by Rev. Sterling Durgy
Jesus said of His cousin John, "Truly I say to you, among those born of women there has not arisen anyone greater than John the Baptist . . ." (Matthew 11:11).
Indeed, John the Baptist led one of the greatest religious revivals of history. Multitudes of people came to listen to his preaching and be baptized by him in the Jordan river. John's mission was to prepare the way for Christ. The public ministry of Christ began with His baptism by John. At that time John's testimony to his cousin's identity as "the Lamb of God" was a major factor that convinced many of John's disciples to follow Jesus (Luke 3:1-22, 1:5-25, 39-80, Matthew 3, Mark 1:1ff., John 1).
However, after imprisonment for speaking out against the sins of Herod Antipas, John the Baptist began to wonder what was happening. Most likely John believed that Jesus would soon institute the time of God's rule over all the earth, just as did Jesus' disciples, and, indeed, just as most Jews living in the time of Christ expected Messiah to do. John was confused, as were Jesus' disciples, when Jesus left the Romans and their collaborators in power. Thus, he sent to Jesus, "Are You the Expected One, or should we seek for someone else?" (Matthew 11:4). It is hard to imagine a stranger message from the one who had been sent to bear the first public witness to Jesus as the Christ! However, given the circumstances, John's question was perfectly understandable. Jesus surprised many in His earthly ministry! Later, Jesus Himself bowed before the Father in Gethsemane as the full burden of His mission fell heavily upon His shoulders. Jesus was so heavily burdened that He sweat drops of blood.
Nor are such strugglings confined to the time before and during Jesus' earthly ministry. The apostle Peter struggled with the matter of the relationship of the Law of Moses and the message of the Gospel. God gave Peter a vision and a Gentile convert (Cornelius) to confirm a change of mind that Peter did not find comfortable. Yet, in Paul's letter to the Galatians we read that Peter had trouble with this later on as well. Many similar situations from Scripture come to mind. Abraham being uncomfortable with God's plan for he and Sarah, Moses discomfort with being a spokesman and asking for Aaron to be Moses' "prophet," Job's protests during his time of trouble, Elijah's flight after victory at Mount Carmel, Jonah's anger at Ninevah being spared, and on and on (Acts 9:13-16). The common factor in each is the struggle to understand and do God's will when it seems uncomfortable. So often it seems to God's people to be uncomfortable!
In the Scriptures such struggle is common, but it seems completely out of place today. We are used to a society of conveniences. We have instant coffee, fast foods, fast-track careers, no-fault insurance, amicable divorce, user-friendly computer software, and now "alternative" or "contemporary" worship where the message to those outside Christianity is "all we ask is that you let us make it your way" - a slogan better suited to burgers. We have invented for ourselves a form of Christianity in which no one is ever unhappy - success is guaranteed - and sacrifices are not required. What God wants for us is always comfortable and -- strangely co-incidentally -- exactly what we want for ourselves! Not only do we seldom think of being martyred for our faith as did early Christians, we even invent expressions like, "you can do more with the nine-tenths after tithing than with ten-tenths if you don't tithe" to assure ourselves that our faith won't cost us anything - or worse, to "suppose that godliness is a form of gain." (I Timothy 6:5, cf. 6:3-10).
Dr. Thomas Oden, Methodist minister and theologian, describing the attitude of contemporary culture, wrote, "There is no goal out there for me to attain, only what I decide. There is no purpose, only what I determine. There is no vocation for which I was intended, only what I want to do . . . Narcissism is a key mark of modernity. Myself becomes the central project of moral interest; self-enjoyment and self-development become the central goals" (After Modernity . . . what?: agenda for theology, Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1990. p. 79).
What is truly amazing about so many Christians today is that they race on without the slightest awareness that Christianity would not exist if the major figures of Scripture had ordered their lives in the same manner that many Christians now suppose is right. Of all those giving gifts at the Temple, it was a poor widow whose gift meant the most to Christ. The gift represented a sacrifice on her part - a real sacrifice - as a result of which she did without (Mark 12:41-44, Luke 21:1-4). When Jesus pointed her out to his disciples, Jesus was not lauding her for a "good investment strategy" - but for her willingness to make a deep personal sacrifice to honor God!
Simply enduring pain or giving sacrificially, in and of itself, does not guarantee Christian spirituality, to be sure. We may bring trouble upon ourselves in lots of ways that have nothing whatsoever to do with the Gospel (I Peter 4:12-19). However, if we never have to struggle to live for Christ, it may be time to examine ourselves. It may be that we aren't struggling precisely because it doesn't matter to us to do our best or to give our best for our Lord; that we have imbibed too much of our culture and feel too comfortable in a world separated from God. "Therefore," wrote Peter, "since Christ has suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same purpose, because he who has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin" (I Peter 4:1, cf. Hebrews 12:1ff.).
It is our salvation in Christ that gives us the freedom to struggle for our Lord without fearing that we may lose our standing in Christ for not jumping to some conclusion (Romans 8:1). We may need to struggle (both individually and as a Christian community) with the interpretation of some parts of Scripture, about a social issue of our time, how we should serve our Lord in or outside of church, or how God would have us handle a given situation in our personal lives. God's will may not be comfortable (I Peter 4:18). This struggle should not alarm us as long as we are, like John the Baptist, open to what our Lord says and determined to be faithful to our Lord.
Copyright 1999 Sterling M. Durgy. All Rights Reserved.
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