BGST Council, Faculty & Staff wish all our readers a joyful Christmas and a blessed New Year.
Christmas, Jesus and John
Christmas is a time to remember the coming of Jesus and all that he means to us. We also remember Joseph and Mary, the angels, the Magi and the shepherds, but how many of us spare a thought for the Great Path Straightener, the amazing John the Baptist? John came to “Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him” as foretold by the prophet Isaiah (40:3).
Amazing John? Judge for yourself. Even in his elderly mother Elizabeth’s womb, he was no ordinary foetus. When the pregnant Mary came into Elizabeth’s home, “the baby (John) leapt in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit” (Luke 1:41). Elizabeth told Mary that, “As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leapt for joy” (Luke 1:44). How did Elizabeth know it was for joy? Well, the Holy Spirit was in her and was the only one who could have revealed it to her. We know that the human foetus is able to hear inside the womb, but John could recognize the voice of Mary, and sense the presence of Jesus in her womb. Now that’s what I call amazing. No wonder all the four gospel writers devoted paragraphs to John, and Paul referred to him directly or indirectly (Acts 18:25; 2:38).
John is also amazing because of his fashion sense. Matthew and Mark tell us that “John’s clothes were made of camel’s hair and he had a leather belt around his waist” (Matt 3:4; Mark 1:6). Why did they mention his clothes when they were not fashion reporters and did not mention the clothes of other people?
Malachi 4:5 & 6 may provide a clue, for they record God’s words: “See, I will send the prophet Elijah before the great and dreadful day of the LORD comes. He will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers”. Let’s see what the angel told the aged Zechariah about the son, John, that he was going to have. Did the angel not say, “And he (John) will go before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to their children” (Luke 1:17)? So John the Baptist was coming in the spirit and power of Elijah. Now I wonder….what did Elijah wear?
This is how King Ahaziah’s men described a man they encountered: “He was a man with a garment of hair and a leather belt around his waist” (2 Kings 1:8). This was so distinctive that Ahaziah immediately said, “That was Elijah the Tishbite” (2 Kings 1:9). So, when John came wearing a garment of hair and a leather belt, what would the people of his time understand by that? That he was Elijah coming back as prophesied? It is likely that Jews familiar with the Hebrew Scriptures would make the connection; and Matthew and Mark were writing for a primarily Jewish readership.
But was John in fact Elijah? Jesus himself seems to have confirmed it after the execution of John. “But I tell you, Elijah has come, and they have done to him everything they wished, just as it was written about him” (Mark 9:13; 1 Kings 19:10).
Now John “came preaching in the Desert of Judea” (Matt 3:1). Hey! How many people are there in a desert? An important prophet like John should preach in crowded cities, right? Logic tells us that, if not PR gurus, advertising consultants, and why, almost every church evangelism committee you can think of! We plan evangelism campaigns to target crowds outside shopping malls, train stations, and other similarly crowded places. And yet, when John preached in the desert, “the whole Judean countryside and all of Jerusalem went out to him” (Mark 1:5). So it is not excellent planning that will bring success: it is doing what God has placed upon our hearts to do in humble obedience to His will.
Today, the norm is that we form committees and make our plans, and then pray that God will make our plans successful. Is that not reducing God to being our servant, a sort of genie able to answer our prayers? How often do we pay heed to where God wants us to do or go, and when? It is easier, is it not, to rely on human wisdom and human traditions?
This Christmas, when we think of Jesus, perhaps we should also think of what he said about human traditions: “You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to the traditions of men” (Mark 7:8).
Ouch, I felt that, for I too had blindly followed the human tradition of buying, wrapping and giving increasingly expensive so-called “Christmas gifts”, and forgetting Jesus’ commands to repent, to love and to go out and preach the gospel everywhere I go.
Ouch, if Christmas trees and snow and Santas and feasting and drunkenness are not man-made Christmas traditions with no basis in the Holy Bible, then what are they?
What did John come to preach? A popular “Christian leadership” course, like the numerous courses now sweeping over our nation and the Christian world? Actually John did what we would say was foolish, or folly in the eyes of the world. John shouted out (hey, you can’t whisper to large crowds, can you?), “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is near!” Wait a minute; is that not like saying that the listeners were all sinners? Who likes to be called sinful to his or her face? And yet, Jesus preached the very same message when he began his public ministry. “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is near!” he called out (Matt 4:17; Mark 1:15). Jesus came to forgive those who repent and believe in him, so that they may go to Heaven despite all the bad things they may have done.
This Christmas, what message are we going to proclaim to those around us, apart from “Cheers!” and “Merry (=Feasting & Drinking) Christmas!”?
Dr Quek Swee Hwa was the Chapel Speaker on December 13. He began with an exhortation on God, the Creator from a historical perspective followed by a message on King David's prayer in Psalm 86.
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