John the Baptist—the more I think of him the more I consider how his peculiar upbringing must have resembled Jesus’s.
The archangel Gabriel had detailed John’s life and purpose to his father Zechariah in the temple. John would be great and greatly used by God. Certainly Zechariah and Elizabeth were proud to know this, declared by the chief emissary of Heaven. “He will be a joy and delight to you,” Gabriel had promised.
But I wonder what became of their mood as John grew. This son of the priest bore a deep spirituality, but did it look like it was going off the rails as it evolved? Did his attitude toward Israel, fierce message of repentance, and uncustomary baptism of Jews seem radical to his parents? And were they maxed out and questioning God when John left the comfort of home for the wilderness, a preaching ascetic and possible embarrassment to his father?
I don’t know. Perhaps Zechariah had learned well from his first bout of unbelief and muteness and fully trusted despite his concerns. Furthermore, how do we respond to our relatives and acquaintances when their pattern of life or spirituality takes turns that throw our minds into tailspins? It can be scary to watch.
Everything’s Gonna Be All Right
Most of us haven’t had the assurance of an angel that our Johnny was gonna be okay. It would be great if there were a way to be certain that the people we love would turn out all right in their emotional and spiritual development. Since there isn’t, we have to do the next best things, which I will explain.
Concerns or problems do not exist in vacuums; people are involved. We must remember that dealing with potential issues is necessarily relational. We must avail ourselves to people about whom we have concerns. No one appreciates being viewed as a problem or problematic. Even mentally ill people deserve the respect of being treated as persons.
True care for people makes it easier for us to hear them, see the issue fully or discern whether there really is one, and offer our knowledge and counsel. We cannot help people we do not love.
Moreover, we must sometimes release people to discover their own way. This can be hard but none of us like hearing stories about folk hard-pressed by religious rearing who rebel. We would never want to create haters of God.
Freedom grants a person the ability to detach from all he or she knows to rummage through the piles of acquired wisdom and decide for themselves what they believe—and we should respect a person’s right to think and choose for themselves. Joshua expresses this marvelously: “But if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served…or the gods…in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord” (24:15).
We should not view this negatively, as though we release a person to their doom. This is to forget the providence of God. Sometimes people go through periods of questioning, conflict, or gloom like stages in birth without which we would never see the light of greatness within them. No, we never give up on others but can be certain that God will control what we cannot.
The process may not always feel good or look glamorous, but just because it doesn’t look like what we expected doesn’t mean God isn’t in it. We just have to trust him.
Now, Back to John…
We see the full picture of John the Baptist and know that he was among the greatest Hebrew prophets. He must have owned a deep spirituality and interaction with God, for he sensed a profound call and exercised astute spiritual discipline.
I can imagine that John would have been viewed as uncouth by many of his society when, in fact, he was spiritually avant-garde. But he was what he was—by some an assumed religious quack roaming the back country—because of what was inside of him. John’s process was the only way for his greatness to come forth.
John’s testimony of Jesus (John 1:29-34) is pretty revealing to me of God’s power and reality in his life. John and Jesus didn’t know one another, and John had no reason to know that Jesus was the Messiah until he baptized him. But it wasn’t merely the baptism that pointed out Christ to John; Jesus already existed in John’s pronounced spiritual aptitude. Look and ponder carefully:
I saw the Spirit come down from heaven as a dove and remain on him. And I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water told me, ‘The man on whom you see the Spirit come down and remain is the one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit’ (1:32-33).
If Zechariah and Elizabeth could have only seen how their boy turned out.
More on this topic: God, Our Contender