Choices

“(13) Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan to be baptized by him. (14) And John tried to prevent Him, saying, ‘I need to be baptized by You, and are You coming to me?”
(15) But Jesus answered and said to him, ‘Permit it to be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.’ Then he allowed Him.
(16) When He had been baptized, Jesus came up immediately from the water; and behold, the heavens were opened to Him, and He saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting upon Him. (17) And suddenly a voice came from heaven, saying ‘This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.’”  (Matthew 3:13-17)
                I have made a lot of bad choices in my life. I have made some good choices in my life. Then I have made a lot of choices that were somewhere in the middle. I see them now as missed opportunities for good. My life, your life, is chuck full of choices. Countless opportunities are decided upon every second of our lives. Each and every one of them is a gift from God. He gave us the gift of free will. God didn’t want mindless, robotic slaves there in a relationship with him for all eternity. God wanted us, and the angels, to have the choice on whether or not we loved Him and entered into a relationship with Him. He knew some of us wouldn’t choose him. He knew Lucifer wouldn’t choose Him. He allowed these things to be so that I, and you, could come into existence and make a choice of our own. He loved me enough to endure the sin, the evil, and the heartache of this world. For me. For you. For all of us.
                These four verses are chuck full of choices. There John was preaching to the gathered masses about the coming Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. John is baptizing people into repentance so that they can ready their hearts and souls for the coming Son of God. So there he is with a long line of people waiting to be baptized. John finishes with the person, the soul, in his hand and turns around to speak and bless the next person in line. And who is the next person in line? Jesus. His Cousin. The Man John knows to be the Son of God. The very person John has been heralding to the masses for some time now. There Jesus is, standing waist deep in the river, before John waiting to be baptized by him.
                John has a choice here. He can esteem himself here. He can call out to the masses, saying, “Look! Here is the guy I’ve been telling you about! He is the greatest! And look! HE wants me to baptize Him! See how amazing I am?!”   I can’t count how many times I have made that choice. I took a situation that really shouldn’t have been about me and turned it into a situation where it was all about me. John has that choice now. This would have done wonders for his career. This was an amazing moment for him. Jesus is honoring him above all men by allowing John to be the one to baptize him. This is a big deal. John chooses to humble himself. He admits Jesus is higher than him in all ways, that he himself needs to be baptized by the fire of Christ. And yet Jesus wants to be baptized by a lesser man than Himself? Why?
                Jesus doesn’t need to be baptized. Jesus is without sin. Jesus is the Son of God. Jesus Christ is God among us. He has done nothing needing repentance. Jesus had nothing to confess. There were no skeletons in His closet. So John is not only humbled, but He is bewildered. Later in the Gospels Jesus esteems John above all men, saying John is the greatest man to have ever lived. Ever. You and I can never come close to the greatness of John in God’s eyes. And even this man tells Jesus…you don’t need me for anything. I am the one who needs you. So if Jesus needed nothing from the greatest man in all of human history—past, present, and future—what could Jesus possibly need from any of our own works. John needed Jesus. We need Jesus. I need Jesus. It is never the other way around.
                Jesus has a choice here. He could command John to baptize him. Jesus could blow off John’s profession and confession of need for Him and simply baptize Himself. Jesus could have said ‘screw it’ and left the river Jordan. Jesus could have done any number of things. His choice, however, is to give choice back to John. Jesus knows John needs Him, and Jesus doesn’t tell John no. Instead He says, “Permit it to be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.”
                Permit. Permit isn’t a command. Jesus, the Son of God, asks John to allow Him to be baptized by John. He asks John to do this for Him. He gives John the chance to say no.  John could have said no, and made excuses of not being good enough, not worthy enough, or any other thing. Jesus, Lord and Savior, asks John to do this favor for Him. John humbled himself, and Jesus lifted John up to His equal. He said, “Cousin, please do this for me.”
