If you are asked how long you haven’t preached the gospel to your friends and relatives, how would you answer? You may be embarrassed how to answer. But I would argue that this question is wrongly asked. For me, the basic question is not preaching, but whether our lives are a witness to Jesus Christ as our Lord. The gospel is to be seen more than to be heard. This is the story of John the Baptist.
The role of John the Baptist is to prepare the way of the Lord, not for the sake to make the way easier for the Lord, but for the sake of the people to receive the Lord. In fact, Jesus never finds his way easier (Mk 14:36). John the Baptist is very clear his preparatory role, and he is happy to play such a role. We do not know much about his life, but the Scripture describes him clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. Who is this guy? Firstly, he may be a nazarite who voluntary takes the vow to be separated for God (Nu 6:1-21), for what Luke 1:15 has said about him, ‘drink no wine or liquor’, and this is what a nazarite has to be (Nu 6:3). Secondly, he may be a prophet, for clothed with camel’s hair is a common dressing among prophets at that time (Zech 13:4). Thirdly, he may be an ascetic, for eating locust and wild honey has implied his attempt to live on food that grows by itself instead of spending too much time on farming and keeping chicken. Fourthly, since the setting where John the Baptist is working is the wilderness, it is in contrast with the temple cult in Jerusalem. We can see later that John the Baptist’s fearless criticism of Herod Antipas (6:18) echoes Elijah’s confrontations with King Ahab (1Kings 18:18). Therefore, we can conclude that John the Baptist is more than the one who makes vow to be separated for God and lives ascetically, but also is the prophet who challenges the immoral and injustice of both the religious and secular authorities.
I would say that people at that time are persuaded to receive a baptism of repentance not just by John’s preaching, but also by his life, a nazarite, a prophet, an ascetic and a social activist. His life may help to build up his status. Unlike many charismatic leaders, John the Baptist is clear his preparatory role. He said, ‘The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals.’ This is more than being humble, but also faithful to his call, that is, preparing the way of the Lord. The story of John the Baptist is not only asking us to repent, but also inviting us to be his comrades, not in the sense of eating locusts and wild honey only, but being humble to the Lord and prepare the way of the Lord. This invitation should not be a burden for our lives, for John the Baptist continues to say that ‘I have baptized you with water; but he (Jesus Christ) will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.’ It is in the baptism of the Holy Spirit that we are empowered.
Baptism of the Holy Spirit reminds us that we are children of God. Since we are the children of God, we are no longer servants. Since we are God’s children, we are loved and cared by God. No matter how well you have done or how misery your life may be, you are God’s children and you are still embraced. It is not the achievement that determines that you are God’s children, but rather it is the baptism of the Holy Spirit.
Baptism of the Holy Spirit reminds us that we have a new life. It is not just about restart, but a life with orientation and focus different from before. A new life is not marked whether you can play majong occasionally, but whether you are humble to God, that is, seeing your life as a means to serve instead of to gain for your own. We have to reflect in the light of the Holy Spirit what is humble to God as being a pastor, a housewife, a teacher, a manager, and a leader. Humble has nothing related to a soft character, but it is more about not abuse of power for our own.
Lastly, baptism of the Holy Spirit reminds us that we are gifted in order to serve God and others. Is speaking in tongue a necessary sign? Christians have discussed this since the early church. Paul in Cor 13 tells us that love amongst hope and faith is the greatest, but I would like to add the fourth, namely, courage. We need the courage not for the sake to fight, but the courage to be. ‘To be’ includes the courage to live in tragedy without loosing hope and fear, but with love and forgiveness.
When Jesus was receiving John’s baptism, the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my Son, the Beloved, I am well pleased.’ Let our faith in Jesus strengthen us to receive baptism of the Holy Spirit.