Photo by Cosmin Mîndru on Unsplash
Audio: iTunes | Spotify | Download
᛭ INI ᛭
We all need John the Baptist’s bony finger. We don’t really need him for anything else than that. Not his fashion sense. “A garment of camel’s hair and a leather belt around his waist.” (Mt 3) Not his diet. “His food was locusts and wild honey.” (Mt 3) He never “drank wine or beer.” (Lk 1) AN ascetic’s ascetic, John takes being minimalist to the extreme. Yet, we don’t need him for any of that, just one digit, just one finger, and, based on his diet, it was a bony one.
What are we to make of John? That’s what the religious leader’s wanted to know. What was this apparently wayward son of priest doing way out here in the wilderness? What sort of religious program was he offering? The Priests of Jerusalem, the Pharisees, and the crowds of sinners, tax collectors, and soldiers (Lk 3) wanted to know! He was doing an saying things, well, that set some on edge.
He didn’t fit in with anyone. It’s hard to fit in when you’re calling people, and especially the religious leaders, the children of Satan. Besides that, John was doing things the leaders didn’t like or understand. “Are you the Christ? Or Elijah? Or the Prophet?” “Then why are you baptizing if you’re not?” Fair questions. He did indeed “baptize with water”—got got him his nickname: “the Baptist.” (Though “Baptizer” is probably better, considering our modern Christian denomination landscape…)
His baptism wasn’t his own. His baptism was “a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” (Mk 1/Lk 3) Jesus testifies that John’s baptism was from heaven. (Mt 21) “John came in the way of righteousness…and the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him.” (Mt 21) They believed him not for his clothes or his diet. They believed not only because of his baptism that was for the forgiveness of sins, but that is part of what they needed him for. They needed John and they believed what he was telling them, for the very same reason we need John. All of us, like the tax collectors and sinners, need John the Baptist’s bony finger.
In John 1 we hear about the day when the theme for John’s sermon was just one word. No longer was the threat of axe and fire. All His many words gone. Now he was a voice in the wilderness crying just one word. One word. One finger. One bony finger. “Look!”
“Behold!” “There!” “Look!” Thankfully, He expands upon that briefest of messages. “Look! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.”
We’re in a sea of messages vying for our attention. Commercials. Ads. Pop ups. Notifications on our screens, our phones, our watches. Look here! Look there! Hurry on to the next thing, the next event, the next video, the next picture, the next post, the next assignment, the next chore, the next headline, the next disaster and worry. Faster, ever faster. Look, look, look! Go, go, go!
We’re in a mess of expectations we fail to meet. Our plates are too full. Figuratively. Literally, too, this time of year. Too much to do, too much to handle, too much to eat, too much everything. Even too much to remember. Not jus the things we forget, but the things we wish we could forget or not think about so much.
In such a mess, a guy like John seems appealing. Especially as we get closer to New Year resolution time. Minimalist John calling us to a life of minimalism, of repentance, of action. Too bad John doesn’t fit our categories. The prophets never did. They prefigure Jesus in that way. No, John’s message today cuts through all of that, cuts through all our attempts to save ourselves. In a sea of “Look, look, look!” “Go, go, go!”, John’s bony finger looms large: “Look! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.”
Jesus is the only solution, the only salvation. The world peddles all sorts of solutions for peace and quiet, but they never satisfy. No amount of screen time or books or taking in nature or sports or whatever other things or people we look or watch to escape our fear, our worry, our stress won’t work. In fact, all this is adding sin on top of sin. Looking elsewhere for help is sin. The things we need help from—just living life the way we do—that’s sin, too.
“Look! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” Jesus is indeed that for you. If He takes the world’s sin, He takes yours, too. John’s sermon is not only for ears and eyes, but for your heart. Look and see how God is toward you. Look and see! In Christ Jesus “the heavens really do shower from above. The clouds rain down righteousness.” “The earth opens and salvation and righteousness bear fruit.” Christ Jesus is the first fruit from the dead, the firstborn of many brothers.
Jesus actually removes your sin. If you see your sins as your own, John says, you need to get your eyes checked! “Look!” “There they are!” They have to be over there. They can’t be on you anymore. “Look! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” He takes them as His own, and He bears them all the way to the Cross. He buries them in His tomb. Only He comes out, His righteousness comes out, for you.
John’s message echoes through history. Whenever Jesus comes toward us, listen closely. Faith will hear him again. See his bony finger again. Doesn’t look like much does it? Look! The Font. “The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” Look! The Altar. “The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” And your sin, borne once for all by Jesus, is removed in the here and now by the same Jesus who comes today as your Lamb of God.
In the midst of our sins and failures that mount up to the sky, that the devil is so keen on reminding us about, we need that bony finger and his one word sermon: “Look!” What about your sins? Where are they? They aren’t yours, they aren’t mine anymore. How can they be? We need to get our eyes checked. In fact, you can preach John’s sermon to the devil who tries to make you guilty all over again. (You can also use it when he’s calling you to look and go after sin.) “Look! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.”
There’s a hymn that puts it this way. Well, it’s a hymn praying to Jesus, that says, Should some lust or sharp temptation Fascinate my sinful mind, Draw me to Your cross and passion, And new courage I shall find. Or should Satan press me hard, Let me then be on my guard, Saying, “Christ for me was wounded,” That the tempter flee confounded.
We all need John the Baptist’s bony finger. We don’t really need him for anything else than that. There’s more comfort in that one finger, more salvation in that one finger, than we can ever fully understand and appreciate in this life. Apart from him pointing, him speaking we wouldn’t know this good news: “Look! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” Your sin. My sin, too.