Ever tried God’s shoes on? Even the simplest of ways. Have you ever wished for a fleeting second that the temperature would stay a constant 70 degrees year-round? Ever wonder “why” with the mosquitoes, snakes, spiders, fill in the blank?
With a baby on the way, we were talking to some friends who’re in the same boat, about what it is to try to be prepared for the kid. We’ve registered at Babies R Us and seen eight different types of baby bottle and all that. So many options, so many choices potentially gone wrong. So, why oh why, God, not just have babies pop out as three-year-olds, potty-trained and talking?
These are wonderings, questions, towards God or whoever/whatever you might think is responsible for the order of things: why is it this way? How else could all this have gone? I like asking those questions of God like right now during “Epiphany” season when we spend a lot of time considering God as a man in Jesus. Talk about, “how else could this have gone?” It’s a wild time in earth’s history, for God to do what God does here. Particularly in John 1:29-42, right after Jesus is baptized. Read it if you will.
And look at the scene, as we watch the absolute starting point of this whole movement that would follow Jesus. And, I say, wonder how else this could have gone. Because it’s honestly a little strange, a little willy-nilly. Here John the Baptist, Jesus’ own cousin who was the special man sent to prepare the way for the Messiah, who has a following of his own, has just baptized Jesus and now realizes just who Jesus is. And to me it almost sounds like he is overwhelmed with the excitement of it, the surprise even — during these couple of days after the baptism, John and his followers are hanging around, and whenever Jesus comes by John just bursts out like he can’t hold it in, “LOOK, THE LAMB OF GOD!” And if he was so surprised, if he’s just finding all this out, him who should be Jesus’ right-hand man, what a strange way for God to operate.
Then, even more, when some of John’s disciples hear who Jesus is and decide to go follow him at a distance, curious about where he’s staying, Jesus turns to face them. And he doesn’t exactly sound cordial, does he? I mean, you can read it as almost rudeness. Here his first disciples ever are starting to feel him out and follow, and he turns around to ask, “What do you want?” We can wonder how this whole thing even panned out, eh? What’s God up to? Why not do it differently, like, to ensure a little better that this Jesus thing would stick.
So let’s take a minute to consider how else this could’ve gone. To do that, we’re stepping into God’s shoes a little bit, temporarily. Call it sacrilegious, but if you will, take a minute and really settle into pretending that you and I are God (it’s not real hard, we do it all the time). And we have all power and know-how at our disposal. And the universe actually does revolve around us:
So…what do we desire here by the Jordan with John and Jesus and these disciples? Well, that’ll take some review. As God, how’d we get ourselves to this point? Real quick, let’s think back. We just got done, moments ago, finishing making everything. Creating the universe, right? Finishing our masterpiece creature, the humans. Then resting. And it was all “good.” Remember that? Okay. And the very next thing, right after our humans jacked everything all up…we decided to save them. And to save everything. But how to do it…? Well we let the cat out of the bag over the years, through the prophets and lots of other things, that through the Jews in particular, and through one man, the Messiah, we would save things. And, truly, that Messiah is God, God in the flesh.
And what would we do in the flesh? What’s the Messiah up to? If we’re honest then, frankly, we sent him to die. We know that, and so does he. He knows that he came to earth to give up his life at the hands of evil men, so that he could enter into death, charge straight in, and destroy it once-and-for-all. He knows his mission.
But there’s more to the mission than just him dying. If that was all then we could just wait until he hit a ripe old age and let him pass painlessly in his sleep. We didn’t just send him to die, but to live. Because we need for people to get to know him, to believe in him, and to choose him as their Messiah to be saved. Otherwise his death would seem in vain.
Alright, so here we are on this day. Look at him, Jesus, he’s here on earth. He’s a good-looking young man (at least we think so). Maybe in his 20’s, just baptized, and it is GO time. I mean, he has a short time here while he’s still alive to teach, and do some discipling, and start a movement so he leaves some believers in his wake. Because, oooh, if we do a really good job the people won’t just believe and be saved, but even after Jesus leaves the earth, they’ll carry on without him. Think what that could mean! The movement won’t be limited by time – generations after generations can believe and be saved. And distance, geography, or culture won’t limit this thing – we’ll go way past just the Jews or Jerusalem, but to the ends of the earth. All that, we can redeem everything and bring it all back to us, if his followers are devoted enough and filled by our Spirit.
What an idea. That’s what we want. We want to bring them all back. And we’ll need serious enough followers that this movement will work and keep working and survive the wild/terrible days to come. After all, as God everything we’ve ever done in creation will depend on this. How to find true disciples…followers…how?
That’s the question we’re stepping into God’s shoes to answer. Forgetting how the story really went, standing here by the Jordan, how else would you or I go about starting this movement? How will we take this 20-something unknown named Jesus, who has no real credentials as far as we know, and have him generate a following that will last? There’s too much at stake here to mess around, we should be looking for a sure thing. So, how?
