John the Baptist is an interesting Bible character, known for preaching a baptism of repentance for forgiveness of sins. Yet the picture that probably sticks in some people’s minds is him calling Pharisees and Sadducees a brood of vipers. “Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?” (Matthew 4:7)
It was a scary message for them, but was it his main message? Does John the Baptist seem to paint a picture of an angry God? Is his a condemning message or does it set the stage for grace?
Let’s start by asking this question: What sort of repentance did John the Baptist preach?
II. John Says Share (Show Grace to the Less Fortunate)
Try this on for size: “He that has two coats, let him impart to him that has none; and he that has meat, let him do likewise.” (Luke 3:11) In other words, show grace and share with those in need. This could be a Christmas message, Charles Dickens style: Let the self-centered Scrooge learn to love his neighbor as himself.
To the publicans (tax collectors) John said, “Exact no more than that which is appointed you.” In other words, do your job and don’t be greedy. In a world where people sometimes cheat for fear of not having enough, John the Baptist promotes self-control, a fruit of the Holy Spirit and gift of God’s grace which enables believers to keep God’s seventh command “Don’t steal.”
III. John Says Don’t Be Violent; Be Content
To soldiers, John the Baptist said, “Do violence to no man, neither accuse any falsely; and be content with your wages.” Boy, does our world need that message! We see violence almost everywhere: especially on TV; also via the Internet and even on our phones. Violence is a form of murder, addressed by the sixth command “Don’t kill.” Showing grace and mercy is the opposite of murder.
As for false accusation, it has become the latest rage on social media. God calls it “bearing false witness against your neighbor” (lying or “fake news”). False accusation is mean. God doesn’t like it. Thank God for John the Baptist who struck a blow for telling the truth! Doing God’s will is not drudgery. It’s all about His grace.
Finally, being content with one’s wages is the opposite of coveting and touches on the very last commandment, which is about not envying other people’s stuff. To be content is a positive thing, made possible through Jesus through whom grace and mercy flow. “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” John declares in John 1:29.
Four men ripped apart someone’s roof one time and in so doing helped to take the limits off his faith (see the story in Matthew chapter 9). The paralyzed man’s malady had placed many limits upon him. He could not elbow away the people who crowded him out. The only way his friends could help him was by lowering him through the roof to see Jesus.
That’s because the house had limits as to how many it could hold. The crowd also had limits as to how much room it could make for the man and his friends.
Imagine seeing a body everywhere you turn, blocking your view of the only one you really wish to see. But as Jesus once explained, all it takes is a mustard seed of faith to move a mountain – or, in this case, a crowd. And what happened did move them – not to tears but to cheers.
A mustard seed of brilliant inspiration enabled the paralyzed man to get his miracle. Such wisdom comes from looking up because it descends from God, the source of all true faith. But, like any other seed, it doesn’t do you any good unless you plant it. To plant that seed, these four friends really had to STRETCH their faith – all the way up to the roof and back.
What a ruckus they must have made as they tore off the tiles! The owner must have frowned as they tore his roof apart. But the paralyzed man’s friends were willing to go the distance to stretch their seed of faith into a tree – the sort that pushes past all barriers in order to bear much fruit.
Sometimes that’s what we have to do too. We may not have to tear apart a literal roof, but we may need to dismantle old mindsets (strong man-made opinions). Otherwise they may prevent God’s Word from sinking into our heads and producing faith inside our hearts.
For “Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God.” (Romans 10:17).
The shoots that spring from one faith seed require air to breathe. That air equates to a spiritual atmosphere, for the air of heaven is what causes faith to flourish. Earthly ways of thinking tend to bog faith down, however. That’s because faith springs from truth (for if we know something is God’s will then we know we will receive it – I John 5:14-15). But carnal thinking rests on lies: lies we believe about God, ourselves, and others.
We must strip away those lies like tiles on a roof, that faith might be extended through us from the top on down. Lies such as, “God can only help me so much,” and “I’ll only get so far with God,” evaporate like mist when we lay the paralyzed man at Jesus’ feet.
