Series: It’s All About Jesus!
Sermon: The Voice in the Wilderness
Pastor Diane Gordon
Mt Pleasant FUMC
January 1, 2017
Scriptures: Isaiah 63:7-9 and John 1:15-28
Happy New Year! Here in the life of the church it is to be “the Year of Discipleship.” We have previously focused on outward aspects of this church, renovating and strengthening our facility’s capacity for being a healthy, inviting space that creates an atmosphere of openness and readiness to receive and shape next generations of Christians. Our focus this year is on a more inward renovation, personally and corporately. We will deepen our commitment to Jesus Christ as we seek to follow and serve him, and thereby have our lives and the life of our church community transformed by the love of Christ. The name for this is discipleship; becoming followers, like-minded imitators operating with the same sensibilities and longing for eternal life in God’s kingdom, the fruit of our faith.
We are studying the Gospel of John this winter as a way of knowing Jesus the way John knew Jesus; up close and personal. John, the gospel writer, was one of the twelve disciples and referred to himself as “the disciple whom Jesus loved.” He was James’ brother – the other half of the “Sons of Thunder,” as Jesus referred to them. Their mother may have been Mary’s sister, Salome, who stood with Mary at the foot of the cross. It was on that fateful day that Jesus entrusted Mary to John, saying “Woman, here is your son” and “Here is your mother.”
We surmise that John and James were successful fishermen/businessmen before Jesus called them to follow him. This could explain why John was an acquaintance of the High Priest, which allowed him access to Caiaphas’ inner courtyard where Jesus was taken after he was arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane. It would have been John that invited Peter inside the gate, giving opportunity for the conversations in which Peter denies even knowing Jesus three times and Jesus’ prediction comes true as the cock crows, leaving Peter devastated with guilt, and John watching the whole scene play out.
Years before that scene, came another John, John the Baptist. The gospel writer John, tells of John the Baptist’s testimony, announcing the arrival of the Son of God, the Messiah. John the Baptist was God’s messenger. He was the baby in Elizabeth’s womb that jumped for joy at the sound of Mary’s voice when Mary arrived at Ein Karem to stay with her relative, Elizabeth, for three months. This John, son of Zechariah the priest, was also a holy child and was filled with the Holy Spirit from his conception. The angel’s instruction to Zechariah was that John was to be raised holy, set apart. Based on later descriptions of him, wearing camel-hair clothing, eating locusts and honey, we know he was probably a Nazirite; one consecrated to God by a vow to avoid drinking wine or strong drink, cutting their hair or being defiled by the presence of a corpse.
So, we have John the disciple, who late in life writes his account of Jesus’ life and work, pointing the entire way to the incarnation of God, now introducing John the Nazirite holy man. John baptizes all who come hear him down by the riverside, as he preaches and tells them to turn their lives around towards God and that one even greater than himself is coming. When questioned by the Jewish priests and Levites from Jerusalem as to just who he is, John the Baptist quotes the prophet Isaiah, saying, “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord.’”
They listen as he tells them that, no, he’s not the Messiah. He’s not Elijah reincarnated. He tells them that there is one among them who is far greater than himself, who will “come after” him. And then John references the status situation, saying that he is not even worthy to untie the sandals of the one who is coming.
For weeks now, I have wondered if anyone would listen to the voice of one crying out in the wilderness in which we live today? There are so many voices. So much noise now, that it’s difficult to sort out the true from the fake. It’s hard to know who to trust and who is just telling us what they want us to hear, for their own benefit.
Sometimes the best thing we can do is to find a quiet place, take our Bible down off the shelf, and hear what good news God would speak into our lives today. There are eternal truths recorded there, accounts of Jesus’ teaching and miracles. We will study the Gospel of John to hear Jesus’ longer and less formal teaching of his inner circle, even as we seek to be part of that inner circle.
John tells us that Jesus came, following in the line of Moses who gave the Law, bringing not more laws, but truth and grace. His church community was birthed to bring grace upon grace. Jesus came to show us the heart of the Father; to make the nature of God known to the world. As we become better acquainted with Jesus, through John, we will come to know the will of God for our lives.
The truth that I have come to know is that God loved us enough to send us his Son, not to condemn us, but to save us. Those who believe in Jesus are saved, through faith, not condemned, even though they have sinned. None of us here have lived the Nazirite life. We have partied. We have had our share of illicit fun. We have broken God’s laws by falling to temptation. And still, God sends us grace upon grace to call us back into his loving arms, not because we are perfect, but because God’s love is perfect.
Walking in that path, that Way, as we seek to follow Jesus will lead us to a life filled with meaning, devoid of loneliness and connected to Christ.