A Man Sent by God – Part One
by Fred Pruitt
1:6 There was a man sent from God, whose name was John.
His name is John. His name means something like, “God is grace,” or, “whom God has bestowed.”
He is certainly all that, but the package he comes in and the things he says and does make him out as something different – he is an out-and-out nut! Certainly if Palestine hadn’t already been rampant with itinerant preachers, he would have been classed a pure religious nut – standing out in the Jordan River, prophesying, rebuking, quoting scripture, wearing skins and eating bugs with, mmm, mmm, honey. (If you’re going to eat bugs, at least have some honey with them!) But this guy, anyway you shake it, was the epitome of a nut – completely outside the bounds of “decent” human behavior. And he insulted the high and mighty to their faces – the Priests, Pharisees and Herod and his people – yet oddly he never mentions the Romans, and the common thinking in those days was that the Romans were the problem.
But John knew what they didn’t know, that their problem was not the Romans – that stuff “out there” in the world. Their problem was inward, in the house of Israel. The Pharisees and the issues with Herod had to do with the things of the house of God, whereas the Romans – the world out there – really had little to do with it. The Romans ran their world as God’s agents, as all legitimate governments are to be regarded in a general sense, and the Roman concerns primarily included the law and order of their world – the pragmatic things of life. They were content to stay out of religious matters unless they threatened the order of the state.
John knew that Israel’s problem was within, not without. That was why he was in the desert calling people to repent, to prepare the way of the Lord.
Later in the story the Priests and Pharisees come from Jerusalem to question him, and we know from other gospels about his run-in with Herod who eventually kills him, but again, it is not the Romans who kill him, but those who are his own.
John the Baptist comes, with no consideration of the so-called Roman oppressors, no thought of the world out there with its politics and its issues, but only to testify to the house of Israel of its hypocrisy and need of repentance, and to announce the coming of the Anointed One.
This is historical and a true story, but it is finally less a story about John the Baptist back then and more a story about us right now. Because that “world out there,” with its good and evil, with its problems and solutions, with its decency and its customs and its progress, or its greed, corruption, injustice, its evil and its war, is not what John the Baptist and then later Jesus came to fix up, or even necessarily to “make better.” That world is passing by like a moving mural, and we have no permanent interest in it.
And that applies even to that part of that world which we might call ours. He did not come to fix any of that – at least not in any way as we might think. Still, it is not uncommon for us to spend 99% of our time trying to fix it, wanting it to be fixed, praying for it to be fixed, wondering why it isn’t fixed and contemplating what we did that has made things turn out this way or what we could have done differently. But Jesus said over and over to not live after this world – to not let it be the treasure of our hearts.
Therefore, this John comes, not to the world demanding its repentance, but to the inner house – to the house of God.
“Oh, you mean the Church!” someone might say.
And I would reply, “Well, yes, but maybe not as you mean it. Because I am meaning it as you and me, each of us individually being The Church. I am the Church. You are the Church.”
“You mean you do not believe in THE Church, the body of Christ, which is composed of us all who are in Christ? No one can claim to be the Church just in himself. It takes us all!”
Yes, of course that is an undeniable truth. I am merely saying that before there is a stone placed in the house of God, the Master Builder has to fashion those stones according to His design. Stones do not make or fashion themselves. Neither do they decide for themselves when they are ready or where they will be placed in the structure to be their part of the building. Nor do stones figure out for themselves what they are to do to fit in with the others, in order to be “unified.” A stone is only supposed to be a single stone, performing the function of one stone. It is fitted perfectly into the building by Another who knows just where to put it because of its particular shape or qualities. He has decided all that from the Eternal and then He does it in our sight. We know our fitting in by faith. And ironically, our “fitting in” does not begin the day we are born again, but mysteriously comes out the Eternal, just like everything else, and encompasses the whole of our lives, from birth to death and beyond.
John comes as Jesus’ forerunner, first to us each as living stones, and that beginning repentance is to turn from the world and into Christ. Even John is outside of and away from the world, and the people have to leave the world to “go out” to him at the Jordan. Later Jesus, who has a different sort of commission, goes to the people where they are. But not John. They must go out to him. That is the beginning of their repentance, their ‘turn.’”
Our theology tells us that we really turn away from Satan into Christ, but we do not know that usually. The choice for most in the beginning is more often between the world and Christ. Like an alcoholic has to turn from drink in the beginning. His problem ultimately really is not alcohol, but how he reacts to alcohol, and his own psychology toward it. His real problem is “within” him. Still in the beginning, it is just the booze and he simply has to put it down.
In the same way when we come into Christ we start by turning from the world. It is what holds our attention hypnotically – the world is our alcohol – and like the alcoholic we have to put it down completely, put it away from us entirely and for a while at least, not go around it.
And also like the alcoholic, if we learn our lessons, we eventually find out the world was not really our problem. It was our relationship to it and our hypnosis with it. We thought it held all the keys to our happiness and success in life. We had to learn to find all that in God, whether we had it in the world or not. (Eventually that makes us safe to go back to the world, to love it as the Father loves it.) That is why John pays no attention to the Roman “problem.” The real problem is about to crop up.
There must be a real confrontation with evil. It is not a question of believing the correct theology and being well-versed in it. That is useful but not essential, and will never get anyone through the door.
The evil is not, as we said, the Romans, or “the world.” It is not the outer – all that stuff out there. The real problem is the wickedness “within.” John the Baptist in his meeting with the Priests and Pharisees from Jerusalem, is a story from the past that is representative of the REAL struggle that occurs in us. We cannot confront evil in our infancy. That is why in the beginning we turn from the world in an outer sense, abstaining from this, quitting that, thinking that is what it is all about. But that thinking is what is setting us up for our personal confrontation with the real problem, and then the real solution.
The real problem which is the heart of the matter, is self-will or self-effort, all in a spirit of independence. Self-will is a will that in its own deception imagines itself as an independent “free moral agent” (“I’ll determine my own good or evil,” and in so doing breaks itself off from the One Will that is All in all in the universe, stating like Lucifer in Isaiah 14, “I will …”
This is the opposite of the testimony of Jesus, which He said over and over was not to do His own will, but the Father’s only, because He was one with the Father. That is why it is such wickedness. A “self” that imagines itself as its own god or operates as an independent entity ultimately becomes the embodiment of all evil, and is out of the fire of hell and is of its father, the devil. Self-will is the will of the devil, because he is self-will. Self-will is the chain he has bound us with.
What is so wonderful about this revelation of Christ that is being unfolded before us, is that from start to finish it is not just a story about a miraculous man who was the Son of God who lived 2000 years ago, etc. What is so WONDERFUL about this, is that this story is our own story now, and what things Jesus does in John’s gospel are the same things He does in our inner selves as He forms Himself in us.
That is why this cannot be known only conceptually. One does not know what a valley is like unless he has walked in it. Self-will is not a concept, but a spirit-consciousness, and we do not simply receive a “positional” deliverance from it in the Cross, kind of like getting an honorary degree. People are given honorary degrees but they do not take any courses. We don’t get honorary degrees in Christ. We get real degrees, because we get a real education from the Spirit Who is our Teacher. And this confrontation with a resident evil who is overcome by the Coming of the Lamb of God, is not something for a course, but lived and known in very deep earnestness, and hidden in us.
END PART ONE