Saturday, March 26, 2005

What Heaven Gives By Taking Away

by Keith Brenton

It has to be a disappointment to watch your ministry die. When you've given up a "normal" lifestyle; when you've been the one to whom people came in droves; when you've been privileged to immerse them as a testimony of their penitence and desire to be washed from sin. But it comes at an inopportune time. You've just moved the ministry from Bethany-on-the-Jordan to a better location at Aenon near Salim, where there's plenty of water, and things are looking pretty good.

One day you come to work in your camel's hair suit after a quick breakfast of Locust Toasties (Now With Honey!) and find your staff arguing at a distance with some fellow who says you're not baptizing people the right way. You wait a moment, wondering if you're really up to this today, when your staff comes over to you and says: "Rabbi John! That man who was with you on the other side of the Jordan River - the one you testified about? You know? - Well, he is baptizing out in the Judean countryside ... and everyone is going to him!"

It's not like you haven't seen it coming. The numbers have been falling off for some time, and you might have chalked it up to the move. But you saw it coming when you saw Him by the river - and perhaps saw Him for Who He is for the first time.

Your younger Cousin, the one your mom told you about from the time you could understand speech. The one you looked forward to playing with when Aunt Mary and Uncle Joseph would come to town for Passover. You recognized Him in the crowd who came to be immersed in the river, and were glad to recognize Him in front of everyone: "Look! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!"

He was everything you have worked toward; the culmination of everything you have tried to prepare them for. And now His time has come. He's doing what you do. He's baptizing. You would have to wonder: Has He already begun to baptize with the Holy Spirit and with fire, as well as in water? Or will that come later? Is that why this visitor is charging that I'm baptizing the wrong way?

Your staff looks at you for an answer. It's time to show His grace. "A man can receive only what is given him from heaven," you say. "The bride belongs to the groom; not the best man. The best man is elated to see the groom coming down the path to the wedding tent. That's how I feel about it: joyous! It's His time now, not mine."

Perhaps you pause to let it sink in, then add: "Look, the one who comes from above is naturally above all; the one who is from the earth naturally belongs to it, and speaks in earthly terms. The one from heaven speaks of what He has seen and heard in heavenly terms, and it's no wonder that it's hard to accept and that few do. But the ones who do are confirming that God is truthful. God sent Him; He speaks God's words - for God gives the Spirit in an unlimited way. God is His Father, who loves Him, and has given Him everything. Anyone who believes in the Son will live forever; anyone who rejects Him receives God's wrath and death."

There is a part of you that has a sense of deja vu; that the words you have just said are words He has said recently. There's no explicable way that you could know that the person He said them to was Nicodemus, the councilman, visiting Him at night.

You look at your staff. You wait to see if they will stay with you. They look uncertain.

It doesn't matter. You started out without a staff. You still have the serenity with which you began; the one thing heaven gives by taking away everything else. You'll do what God has given you to do; whatever the numbers, the vestments, the food, the income. No matter what God gives you to say; no matter what king you have to stand up to; no matter what end might await.

It's your job. And there is no other job like it in the world.

- from the account in John 3:22-36


Blogger David U said...

I don't think we appreciate this cousin of Jesus enough.....I know I don't. Thanks for putting him before us in this manner! Even if he was a Baptist. :)

3/26/2005 11:46:00 AM  
Blogger DJG said...

Ahh David, what a great line. I really enjoyed this Keith, I don't know how I have been missing this blog. I needed to read this today.

3/27/2005 05:14:00 PM  
Blogger Deana Nall said...

Working with teens, we definitely feel like we're out in the wilderness most of the time. I really forgot what "normal" felt like long ago.

Now, if I could just decide. Honey ON the locusts, or on the side?

3/27/2005 07:42:00 PM  

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