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The Watering Hole - Conversations on 21st. Century religion.

Are You The One?



Are You The One?

John the Baptist was sitting in prison, with the likelihood that his head would soon be separated from his body. Was this the grand plan? Was this the way things were supposed to go? Did this man he baptized, who many said were the Messiah, was this what he had in mind? So he sent a message to Jesus that said, "Are you the one who is coming, or should we look for someone else?"

John was a Nazirite. Nazarenes were one of the many sects in Judaism. They were described in Leviticus, very early in the nation's history. Other sects developed in Judaism after the restoration of the second Temple. The Essenes, who formed an isolated community on the shores of the Dead Sea, were one. Many groups believed a Messiah would come, and could point to apocalyptic literature about the destruction of Israel's enemies. Many emphasized separation from the ways of the world, and purity. Those who rebuilt the Temple believed it had been destroyed because Israel had lost its purity, so they had to double their efforts to remain pure.

In the literature of the prophets, the Messiah was seen sometimes as a suffering servant, and sometimes as a military hero who would destroy their enemies. The Prophet Isaiah emphasized both. Which was it to be? Jesus quoted Isaiah in his response to John.

Nazarene was not a set of beliefs, but a personal oath, that in the time of John the Baptist could be a temporary oath of six years. According to the Jewish Enclyclopedia, the exact custom likely morphed over time, but was always identified by the uncut hair. The reasons for taking the vow were usually personal, such as having seen an adulterer, or a to get rid of a bad temper, or fulfilling a parent's promise. The emphasis was on self-denial and purity. Dedication to God. They would not drink wine, touch a corpse, and would not cut their hair. What John's beliefs were as a Nazirite, is not known, except as reflected in the Bible.

Beliefs morphed over time. The idea of a Messiah was very popular due to the domination and political/religious oppression by the Romans, and prior to that by the Babylonians. The apocalyptic ideas of the destruction of Israel's enemies was also very popular. The idea of personal purity and a "Teacher of Righteousness" were very popular. Among the Essenes, this teacher idea was tied all the way back to Melchizedek, a priest known to Abram before Judaism even began. The idea of gaining purity through the ritual of baptism for the washing away of sins was popular. The idea of a ruler who would restore the kingdom of Israel as a political/religious entity was also popular.

We can understand why John, sitting in prison and awaiting his likely execution, would be confused. What exactly in the scriptures did Jesus represent as the Messiah? Military ruler and king? Suffering servant? Teacher of righteousness? Apocalyptic destroyer?

Jesus responded by citing Isaiah, who had spoken of all of these things. But Jesus was very specific. He said in Matthew 11: 5-6 (NIV), "The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor. Blessed is anyone who does not stumble on account of me."

John would have recognized these words from Isaiah. Isaiah had spoken similar words repeatedly, both symbolically, and literally, of the redemption (forgiveness, cleansing) to come and the blind seeing. For example, in Isaiah 35: 5-9 (NIV): "Then will the eyes of the blind be opened and the ears of the deaf unstopped. Then will the lame leap like a deer, and the mute tongue shout for joy. ... And a highway will be there; it will be called the Way of Holiness; it will be for those who walk on that Way. But only the redeemed will walk there...." Jesus called himself The Way. (For I am the way, the truth, and the life.)

The things that Jesus did, which he pointed out to John, confirmed who he was. Yes, he was the one Isaiah spoke about. His authority came from God, and he did what the prophets said that he would. No other person could do these things.

In Isaiah 42, this person will teach all the nations: "Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen one in whom I delight;" "In his teaching the islands will put their hope." The servant is the center of the teacher of righteousness, which became popular in the 200 years before Christ appeared.

It is interesting the passages that Christ referred to in Isaiah, that spoke to who he was. He didn't refer to restoring kingdoms. He didn't refer to politics or destroying enemies. No, he spoke about real and metaphorical things that he did, that proved who he was. The blind see, the deaf hear, lepers are healed, the lame walk, even the dead are raised, and good news is brought to the poor. He didn't bring them a politicaL, military, or even a destructive sign. In fact, he said in other places that his kingdom was not of this world. As a teacher of what is right and what is justice, his work was in people's hearts, the same place as his kingdom.

Today there are many voices competing for our attention. Every church has to split into a hundred other churches, each one declaring themselves more right than the previous ones. TV preachers speak everything from good news to hate and destruction, and personal gratification. The Internet and social media are on fire with people who believe their way of thinking is better than any other. And so we are left trying to sort it all out.

We're still asking that same question today as John the Baptist: which voice represents God. Which voice should we follow? Is it the strident voice of the ancient laws of purity? Or who builds the biggest building with the fanciest appointments? Or who has the biggest bag of presents and get wealthy quick promises? Or who is making a big show of casting out demons? Or the group that wants to make its beliefs the law of the land.

Maybe a clue is in what Jesus emphasized as proving who he was, selected from the words of Isaiah: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor. Blessed is anyone who does not stumble on account of me. I am the way....

- Dorian

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- Dorian

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