                But Jesus doesn’t stop there. Not only does He lift John up to an equal but He includes John in the rest of His statement. Jesus could have easily have said, “for thus it is fitting for me to fulfill all righteousness.” Jesus includes John. Jesus doesn’t esteem Himself higher than John. Jesus tells John that it is fitting that they, together, fulfill all righteousness. Jesus tells us it is fitting that we, together, fulfill all righteousness. He says it to John; and through John He says it to you and to me. It is fitting for us to do things, righteous things, with Jesus. It is fitting for us to be in a relationship with God. He doesn’t want mindless slaves, He wants a family. Son and daughters. He is our Father.
                The unspoken choice is Jesus’ decision to submit Himself to the will of God. Jesus doesn’t have to be baptized. Jesus doesn’t need to be baptized. There is no valid reason for Him to walk all the way to the Jordan. There is no need for Him to get dirty and wet in the only clean clothes He has. He has no need to surrender His higher status, again, to submit Himself to the ceremony of His created beings. He could have said, “Look, Dad, there is no reason I should do this. So I’m not going to. It just doesn’t make any sense. It isn’t logical.” How many times have I used every single one of those arguments? Too many. Jesus doesn’t use any of them, and He had every right to use them. It isn’t about what rights Jesus has. It is about what God wants for Jesus, and what God wants for us.
                Jesus, the Son of God, God-man on earth is not less than God. Jesus submitted to God’s will. He made the choice to give up His choice to obey the choice God had for Him. It wouldn’t be the last time Jesus does this. Jesus was submissive to the will of God. Too often in this world people associate the choice of submitting to being considered lesser. Jesus is not lesser than God. Jesus made the choice to put another’s will before His own. Which is what submitting is. It is putting someone else first. Jesus put God first. So if Jesus, the Son of God, God-man on earth….chose to submit to God’s will for Him …what right or excuse can the rest of us come up with that somehow gets us out of doing the same? I have tried many excuses, and flaunted many such ‘rights’ I thought I had. Then I read a passage like this and I am shamed, humbled, and am humiliated before the Lord.
                John made the choice of humbling himself before Jesus when John could have esteemed himself. Jesus made the choice esteeming John, and lifting John up to where he belonged at Jesus’ side. Jesus made the choice of humbling Himself before God when Jesus could have esteemed Himself. So what does God do? God makes the choice of esteeming Christ, and lifting Him up to where He belongs at God’s side.
                God, before the masses of people waiting to be baptized, and those who have already been baptized, speaks to the people of Israel. God has not spoken out loud to people in hundreds of years. God’s voice comes down from heaven where everyone can hear Him. God the Spirit comes down from heaven like a dove to light upon Jesus where everyone can see Him. God lifts Jesus up and claims Him. “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.”
               I wish I could have been there to see that. I wish I could have been there to witness this event. I wish I could have seen the looks on everyone’s face. I want to know what John’s face looked like in that moment. Most of all I wish I could have seen the fact of Jesus, who had humbled Himself in a way beyond our comprehension, who had just been publicly and obviously claimed by the Father. I doubt He looked smug. I doubt He had a look of superiority. My bet is that Jesus looked more humbled, more loved, and more beautiful than anything we can comprehend. And the next time I have a chance to esteem myself I hope I think of these four verses. I hope I can keep a humble heart. And if someone lifts me up, I hope I can capture a glimpse of Jesus’ grace…and remain humble, thankful, and full of love.
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Challenge of John the Baptist

“(1) In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, (2) and saying, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!’ (3) For this is he who was spoken of by the prophet Isaiah, saying:
‘The voice of one crying in the wilderness: “Prepare the way of the Lord; make His paths straight.”’
(4) Now John himself was clothed in camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist; and his food was locusts and wild honey. (5) Then Jerusalem, all Judea, and all the region around the Jordan went out to him (6) and were baptized by him in the Jordan, confessing their sins.
