John the Baptist
the Harmony line
"I quit." said Ronny the owl as he tossed his viola case into his nest.
"What's wrong, Ronny?" asked his father.
"The conductor won't let me play the good parts. He just wants me to play the same eight notes over and over again."
Father owl opened the viola case and looked at the sheet music. The song which Ronny had been practicing for two months was Pachelbel's Canon. Ron's part was the bass line, which, by itself was indeed a rather boring repetition of eight notes. "Don't quit just yet." he said. "But let me go with you to the next practice and speak to the conductor."
Before the next practice began, Father owl asked the conductor to have the band play the song without the bass line. The music was sweet and lilting, but it was definitely thin. He then took Ronny's viola and joined the next run through the song, playing the bass line while Ronny listened. Realization came over the owl chick as he heard the rich, full sounds of the complete song. The bass line provided a foundation for the rest of the song. It first provided a foretaste of the rest of the song, but as it stayed the same, it provided a platform from which the melody could take off and soar, winding around it, playing in and on it. The melody was glorious, but he now understood that it was the harmony which brought out that glory and made it shine. From then on, Ronny was eager and delighted to play his eight notes.
I have a special place in my heart for those who play the harmony part. Many of you already know this, but it bears repeating. Sherlock Holmes is still Holmes without John Watson, but his intellect doesn't shine nearly as brightly. Where would Captain Kirk be without Spock? Batman's best years were spent side-by-side with Robin. Without Sancho Panza, Don Quixote was just an idiot in armor. Automan's biggest strength was in Cursor. Even in our own bible, Paul desperately needed the aid of his sidekicks, Silas and Luke. All of these people, whether real or fictional, were indespensible to their partners. To paraphrase a famous song, they were the wind beneath another's wings.
John the baptist was not exactly a sidekick. He rarely saw Jesus, even though they were second cousins. Nevertheless, his life fits the pattern of a sidekick. John played second fiddle his entire life. That was what he was about. John was the herald of the Messiah.
Now we have spoken of many signs which heralded the Messiah. Precursors. The prophets. Angels. The Star. Bethlehem. The Magi. The Shepherds. Mary and Joseph. Together, these signs produced a symphony which still rings in our ears today. So intertwined are their voices that it is difficult to seperate them. One cannot discuss the Shepherds without the angels. The Magi cannot be pulled apart from the Star. The Star in turn has become synonymous with Bethlehem. John's part comes in very near the end, but it is his voice which pulls the entire song together. Although the prophets told us much about the Messiah, John's voice sings out in a resounding counterpoint. He points to Jesus and says "Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world!"
Some liberal historians say that Jesus stole John's message. Those who do simply do not understand what John was all about. His job was to be, as Pastor David Renwick put it, "the pleaked press release before the president's speech". It was his job to get people thinking and talking about what Jesus was going to say before He said it. The entirety of his song was in calling attention to Jesus. And as John's voice becomes still, we hear Jesus' own voice reprising his part. Jesus did not call attention to Himself, but sang the glory of Jehovah, the Father. Everything He did served to reconcile the world to its creator. John served as the perfect example of Christ because he spent his life glorifying his master, just as Jesus spent His life glorifying His.
This brings us to the first of the three big questions. What does John the Baptist teach us about the character of God?
Someone asked me once why God is so insistant on being glorified. My rather weak response at the time was "Because good things happen when God is glorified." I hope to articulate my answer a little more clearly this time. God is deserving of glory, by all means, but He isn't interested in glory for its own sake. Myokodon (that is, the Holy Spirit) glorifies Yeshua. Yeshua glorifies Jehovah. Jehovah, when he is glorified, draws people to Himself, filling them with a saving knowledge of their Lord. Put it all together and here's what you get. As Christians, our job is to draw people to Jesus. We are the first link in the chain. With the Spirit's help, we bring them to Jesus. Jesus acts as the bridge, allowing access to the Father. God the Father forgives and justifies sinners, turning glory into mercy and bringing everything full circle.
John's message was just the same as that of most any other prophet- REPENT! John continues the message of Isaiah and Jeremiah. He reminds us that God is holy, and that God demands goodness from us. He wants compassion, fairness, truth, justice, loyalty, kindness, forgiveness and mercy. He demands that in the same way he loves us, we love one another, including Him.
Finally, John the Baptist was the last element of history the precede the centerpiece of all time, the ministry of Jesus. Next week, we will be looking at the life of Christ. I want to draw special attention to His distinct roles as priest, pastor and rabbi. But tonight, as it is our annual communion service, we're going to commemorate Jesus' role as sacrifice.
Today's reading: Matthew 3
3:1 In those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the Desert of Judea
2 and saying, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near."
3 This is he who was spoken of through the prophet Isaiah: "A voice of one calling in the desert, 'Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.'"
4 John's clothes were made of camel's hair, and he had a leather belt around his waist. His food was locusts and wild honey.
5 People went out to him from Jerusalem and all Judea and the whole region of the Jordan.
6 Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River.
7 But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to where he was baptizing, he said to them: "You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath?
8 Produce fruit in keeping with repentance.
9 And do not think you can say to yourselves, 'We have Abraham as our father.' I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham.
10 The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.
11 "I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me will come one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not fit to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.
12 His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor, gathering his wheat into the barn and burning up the chaff with unquenchable fire."
13 Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to be baptized by John.
14 But John tried to deter him, saying, "I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?"
15 Jesus replied, "Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness." Then John consented.
16 As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and lighting on him.
17 And a voice from heaven said, "This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased."