Tuesday, 9 October 2007

STM Chapel: "I Am Not The Christ"

In response to my earlier post on "Strange Fire on Defiled Altar" and the Rabbi's post on "The Higher You Go, The Harder You Fall," I thought that it might be good for me to blog about the sharing I gave in last week's STM Tuesday Chapel. It was the final week of the semester where I had the privilege to share with the STM community, particularly the graduating students, for the last time this year. I think we have much to learn from John the Baptist.


STM Tuesday Chapel - Sermon Transcript
October 2, 2007
Topic: I Am Not the Christ
Text: John 1:19-28; 3:22-30

If you have been following our Rabbi’s blog, you might be interested in his recent post titled “The Higher You Go, The Harder You Fall.” Rabbi's post highlights the rise and fall of many prominent Pentecostal preachers in recent months. This kind of news is hardly anything new. Over the years, the Christian church has witnessed numerous scandals of prominent preachers. These scandals range from sexual abuse, sexual immorality to financial mismanagement.

I have always pondered as to why there could be so many scandals in the Christian Church. After all, aren't we supposed to the salt and light of the world? Whatever happened to this calling of ours? Instead, our very behaviour informs the world that we are in fact no different from them. Somehow, I always suspect that many of these ministers/preachers caught in these scandals think that they can get away even when their scandals are exposed. Perhaps they think that their sins will not be discovered. Perhaps they think that the church would exercise more grace in the event that their embarrassments are revealed. But above all, I strongly suspect that these people think they are invincible, above the law, and perhaps they are next to God. As such, they have all the authority to do whatever their fleshly desires lead them. After all, who dares to touch the Lord's anointed?

But before we point our finger at others, let us admit that none of us is ever exempted from these scandals. Let us not make the mistake that we too are free from the temptation of the flesh, the lure of power and authority, and the quest for fame, fortune and success. If are not careful, we can fall into any one of these traps - be it sexual immorality or financial misappropriation. This is where our reflection takes us to John the Baptist.

In our first reading earlier on, we see that John is a popular figure (John 1:19-28). As a result of his popularity, the religious leaders from Jerusalem send a delegation to investigate John. This results in a series of Q & As. The first question the delegation asks is this: “Who are you?”

John answers, “I am not the Christ.”

Then comes the next question, "Then who are you? Are you Elijah?"

He said, "I am not."

"Are you the Prophet?"

He answered, "No."

This delegation is now getting anxious and concerned. They are not getting anything from John. He is not the Messiah, he is not Elijah, and he is not the Prophet. Who, then, is he? And so they press John, "Who are you? Give us an answer to take back to those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?"

John replied in the words of Isaiah the prophet, "I am the voice of one calling in the desert, `Make straight the way for the Lord.' "

Here we see a man who virtually refuses to dwell on himself. His clearly understands that his ministry is to magnify the coming Messiah, the Christ. He knows he cannot do so by talking about himself. He can only repeatedly said, “I am not the Christ.”

I really like this confession. This is the earliest Christian confession. And in many ways, I think this confession is better than the Heidelberg Catechism, the Apostle Creed, or Nicene Creed. And let me also suggest that this is perhaps the most important confession that we as ministers and future ministers of the gospel need to believe in firmly and strongly. Let us take to heart the confession of John the Baptist: “I am not the Christ. He must increase, and I must decrease.”

Let me also go further to suggest that this is one confession that will also protect us in our ministry so that we will not fall into the trap of sexual immorality, financial mismanagement and the temptation to compromise the truth of the gospel in our quest for fame, fortune and success. Let us be reminded that we are not the Christ. Jesus is the one that will build the church, not us. Jesus is the one that will be magnified, not us. Let us be reminded that we cannot draw people to ourselves – we have to point others away from us so that we can point them to Christ. This is where we can learn from John.

One day, some of John’s disciples came to him and said, "Rabbi, that man who was with you on the other side of the Jordan--the one you testified about--well, he is baptizing, and everyone is going to him." (John 3:22-30). Well, after Jesus begins his ministry, many of John’s disciples abandon him and decide to follow Jesus. Those who are loyal to John begin to lodge their protest: "Master, don’t you care that you are loosing ground – your grassroots are switching camp."

John responds, "A man can receive only what is given him from heaven. You yourselves can testify that I said, `I am not the Christ but am sent ahead of him.' The bride belongs to the bridegroom. The friend who attends the bridegroom waits and listens for him, and is full of joy when he hears the bridegroom's voice. That joy is mine, and it is now complete. He must become greater; I must become less."

What an answer. What a beautiful reply from John the Baptist. Here is a man who knows the purpose of his ministry and mission in life - to point others away from him so that he could point them to Christ. It does not matter if his followers decide to switch camp to follow after Jesus. After all, that is his purpose - to point others to the coming Messiah. Let us also learn that our ministry is not to draw people to us. Instead, our ministry is to point others to the soon coming King.

Allow me to close with this illustration in which I will dramatise a little bit the image that John uses in his reply to his disciples. Some of you know it very well, but some of you will probably have to use your imagination a little bit. In every wedding, if you are the best man, you know you are the best man for the job when you know that you are not the groom, but just a best man. Just imagine that in this particular wedding where you are the best man. Here you are, standing in front of the sanctuary with the groom. The anxiously awaited moment has arrived, and the bride is now marching in towards the front of the sanctuary. All eyes are now on the beautiful bride, and the groom is getting all excited. In fact, he’s getting a little nervous. He could feel his heart palpitating, and his palms are getting all sweaty. And his eyes are all on his bride. But as she marches closer, the groom suddenly realises that something is just now right – just as he fixes his gaze on her, he realises that her eyes are just off centre. She is looking not toward him but elsewhere, to the best man that stands beside him. As he turns to look at the best man, he notices that the best man is playing eyes signal with her and the bride is responding to the best man. Now if you were the groom how would you have felt?

Friends, if we want to man and woman that God uses and one that remains faithful to him, don’t we dare to compete with the affection of the bride. Don’t we dare to be playing eyes with the bride and to cause her to fall in love with us. Don’t rob the attention of the bride to ourselves. Remember, friends, when the bride comes in, this is the hour for the bridegroom, and this is precisely where we fade away.

And this is the very confession of John: “I am not the Christ, he must increase and I must decrease.”

May this be so in our lives.

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