(7) But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them, ‘Brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? (8) Therefore bear fruits worthy of repentance, (9) and do not think to say to yourselves, “We have Abraham as our father.” For I say to you that God is able to raise up children to Abraham from these stones. (10) And even now the ax is laid to the root of the trees. Therefore every tree which does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. (11) I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance, but He who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. (12) His winnowing fan is in His hand, and He will thoroughly clean out His threshing floor, and gather His wheat into the bar; but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.’” (Matthew 3:1-12)
                John the Baptist fascinates me. In other Gospels you learn he is a miracle birth himself. His parents were far beyond the age of child rearing, but God blessed them with John. In the Gospel of Luke you learn that story, and how John was filled with the Holy Spirit in his mother’s womb. I wonder what he was like as a child. John the Baptist and Jesus Christ are cousins. If they got together for play dates back then, what would that be like for the both of them? John knew who Jesus was when John was still in his mother’s womb, and when Jesus was still in His mother’s womb. What really fascinates me about John, though, is what Jesus said about him. Jesus said that John is the greatest man to ever live. In the eyes of our Lord and Savior no man will ever reach the level of John the Baptist. I want to know what he was like, what his voice sounds like.
                John had some fire in him, and more courage than I ever realized before. He is out in the wild, preaching and teaching, doing things that are normally done in temples and performed by men trained to them. The Pharisees and Sadducees. But here is John, a wild man who eats locusts and honey. I have never known anyone to be completely filled with the Holy Spirit, so in my mind I bet John had a glow about him. I see him with a spark in his eyes that is both kind and compassionate, and then also burning with the truth of God’s judgment. I doubt it was easy to look John in the eyes. I doubt he was an overly clean man, probably not well groomed considering he lived in the wild. He lived in Judea, Israel, so I have no doubt he had that manly musk of sweat and dirt about him. I seriously doubt he looked anything like the normal teachers of the day. None of that mattered to the people who listened to what he had to say. They didn’t care that he was lowly, poor, and ‘uneducated’ to the standards of that day. The people believed him. I never saw him nor heard him, but I believe him too.
                Now I want to be like John, but I came to John as one of the Pharisees and Sadducees. Maybe just as you are coming to this passage as a Pharisee or Sadducee. I was one of the brood of vipers. I did not come to John to hear what he had to say, I came to basically assure myself that whatever he was saying isn’t true. We have all heard of hell, and the burning torment that will come upon us unless we are saved through the blood of Jesus Christ. So a lot of nonbelievers, and I was one of them, come to the Bible and to Christians to prove them wrong.
                The Pharisees and Sadducees had their reasons for why they shouldn’t listen to John the Baptist concerning Jesus. They were the sons of Abraham, whom God made a covenant with. By that very fact alone they assumed they would get to heaven. The Pharisees and Sadducees also believed themselves to be very righteous, religious people whom God would welcome into Heaven with open arms. These are the two key mistakes I made, and probably the two key mistakes a lot of people make today.
                First is disbelief. Their reason was they were born Jews of the bloodline of Abraham. My reason for disbelief was the hypocrisy I saw among religious people. I was a pagan, worshipping God through nature. Maybe you are an atheist, or a Buddhist, or a Muslim. Whatever you want to call it you believe something else, even if that something else is nothing at all. And according to whatever you believe, when you die, you will be perfectly fine. John tells us that when we come before the judgment seat of God whatever we believed, or assumed, or thought was true isn’t going to matter. God isn’t going to give us a ‘get out of jail free’ card because we casually dismissed him for whatever we thought was better or truer. There are very few people in this world who will be able to claim ‘I didn’t know’. If you are reading this, you definitely can’t claim that. You know. The Pharisees and Sadducees knew.
                “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” John cried this out. He cried this out over and over again. He cried it out so loudly that it created such a stir that the Pharisees and Sadducees had to come see what the big hoopla was all about. He is, still to this day, crying it out loud enough through the Bible and other people that it brought me (a viper) down out of my nest to see what all the hoopla is about.
