
And surprise, in verse 29 … “the next day” John the Baptist sees Jesus and declares … “behold the lamb of God, which taketh away the sins of the world.”  Talk about being right on point.  John whose ministry bore the stamp of the fire of the Holy Spirit declares in one short breath, the true nature of the Messiah of Israel and the world.  He does not say … look everyone, here is the guy who will over throw the yoke of Roman oppression and restore the glory of Israel like back in the days of King David.  This was the most popular conception of the Messiah, and one his closest followers would secretly harbor in their own hearts right up to the time of His death.  That was the conqueror, the priests longed to see.  But that was not the image John referenced to the work of the Messiah.  The “lamb” was ALWAYS the one who was SLAIN for the forgiveness of sin.  The “lamb” never made it out alive in the religion of Israel.  A beast without blemish or spot, innocent of any wrong doing, too young to even have lived a rewarding life, was killed to remind all Israel what sin does to the young, to the innocent, and to the hearts of man when we choose to embrace it.  Lambs die.  They do not conquer Roman oppressors, or restore glory to a nation in decline.  They die.  That is their purpose.  And so in order to redeem us from the sins and evil we have daily chosen to embrace, our Savior would come and pay our punishment.  John hereby declares the mission and the true glory of the Messiah as the “lamb of God.”
It is not supposed to be easy to kill such an innocent trusting creature as a lamb.  Indeed it was designed to rend the heart of the sinner, and bring to him a full realization of the price of evil.  The sacrificial system was supposed to illustrate in physical terms what sin leads to – all sin – there was no distinction between the various sins, all would eventually require sacrifice or blood to make atonement for.  And it was not supposed to make hearts grow callous to the plight of lambs then, any more than forgiveness is an excuse for modern day Christians to commit repeated sins that require the blood of our Savior to forgive today.  Death is the result of sin; death of the perpetrator, often death of the victim.  In this case, it is the death of Christ in our stead that becomes the vehicle to satisfy justice, and prove to the universe once and for all that love is greater than justice.  Be that as it may, for a sinner in Israel, no less than for me each time I stray away from God and into sin today, blood would be paid for my redemption, and on my behalf.
Verses 31 thru 34 appear to show that John had already baptized Jesus by this time.  Jesus had already been to the wilderness for 40 days and nights of famine and fasting and temptation.  Despite the effects that such a prolonged fast would have on the body of our Lord, John is undeterred in his recognition of Christ.  John was not looking for a rock star, or a fashion idol, or a celebrity.  He was looking for God, and he found Him.  John recalls as if it was just yesterday, the account of the baptism of Christ, when John and all the witnesses present at that time saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and lighting over the head of Christ.  It was at that time, that others (Matt 3:17) would recount the very words of God, who said … “this is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.”  This was no small day to John, it was the pinnacle height of his ministry.  He would have no better day.  He would see no better evidence that God was truly among us.  And it would stay with him like no other memory.  Undeterred by human appearances, John recognizes Christ and calls Him out to the crowd.
John the Baptist offers a first-hand account of his own beliefs based on what he has seen related to Jesus.  That in fact Jesus is … “the Son of God.”  Those who would dispute the divinity of Christ, must now discount the work of John the Baptist entirely.  For John had no doubts as to the divinity or work the Messiah was to perform.  This was no ordinary teacher, no ordinary prophet, no ordinary religious icon, this was the literal very real, Son of God; the only one God has.  John does not refer to Christ as “a” son of God, but as “the” Son of God.  John was calling distinction to the divinity of Christ, not offering Christ as just another Christian brother in the faith.  Muslims like the idea of Christ being a great prophet, but do not like the idea of God having a literal son.  Yet here is the first evidence, and perhaps most important evidence that Christ was truly divine.  Even ignoring His virgin birth, an angelic choir bursting forth in the night sky singing what I could only imagine was nothing short of phenomenally, His miraculous escape from Herod’s slaughter, and preserved life of anonymity in Nazareth – a great many, including John witnessed the words of God Himself – declaring Jesus to be the Son in whom He was well pleased.  With a physical manifestation of the Spirit of God in the form of a dove who descended on the head of Christ to be the final stamp of divine approval from the throne room of God Himself.  John the Baptist saw this, and declared it publicly to those who were there when He sees Jesus again.
Now for some reason, Andrew and John our author, did not immediately follow Christ that first day.  Perhaps Christ slipped away in the crowds.  Perhaps the disciples could not get their heads around what John the Baptist was saying.  Perhaps Christ wanted them to see that John was not just having an emotional reaction to Jesus, but was in fact sure this was Him.  So Christ came back again the second day, and John again declares in verse 36 … “Behold the lamb of God”.  This time, there was not going to be a delay, this time John our author, and Andrew decided to immediately go and follow Christ.  Notice that John the Baptist made no effort to deter them.  He was not jealous, but instead happy.  This was why John called out to declare the Messiah to the crowd in the first place.  Like the angels who announced His birth because they could remain silent no longer, John the Baptist cries out to the crowd, “Behold”.  The mission of John had reached its zenith, the Messiah was no longer a future tense item.  He was here.  He was real.  His ministry was beginning, and so even at its earliest founding.  John our author, declares that Jesus Christ had the full faith and confidence of John the Baptist as the Messiah, and as the only Son of God.