Judging The Baptist By His Cover

John (The Baptist)While in prison for calling out Herod’s illegal marriage to Herodias, John (the Baptist) sent two of his disciples to Jesus to ask whether Jesus was the Christ prophesied of or if they should look for another. During that same hour Jesus showed them many miracles and told them to report to John what they had seen and heard. After they left, Jesus praised John while rebuking some by asking the remaining crowd:

“What went ye out into the wilderness for to see? A reed shaken with the wind? …A man clothed in soft raiment? Behold, they which are gorgeously apparelled, and live delicately, are in kings’ courts… [or] A prophet?” (Luke 7:24-26)

In other words, Jesus was challenging their view of John by rhetorically asking them if they were expecting someone fickle who would be tossed to and fro by the winds of societal change, someone of worldly status and elegance or a prophet. Contrasting the first two options against the acceptance of a prophet causes the honest at heart to acknowledge their natural tendency to “look on the outward appearance” (1 Sam 16:7) when judging man and truth.

The “outward appearance” of John was peculiar, which makes Jesus’ remarks especially meaningful. His clothes were made of camel’s hair and were held together by a leather belt. He neither ate bread or wine (Luke 7:33) but his diet consisted of locusts and wild honey (Matthew 3:4). John’s delivery was straightforward. He told it how it was. When many Pharisees and Sadducees arrived at the baptisms going on at Jordan, he directly called them a ”generation of vipers” who, unless they repented, would burn as chaff in an “unquenchable fire” (Matthew 3:7,12). He was unafraid to tell the uncomfortable truth, despite how “important” or powerful the people he was inconveniencing were. This steadfast loyalty to truth resulted in his imprisonment and eventual beheading.

Despite John’s style and lack of outward appeal, Jesus affirmed John’s mission by teaching that he was “much more than a prophet”, that he was the one prophesied of who would prepare the way for Jesus and that “Among those that are born of women there is not a greater prophet than John the Baptist” (Luke 7:26-28). Could a mortal receive better praise than this? The man, whose mission it was to prepare the way for and baptize Christ, was not crafted in the art of eloquence or adorned with fine apparel and worldly prestige and titles. He was a simple man who faithfully, courageously and honestly spoke the truth–undaunted by worldly opinions. Even Christ, the very Savior of mankind, was prophesied of by Isaiah that He would have “no beauty that we should desire him” (Isaiah 53:2).

Contrast John (and Christ) to the appeasers who water down the teachings of the gospel out of a fear of the reproach of men. They would exchange their honor for temporary appeasement. Because they fear man more than God their luke-warmness will cause God to spew them out of His mouth (Revelation 3:16). While John’s firmness caused him to temporarily lose his head, some people’s fear will cause them to eternally lose their souls.

Sometime last year, a visitor came to church. His outward appearance left much to be desired. He wasn’t clean shaven. His hair was a mess. His ragged clothes made me think he was homeless. When given the opportunity to speak over the pulpit and during sunday school, he spoke long and with a stutter. I remember it getting to a point where a few of us would smirk at each other whenever he spoke. Upon reflection, later that day, I recalled the things that this visitor had said and I noticed something profound- his words testified plainly and truthfully about the gospel of Christ. He was humble, yet bold. He taught scripture and applied their principles in meaningful ways. “So who was this visitor?”- I thought. A gospel-savvy hobo? An angel sent to test us? I don’t know and I don’t know if it matters. God saw my reaction to the unadorned truth. I failed. I ignored the truth due to the lack of outward appeal of the messenger.

An underlying purpose of modern marketing and public relations is to increase the appeal (or “packaging”) of people, products and messages. While there is nothing inherently bad about this objective, it can be detrimental when we allow the outward appearance to blind us of the inner core. If we were alive two millennia ago would we have rejected the gospel because of its packaging, or lack thereof? The answer to that rests in our manner of judgement now. Does outward appearance with its polished packaging, its worldly titles, prestige and eloquence influence our perception of truth? Does the source of a message alter our willingness to believe it? If academia or the media tell us what we should believe, do we unquestioningly believe? If celebrities tell us what to believe, do we believe? Do cultural norms or the traditions of our fathers influence our perception of truth? Does one’s title or “authority” blind us from the unadorned truth? Let’s not forget that “the way, the truth and the life” was rejected by the religious and political authorities of His time. Influenced by those authorities, “his own received him not” (John 1:11).

Isaiah’s council, “…fear ye not the reproach of men, neither be ye afraid of their revilings” (Isaiah 51:7) ought to guide the way we judge and deliver truth- for are our souls worth the approval of man?

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