                The second key mistake I had been making was my belief that my good works was enough. I, after all, was a good person. I didn’t steal. I didn’t kill people. I paid my taxes. I was generally a nice person most of the time. So when I die—and all this stuff turns out to be true—I figured God was a loving God and would let me in because of my good behavior. My tree bears good fruit. Well it does if you cut out all those ‘little white lies’ I tell, but that is only to be nice to people. Oh, and the cutting people off on the road, or in the parking lot, or in a line on Black Friday. But those are just small things. And God surely won’t mind all my cursing, swearing, and taking His name in vain. He should overlook all that worshipping another god before Him….even though it is His first commandment. Because I am nice, and good, and shiny, and pretty. Well I am if you overlook all the sin in my life that God clearly states is sin in the Bible. But God is a loving God, so I should be all good. My fruit, after all, is mostly good. 80/20. Okay maybe more like 60/40. Maybe even 50/50 on a bad day, but those don’t happen to often. Either way, God will understand.
                Yeah. Right. Jesus told us that John the Baptist is the greatest man to ever live. He is the best. He is the most good. If there was ever a tree who would bear good fruit…it would be John’s tree. Jesus is telling me I will never be as good as John. If you can’t accept that, check your pride. John was a good guy all the time. I somehow doubt he had 50/50 days. So what does John tell me? Even he, the best man to ever live, isn’t worthy enough to carry the sandals of Jesus. John says he isn’t even good enough to be the slave of Jesus. So if the greatest man to ever live…by God’s own decree…isn’t good enough to the lowest slave of Jesus…where do I stand? John is the greatest man, and even he can’t do it without Jesus. Even John the Baptist needs the saving blood of Jesus Christ.
                As a viper this made me uncomfortable. In my heart of hearts I knew I was no John the Baptist. So I knew I couldn’t escape hell by claiming my own awesomeness and shiny parts wouldn’t appease God. Once I sorta chewed on that I began to doubt my excuse of not believing would go over well with him either. Somehow I didn’t think God would look favorably on “Yeah I thought I was awesome and I didn’t believe anything you had to say to me.” Sounds kind of disrespectful. Okay to be honest it sounds completely disrespectful. So with my eternal soul at stake (forever is a very long time to spend in hell) I thought I could devote enough of my time to read one Gospel. I actually read the Gospel of John, and I know this is the Gospel of Mark. I am starting with Mark because Mark focuses on the sheer volume of prophecies Jesus actually fulfills. I’ll get to John, and hopefully you will to.
                So I changed my mind, I repented. When Jesus takes his winnowing fan to the threshing floor…I don’t want to be the chaff. For those of you who don’t know what that really means—I didn’t either—here is a small wheat harvesting lesson. They used to gather up wheat in a bar. Then they would come out with this big shovel like spatulas to dig into the wheat harvest. They would toss and bounce the wheat on the shovel thingy to separate out the chaff. The wheat, being heavy, would fall back onto the shovel. The chaff, being light, would get caught in the air and blow away. They would then sweep up the chaff once they were done and throw it into the fire.  I was very lucky that someone cared enough for me to make me read the Bible for myself. I made my own decision.   I am eternally grateful that when it is my turn to be tossed into the air, I will fall back into the safety of Jesus’ harvest…rather than meet the burning end of the furnace.
                It’s strange to think that these twelve verses changed my life. I chewed on them, pondered them, and arrogantly took up the challenge to read the Bible. I, after all, knew better and wouldn’t be swayed. I chuckle at those thoughts now. Jesus did baptize me with the Holy Spirit. I might not glow or look like John did…but my insides, my heart and soul, have never again felt cold or empty or lost. I have a peace I couldn’t ever achieve on my own. My Raggedy Andy caused me to pick up the Bible to meet John the Baptist. John the Baptist stirred me up enough to meet Jesus. Jesus came into my life with the Holy Spirit to sink into a relationship with God. And nothing in my life has been the same since. And for that I will always be humbly, deeply, lovingly grateful.