A Man Sent by God 2017
by Fred Pruitt
(I haven’t been able to get to “The Beatitudes” as the follow-up to Sermon on the Mount Introduction. We’ve been out-of-town for most of the last week helping a family member. So, since I don’t have that one ready, yet, here’s a little one from the past to consider until “The Beatitudes” shows up.)
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
On with the story …
Now here are these Priests and Pharisees from Jerusalem cropping up – hissing and slithering in the snake of the religious mind. I never will forget the time I first noticed this snake cropping up in me in a major way. It was in our early ministry days in Monterey, California, in the mid-1970s. One of our projects was to take young homeless men off the streets – these were mostly hippie hitchhiker types in those days – and “train” them to be good Christians. They mostly just wanted to eat and a place to sleep, but we naively thought if we gave them those things then in appreciation they would want God. But it was like pulling teeth. We were constantly cajoling them, counseling them, motivating them, encouraging them, rebuking them, preaching to them, quoting scripture to them, to get them to shape up and love God with all their heart. But for the most part they were just hanging out, enduring our religiosity to get a bite to eat and a nice place to sleep. This was witnessing with an “arm-twist!”
Now I had been with the church a couple of years by then, and had some “authority” over these guys. So one night I went looking for a portable TV I had loaned the brothers, intending to get it and take it back to my house. I went into a room where one of the homeless guys, Jason, was sitting watching the TV. I saw it there and told Jason I was taking it. (After all, it was mine!) So I just went up to it, reached behind it and unplugged it from the wall, secured the antenna and power cord, lifted it up and walked off. Of course Jason got upset, yelling at me, “Hey, what’re you doin’, man? I’m watchin’ that!”
“I’m your minister,” I said (meaning, “I’m your boss.”), “and it’s mine anyway, so I’m taking it!” I left Jason TV-less and cussing. I probably told him to watch his mouth, but I don’t remember.
It hit me as I left him what I had done. As the scripture said, “My heart smote me.” I knew I had been the snake.
We cannot know this until we are born again and can see from the perspective of the kingdom of God. That is why confrontation with sin can only fully occur when we know what real sin is. This whole story of John and then Jesus moves us from our spiritual infancy, when all the problems and solutions are primarily with outer things, to more and more within us, to a final realization one day, which is where this whole Gospel of John is headed, that we are One with Christ and the Father through the Spirit.
And right here in the beginning of the story many can see how our personal journey began, when we turned from our lives in our cities and villages, and “went out” to the wilderness and to the Baptist in the Jordan, and confessed our sins and were washed in spiritual water for their cleansing.
Someone might ask, “How so?” I did not literally leave where I was and go seek a prophet out in the desert or the woods. But inwardly I did (and somewhat outwardly, too!). There was a moment in my life when I “turned” and began to go a different direction. I had been running away from God and really life in general, but one day, like the Prodigal Son, I woke up in pig dung, and thought, “There has to be something better than this.”
That day I began to turn and go another direction. It was the day Janis and I took the strongest dose of LSD either of us had ever taken. What we experienced in a few hours is not necessary to detail, except to say we saw life and death over and over. It was horror and it was glory. Over and over. I came to a place where I wanted to stay, and did not want to go back. I thought it was what heaven must be. I wanted to stay but knew I had to go back but I didn’t know what reason there was to go back. Then I saw a child and the child became a reason to go back, and then I was back. From that moment I knew there was “another world” but I also knew it was not in the drugs, and I had to find it for real. I did not articulate it as “God” then, but I know now that was when the turn happened and that He did it.
Someone observing me at the time might say, “You didn’t turn toward Christ. You turned toward eastern religion.” And that is true, but when I made the turn, that was the first stop on a path that led to Jesus. I was on the road, and I met many a John the Baptist on the way. They all told me, in one way or another, to continue in my repentance, to turn all the way around. To get ready to meet God, because He is coming on your scene, soon!
“A man sent from God ….”
That phrase alone, proves that man became separated from God. God of course didn’t go anywhere. He is All in all, whether the creature knows it or not. In Him we live and move and have our being, whether we know it or not. His light is our light, whether we know it or not.
But the fact that we do not know it, or that we have fallen away from knowing it, is the greatest part of our problem. The fact that God has to send someone to us to tell us, proves that we are somewhere where He is not.
Even though God is All in all, and everything, animate and inanimate, has its being or existence in Him, the place where God is not, is in the will of the creature that has gone out from Him into itself in a separating wall of aloneness and independence. God is there, but only in the sense in which He is the upholding substance of everything. He is not there in His Person in the experience of the creature. He is, to the creature, as if He does not exist. Such a creature only knows its own existence and denies everything else except how all creation relates to it and its needs and desires.