Jesus told the man to be of good cheer because his sins were forgiven. In so doing, He pinpointed the root of the man’s problem: the feeling that he must be worthy in order to be healed.
Apparently this guy had been feeling condemned, which naturally would make it very hard for him to receive healing. But as Romans 8:1 states, There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ. If Jesus (through His forgiveness) sets you free from sin, then you are free indeed (John 8:36).
Jesus freely forgave the man and told him to rise up and walk. It was clearly a gift of God’s grace because the man did not deserve it. But he received it through faith – in this case, other people’s faith. That’s because they took the limits off their own faith and in so doing took the limits off of his.
God gave Abraham, the faith man, and Sarah, the free woman, power to conceive a son named Isaac, whose name means laughter (see Galatians 4:21-31). This was an amazing miracle because Sarah was ninety at the time and way past child-bearing age. Abraham was one hundred. But all things are possible with God (Matthew 19:26). After Isaac was born, Sarah said “God has made me laugh, so that all who hear will laugh with me.” (Genesis 21:6).
To “laugh” in this case clearly doesn’t mean to mock. It is not a wicked sort of laughter. It is completely joyful. Joy that comes from God makes miracles happen. Keep in mind, it was God who told the faith man to call Isaac “laughter.” It is the sort of laughter that sets you free to be everything that you were meant to be.
The day Isaac was weaned, Abraham gave a great feast. Again there was laughter, but this laughter wasn’t good. Abraham’s son Ishmael, son of his slave woman Hagar, was mocking Isaac.
As a result, Abraham had to send them away. “For the son of this bondwoman (slave woman) shall not be heir with my son, even with Isaac,” said the free woman (Genesis 21:10).
Now, here’s something worth noting when it comes to Isaac being heir to Abraham: Abraham (faith) gave Hagar and Ishmael (who represents bondage to law – see the passage in Galatians) water for their journey. But Isaac (laughter) inherited his wells. The Philistines stopped up those wells, but Isaac reopened them. (see Genesis 26:15).
Laughter – joyful laughter – born of faith digs wells like no one can. Isaac was really into digging wells. The Lord’s unspeakable joy must have been his strength (see Nehemiah 8:10).
Now, there are different kinds of wells: natural and spiritual. Writers create wells of “water” that can either sicken or refresh the ones who drink it. I personally happen to like pure water. I want my stories to refresh readers, not leave them languishing in the desert. But as I struggle to express deep truths I find inside God’s Word, my writings can get way too serious and bogged down (like the law that condemns me because I didn’t “word it perfectly”).
That’s when I need to close my eyes, praise God, and tap into the well of joy and laughter Jesus has placed in me. For those who drink this glorious water will never thirst again (John 4:14).
Anointing for ministry is only as powerful as the sacrifice behind it. How well do ministers understand that sacrifice?
I Samuel 10:1 tells us that the prophet Samuel poured a box (or flask) of oil on Saul’s head when he anointed him to be king. Oil in scripture can serve as a symbol of the Holy Spirit, who came upon Saul mightily. The Holy Spirit empowered Saul to do his job as king. David, who succeeded Saul, acknowledged this fact continually.
David had great respect for God’s anointing on Saul’s life. Many times in scripture he refers to Saul as “The Lord’s anointed.” David did not dare harm Saul, because He knew God’s prophet Samuel had indeed anointed Saul.
Saul started out strong, following after God. His anointing didn’t last, however. That’s because he didn’t appreciate the truth supporting his anointing. As a result, he acted foolishly. This happened as he prepared to do battle against the Philistines. Samuel, the man God chose to make the sacrifice prior to waging war (I Samuel 13:8-10), had not arrived within the set time limit. As his men scattered from him, Saul panicked. He took matters into his own hands and sacrificed the burnt offerings and peace offerings himself. As a result, the Holy Spirit left him (I Samuel 16:14).
