Our preacher Gary Leftwich has been presenting lessons from the book of Matthew for the past few weeks. He started at the beginning and is working his way through the chapters, pulling ideas from the text. It has been a very thoughtful series. This past week we talked about John, known as the Baptist, and how he was the fulfillment of Old Testament scriptures about the Messenger to come before the appearance of the Messiah. Matthew quotes the Old Testament, calling John a “voice crying in the wilderness”.
I thought about that for a while and it came to me: Christians are also “voices crying in the wilderness”, whether we are standing in Times Square, a small town, or in a country not our own speaking to people who may not even know our language (hopefully we know theirs!). We live in a world which doesn’t know, doesn’t care about, or is openly hostile to the message we live and speak. If it can’t destroy us it can at least ignore us or mock us as fools. At times, the response to our attempts to spread Good News is such that we begin to think we might as well be standing out in the wilderness somewhere. Maybe the lizards and the bugs might at least listen to us.
A couple of important points should help us understand. Jesus calls us “out” of the world. He tells his disciples several times the reason the world hates them is because they no longer belong there. We are called to a different reality, one totally opposite of the world. They hate us because they don’t understand us. If you’ve lived your whole life in darkness, the concept of ‘light’ is meaningless. Once you’ve seen the light and what it reveals you understand both light and darkness, and how light is much more satisfying.
The problem is that light is frightening and threatening to those who prefer the dark. Light brings out things we don’t want to see and especially don’t want anyone else to see. It’s just so bright. It’s blinding if you’re not used to it. So it is easier to get rid of the light and go back to living in the dark than it is to let your eyes adjust and take in what the light reveals. It’s almost as though somewhere down deep, those in darkness understand what they could have but don’t, and resent those who do.
The other point is though we live in the world, we are not of the world. We have been taken out of the world in the sense that we are now answerable to a different authority, the lordship of Jesus Christ. We are citizens of a kingdom that is spiritual, but we continue to exist in a physical world. The message we have been tasked with is the same one that drew us into the Light. Our task is to broadcast that message in order to help others in darkness make their way to the Light.
Wherever we find ourselves, we always are standing in the light. But those we are trying to reach are still in the darkness. It is as though we were standing outside yelling at the top of our lungs while the ones we’re trying to reach are inside the house with the TV blasting. They can’t hear because they aren’t listening or are distracted by all the noise the world is making. But there are some who are listening.
I suspect part of the reason people went out to see John was his appearance. Here was this wild-looking man in a camel’s hair suit who lived on nothing but locusts and wild honey. That alone would have gotten some folks’ attention. Some went for the spectacle. Some no doubt went to see why the crowds were showing up. They weren’t interested in the message, just the entertainment. But there were others who came, heard, and responded. They found a messenger pointing the way to the light.
I know John had times when he got tired of it all. Nobody likes having to continuously point out sin and hypocrisy, only to be ignored, mocked or ridiculed. He must have gotten discouraged. He even had his doubts. Not long before his death, John sent a message to Jesus: “are you really the One? Or is there someone else coming?” Jesus didn’t rebuke him; he simply sent the message back: look at the evidence.
“Go and report to John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, those with leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor are told the good news, and blessed is the one who isn’t offended by me.” -Matt. 11:4-6
Jesus told John: you know the Scriptures, you know what it says about the Holy One and what he will do when he comes. This is what’s happening. I am the One, John; don’t have any more doubts. John understood his role from the earliest days. John had disciples but when Christ appeared he sent them to Him. When someone asked him if he was the Messiah, he pointed to Jesus as the Lamb of God. He recognized his unworthiness in comparison to Christ but he was faithful to the ministry given to him. And in the end, he recognized that “He must increase, but I must decrease.”
Like John, we are unworthy of Christ. We must also decrease as Christ increases in our lives because we are his possession, his vessel, his ambassador. We carry his message and it is the only one we are authorized to deliver. We also get discouraged and sometimes begin to have doubts. When we do, we need to “look at the evidence”. We must continue as “voices in the wilderness” because people will be drawn to the Good News, and to His glory reflected in us.