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"In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." For this is he who was spoken of by the prophet Isaiah when he said, "The voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord; make his paths straight.’" (Matthew 3:1-3 ESV)

Have you ever wondered why wilderness John wearing his camel's hair outfit, eating locust, convicting everyone of sin in who knows what tone of voice, and rebuking the powerful and religious (Matt 3:1-7, Mark 6:18) was sent to prepare the way for Jesus? Why is preparing the way for Jesus even necessary? Wouldn't His message be enough and all we really need to hear? God had been silent with the Jewish nation for hundreds of years before John, why bother inspiring a mere man months before sending God's only Son to our world?

Thinking more about John the Baptist's ministry of repentance and conviction of sin it seems odd to me how completely different from Jesus he seemed. I wonder, with our understanding of Jesus, what we would say if John the Baptist came speaking today? Even Jesus said John was His opposite in terms of style and presentation (Matt 11:16-19). Jesus is the fuller complete message, yet John's lesser message came first to prepare that generation for the greater message of Christ. It seems obvious but since John came to prepare they way i assume the people would be unprepared for Jesus apart from John's message. Could that same situation happen again or was John the Baptist's message only needed back then?

A conclusion i reached in thinking about John the Baptist's message is that grace has no meaning apart from truth. If truth isn't understood and believed in grace is just another word we use to get what we want and silence our consciences. If the fuller revelation of Jesus is used to deny the building block revelation of John I doubt the message of Jesus is really understood. That's like claiming i understand algebra so well the basic principles of arithmetic aren't important or even really true anymore. If i really understood algebra, i wouldn't say arithmetic isn't important or not needed, in fact i would say just the opposite. I would say arithmetic is foundational for understanding the greater knowledge of algebra. Arithmetic would become even more precious to me once i understood it in the greater context of algebra.

As far as i can tell our culture today thinks of truth and grace as being opposites in many ways; not united and inseparable (John 1:17). As i said i believe grace has no meaning apart from truth, so too truth has no meaning apart from grace. We can't bear to understand the truth apart from receiving grace and the message of John must lead us on to Jesus (Acts 19:1-6). Yet, i think the common understanding of grace today seems to be "don't worry about it, it doesn't really matter" rather than the Biblical meaning of grace which is "it matters so much, only the Son of God can pay for it." The common way of understanding Jesus' message of grace (algebra) seems to deny John's message of repentance and conviction of sin (arithmetic).

Maybe I'm wrong, but i think understanding that this world's tragedies, hurt, pain, death, disease, and misery all came from Adam's one small act of disobeying and eating the forbidden fruit doesn't make sense to our cultures way of thinking (Rom 5:12, Gen 3:1-24). How can God make such a small act have such a disproportionately large impact and claim to be loving? It's like telling a story of a Grandparent who told his grandson not to touch the hot stove or He would get the death penalty. His grandson touched the hot stove and the Grandfather decided to spare His grandson by killing His only Son and call that love. That makes no sense. But isn't that what Genesis 3 says?

Rather than seeing the reality of "small" sins being that morally awful and truth and justice being that important we just say it can't be and deny God. We make a idol after our image and way of thinking and call that god. That way eating the fruit can slide if we promise not to do it again, no damage done, because sin isn't that big of a deal. Isn't that what love and grace really mean after all?
 
Maybe we need to understand the message of John the Baptist again.

"Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come here.” The woman answered him, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; for you have had five husbands, and the one you now have is not your husband. What you have said is true.” John 4:16-18

I wonder what this women thought of Jesus as this point in the conversation?  She had just asked Him for help and He went there.  He brought up the issue I imagine everyone who cared for her and those who felt good condemning her had already talked with her about.  How was this helping her?

***
How was this conversation happening again?  And with a complete stranger no less.  Was she safe nowhere?  This man had needed her for water, then claimed she needed Him, and now brought up her past with men using the words "had" and "have" as if He knew she used them like a possession you could earn. Pharisees used religion to get praise, politicians used their office to get power, the rich used bribes to get richer, so what if she used men to get a sense of worth and to not feel alone.
 