B. The Failure of Man-made Sacrifice
Like Cain, Saul discovered the hard way that you can’t earn God’s favor through your own labor. Think about it: Cain offered to God the fruit of the ground over which he had labored with his own blood, sweat and tears. Saul pretty much did the same thing – not by offering fruit and vegetables contrary to God’s law – but by stepping into the priest’s role. Saul, who was not a priest, made the sacrifice himself. Did he take the time to ponder the meaning behind the sacrifice? Not likely.
The point is this: Forgiveness of sins requires the shedding of blood. The Jews knew this. To escape Egypt, they had to sacrifice a lamb and place its blood upon their door posts. Moreover, the lamb must be spotless, without flaw or blemish. For Saul to offer such a lamb rashly – and improperly as well, was a foolish thing to do.
In Matthew chapter 25, Jesus tells a parable of ten virgins preparing for a wedding feast. Five, he says, were wise. They had plenty of oil. But five were very foolish. They let their oil run out.
This parable leaves much to ponder. For example, if oil represents the Holy Spirit, how could the foolish ones let it run out?
Saul, I believe, was like one of the foolish virgins. He started with the Holy Spirit, but the Holy Spirit left him because of his disobedience.
But the Holy Spirit never left David.
Both kings were anointed. What was the difference?
C. Saul Got the Box; David Got the Horn
Well, we might want to consider the difference in symbolism, because Samuel used a box (or flask) of oil to anoint Saul. However, he used a horn of oil to anoint David. The story behind the horn, of course, goes all the way back to Abraham and the sacrifice that saved the one God called his “only son.”
It all points back to Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross, foreshadowed in the symbolism of this story. How well do ministers of this gospel understand the meaning behind that sacrifice? Do we rest on Christ’s finished work for us or choose to take matters into our own hands?
God’s kindness cures our blindness because it’s not there to remind us
Of that hideous black monster known as sin, For if He focused on our sin, we’d never win.
God’s Kindness To The Man Born Blind
“So, Master, who sinned – this man or his parents -, that he was born totally blind?”
Jesus’ disciples asked him (as recorded in the gospel of John, chapter 9), for they wished to know His mind.
“Neither He nor His parents sinned,” Jesus answered. “He was born blind so that God’s works (i.e. His miracle power) might be manifest in him.”
Jesus showed God’s kindness by healing the man’s blindness. This miracle opened people’s eyes to see that God is good. He knew a dark hour was coming, and he wanted them to see that anything apart from God is vanity (see Ecclesiastes 12:8-14).
“While I’m in the world, I am the world’s light,” Jesus said. The miracles He did gave proof that He was the Messiah, the Savior – not condemner – of the world (see John 3:17).
Jesus healed all sorts of people, not just the blind. To those who criticized Him for healing on the Sabbath, He explained that healing shows God’s kindness.
For example, in Mark chapter 3:4 Jesus compared healing a man’s withered hand to doing good and saving a life. Then in Luke 14:5, He compared healing a man with dropsy to pulling a donkey or ox out of a pit. In Luke 13:16, He used the analogy of leading an ox or donkey to water to describe his deliverance of a woman who had a spirit of infirmity. And in Matthew 9:6 he connected the healing of a paralyzed man with forgiving the man’s sins.
For “All have sinned and fall short of God’s glory,” according to Romans 3:23. “The whole head is sick, and the whole heart faint.” (Isaiah 1:5). “We are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousness is as filthy rags; and we all do fade as a leaf; and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away.” (Isaiah 64:6)
No one deserves a miracle from God. That’s the point. “But who has believed our report?” Isaiah asks in chapter 53, verse 4.
Those who think they’ve earned God’s kindness
Are still walking in blindness,
Not realizing that miracles aren’t granted
Based on their worth,
But Jesus wants them to undergo a second birth
So that they can see God’s kingdom come on earth.
“Believe the works (the miracles), that you may know, and believe, that the Father is in me, and I in Him.” John 10:38
An angry god would condemn a blind man, but God’s kindness removes a person’s blindness every time.
Walking in Faith
God’s kindness removes our blindness by leading us to repentance.
