Tag Archives: disaster

Useless?

Why does Jesus need John the Baptist? There’s not much competition between them; Jesus outshines John from the moment his ministry gets into its swing. So why? Is it an accident, some sort of political gesture – or have we missed something?

The first thing that comes out of these readings (Luke 3:1-6, and Malachi 3:1-4) is that John fills the role of the forerunner, the “messenger preparing the way” foretold by Malachi (and indeed Isaiah 40:3). It is part of God’s plan that those who knew the writings of the prophets should have had several chances to recognise and understand what was happening, as John revived the long-dead tradition of prophecy, and Jesus came with his teaching.

That would mean John was needed to explain the significance of Jesus as fulfilling the Old Testament – and I am sure that is true. But, even so, isn’t that just a detail? Will Jesus not be heard, because he is Jesus, or because of the delightful message he gives?

Look again. Malachi 3:2 “But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears? For he is like a refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap;” burning and caustic – that is not quite the gentle message we expect. But John has heard the same tone, for he proclaimed “a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins,” Luke 3:3

Why? John’s message is not an optional icing on the cake. The coming he speaks of is dangerous; there is the possibility of catastrophic failure. Those who would not repent were heading for disaster. The reality of judgement, even in the ministry of Jesus and not only at his second coming to judge the world and – us; is something we like to leave out, but should not. John’s ministry, even in its ferocious and forthright denunciations, was an act of merciful warning – of a real danger. A danger that is not past.

It would be nice to say that John gets through to those who need shouting at, and Jesus speaks with love. Nice, – but not true. Jesus is quite capable of speaking sharply and directly, of judgement and hell, as well as of God’s love and forgiveness. We may have trouble fitting them together, but he didn’t and we need to learn.

In the same way, John offered people a way of escape and salvation. Repentance and baptism were freely available, and clearly popular as well. John the Baptist is part of God’s plan, and in that sense Jesus needs him. He

  • makes clear the fulfilment of the Old Testament in Jesus
  • shows us that new life doesn’t happen without leaving the old; repentance, commitment, faith are not “options” but the necessary route to heaven
  • he announces the demands of a holy God, who requires holiness in his people.

John the Baptist is a forceful antidote to a sentimentalised Christmas which does little more than excuse a conventional holiday. He won’t have that. The arrival of Jesus is the turning point of world history, an opportunity for every human – but one which could be missed, with eternal consequence.

It’s a Sign

It could have been a disaster! Yet this story (John 2:1-11) has so much to say. Jesus took his disciples to a wedding – and we imagine he was a welcome guest. A bit of a celebrity, with a stock of stories to tell . . Perhaps we forget what a welcome guest He was.

Then disaster strikes – the wine runs out. We aren’t told why – whether it was thirsty disciples, bad planning, or delivery failure simply doesn’t matter. But who wants their wedding remembered for the catering disaster? There are all sorts of symbols here of things not working:

  • 6 jars of water for ritual washing (not 7, the perfect number)
  • Jesus’ mother is gently told not to manage his ministry – the old order is moving on to the new.
  • Even the water (of washing) is about to become the wine of celebration – but that is anticipating.

The wine runs out. Jesus takes charge – the provision he will make involves some hard work, without people understanding what is going on. But the servants fill the jars with water, and draw it out to take to the master of ceremonies. And, to his surprise, its the best!

God provides; we don’t always see how (as here), and can’t often predict what is planned. Yet He makes the best of the situation – that’s worth remembering. Here is a wedding gone wrong, but

  • Jesus, who refuses to do tricks to make himself look good, is shown to be kind (saving embarrassment) and affirms the importance of marriage by his presence and action.
  • Jesus works a creation miracle, showing his power over the world he created. Not just good with people, is he?
  • Jesus performs the first of 7 signs which John will carefully note in his gospel. Each reveals something important about Jesus, and so moves the disciples on in their understanding and commitment.

There are all sorts of sub-plots, in fact you can probably find some more for yourself:

  • Here is The Bridegroom (Old Testament picture for God) at a Wedding, to start a new family
  • Here is a human celebration running out of steam, but finding a greater celebration which works and keeps going..
  • Here is wine, which the Rabbis made a symbol of Torah – Old Testament law, replaced by better from Jesus

You could get lost in the detail, all the symbolism, but this story is about a God who provides (though we don’t always understand how or why), and who provides the best. It is a sign of what is still to come – in gospel and in life – but one meant to encourage disciples. Even us!

(There is another comment on John 2:1-11 last year: The (first) sign, January 2017).

War and Disaster (Kingdom 3c)

The Christian gospel is good news – that is the literal translation of the word also translated “gospel”.  But sometimes you read a passage like Luke 21:5-19, and see reference to the destruction of fine buildings, war, disasters, persecution and betrayal, and think, “Good news”?

But the gospel is indeed good news, because these evils are recognised.  It is so easy to reduce Christian faith to a parody: “Be nice to people, enjoy the countryside, help those less fortunate.”  There is nothing wrong in any of those, of course – but without a strong reason to motivate a life of service and sacrifice, it is only platitude – so much hot air.

The reason comes as Jesus speaks of the sometimes painful reality of human life.  And it is the fact that he not only speaks of evil, but faces it himself, that gives weight to the way he leads.  Jesus faced a plot to kill him, was slandered and betrayed.  It is after he has been flogged and during his crucifixion that he forgives (as he had taught others).  By facing the evil of the real world, he overcomes it and offers us freedom.

The good news is about a kingdom where peace and justice rule, and healing and truth are found – a kingdom open to all who will admit their need of forgiveness and follow the one who leads the way through death to life.  Without the reference to the hard realities, it might seem just another bit of wishful thinking – a tale for children, to be left behind with childish things.  But a gospel which depends on one who lived this, went to his death by torture forgiving, and returned to encourage those who, despite their failures, wanted to be his followers; – that is a gospel for the real world, and for people who have grown to know some of how hard it can be.