I’ll give you a hint, a starting point: think about the movements around us, in history and our culture, that are really strong. That have withstood time, or swept us up into them and have strong influence over us. Where do you see strong followings? Here are some that I think of, or that others offered up:
1) KISS fans. That’s right, my friends. The rock band. But think of other music groups, too. Do you know those devoted concert-followers? Whatever genre of music, there are some die-hard fans. Why? Maybe it’s the gimmick, the marketing. Throw on some face-paint and costumes, this whole image that KISS portrays, and maybe add to it the “sex, drugs, and rock & roll” deal. They invite their fans to share a wild experience.
So why not harness that kind of movement for Jesus. Here by the Jordan, let’s have him costume up, set off some pyrotechnics, stick out the long tongue, and invite the crowds into a rocker following? Promise them that lifestyle? It’s an option.
2) Football fans. Another type of fan, because we’re trying for Jesus to draw some devoted “fanatics.” So what about sports fans? Why do some of us go so hardcore for our team? My dad said, “Being raised right” is what produces Gamecock fans. Okay, so indoctrination, even as children. We connect a team to childhood and family and happy memories (or unhappy) and it shapes us for life. We see the same effect gone way too far with child soldiers in conflicts like that in Uganda, where young children are forced to kill and see/do dreadful things to desensitize them. It warps them into killers, ruthless soldiers. If we’re God looking for a sure thing to produce loyal disciples, why not turn to this kind of method? Indoctrination, desensitization. That leas us to another useful option…
3) Use of force. Like child soldiers, gangs, and so much more, why not go with outright coercion? Playing on fear, there are ways to threaten people into following. A gun to the head, “get in line or die.” If that doesn’t work, we could always take people’s loved ones hostage and threaten their lives. Now that’s persuasion. Here by the Jordan River why not move King Herod to drum up the army and force people to bow down to Jesus?
4) Addiction. Think about the drug dealer’s trick: give somebody a free little taste of the product, and you’ve got a client hooked for life.
Jesus could set up as the number one crack dealer in Israel, or whatever else. Could slowly get us all hooked and – suckas – you’re stuck following him for life. Can’t do without him then, can ya?
5) Debt. Okay, we can establish Jesus as the head loan shark in Palestine, and sooner or later everybody will owe him and he can own them all for life.
6) Bribery. Maybe easiest of all, we can just try to “reward” everybody. Say, give them all a salary for life and a beautiful pension if they follow Jesus. Ooh, if not wealth then status. We could set Jesus up as some famous playboy cruising the Gaza coast in his yacht. Make him one to be desired that way, a trend-setter, the elite. That throws in an air of this movement being exclusive, too. Only the few get past the velvet rope. That’s a powerful following.
The list can go on and on. Mighty influences around us, and there are plenty of other versions. The worst part is that so much of how we the Church approaches Jesus’ movement looks like some of these. Because some of these methods are just easy, they tap into deep human needs, and they can be about as close to a “sure thing” as we can get. If we’re God trying to create a solid movement, which do we choose? Think on it.
And compare now to what actually happens in John 1, and now today. Does God work any of these ways?
It won’t last. God wants us to choose. Jesus will never force himself on anyone. Ever.
And above all, God is love. Do we see any love in that list up there? Any goodness? Maybe a little here and there (music and sports, come on!). But not a whole lot, and I think none if anything on that list dominates our devotion and consumes all our following.
God is love and wouldn’t resort to schemes that would ruin the very creation God set out to save, just to hang onto it. So think carefully then about how God really worked (and works). All of those other options were at God’s disposal, but he loves us so much that he works this way in John 1.
It looks like a terrible long shot. There’s no good reason that John the Baptist, this raving lunatic in the wild, should’ve really attracted folks like he did. No promise of reward there. No coercion. But people started to follow. Why? Because something about his message rang true in the hearts of the people. They felt the truth and love of God in him. And because he was trusted, because of the credibility that the truth had given him with the people, when he vouches for Jesus it’s the beginning of something. He passes his credibility to Jesus, some of John’s own disciples believe it and start following Jesus instead. Those would-be disciples creep up from a distance, scoping out where Jesus is going. When Jesus stops to ask, “What do you want?” I don’t think it was rude. But he was clearly asking for the followers’ intentions. The disciples beat around the bush… “Where are you staying?” they ask. And Jesus replies: “Come and see.”
A wide open invitation from the King of all kings, from God in the flesh, to come and spend his time together. And the passage says, “they spent the day together until late in the afternoon.” By that time, the would-be disciples are full-fledged and on board. Followers for life. That was it. And lastly, they go off to their loved ones, Andrew goes to his brother Peter, and now they vouch for Jesus. And because of their intimate connection, their personal credibility together, Peter believes Andrew and comes to meet Jesus for himself. The cycle starts over again.
He didn’t pick any of the options on our man-made list of disciple-making techniques. Instead, they and we receive a chance to choose, an open invitation to follow or not. It’s a choice that takes intention (“What do you want?”) but that also leads to ultimate life in intimate connection to the One, True, Living God.