John’s Way of Preparing for Peace
Indianapolis First Friends
Pastor Bob Henry
December 9, 2018
3 1-2 While Jesus was living in the Galilean hills, John, called “the Baptizer,” was preaching in the desert country of Judea. His message was simple and austere, like his desert surroundings: “Change your life. God’s kingdom is here.”
3 John and his message were authorized by Isaiah’s prophecy:
Thunder in the desert!
Prepare for God’s arrival!
Make the road smooth and straight!
4-6 John dressed in a camel-hair habit tied at the waist by a leather strap. He lived on a diet of locusts and wild field honey. People poured out of Jerusalem, Judea, and the Jordanian countryside to hear and see him in action. There at the Jordan River those who came to confess their sins were baptized into a changed life.
7-10 When John realized that a lot of Pharisees and Sadducees were showing up for a baptismal experience because it was becoming the popular thing to do, he exploded: “Brood of snakes! What do you think you’re doing slithering down here to the river? Do you think a little water on your snakeskins is going to make any difference? It’s your life that must change, not your skin! And don’t think you can pull rank by claiming Abraham as father. Being a descendant of Abraham is neither here nor there. Descendants of Abraham are a dime a dozen. What counts is your life. Is it green and blossoming? Because if it’s deadwood, it goes on the fire.
11-12 “I’m baptizing you here in the river, turning your old life in for a kingdom life. The real action comes next: The main character in this drama—compared to him I’m a mere stagehand—will ignite the kingdom life within you, a fire within you, the Holy Spirit within you, changing you from the inside out. He’s going to clean house—make a clean sweep of your lives. He’ll place everything true in its proper place before God; everything false he’ll put out with the trash to be burned.”
The chaos of life is constantly heralding an inner and outer cry for peace in our own lives and in the world.
The same was true for the days of John the Baptist and Jesus. The world, as Mary Blackburn pointed out last week in Waiting Worship, was struggling with many of the same issues we find in our day. Life in Jesus’ day was a bit chaotic as well, and it was heralding a cry for Peace to come to the world, too! For them that peace was to come through a Messiah – one that they would label “The Prince of Peace.”
Yet, the chaos of life in the days of Jesus distracted the people from watching, expecting, or seeing glimpses of the Messiah already coming in their midst – a familiar seen in our day and age, as well. So a prophet would be sent – someone to herald a cry and remind the people – that prophet was John the Baptist.
John’s task was to prepare the way, but what does it actually mean to “prepare the way”? One online source (greatbiblestudy.com) says,
“To ‘prepare the way’ means to create a favorable environment or to make it easy for one to come to you and operate in your life.”
Having that in mind, let’s think back on our text for this morning. I want to point out five different areas in the text in which John the Baptist helps prepare us for peace to come.
1. John said, “Change your life. God’s Kingdom is here.”
This was not only going to be an outward peace, but it would entail an inward work as well. Outward living in peace takes respecting and loving each other in spite of our differences (which isn’t always easy), but inwardly, we must search our own hearts and minds and understand the fear and bad choices that cause our lack of peace. Just pause for a moment and ask yourself,
What fear or bad choice do I struggle with that causes a lack of true peace in my life?
I believe it also has to do with a willingness to surrender the parts of our lives that we are trying too hard to control. In an article I read recently called, “Living in Peace” the writer eluded to this need saying,
“Ceasing to seek power over people and outcomes in your life is the first major step to living peacefully. Trying to control people is about seeking to impose your will and reality on others without ever trying to see their side of things. A controlling approach to relationships will keep you in conflict with others. Replacing a will to control with a broad approach of loving others instead, including their faults and differences, is the way to a peaceful life.”
And even one more, we often try to control God and what God say – which has us needing a change. Yet, we must remember that loving God and our neighbor is the beginning of the change. That leads us to the second point from John…
2. Make the Road Smooth and Straight.
I think John is calling us to fill in the potholes and level the walls or barriers for others to find peace in their life. What are some of the potholes or barriers in our day for people to find peace? What about…
Thinking in overly simplistic, limited, or narrow ways and holding to convictions without every considering the viewpoints and perspectives of others. Or…
Not accepting other people who are different than ourselves and learning to appreciate the diversity.
When we fail to try and see from our neighbor’s perspective or be willing to listen to their opinions, the end result can be building walls and making potholes of discrimination, repression, dehumanization, and ultimately violence (all things that are the opposite of peace).
And that is probably because we have a hard time identifying with those different than ourselves…which leads to the third
3. John dressed in a camel-hair habit tied at the waist by a leather strap.
You may not know this, but by dressing this way, John was identifying with the folks on the fringe. He went as far as to become one of them – moving outside the city gates – in what they called, “the wilderness” where the poor, the sick, and the lame had to live.
For you and I that may mean finding things to do in our lives where we engage different groups of people that we normally associate with. It’s harder to be discriminative, repressive, even dehumanizing when you’re interacting with people from all walks of life. Studies show that most people, who the world would consider racist, have never had an experience with a person different than themselves.
It might be time to intentionally build a relationship, have a conversation, even engage a group that might be outside your “comfort zone.”
John’s wilderness journey was just that – remember he was a RK (rabbi kid) – he had it made in his day – he grew up with the elite of society and would have had a hard time identifying with those outside the city walls – he would have been taught that they were unclean by his own dad – Zechariah.
Thus, the reason I think John comes down so hard on the religious leaders who come out to see him in the wilderness. He knew they wanted control because of their positions – listen to what he says (and this will lead into number four).
4. Do you think a little water on your snakeskins is going to make any difference? It’s your life that must change, not your skin! And don’t think you can pull rank by claiming Abraham as father.
John is being an advocate for those who had been taken advantage of – the actual people who lived in the wilderness where he made his home – ALSO… the actual people the religious leaders had used their position to oppress.
Now, this action of John may seem out of place, since most peace and conflict teachings say when communicating with others, seek to avoid being ordering, moralizing, demanding, or threatening. Because these forms of communication can give rise to conflict with others who feel that you’re trying to control them rather than speak with them as an equal. Simply because it can lead to further conflict and does not put the two sides on common ground.
We must remember that John was one of them. In this case, he wanted to bring peace through accountability and calling out his brothers. And that leads right into what I consider John’s most important point…if you want peace in this world, if you want to prepare your heart for peace, if you want change, it starts with your life. He says,
5. What counts is your life. Is it green and blossoming?...ignite the kingdom life within you, a fire within you, the Holy Spirit within you, changing you from the inside out.
Brining peace to this world begins with your life. We need to ask ourselves, “Is our life green and blossoming?” That may mean we will need to stop and listen to our lives.
When we go inside ourselves – we engage our inner light. This engages an opportunity for God to speak Truth into our action – meaning when we find peace then we have the responsibility of changing our world for the better.
I believe God wants us to be part of the solution, just as he was through John the Baptist in his day. God wants us to live life – where we love God and love our neighbor for the sake of a greater peace. God wants us to be John the Baptists for those around us in our families, in our work situations, in our neighborhoods, in our schools – wherever we find ourselves.
So what have we learned from John the Baptist…John’s way asks of us some important queries for preparations:
1. What do I need to change in my life to find peace?
2. Where am I creating “barriers” for others to find peace?
3. Who are the folks on the fringe I need to identify with so they can experience peace?
4. Where am I using my position to withhold peace?
5. Is my life green and blossoming with opportunities for peace?