Don't miss what's right in front of you.
In the dark. All alone. Feeling like there is no way out and no where to go.
The feelings associated with this moment can be applied to many ranges of emotion and social situations. Have you ever felt alone? Felt like you were in the dark? Have you ever lacked the ability to know which direction you should go?
Of all the situations that could fit into these parameters the moment of being bullied is what comes to mind at this moment. Have you ever been bullied? Threatened? Spoken to harshly or tried to be controlled by another person's words or emotions? What does that do to your own emotions? How do feel when someone says things to you in this manner, or even physically harms you to get their point across?
By the time these words in the Gospel of John are penned around 90 A.D. the persecution phase of Christianity is well under way. The Romans would have come in around 70 A.D. and level Jerusalem. Many Jews were either killed or dragged away into some kind of slavery or servitude. 20 years after, the Apostle John is said to have his vision we call the Book of Revelation. Around that same time the words to this gospel are penned. Most likely, they are a rendering of teacher to student/scribe. The wording in much of this gospel suggests that John, "the disciple whom Jesus loved", is recalling the stories and messages on top of what has already been shared in the Synoptics. Matthew, Mark, and Luke were penned during a more peaceful time. John doesn't have that luxury. His words are written down after the hardship has begun, in a time when it's not popular to be a follower of the One True God. Listen to words in that context.
New International Version (NIV)
John the Apostle is writing about John the Baptist. In the midst of a time when it is not popular to be one who follows, the Apostle writes about one who follows any way. The Romans were not the first to badger and jostle with one's faith. The Baptist has chosen to follow God is a recluse way. He is not standing in the temple courtyard, donned in fine clothes or serving feasts from gold plates. Here stands a man who is off in the exact opposite direction. Wearing sackcloth. Covered in camel's hair. What must the people think? Boy, there's a matter that we could grovel about for awhile. What. People. Think. My stomach just turns at the thought of what people think sometimes. History is written by those outside of the realm of knowing and feeling. The words we read are penned by someone who wants to remember John the baptist as fearless and courageous. But, we know our own emotions, and if John is human like you and I, then I would venture to guess he is not completely confident in what he is doing.
Listen to the rest of our scripture today and see if the subject of bullying might fit into the context you see.
New International Version (NIV)
John the Baptist Denies Being the Messiah19 Now this was John’s testimony when the Jewish leaders[a] in Jerusalem sent priests and Levites to ask him who he was. 20 He did not fail to confess, but confessed freely, “I am not the Messiah.”
21 They asked him, “Then who are you? Are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not.”
“Are you the Prophet?” He answered, “No.”
22 Finally they said, “Who are you? Give us an answer to take back to those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?”
23 John replied in the words of Isaiah the prophet, “I am the voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way for the Lord.’”[b]
24 Now the Pharisees who had been sent 25 questioned him, “Why then do you baptize if you are not the Messiah, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?”
26 “I baptize with[c] water,” John replied, “but among you stands one you do not know. 27 He is the one who comes after me, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie.”
28 This all happened at Bethany on the other side of the Jordan, where John was baptizing.
It's not just anybody who comes to do the questioning. It's the "priests and Levites". These are people who have been sworn to teach the law and uphold it. When someone goes against the grain of religious thought and life, they are the first to speak up and question what is going on. Religious practice is done at the temple. The way of life they know revolves around the temple mount in Jerusalem. Why then has this man decided to wander around the desolate places, far outside the city, and baptize people in the Jordan River? Looking at it through the eyes of the religious leaders does not give permission to their actions, but at least some understanding to their thoughts. Who is this guy? Why is he standing out here, so far from the Temple? Why is he dressed like this? Baptizing in this fashion is not something we would normally practice. Nothing wrong with it. But, there's just something not right about this guy.
I personally know the misunderstanding that ensues from those in the wondering state. I decided early on that I wanted to be when I grew up. Entering Jr High school I knew how important this subject of Jesus was to me. Those two years of 7th & 8th grade were truly formational to my faith. Baptized in 7th grade, I then decided in 8th grade what direction I wanted to go in life. I was going to be a pastor someday. I had direction, but I had no light. It's kind of hard to go when you cannot see where you are going. I grew up around church. Other than 2-3 years of doing my own thing after high school the church life is all I have known. It was not until I accepted Jesus as my Lord and Saviour around 1992 that light really came on. I compare the years prior that as being in the dark with a tiny flashlight and the batteries are dying. A person really can't see much in that frame. As we approached June of 1992, the light came on. Jesus came in and everything I felt or thought had been confirmed. I was called to ministry. I was supposed to go to college. Standing behind a pulpit is what I was supposed to do with my life. All it took was allowing Jesus to come in and turn the light on.
Those years in Jr High school were rough though. I didn't really know or understand who Jesus was. I believed, but I didn't know what I believed. However, that did not stop Mr Big Mouth here from telling everyone, especially those I was playing 8th grade football with, what I was going to be someday. That did not go over well. I can remember one day before school started... We were to stay down on the first floor of this ancient three story building. I was putting stuff into a locker and had my head down as I was in a squatting position in front of a locker. Someone came up from behind and kick me squarely in the rear, sending my head into the locker and both collarbones right into the metal of the locker itself. Needless to say, that hurt. Drop kick punted right into a locker. Kids can be cruel. Adolescent kids are probably the most susceptible to not taking the time to understand or listen to where another person is coming from. In doing so, we damage other people. We hurt them emotionally. We scar them physically. And, we cheapen the human experience. In the framework of Jr High and Middle School, kids start turning to what they can find to ease the pain. Drugs. Peer pressure. I tend to believe that bullying is the real response of an insecure person who is simply finding a way to stand on top of the pile of adolescent humanity so as not to get picked on themselves. The bully is just as insecure as the one taking the punishment. Both people are searching for light.
Both of our Johns are searching for light. Something they can hang on to. Something that brings hope. That's all we really want. Something that will show us the way and tell us it's all ok. We need to know where we are going. In the face of ridicule and bullying, The Baptist knows where to stand. He knows he is not the light. He simply points to the One who is. If you have been in the midst of a situation involves poking & prodding, and uneasy place of ridicule and strife, the best thing you can do is find your light. We need something we can lean on and depend on. We need words to deliver. Finding your light involves finding the words to say in a situation that might otherwise leave us speechless. And, if words cannot be used, let our actions point the way.
We walk in the light as He is in the light.
Peter would state that....
1 Peter 2:23-25
New International Version (NIV)
Jesus would state that He is the light that is coming into the world.
Then he would turn to his followers and say that they are the light of the world. A city sitting on a hill cannot be hidden. It gives off light and people know where to find their hope and peace.
How can we be light to a darkened world?
How can we give hope and peace to others?
We have to find our light first.
The shining forth can only take place when the light is the center of our lives.