Her sin just happened to be one of the sins everyone choose to hate.  On societies bell curve of getting into heaven her sin had been placed on the left of the failing line.  This seemed oddly reassuring to those whose sins where to the right of this arbitrary line.  They would thank God they weren't like her (Luke 18:11) and seemed greatly comforted by her condemnation as if that somehow related to their salvation.
 
It was like sinners like her were a human sacrifice to appease the gods and keep those with different sins safe.  They took the guilt & just condemnation they felt and transferred those feelings onto her. She became societies unwilling savior whom they could control and despise.  Kill her and she won't rise from the grave seeking to change their sin loving lives.  Their is only One willing and perfect lamb on whom we can place our sins and experience real peace.  If I don't believe in the cross I will go on crucifying others, seeking salvation where it can't be found.
 
This time, however, she didn't sense the stranger was putting her down as a means of building himself up.  Rather He seemed to be offering her hope in her hopelessness.  This was perhaps even scarier.  What could be worth the risk of hoping again?  All hope had done in the past was eventually cause her more pain.  It was safer to get Him talking about something He cared about like how the Jewish temple was better than their temple.
***
 
Who knows what she actually thought, but it's worth thinking about to try and understand Jesus and ourselves better.  I can relate to her tactic of lying with the truth.  I've seen my mind work like a helicopter shooting off flares of true statements to avoid the missile of the Holy Spirit's conviction.  What could be more misleading than misusing the truth?  I have no husband, their is nothing to see here, move on.  When that didn't work she used another diversion, but Jesus was still able to reach her in midst of her sin and lies.  The way Love acts towards a believer and unbelievers in her situation is remarkably different.  I think her conversation with Jesus would likely have been different had she meet Jesus and already claimed to believe in Him but wasn't willing to try and follow Him (1 Cor 5:9-13).
 
I find these verses comforting because the same Jesus is working on my heart and can reach me despite all the ways I've learned to avoid Him.  As I read the Bible and try my best to follow Jesus, in whatever state I'm in, the Holy Spirit will come and reach me the same way Jesus reached her.  Like the woman at the well I hope I listen and surrender to His love and then tell others what happened.  Come meet a man who knows me better than I know myself, who didn't condemn me or excuse my sin.  "I didn't want his words to mean anything, I didn't want to need his affirmation.  But part of our selves in spirit, and our spirits are thirsty and [His] words went into my spirit like water." - Donald Miller

"The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel that displays the glory of Christ, who is the image of God." - 2 Corinthians 4:4

What does it mean to have a blind mind?  If you asked me what it means to have blind eyes I could tell you about missing colorful sunsets, not being able to drive anymore, and how my life would change significantly as I adapted to not being able to see.  But ask me about living with a blind mind and my struggle to list how my life would change compared to having blind eyes suggests I have a better developed physical sight than a spiritual sight. Yet God's word, which I have chosen to live by, calls me to live by faith and not by sight (2 Cor 5:7).  To what degree can I be living by faith when I know more about physical sight than spiritual sight?

While verse four speaks specifically about unbelievers who can no longer see anything compelling or lovely in the word of God.  The concept of a blind mind or a hardened heart applies to believers as well (Mark 6:52, Luke 24:25).  One thing I take from this is that any glimmer of seeing Christ as being beautiful and not wanting to live for myself any longer means Christ is still offering me a chance to surrender to His love.  So, if you're like me and have a greater understanding of how losing your eyesight would effect your life than having your mind blinded I conclude that my mind must be blind in some degree.  Therefore I should try and pray to be open to God speaking to me through His word about things I might be blind to and want to avoid.

"For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus' sake."- 2 Corinthians 4:5

 The word "for" at the beginning of the verse signals what follows, "what we proclaim is not ourselves," is giving a explanation for the previous verse.  Basically the answer to "what keeps them from seeing" in verse four is that they aren't talking about themselves. That makes my wonder why someone not preaching or promoting themselves would stop me from understanding what they are saying or doing.  The specific example in the verse is unbelievers not being able to see God displayed in His word.  But as I mentioned before believers can be blind to certain aspects of who God is, even though they see and follow Him in other areas.