“For the invisible things of Him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead…” Romans 1:20
Jesus used something that He Himself had made to help a blind man see what had remained invisible to him since birth. He used his own spit mixed the dirt to anoint the man’s eyes.
At first glance, it might seem like a strange thing to do, but keep in mind that Jesus was pure and holy, without sin. Moreover, every part of Him, even His saliva, had been consecrated to God at His baptism. His spit came from a mouth that spoke God’s Word, defeating every temptation the devil threw at him.
Consider for a moment how tempted Jesus might have been to walk right past the blind man and refrain from healing him. Surely, he knew how it would anger the religious leaders to hear that once again He had healed a man on the Sabbath. The heartless, albeit religious thing to do would have been to wish the man well and leave him alone.
However, Jesus believed in giving him the things his body needed, which in this case happened to be sight (see James 2:16).
I believe that as Jesus spat into the dirt, He placed a seed of pure faith into it. He placed it on the man’s eyes, then sent him to wash in the pool of Siloam.
Jesus had provided the faith. Now it was up to the man. Would he take that faith and act on it or would he hide it like the talent burier in the parable? After all, he couldn’t see yet and I’m sure he needed some help getting to that pool.
This is where trust comes in, because if we really believe God’ kindness can cure our blindness, we’ll accept help from other believers. For even if one of them makes a wrong step while leading us to the pool of God’s Word, we’ll still make it. Then, when we apply that Word to the faith with which Jesus has touched our eyes, we can be cured of our blindness.
That’s what the blind man did. He activated Jesus’ seed of faith by going to Siloam (which means “sent”) and washing in the water. As he washed, he got his miracle.
The man’s belief in God’s kindness removed his blindness, because he saw that God was good and took the time to put feet to this faith.
Let’s contrast his view of God with the talent burier who called his master “a hard man.” (see Matthew 25:24) Because he saw him as a hard man, he hid his faith treasure in the dark, but his Master wanted that treasure brought into the light.
“For everyone that does evil hates the light, neither comes to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved. But he that does truth comes to the light, that his deeds may be made manifest, that they are wrought in God.” – John 3:20-21
Faith is a priceless treasure for those who see Jesus as He truly is.
Those who are blind to His kindness, however, tend to bury their faith rather than walk in it.
That’s why the master in the parable was displeased with the talent burier, for without faith it is impossible to please God (Hebrews 11:6), “… for he that comes to God must believe that He is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek Him.”
So much for keeping one’s faith to one’s self. Had the blind man buried his faith by neglecting to wash, he wouldn’t have been healed.
“For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.” – James 2:26
Thankfully, the blind man acted on his faith. As a result, he received his miracle.
“Let them alone. They are blind leaders of the blind. And if the blind lead the blind, both shall fall into the ditch.” Matthew 15:14
The man who had been healed of his blindness was doing great. Then someone brought him to the Pharisees for questioning.
The religious leaders couldn’t get past the red lights flashing on and off inside their heads.
“Warning! Sabbath breach! No healing on the Sabbath.” The ideas that held those warnings in place remained firmly entrenched inside their minds. First, they questioned whether or not the man had actually been born blind. Then they asked who had opened his eyes.
They even called his parents in to verify the information. They acknowledged that yes, indeed, their son had been born blind.
“How is it that he sees now?” they asked the parents.
“We don’t know. Ask him,” answered his frightened mom and dad. They knew that if they said, “Jesus did it” that the Pharisees would kick them out of the synagogue.
So, they approached the healed man once again. This time, instead of questioning him, they assaulted him with their rigid, iron-clad opinion: “We know this man is a sinner.”
Instead of praising God that the man had been healed, they argued with him. That’s how cold religion treats God’s treasures.
“I knew you were a hard man.” Dig, dig, dig. “That’s why I wrapped my talent in a blindfold and dumped dirt on it.”
Like the men who blindfolded Jesus and insulted them as they beat up on him, the Pharisees trashed the ex-blind man and tried to invalidate his miracle.
The man who had been born blind thought they were crazy. “We know that God doesn’t hear sinners,” he told them. “But if any man worships God and does His will, God hears him. This is the first known time in history that any man has opened the eyes of the blind. If this man was not of God, he could do nothing.” (John 9:31-33)
Only a theologian with a very complicated view of God could mess up such a simple, child-like line of reasoning.
That’s exactly what those Pharisees were: complicated theologians. Their rigid perception of God’s law in regard to the Sabbath day holy blinded them to God’s greatest commandment:
“Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind;and love your neighbor as yourself.” (see Luke 10:27, Deuteronomy 6:5, and Leviticus 19:18)
“You were born in sins,” they told the man. “How dare you lecture us?”
In other words, “If you were born blind, it’s because either you or your parents sinned.”
Apparently, the Pharisees had sin, not love, on the brain. Instead of rejoicing that God in His kindness had healed the man’s blindness, they kicked him out of the synagogue. How is that for loving your neighbor? How is that for loving God?
“For this is the message that you heard from the beginning, that we should love one another.” I John 3:11
“But he who hates his brother walks in darkness, and walks in darkness, and doesn’t know where he’s going, because that darkness has blinded his eyes.” John 2:11
God’s Kindness When Blindness Is Caused by Sin
Like When a Potter Dumps Ashes on Your Head
God’s kindness cures our blindness, no matter what the cause.
One time on television, a woman who had been blind came forward.to testify that she had just been healed. As it turned out, witchcraft had caused her to go blind. It was like a log of offense in her eyes and a stumbling block to her feet. In order to her to see God clearly, the lies behind the witchcraft had to be removed. The preacher’s gospel message removed those lies. That’s how God’s kindness cured her blindness.
The following scriptures talk about witchcraft and why God hates it:
“And when they shall say unto you, Seek unto them that have familiar spirits, and unto wizards that peep, and that mutter: should not a people seek unto their God? For the living to the dead?
To the law and to the testimony: if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them.” Isaiah 8:19-20
According to this passage, people involved in witchcraft or who possess familiar spirits have no light in them. The light they think they have is darkness. It is as if an invisible but very hairy potter has dumped ashes on their heads. The ashes look hairy, but boy are they scary!
“Regard not them that have familiar spirits, neither seek after wizards, to be defiled by them: I am the Lord your God.” Leviticus 19:31
“And the soul that turns after such as have familiar spirits, and after wizards, to go a-whoring after them, I will even set my face against that soul, and will cut him off from among his people.” Leviticus 20:6
“There shall not be found among you anyone that makes his son or his daughter to pass though the fire, or that uses divination, or an observer of times, or an enchanter, or a witch, or a charmer, or a consulter with familiar spirits, or a wizard, or a necromancer.
For all that do these things are an abomination unto the LORD: and because of these abominations the LORD your God does drive them out from before you.” – Deuteronomy 18:10-12
As Jesus said in Matthew 6:22-23, “The light of the body is the eye: if therefore your eye is single, your whole body shall be full of light. But if your eye is evil, your whole body shall be full of darkness. If therefore the light that is in you be darkness, how great is that darkness!”
We see a stark difference between light and darkness in Acts 13:6-12, which shows Paul confronting a sorcerer named Bar-jesus (aka Elymas). Paul and Barnabas were trying to speak God’s Word to a deputy named Sergius Paulus, but Elymas kept disagreeing with him. He wanted to turn the deputy from the faith. But Paul looked straight at Elymas and pronounced a judgment of temporary blindness upon him.
“And immediately there fell on him a mist and a darkness; and he went about seeking some to lead him by the hand.” (verse 11).
“Then the deputy, when he saw what was done, believed, being astonished at the doctrine of the Lord.” (verse 12)
God’s kindness, demonstrated in the form of a judgment on the sorcerer, cured the deputy’s blindness. It also served as a warning to the sorcerer to turn from his wicked ways.
