Jesus Creed

Jesus Creed

Missional Jesus 2

posted by xscot mcknight

Yesterday we looked at Mary. Today we look at John the Baptist’s understanding of the mission of God. The principle text, of course, is Luke 3:1-18. How did J-B understand the mission of God?
How often do we think of John the Baptist? Really. Now the big one: Do we embrace John’s perception of the mission of God that was entering the world, was at work in John, and was about to skip a pace or two and end up in the lap of Jesus?
1. Entrance into and commitment to the mission of God, according to J-B, meant Israel needed to undergo a baptism (understood as purification) and repentance from its sins (3:3) — and this would lead to forgiveness. John summons the nation; individuals “enlist” in his vision by undergoing baptism.
2. The mission of God fulfills Isa 40:3-5 and this means John is the Voice who cries out that everything should get ready for the coming of God to Zion who comes to save (which evokes the name “Jesus” — savior). John, who had identity issues, saw himself as the “Voice.” (Jesus, by the way, saw John as “Elijah.”)
3. Israelites “enlist” in this saving presence of God by a repentance-that-leads-to-fruits:
a. This is for all; Israelite or not (3:8).
b. Those who don’t respond are judged (3:9).
c. Repentance involves, or should I say means?:
economic distribution for those with more than enough (3:10-11),
fair economic dealings for those who have financial power (3:12-13), and
a respect for the dignity of others by those with the power to conscript (3:14).
[Note: John sounds like Mary.]
4. The mission of God is embodied in the One Who is All-Powerful, the Messiah (3:16) and John is the pointer to the Messiah. The Voice is the Pointer.
Luke 3:1 In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar—when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, Herod tetrarch of Galilee, his brother Philip tetrarch of Iturea and Traconitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene— 2 during the high–priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness. 3 He went into all the country around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 4 As it is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet:
“A voice of one calling in the wilderness,
‘Prepare the way for the Lord,
make straight paths for him.
Luke 3:5 Every valley shall be filled in,
every mountain and hill made low.
The crooked roads shall become straight,
the rough ways smooth.
Luke 3:6 And all people will see God’s salvation.’”a
Luke 3:7 John said to the crowds coming out to be baptized by him, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? 8 Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. 9 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.”
Luke 3:10 “What should we do then?” the crowd asked.
Luke 3:11 John answered, “Anyone who has two shirts should share with the one who has none, and anyone who has food should do the same.”
Luke 3:12 Even tax collectors came to be baptized. “Teacher,” they asked, “what should we do?”
Luke 3:13 “Don’t collect any more than you are required to,” he told them.
Luke 3:14 Then some soldiers asked him, “And what should we do?”
He replied, “Don’t extort money and don’t accuse people falsely—be content with your pay.”
Luke 3:15 The people were waiting expectantly and were all wondering in their hearts if John might possibly be the Messiah. 16 John answered them all, “I baptize you withb water. But one who is more powerful than I will come, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you withb the Holy Spirit and fire. 17 His winnowing fork is in his hand to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.” 18 And with many other words John exhorted the people and proclaimed the good news to them.

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John W Frye

posted June 19, 2007 at 8:41 am

With J-B as a prophetic visual aid (his dress and diet) and his verbal thunder clap message, wouldn’t his impressive impact on Judea and Jerusalem (Mark 1) seem to hearld a “Coming One” who would be just as or even more dramatic tha he was? I mean, if we were alive then wouldn’t we be expecting a Messiah shaped by the popular mindset—a victorious military/political/spiritual Hero for Israel?
After J-B, wouldn’t Jesus be viewed as a “let down”?

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Scot McKnight

posted June 19, 2007 at 9:07 am

Good question, and I suppose so. The expectation of imminent judgment is clearly modified into an inauspicious kingdom display of grace, mercy and holiness by Jesus.

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posted June 19, 2007 at 11:12 am

I like John’s point in #1. Not that J-B was guilty of doing this, but this situation does cause me to make sure that I am not encouraging incorrect expectations.

