Saturday, August 14, 2010

Follow Me To Freedom (Mark)

So I picked up a fantastic book this past summer. It's called Follow Me to Freedom: Leading and Following As Ordinary Radicals. It's authored by Shane Claiborne, a leader in the New Monasticism movement, and John M Perkins, a civil rights leader from Mississippi. Both of them are solid Christians, not Reformed, but still within the realm of Evangelicalism. Essentially, their book is a leadership book--but it's more than that; it's also a guide on how to follow leadership: it's about how to lead and how to follow. That's the premise. So when I sat down to figure out how to write about John the Baptist's preaching, and figure out how to write about that for people who mostly aren't preachers, the premise of that book came to mind: I can actually write about John and his preaching (how to lead) and then work out how we can learn to listen to guys like him (how to follow). So sure, we can look at how John preached. But let's also figure out how to listen. And if we do that, maybe we can all get something out of this.

Looking At Mark 1:2-9: (Part 4 of 4)
"As it is written in Isaiah the prophet, 'Behold, I send my messenger before your face, who will prepare your way, the voice of one crying in the wilderness: "Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight,'" John appeared, baptizing in the wilderness and proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And all the country of Judea and all Jerusalem were going out to him and were being baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. Now John was clothed with camel's hair and wore a leather belt around his waist and ate locusts and wild honey. And he preached, saying, 'After me comes he who is mightier than I, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. I have baptized you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.' In those days Jesus came..."
-Mark 1:2-9 (ESV)
It took a really unreasonable amount of time to even figure out what to focus on here. Do I zoom in on how John trained disciples? How about his communication methods? Why not a whole post on how he dealt with opposition (from Pharisees) and acclaim (from pretty much every one else)? And then I thought about maybe writing on how John preached on politics, and threw his two cents in on the lives of famous people--which got him killed, actually, at the hands of the politically famous Herod the Tetrarch (Mark 6:17-29). And I realized that was a bad idea, but I'm a political junkie. So finally I arrived at why John preached, what the content of his teaching was, what his style of teaching was like, and how he dealt with opposition and acclaim. Keep in mind the focus is on how to follow.

How to Be A Better End Times Preacher
Think end times preaching is all about the rapture, the Antichrist, and a 666 barcode on your hands and head? Think again. This is what John preached: The Kingdom of Heaven is at hand (note: "God is coming,"), so repent ("prepare to meet God!"). There's nothing about an Anti-Christ in there anywhere. As a preacher, John's focus was to prepare a people for that day when they, for better or worse, would come face-to-face with their Maker. And maybe he thought that was going to happen right away, but that doesn't actually matter a whole heck of a lot. Because when it's done right, all Christian preaching is end-times preaching. The whole premise of the preaching gig is this: some day, God is going to judge the world; both the living and the dead (end times). Therefore people need to put their trust in Jesus and, by faith, obey his commandments, so that we don't end up in a great big hominid flambe when God is done with us. All preaching, in one way or another, is getting people ready for that point in time. And that should affect how we listen to the sermons that our preachers preach. Listen to it like it's getting us ready for something big.

Can't Always Get What You Want (You Get What You Need)
Here's the difference in how people thought about John the Baptist: some thought he was their Messiah*; some people thought he was demon possessed**. Lots of people came out into the desert to hear him, but others hated his guts and wanted to celebrate his death (Mark 1:5; Mark 6:25). He was loved and hated, honored and despised, a legend in his own time and a martyr killed by critics. Out of the group who loved him and the group who hated him, which ones were the fools? He was an honorable man, and he preached repentance like a preacher should, and he got killed because some woman with a powerful husband got offended. You can't always get what you want, but sometimes you get what you need: if you follow a good preacher, he will offend you and tell you (but not necessarily you, usually just people like you) that you are wrong. And he will do things that you don't like, because he has a specific mission and you don't, so your priorities are going to be different. Just be aware: the fools and the charlatans were the Pharisees, cruel women, and political leaders who resisted John the Baptist. Don't be a fool and resist the preacher God has given you to listen to. Find someone worth listening to, and then follow them (1 Corinthians 11:1).

Different Methods for Wiser Crowds
John had different teaching methods: he had one for crowds, one for smaller groups, and one for dedicated individuals. To the crowds he would just preach general repentance and warnings and predict the coming of Christ. Maybe his preaching method would be characterized by "yell louder!" But the smaller groups in The Gospel According to Luke actually got some application (Luke 3). The soldiers, tax collectors, and average Joes took some initiative, asked a question, and got an informal answer. But for the really dedicated individuals, his disciples, it was a whole different ball game. He didn't just tell them to repent; he taught them how to pray (Luke 11:1), how to fast (Mark 2:18), how to help prepare other people***. It got more specific with each crowd. So a good preacher doesn't just preach a sermon: he answers follow up questions in the foyer, takes on disciples -so to speak- and shapes them to be of service to others, and he has different methods for different groups. So know how to listen to a sermon, learn how to ask a question, and allow yourself to be shaped by your pastor or those who have been shaped by him. Learn to follow as a member of the crowd, as part of a smaller group asking questions, and as an individual being formed by someone else.

The Content of John's Preaching
What did John preach to his crowd? He told them to repent, we know that. But he also preached Christ and the Holy Spirit (Mark 1:7-8), he preached hell ("fire" baptism in Matt 3:11 isn't what Pentecostals think it is), and he preached forgiveness of sins (Mark 1:4), and he preached biblical ethics (Luke 3:10-14), and he evidently taught his disciples the disciplines of prayer and fasting (see in brackets above); he taught on what it meant to be the people of God (Matt 3:9). According to Josephus (Antiquities 18:117) he taught people to love God and to love their neighbor (ring a bell?). All this is to say that while it's important to learn to follow, it's also really important to know who to follow: you want to follow someone who teaches the kinds of things that John the Baptist, "the greatest man who ever lived" (Jesus' words in Matthew 11:11) taught.

And Finally, the Summary
If you understand this article, although there's lots to read, you can (1) get some good ideas about how to be a preacher, and how to learn from John the Baptist as a preacher, and (2) you can learn how to find and follow a good pastor. In summary: let sermons prepare you to meet God; listen to your pastor; learn how to follow as part of a crowd, as a group, and as an individual; find a pastor who preaches the right things.

*Luke said that in the first century, people wondered if John was the Messiah, or "Christ." (Luke 3:15)

**Some people thought John was demon-possessed, Luke 7:33.

***John's disciples helped him baptize others, taught on his behalf (in John 3:25 this actually gets them into an argument!), and continued to represent him after he was put in jail (Luke 7:18-24). They were trained to assist John the Baptist in his ministry; they were trained to do what John was doing, which was to help prepare others to meet God.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Start or join a conversation! Please do not use the 'Anonymous'; option; use the Name/URL form and leave a first and last name (or last initial). Thank you.