You can see why God hates witchcraft as well as any type of sorcery, which tries to put other gods before him contrary to the first commandment (see Exodus 20:3).
“Cast ye up, cast ye up, prepare the way, take up the stumbling block out of the way of my people!” – Isaiah 57:14
God doesn’t want us bowing to any other gods, and He condemns all forms of idolatry. (For a more detailed description of what those are, keep reading the passage in Exodus. God doesn’t want us to have idols, because idols are like logs in our eyes. They get in our way and make us stumble. For those of us who like to justify our idols (and that’s everyone), consider this scripture:
“Their idols are silver and gold, the work of men’s hands.
They have mouths, but they speak not: eyes have they, but they see not:
They have ears, but they hear not: noses have they but they smell not.
. . . hands, but they handle not: feet have they, but they walk not:
Neither speak they through their throat.
They that make them are like unto them; so is every one that trusts in them.” – Psalm 115:4-8
Idols have eyes but don’t see, and the same holds true for those who worship them. Idolatry blinds people’s eyes to God, for we become like what we worship.
Ah, but greater is God’s Holy Spirit who lives in the believing Christian than Satan, who is the force behind all witchcraft and idolatry (see I John 4:4).
It is God’s kindness to remove such logs from our eyes. God’s kindness can cure our blindness if we’ll allow Him to.
Fresh Vision of God’s Kindness For a Lukewarm Church
“Where there is no vision, the people perish: but he that keeps the law, happy is he.” – Proverbs 29:18
God’s kindness cured Paul’s blindness,
Though that blindness came from Christ,
Because Paul didn’t fear Him
Until he was put on ice.
While he was on a mission hot
To jail all who believed,
A light shone on him suddenly.
What a shock the man received!
“Where there is no vision, the people perish: but he that keeps the law, happy is he.”
Paul thought that he was doing right,
Upholding God’s own law,
As he imprisoned Christians.
In his plan he saw no flaw.
A Pharisee of Pharisees,
He kept every command
Gamaliel taught him to keep,
Yet failed to understand
God’s grace supplied by Jesus
Who detained him on the road
And asked him as he trembled,
“Why do you kick against the goad?”
For Paul thought he was doing right.
His actions lacked no zeal.
His vision, though, lay broken,
Waiting for someone to heal.
“Where there is no vision, the people perish: but he that keeps the law, happy is he.”
Like the man born blind from birth,
This Paul required a fresh start
To complete the miracle
That Jesus planted in his heart.
So, God chose Ananias
To act as His healing tool.
He placed his hands upon Paul’s eyes
And led him to the proverbial pool
Immediately, Paul could see again.
The scales fell from his eyes.
Like a man who had been newly born,
He arose and was baptized.
God’s kindness had cured his blindness,
So, he called on Jesus’ name,
For God had given him a vision,
And a calling free from shame.
“Where there is no vision, the people perish: but he that keeps the law, happy is he.”
The vision Paul pursued
Was not to hold onto God’s law,
As if he knew to keep it like the One
Who has no flaw.
It was, rather, the Law of Liberty
That comes from Christ,
A vision centered on His grace
And not on cold advice.
God’s kindness cured Paul’s blindness, and that’s what God is doing in His church today. Can you hear Him speaking to us like Jesus spoke to the “Lazy-to-see-you” Laodicean church in Revelation 3:15?
He tells them, “Your works are neither cold nor hot.” In other words, they weren’t cold toward Jesus, but they weren’t on fire either. It’s as if they wanted to please everyone, but in the process could please no one. Instead of being hot or cold, they were just lukewarm, like a man taking a bath when he hears the doorbell ring.
“Who is it? Oh. It’s only Jesus. Tell him I’ll be there in a few.”
Meanwhile Jesus stands at the door and keeps on knocking. He wants to anoint the man’s eyes with special salve so he can see the stripes that paid for his healing.
God’s kindness waits to cure our blindness and give us fresh vision for our lives. The question is, will we accept his invitation?
“Behold, I stand at the door and knock: if any man hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me.” – Revelation 3:20