Tuesday, August 17, 2021



What do you see?

What do you see when you look at something? Let me explain what I mean. Two or more people can be looking at the same thing, yet each sees something different. When Alastair and I went away (remember when there were such things as “travel” and “holidays”?), we would go to the same places, do the same things, and come home with completely different sets of photos we had taken. Often when we looked at each other’s photos we would say, “I never even saw that!”. Our eyes, our hearts, our minds all focus differently, and interpret differently. Where one person sees a cup half full, another sees a cup half empty. Where one person sees hard grind, another sees an opportunity. Where one person sees a weed, another person sees a flower.

And this applies to how we see people too. To take one example, for many people crowds are something to be avoided (even when Covid wasn’t in the equation). But when Jesus saw the crowd, what did he see? Matthew 9:36 tells us, “He had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” Is that what you see? Is that what I see?

Let’s take two further examples. Both have to do with john the Baptist.  The first is spoken by Jesus, about John, in Matthew 11, after Herod had put John in prison.

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. 10 This is he of whom it is written, ‘Behold, I send my messenger before your face, who will prepare your way before you.’ 11 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 of heaven is greater than he.

We all know who John the Baptist was – the cousin of Jesus who wore camel’s hair and ate wild honey and locusts (there’s an interesting debate on whether that means the insects or the fruit of the “locust” tree, which could be something like the carob tree). He described himself as a voice crying in the wilderness. His call to repentance was heeded by some and rejected by others. To Herodias, the wife of Herod, he was the enemy, because he condemned their marriage as unlawful (she had previously been married to his brother), and she eventually had her revenge by having him put to death. To many he must have seemed like a celebrity preacher who had his time and then ended up in prison because he displeased those in power. But what did Jesus see in John? John wasn’t just “a reed shaken by the wind”, something that flourishes for a season and then dies away in winter and has no strength of its own. No, Jesus declares him to be a prophet, and “more than a prophet”. He was the one sent by God to prepare people’s hearts for the coming of Jesus. In Jesus’ eyes he was a great man.

What do we see when people speak God’s uncomfortable truths to us? Are we willing to look past our own discomfort, search the scriptures, pray, ask trusted counsellors if necessary, and, if it passes those tests, accept it with gratitude? Or do we simply dismiss such people and take no notice because they haven’t made us feel good? Are we humble enough to be willing to learn and grow? Are we willing to see God at work in situations we don’t like?

The second example is John the Baptist meeting Jesus for the first recorded time. It’s found in John chapter 1:

29 The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! 30 This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks before me, because he was before me.’ 31 I myself did not know him, but for this purpose I came baptizing with water, that he might be revealed to Israel.” 32 And John bore witness: “I saw the Spirit descend from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. 33 ,I myself, did not know him, but he who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain, this is he who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ 34 And I have seen and have borne witness that this is the Son of God.”

Can you imagine the scene, down at the Jordan River? We’ve all seen artists’ attempts to portray it – the river, the groups of people in 1st century clothing standing around, probably a couple of Roman soldiers keeping an eye on things, probably a couple of priests keeping an eye on things in a very different sense, and in the middle, the figure of John in his camel’s hair and leather belt, looking like a bit of a wild man and holding everyone’s attention. Then he suddenly points to an unknown person in the crowd (Jesus had not yet begun his public ministry) and declares, “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” Imagine the reactions, the confusion! Imagine how every head would turn! What did they see when they looked?

Some would have been interested because they took John seriously (These would include the ones who very soon afterwards became Jesus’ disciples.) Others who were there either for entertainment value or to criticise, probably didn’t even take it in. But John, in that moment, saw Jesus with absolute clarity.

·         He knew that Jesus was the Lamb of God who would take away the sin of the world. So, he knew that Jesus was sent by God to fulfill God’s purposes.

·         He knew that Jesus had come from God in a unique way, in verse 34 he recognises that Jesus is the Son of God.

·         He knew that what Jesus had come to do was to be the ultimate sacrifice for sin, replacing all those uncountable lambs, kids, calves, and pigeons whose blood had been shed on the altars of the temple for more than a thousand years.

·         He knew that to be the Lamb of God, Jesus had to be pure, perfect, and sinless.

·         He knew that sin, separating us from God, was mankind’s biggest problem, and Jesus was the one who had come to solve and save.

·         He knew that Jesus had come to give his life, that the ultimate purpose of his coming into the world was to die in our place.

·         He knew that Jesus had come to deal with the sin of the whole world, Jew and Gentile alike, for all times and for all peoples and for all sins.

John saw and proclaimed in that moment things about Jesus’ person and purpose that the disciples were still struggling with three years later. Though later, when he was imprisoned, he struggled with doubts and questions (because he was human), in this moment he saw Jesus as he truly is.

And the question for us, the most important question in the world, is to ask ourselves: what do we see when we look at Jesus? Is he just a good teacher, a good example, or someone irrelevant to our lives? Or is he our only hope in life and death, our salvation, our Lord and our God?

No comments: