“As they went away, Jesus began to speak to the crowds concerning John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken by the wind? What then did you go out to see? A man dressed in soft clothing? Behold, those who wear soft clothing are in kings’ houses. What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. This is he of whom it is written, “Behold, I send my messenger before your face, who will prepare your way before you. Truly I say to you, among those born of women there has arisen no one greater than John the Baptist. Yet the one who is least in the kingdom is greater than he."
- Matthew 11: 2-11
My eyes brimmed with tears as I looked over these precious familiar words, my husband’s voice reading the Scriptures aloud to the congregation. I picture my first Bible, this whole section underlined. A small heart etched in the midst of the passage.
Today, James continued his Sermon on the Mount series by teaching on the fasted lifestyle in Matthew 6:16-24. It’s hard to describe how I felt hearing this message today. Bittersweet? That only scratches the surface.
See, the themes of the faithless Bride (us) and the faithful Bridegroom (Jesus), mourning (fasting) for His return, making straight the way of the Lord as John the Baptist in the wilderness, justice, mercy, loving-kindness… Oh! These are the themes written in the depths of my heart.
You know when you feel known? Like, when someone really gets you. Maybe they even know you better than you know yourself. A best friend that finishes your sentences or your mom who reads your mind with one glimpse of your face. It’s that deep peace of feeling home with someone. When I read about these themes, I feel at home. I feel known. God wrote them on the fibers of my being (Psalm 139:13). When I read them, I feel like someone has written about my insides! I mean the deep parts of me that I didn’t even understand enough about myself to articulate. In His Word, they are laid out before me, and my life starts making sense and I know that I am known by God and was made by Him with love. And it’s the most satisfying feeling there is.
“So they were tears of joy, Kristin? But I thought you said bittersweet?” you may be thinking.
Yes, both. Sweet! So, so sweet. And unbearably bitter.
Tears of peace in seeing the depths of my heart revealed to me on the pages of a book and tears of sorrow because I’m a reed shaken by the wind.
Yes, me. Whatever you may think of me, you should know the truth. I’m a little piddly weed, shaken by the faintest wind. Pathetic is a good description. Now don’t go telling me to be less hard on myself. I’m not being hard. I’m being honest and you should be too. I know I can’t be perfect because I’m not Jesus. Trust me, I know, and I’m not expecting myself to be. But if you think I’m being too tough, let’s set the bar and see how I measure up.
The Greatest Man (Hey, Jesus said it first!)
John the Baptist… What a man! Jesus says there is no man greater born of a woman! (Let’s pause there for a moment. Born of a woman? That means he was flesh and blood! That means he had all of the same sinful inclinations I have! That means he is someone I could compare myself to. A man. Ok, good to know. Let's continue.) He was great because His whole life was a big arrow pointing to Jesus.
“Behold, the Lamb that takes away the sins of the world!”
“Make straight the ways of the Lord!”
“Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.”
“He must increase, but I must decrease.”
“After me comes one more powerful than I, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie.”
John the Baptist was made famous by promoting someone else. People wanted to follow this man because he wasn’t like every other person they knew. He wasn’t prideful, boastful, comfortable, or normal. His lifestyle was so different that they wanted to find out why. His life was compelling! Here are some examples:
- He wore a garment of camel’s hair. Itchy!
- He ate a diet of locusts and honey. Ew! Not normal, even back in the day.
- He didn’t eat bread or drink wine, which were common wares in his time.
- He fasted often. Yes. Like purposely often didn’t eat food for very long periods.
- He didn’t gather a following for his own reputation or glory but always pointed to someone else: Jesus. Like, not go after glory and honor and fame???
- He lived in the wilderness. Like, L-I-V-E-D. Not camped.
And last but not least:
- He was decapitated, and his head was served to a queen on a silver platter (Matthew 14:1-12).
You see, people don’t eat locusts and honey because it’s the latest gluten-free trend. They don’t wear camel’s hair because they saw it on Pinterest. And they don’t get decapitated for staying politically correct. John the Baptist didn’t live for comfort. He didn’t live for approval. He didn’t live for gain. He didn’t look around and base his life off of what he saw around him.
He was made for more. He had a calling from before birth to make straight paths for the Lord, to point others to Him. He had a calling to live justly, mercifully, and faithfully.
Jesus says to people asking about John’s weirdo lifestyle, “What did you go out to the wilderness to see? A reed shaken by the wind?” Like, seriously people. He LIVES in the wilderness. Did you think he would be timid? Did you think he’d worry about offending you? Maybe he’d bend a little to compromise or at least make you feel like your compromise is OK? NO! Can’t you see?! He’s convinced! He’s steady! He’s not bendable by your selfish human expectations!
Oh, Lord! Make it so of me!
When I read of John the Baptist, my heart is set ablaze and I know I was made for this too! For more than selfish ambition and self-preservation. To make JESUS known! To know Him, myself! Ahh, the freedom! Oh, the peace and joy and LIFE! I read this and I see myself dimly in a mirror.
And then my heart sinks because I’m that reed.
Yes, my heart cries, “Radical abandon! More of You! Less of me! If I die, I die!” But my flesh murmurs, “I’m hungry. I’m tired. You’re asking too much. What if they don’t like me? Jesus, you’re harsh. It’s safer this way. I won’t let them hurt me. I can hit snooze just one more time. I’ll read Your Word later. I want a Frappuccino. And new shoes. And a massage. And a hot tub…” It’s pathetic. I see the clash on social media between righteousness and wickedness and I shrink back. I’m offended, honestly, and not usually by the wickedness. I’m offended by the confrontation of righteousness to my wicked heart. I’m not like John the Baptist, I only long to be.
And this longing is good. Jesus said, “Blessed are the poor in Spirit for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven.” That means that there’s a spot reserved for me because I know I’m weak, sinful, and in need of saving. But knowing I’m weak doesn’t mean I settle for it. “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.” Having God means having access to righteousness! It means I have a destiny! It means my life can bear eternal fruit. It means there’s pleasure deeper than a chai tea latte, and riches deeper than a 401(k). But I want to actually live like it.
There’s this chasm between who I was made to be and who I’m being and I wish it weren’t so.
Lord, give me grace to walk in truth. Let me be defined by Your Word and not by the World. I’m weak and needy but I have You. Be my all in all.
Lord, more of You.
And less of me.