If my life was a movie, it would open with a narration by the lead actor—who would be Matt Damon, of course. Matt would say something like this:
I am named after a man who ate locusts and honey. And this man, named John the Baptist—because he baptized people to make way for Jesus’ ministry—continues to perplex me. Who wears a camel’s hair cloak with a leather belt?
I have spent countless hours studying the few enigmatic passages about the Baptist, and each time I am left asking, “Why would God name me after this odd character? What does being like the Baptist look like?” I think I may finally have an answer. And here’s the quizzical thing: It turns out it’s not just an answer for me, but also the answer to a question you may not even know you’re asking.
(Cue the dramatic music—me, I mean Matt Damon, riding on a bicycle at sunrise. It’s a coming of age film, so Matt may be a little old on second thought.)
When I was in the womb, my mother was very close to losing me. Her, my father, and several people in our church began praying. One day when my father was praying, he heard from God. God told him, my name isn’t going to be Kenneth, but John. And I was to be named after the Baptist, because I would make a way for Jesus as John did.
But as great as all this is, it’s really not special. After all, aren’t we all supposed to be like John the Baptist?
“The word of God came to John the son of Zechariah in the wilderness. And he went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins” (Luke 3:2–3 ESV).
I hope that all of us who believe in Jesus are running towards him—to receive his word. I pray that we journey to the wilderness to hear the very voice of God. And I hope that we seek him even more in this age than ever before, because like John the Baptist's generation, our generation is full of political turmoil and warfare. It is in these times—especially these times—that we should show what it means to love Jesus.
Jesus has called all of us to proclaim a “baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” He has called each of us to lead others to Jesus, to experience his overwhelming grace and love—and to make a life change as a result of encountering the living God.
Today, I had an opportunity to get nostalgic for a moment, as my wife Kalene stumbled upon one of my first campaigns to help the impoverished—written in the simple form of a paper church newsletter. In that moment of nostalgia, I was reminded of who I used to be and also who I am. I was reminded that even that young man back then was redeemed by the Jesus who has a marvelous and boundless love—a wonderful and sacrificial love, as the band Rend Collective Experiment says.
I am grateful for that young man's deep-rooted passion, but I also hope he has grown since then—that he has learned what it means to be even more like Jesus. I hope his coming of age film, that is his faith journey, has at least reached its midpoint by now. I ask God, "Have the difficulties taught young John what it means to love you more?" And then suddenly my mood changes: I hope my life film hasn't reached its midpoint, because I want to know God much more than this and need more time to do so.
In the same song, Rend Collective Experiment goes on to say, “True love is not afraid to bleed. ... Yes, Jesus loves me. This is love [that] you gave yourself.” When I think upon that younger me, I realize that he may have been afraid to bleed—that he would not have been ready to give himself. And I pray that I am ready to do so now.
Am I actually ready to live like John the Baptist—for I know John’s message is not easy?
John’s message was difficult to accept. John proclaimed that salvation is coming, inheritance cannot save you, and repentance means actually living your faith (Luke 3:4–9). These words were so hard for people to hear that they were left asking John: “What then shall we do?” In reply, John says:
“Whoever has two tunics is to share with him who has none, and whoever has food is to do likewise” (John 3:11 ESV).
If you have more than you need, assist someone else—simple yet profound. Are you willing to do that? Are you willing to live sacrificially for Jesus?
I think we’re all asking, “What then shall we do?” It’s sitting at the core of all of us. It's somewhere deep in the pit of our already full stomachs. And we know the answer is that we need less of nearly everything than we're consuming. We’re struggling with the reality that we know we can be more, do more, and renew more lives.
You may not know it yet, but if you really look inward, I think you will find that you are asking the same question as the crowd that was dialoguing with John. I believe this to be the case because both tax collectors and soldiers asked the same question, “What then shall we do?” To tax collectors, John says:
“Collect no more than you are authorized to do” (Luke 3:13 ESV).
To the soldiers, he says:
“Do not extort money from anyone by threats or by false accusation, and be content with your wages" (Luke 3:14 ESV).
We can minimize our negative affect on others, while emphasizing the positive affect we can have. We can fully serve others, in Jesus’ name—empowering the impoverished and fully loving each person Jesus places in front of us. We can show them in word and deed how much Jesus cares for them.
Be Content—Don’t Take More than You Need
We all struggle with contentment. Being satisfied with what we have—and above that, being content with the sufficiency of Jesus and the salvation he offers—can be painful; it can require us to bleed for him. It takes time, discipline, and diligence.
But there is hope for all of us in John's message:
“I baptize you with water, but he who is mightier than I [being Jesus] is coming, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire" (Luke 3:16–17 ESV).
Jesus wants us to act now—to serve him now. That is his calling upon our lives. And there is hope in this, for he offers us salvation freely. But is not just salvation he offers; he calls us to live like we are actually saved. The Holy Spirit is here to help us do so. The Spirit will guide us as we act on Jesus' behalf, as we act as John the Baptist. It is in our power to call people to repentance, love, contentment in Christ, and self-sacrifice.
When it comes time for your life to be narrated—for your movie script to be written—how will your opening scene go?
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