But that is a dry and thirsty land. It is the land of Adam’s wanderings, after he traded Paradise for a pig in a poke – the Will of God for self-will. It is the land of the Prodigal Son, who wasted all his inheritance in riotous living – until the money ran out.
But in the fullness of time, a man is sent by God. Perhaps God woke up one day and as He stepped out His front door, He looked for the man and woman he had made and for all the children they had, but they were not there. They were around, but they were hiding. And even if He walked out His door, stepped off his front porch and walked into the woods where all the people were hiding, and even though He could see them behind the trees, bushes and rocks, they could no longer see Him. He did not exist to them in their aloneness and fear. He lived in freedom and light but they were cowering in self-made and self-perpetuating prisons of darkness. They are afraid of the light. And, since they could not see Him as He IS, He decided He would go among them as a man Himself. He would become Man – them (us) – and get them out of their prisons and back into Himself.
But first He decided He would send another man, whose spirit and power they already knew, someone they could all recognize as the greatest among them (Luke 7:28), someone coming in the “spirit and power of Elijah” (Luke 1:17), to herald the coming of the One who would set them all free.
1:7, 8 The same came for a witness, to bear witness of the Light, that all men through him might believe. He was not that Light, but was sent to bear witness of that Light.
In speaking above about this story of Christ as it relates to us inwardly, in no way do I want to take away from the historical story or make it less significant. This man of flesh and blood, whom we know as John the Baptist, was specially chosen by the Father, to be the herald of Jesus Christ. In a way he was like no other born except Jesus Himself, for though he was born of a flesh and blood mother and father, he was, according to Luke, filled with the Holy Spirit from his birth. Jesus said he was the greatest among those born of woman.
John was in no way insignificant in his time. Everyone knew of him. He was so well-known that the Pharisees and Priests in Jerusalem perceived him to be a threat to them. Had no one held him in esteem, they would have given him no thought. But John had the hearts of the people. The so-called righteous ones would for the most part not go out to his baptism, and it was mostly the sinners who went to repent and hear of the Coming One. He was so threatening to them that they refused to take a “position” on whether John was from God or not, when confronted by Jesus later on. They held their position with the people too dear.
What separated John from all the other wandering preachers and prophets roaming the Judean wilderness in those days, was that he came to bear witness to the Light and not to bear witness to himself. John, we might say, was a clear lantern who shone out with the light that was not of him, but from Him Who IS the Light of all men.
What is very rare in a “preacher,” is an ability to let individuals grow up and find their own inner resources in Christ. It is a great temptation to those who bring others up in Christ to make those others dependent on them. There is a time for that, but there is a time for growing up, too.
John came to bear witness to the Light that everyone might believe by him. He was the first to testify that, “This is the Christ, this is the Lamb of God, believe on Him!” That is why it says that all are believing through him. John the Baptist’s witness is the first witness to testify that this is the One who takes away the sin of the world and baptizes with the Holy Spirit. Now every one of us who witnesses to this follows after John’s witness.
It truly is not ourselves but Another to Whom we give witness. As John said to the Pharisees, “I am the voice …” and we also are the voice crying in the wilderness. All we can do is give witness to what we have seen and heard. We do not know where the seed (the word we speak) will land and how it will come up. It has a life of its own.
The first time I went to formally “witness” to anyone after I went nuts for Jesus, I set up an appointment with a married couple we knew to go over and tell them about my new-found faith. I don’t remember what I told them, but they agreed to let us come over. Janis and I drove to their house one night after work, and took our friend Chris, one of our best friends and part of our hippie-life entourage, who showed no interest in Jesus that I could see.
We got to our friends’ house and sat on a couch, Janis on one side of me and Chris on the other. Roger and his wife were opposite us on another couch. I began to tell them about receiving Jesus and how it had happened to me. I didn’t get far before all hell broke loose. Roger was livid, “How dare you come over here to shove religion down my throat!” I was innocent, really. I thought because I saw how wonderful Jesus was, how in a moment of time He had changed my whole life, others would see it, too. After I explained it to them, how could they not want it? I was stunned at their anger. But they asked us to leave and we did.
I thought that night was a total bust and I was bummed out when we got home. After we got home, Chris, who had not said a word all evening and to whom I had given no thought, came up to me and asked, “Do you think I could receive Christ?” I was bowled over, but we prayed with her right there, and her life changed, too. And after, Chris affected many many others with her living witness of Christ, until her early death at 24, only a couple of years later to lung cancer.
We just are the witness God makes us to be in the current moment. We never know what seeds we are planting or how they will come up. It isn’t of ourselves, but is of the Light to which we are bearing witness. His Light manifests, and His Seed bears His fruit!
Be not afraid; only believe!” (Jesus)