As best as I can understand how the mental blindness in my life relates to me failing to understand a message not about the person telling it is the idea that we all naturally measure others by ourselves (2 Cor 12:12).  Who I am is the yardstick I measure others with.  So, for example, when I see someone feed the homeless I interpret those actions through the lens of my heart whose motives and reasons I know.  Often unconsciously my motives of wanting human praise and attention or operating from guilt and rules become their motives and thus I am blind to what may have really happened.  This type of blind thinking never allows for their to be anything greater or different from myself to be working in others lives.  I have an explanation for why others do what they do that is as limited as myself but comprehensive enough to cover most everything that happens in life.  Their is no room to perceive and appreciate the blessings of other's gifted by God in different ways than myself.  I wouldn't see God's love, truth, acceptance, justice, forgiveness, and mercy in their lives because my blindness restricts others to being like me.

Another way I picture the connection between mental blindness and failing to see God in others or His word is thinking about my soul being like a black hole.  A black hole is a star that was created to give light to others that has collapsed inward on itself.  A black hole only grows by consuming anything sucked into it's orbit. Even light is bent back on itself and cannot escape a black hole.  I can relate to a black hole, because like everyone I was born with a self-centeredness more powerful than a black hole.  I was created to be a life giving spirit but my soul which was designed to praise God, has turned inward on itself.  I consume from others the very things I am meant to give them.  Even God's love and kindness are bent back on themselves in my heart until they become about me.  I can see why I want to remind blind to this reality, it's horrible.  No one would go to the hospital if doctors could only see what's terribly wrong inside of you and offer no cure.  The same is true of the Bible which makes me grateful the cure for this problem is found in the next verse.

"For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ." - 2 Corinthians 4:6

Scientifically speaking I don't believe their is anything in the universe that can turn a black hole back into a star again.  The same is true for the human heart.  We all want to earn or ignore our way out of the problem we're in.  But our works, choices, or wishes offer no true hope of restoring us back to what we are meant to be.  But humanities absolute hopelessness doesn't mean the same God who spoke light and this universe out of nothing in Genesis can't speak life into our souls and free us from self-centeredness and sin.  This love more powerful than sin that redeems black holes exists and shines forth from the cross.  It takes a miracle greater than earth's creation, but I believe and have found God's promise that I can look away from myself and find life looking at Jesus on the cross to be true (Num 21:8-9).

Fear not, you worm Jacob, you men of Israel! I am the one who helps you, declares the LORD; your Redeemer is the Holy One of Israel. - Isaiah 41:14

 

Would it bother you to have God call you weak and insignificant, a worm?  If a person said that about me I would ignore them and assume they are having a bad day.  But for God, who is love, to say those words makes me wonder what is going on.

 

I suppose a common way out of this confusion is as simple as not thinking about the parts of the Bible I read that don't feel loving to me.  That was written for back then, their are more important things to focus on, no one can live that way, no one is perfect.  Those are all true things of humans except for Christ but am I using them to purposefully ignore God?  If I never allow God's word to challenge or confront my views on life I might be missing out on a primary way God works to change me into His image.

 

Perhaps the times I'm most confused reading God's word are some of my greatest opportunities to grow in my understanding of God.  So this confusing statement of God calling someone a worm made more sense when I happened to read Technopoly by Neil Postman.  He was talking about the new way of thinking introduced by concept called zero.  He says "The objection raised by the abacists was that the zero registered the absence of a power of ten, which no Roman numeral did, and which struck them as philosophically and perhaps aesthetically offensive.  After all the zero is a sign that affects values of numerals wherever it occurs but has no value of itself.  It is a sign about signs, whose very etymology, via "cipher" from the Hindu word for "void," suggest the idea of "nothingness.""

 

And that helped make sense of the verse for me.  That maybe God wants me to think of my life as being like a zero.  I have no value by myself but I get all my worth from what I place before myself.  The same way a zero has no value until it puts something before itself.  In this view of worth it would be unloving of God not to remind me that of course I can't save myself, conquer my problems, or defeat my enemies if in my pride I think it's ultimately about me.  I need to be lovingly reminded apart from Christ I can do nothing.  It is only when I'm humbled and put Him first that I draw comfort from Him being my helper and Redeemer who gives me strength, worth, and love.