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posted June 19, 2007 at 12:07 pm

John focuses on social justice that will be done, on the savior to come. Mary focuses on social justice that has already been done/is present. Mary says the proud have been humbled, the poor fed. I don’t know if she is speaking of past actions of lovingkindness by God or of a prophetic moment clinched by her pregnancy or both. I find it interesting that the two seem to speak in different tenses. What do people make of this?
As an aside, I have read that the Gospel writers diminished John the B to exalt Jesus. Any thoughts?

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Dana Ames

posted June 19, 2007 at 12:23 pm

Perhaps the expectation of imminent judgment is not so much set as opposite to grace, mercy and holiness. Perhaps it is connected more with “God is going to make everything right at last”- with the 1C Jewish understanding of what that meant. It doesn’t sound to me like John expected Jesus’ form of messiahship either.
Really like the parallel with the Magnificat!!

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tim atwater

posted June 19, 2007 at 12:51 pm

Following on Diane’s thoughts (#4 here and on yesterday’s posting)re tense… i posted on the Mary (missional 1) strand before reading here and will only add it’s perennially one of my first Q’s…(John the gospel writer seems to bend tense all the time –something about the intersection of time eternal and time now?)
Johnny B seems most developed as a character in Luke — (tho John gives him about as much space, even folding him into the prologue twice)and surely he’s an essential part of the story… i love the way luke opens w the john and Jesus birth stories, then comes back to their mission start-up stories…
Like most (all?) the characters (like me for sure), JB doesn’t understand his own role perfectly…
When it comes to fulfilling “he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire” — we get Acts 2:1-41…
and with “bearing fruit that befits repentance” we get Acts 2:42-4:37 (or maybe we can just say the rest of Acts(?)…
Is it more than wishful thinking to believe the fulfillment process continues…
to exceed our best expectations…

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posted June 19, 2007 at 4:21 pm

Look at 8: repentance is supposed to bring fruit.

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tim atwater

posted June 20, 2007 at 6:29 am

yes — bearing fruit befitting repentance is the main test of repentance (not that this always comes instantaneously) — and the best example i can think of is the way the church does this in Acts 2-4 — starting with the plainest meaning of John B and Mary — redistribution of wealth (let him/her who has two give to her/him who has none) (and as we read on in Acts this gets more explicitly also about power shifts — as rulers are brought down from their thrones, and the lowly lifted up — )– but all along in Acts, it seems to happen more like Mary has forecast than like John — in that the accents follow more from praise and worship (my soul magnifies the Lord and my Spirit rejoices in God my Savior…) rather than from judgment (you brood of vipers…)…
And the emphasis i hear in Acts isn’t judgement (even tho Peter stings –sounding a lot like JB in the second half of Acts 2 — he also shifts very smoothly into offering grace and his evoking of the fire of the Holy Spirit with the waters flows right into the description of the church doing Jubilee — going into deep community — prayer, study, breaking bread, fellowship, sharing all things — and it all exceeds John’s sketch of what’s required by a lot i think — and looks (from here at least) a whole lot more joyful than what i hear from JB…
(and the difference is–)
The church response is only accomplished with the pouring out of the Holy Spirit — suggesting the fullness of repentance isn’t realizable on our own — we have to be receiving the Spirit to be able to do this… but… as we do this, as we receive the grace… we can do much more than even the prophets expect…
Acts 2:42-47 and 4:32-37 are fulfillments of the Jubilee (Lev 25) and Sabbath (Deut 15) years that Jesus is incarnating in himself (Luke 4)… and this isn’t something we can do just by ‘repenting’ as in saying we are sorry… it’s a deeper kind of repentance that only seems to happen with deeper worship (as illustrated most wondrously in the magnificat…)

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tim atwater

posted June 20, 2007 at 6:37 am

yes bearing fruit is the test of repentance…
and Acts 2:42-47 and 4:32-38 illustrate this about as well as anything in scripture?
Being filled with the Holy Spirit may be a prerequisite to being able to do this?
Worship, praise, community, study, prayer, fellowship, radical sharing and redistribution as first fruits of Pentecost… first fruits of biblical repentance.
More like Mary’s forecast in the Magnificat than John’s forecast in Lk 3? John gets part of the message, Mary gets virtually all of it??

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